A Younger Man [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Cameron Dane
eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
eBook Description: Recently divorced and out of the closet, Noah Maitland is a regular Joe, salt-of-the-earth kind of guy who is newly navigating the world of dating other men. So far he hasn't had a lot of luck. Noah is a father first--he has two teenage sons. The owner of a handyman business in a small community, Noah wants someone to love who is also appropriate for where he is in his life. Zane Halliday is a young man--much too young for Noah--who is struggling to take care of his brother and sister and meet his bills every month. Recently thrown out of his apartment, Zane stumbles on Noah, literally, and Noah offers Zane some much-needed help. Each man is dealing with his own set of problems, and both crave someone to talk to and trust. Soon a friendship between Noah and Zane blossoms. But Noah could never fall for someone so much younger than he is--not to mention Zane is not gay. But what if sexually innocent Zane isn't as straight as he assumed he was? How will Noah be able to resist this much younger man once Zane figures out the only person he wants is Noah?
eBook Publisher: Atlantic Bridge/Liquid Silver Books, Published: 2012, 2012
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2012
15 Reader Ratings:
With every ounce of willpower in him, Noah tried to gather his wandering thoughts and put his full focus on his date. It was his second with this man; Beau was his name. They weren't even through drinks at the bar while waiting for a table when Noah began to question why he'd agreed to a second date with this man in the first place.
Because you've been dating men for three months now, yet you haven't done anything more than eat, go to movies, and get a kiss on the cheek. It's time to give someone a chance.
Still ... Noah just couldn't see himself having a genuine, deep conversation, let alone something more, with a guy who could spend forty-five minutes complaining about how his tailor had ruined his day by not fitting his suit jacket in the precise style he'd wanted it. And that's exactly what Beau had done since saying hello at the start of their date.
The buzz of a conversation happening at Noah's left--one about new trees budding in the backyard of the couple speaking--lured Noah away from the chestnut-haired, suited man sitting across from him. The conversation at the other table got Noah thinking about how he'd agreed to spend Sunday with Janice and Matthew, mowing the lawn and weeding the flowerbeds at his old house. He had to go over there early to make sure the blades on the mower were still sharp; while he was there, he might as well clean the gutters for her too.
Suddenly a voice that was not part of the couple chatting about trees jerked Noah back to his date, just in time to hear Beau say, "This isn't working for you, Noah, is it?"
As Noah lifted his gaze to his date, heat burned up his neck to his cheeks. "I'm sorry." Damn it. He didn't know how to behave on dates with men. Three months hadn't taught him much of anything. Sighing, he admitted, "I-I'm not getting a vibe. I don't know how else to say it."
Beau shrugged. "It's fine. It's not really working for me either. You're totally sexy, don't get me wrong, but you're not exactly the kind of guy I normally date."
"I--" Noah snapped his mouth shut, and took a moment to regroup. "I don't know what to say to that."
"You don't need to say anything. It wasn't a dig, just a fact. Look," his attention on Noah, Beau slipped a money clip out of his pocket, palmed a few bills, and slid them under the edge of his glass, "why don't we skip the meal, save ourselves a hundred bucks, and just go back to my place to fuck."
Noah whipped his head to the left, then the right, scanning the other patrons at the bar. Good Christ. They all went about their business, but Noah didn't understand how none of them had heard what Beau had suggested. To Noah it felt as if the man had shouted the word "fuck" at the top of his lungs.
Leaning across the small table, Noah whispered, "What?"
Beau grinned. "The night doesn't need to be a complete waste. Just because we don't want to run out and get commitment rings doesn't mean we can't have some fun." The guy put his mouth next to Noah's ear, and blessedly, this time, lowered his voice. "I've seen you adjust yourself twice, and I fuckin' know you must have a huge cock. I want that thing in my ass at least once before we part ways."
Jesus. Noah's dick twitched, and a wonderful pull stirred in his balls. He couldn't help it. He wanted sex with another man. Then he looked into Beau's eyes, at the gleam there, something that had nothing to do with Noah other than the perceived size of his penis, and his heart sank into his stomach.
Shit. Damn. Fuck.
As Noah pulled up to his cabin an hour later--alone--he cursed himself and his rigid ways for the hundredth time. Beau had been a very good-looking guy. And fuck, Noah needed someone to be his first, just to get the pressure off him and out of the way. He didn't want to goddamn fall in love with someone and have no real idea what to do or how to control himself during sex. Experience mattered. Not being a fucking forty-two-year-old virgin--at least where men were concerned--mattered. Beau would have fit the bill for all that criteria nicely. But what had Noah done? Paid for his drink, said "Thank you, but no, good night" and driven home.
Noah started up the steps to his wraparound porch, prepared to go inside, shower, and then jerk off to relieve the tension in him, when a beam of light flashed across the lake in his direction. Squinting, Noah looked toward the source, and located Sirus and Grey on their porch, beers lifted in Noah's direction.
A moment later, Noah's cell phone rang, and Sirus's name appeared on the screen. Noah answered with a "What's up?"
"Come have a beer with us," Sirus replied. "Tell us how things are going with you before we have to head back to Raleigh in the morning." Sirus and Grey split their time between Grey's apartment in the city, due to the venture capitalist's need to be in a metropolitan area for his business, and the cabin Sirus loved so much.
Noah groaned, and he almost squeezed the bridge of his nose. At the last second he remembered Sirus and Grey could see him and pushed his back up straight. "Sounds good." He put more enthusiasm into his agreement than burned inside him. These two men had helped him immensely these last few months--Grey a bit grudgingly, but still--and Noah owed them. "I'll be there in a few. Bye."
After pocketing his phone, Noah traipsed back down the steps and began the trek around the lake to Sirus and Grey's cabin. He used the vigorous walk and the sounds of nature filling the breezy evening air to get his head back on straight. By the time he climbed up the steps to Sirus's porch, shook hands with each guy, Noah breathed a whole lot easier.
"Take a seat." Sirus pulled out a chair at the small table and set a bottle of beer in front of Noah. "Tell us how the dating is going."
Noah grimaced. "Just got home from one." His gaze slid Grey's way; he met the man's hazel stare and fidgeted in his chair. This guy knew about Noah's former one-sided crush on Sirus, and Noah always felt as if Grey wanted to fuck Sirus in front of him whenever they were together in order to remind Noah that Sirus was his.
Giving Grey a good, hard stare in return, Noah then shifted back to Sirus. "You can tell how the date went by how early it is and the fact that I'm already home. Drove an hour away to meet him and everything, only to have us go our separate ways pretty damn fast."
Empathy filled Sirus's gaze. "Give yourself time. You've only been out for a little over a year, and during most of that time you've kept to yourself."
Using the end of the table, Noah pried the cap off his bottle of beer. "I've been dating for three months now." He took a swig of beer and let the bitter hops slide down his throat before adding, "It's just not working out."
"Don't give up," and "You're desperate and trying too hard," came out of Sirus and Grey respectively.
Noah snarled at Grey. "Thanks for the vote of confidence." He knew Sirus loved this man passionately, and therefore Grey must be a good person, but far too often Noah viewed Grey as an asshole constantly marking his territory. "I fucking know who to call the next time I need some salt rubbed into my wounds."
While shooting Noah an apologetic look, Sirus squeezed Grey's forearm. "What do you mean by that, babe?"
Grey lifted Sirus's hand and pressed a kiss to the back, but at the same time he put a penetrating focus on Noah, and spoke directly to him. "From the moment I met you, Maitland, I sized you up as a fierce competitor, as someone who puts his balls to the wall for everything he wants and cares about. In the beginning, I thought that meant I might have one hell of a fight on my hands if you decided to challenge me for Sirus." As Grey said that, Noah swore to God the man had hackles and that they rose in defense. But just as fast he settled and added, "My money says you're quietly forceful in dating in the same way you are at everything you do: you want to be good at it, you think you need to be good at it in order to meet someone special, and you are hungry as hell to have something meaningful in your life again. That's just the kind of guy you are. All of that, on a very subtle wavelength, is actually making guys step back from you, rather than wanting to get closer to see what you're about."
Falling back in his seat, Noah let his beer bottle fall to the table with a thunk. "Fuck."
"I might add," Grey flashed a one-sided grin, "I can see all of this in you because I know myself very well, and we're very similar in a lot of ways."
A sharp bark of laughter escaped Noah. "Not even close, man."
Grey raised a brow. "Yes we are; very. Only I used what I knew about myself as a way to pick a very particular type of man who would not challenge me, because I didn't want to love anyone, and I didn't want anyone to love me. I made sure I never let anyone in my life who would."
"Until you met Sirus," Noah said.
"Until I stumbled onto Sirus by accident," Grey corrected. "He was--is--unlike anyone I've ever known, yet I still foolishly thought I could control and manage what we would feel for each other."
With a chuckle, Sirus leaned over to Grey and pecked a kiss high on his cheek. "And you see how that worked out for him."
Crap. Noah rubbed at the tension growing behind his eyes. "So then you're saying I should stop dating entirely until I get my shit together."
"No," Grey corrected, again, but gently this time, "I'm saying become aware of the subconscious agenda you're projecting like a beacon when you go out on dates and adjust yourself accordingly to correct it."
Bad dates, his recently unleashed hunger for men, and the desire for a relationship all swirled in Noah's mind. Fear that whatever choices he made might hurt his family bore down on Noah and made him feel as if he constantly carried a boulder on his back. "It's something to think about," he murmured, not sure what else to say.
More sympathy filled Sirus's eyes. "You have more going on in your life than dating anyway." An upbeat tempo filled his tone. "How's business? How are Seth and Matthew?"
Noah breathed a sigh of relief. "The kids are great, and I just agreed to fix up the cabin on the west side of the lake. I'll work it between..."
As Noah circled part of the lake on his way back home, he reluctantly admitted Grey might have more going for him than a handsome face and killer body. Noah was beginning to see the layers in the man, and why Sirus found him so fascinating. The dude had fucking hit the nail on the head when assessing Noah and his demeanor--not to mention his expectations--when going out on these dates. Noah needed to find a way to relax, go with the flow, and stop hoping for an emotional connection before even saying hello.
For Noah, though, one thought kept filling his mind. "Love and respect the woman you take to your bed, son; no advice I can ever give you will hold you in better stead than that." Noah's father had spoken those very words to him when he was fifteen years old. Noah had such respect for his parents' marriage that the advice had been easy to take to heart. He couldn't help feeling the same advice should apply to being with a man. Upon that thought, an ache immediately filled Noah's chest and he stumbled at the foot of his steps, staying there while he regained his breath.
Since admitting to being gay, and sharing that he intended to pursue a relationship with another man, Noah had suffered a strained, stilted communication with his both of his parents, but mostly with his father. He'd always had such a good relationship with his mom and dad; he loved and admired them so much. It killed Noah not to be able to talk to his father about the turmoil living inside him daily. He was crushed by the loss, and--
Stop it! Stop being a pussy and feeling sorry for yourself. You made your bed, now quit complaining and lie in it.
Heeding the inner voice to buck up, Noah jerked to his feet and strode into his cabin, fired up to get his goddamn life back in order. Grey had given him good advice. Noah needed to just chill out and enjoy the time spent with a man on a date, and appreciate what that man had to offer him.
Stop trying so hard.
It was good advice. And something Noah needed to figure out how to heed.
A week later, Noah pulled his truck to a stop in front of his next job--a favor for his ex-wife's cousin--when a heavyset man shoved a younger guy out of an apartment building and shouted, "I told you not to come back here! The owner ain't giving you any more chances. You don't pay, you don't stay!"
The dark-haired young man sprang right back into action and tried to push past the bigger dude. "At least let me get my stuff." His entire body strained visibly with his attempt to get back into the apartment building. "I have a right to our things!"
"Not when you've been evicted!"
The beefy guy shoved the smaller one away, sending the kid to the ground and skidding across the sidewalk. No fucking way. Noah growled and jumped into the fray. Pushing his way in between the pair, blocking the younger man on the sidewalk, Noah pulled up to his full height, opened his frame, and knew he presented one hell of an intimidating figure.
"I don't know what the fuck is going on here," Noah uttered in a lethal tone, "but you for goddamn sure don't have any right to put your hands on this person like you just did."
The burly guy clenched his fists and leaned into Noah's space. "Stay out of it."
Noah didn't back down an inch. "You put me right in the goddamn middle of it when you assaulted this kid."
"He's not a kid. He hasn't paid his rent and he's been evicted because of it." Movement on the ground behind Noah had the bigger guy glancing down at his victim. Quickly, the bigger man backed up to protect the apartment door again. "He has no right to be here. I'm just following the owner's orders."
With a grunt, the younger man got to his feet and stepped up to stand at Noah's side. As he brushed pieces of the sidewalk off his scraped-up arm, the pings and dings of pebbles hitting the concrete filled the air like the loudest rainstorm on a tin roof. "I just want the clothes, Terrell." A husky scratch textured the young man's voice, making Noah think he'd shed a lot of tears recently. In immediate response, beyond his control, Noah's gut twisted. "Let me get inside and bag up the clothes. You can keep everything else. Sell it to get the owner some of the money back--whatever you want."
The burly guy--Terrell, the kid had called him--looked at the younger man and suddenly blanched. "I'm just doing what I was told." The rancor seeped from Terrell's tone, and the fight left his big frame. "I'm sorry I shoved you, Zane, I really am, but I gotta do my job."
Taking the forcefulness out of his voice too, Noah asked Terrell, "Why don't you give the owner a call to see if he or she will reconsider letting this guy get his clothes? I don't think that's too much to ask."
Zane's voice cracked again. "Please, Terrell." His eyes, the fucking purest blue Noah had ever seen, were awash with wetness. "Let me get our clothes."
Terrell mixed a curse with a sigh and then muttered, "I'll be right back."
Once Terrell entered the building, Noah exhaled and scratched his hands through his hair. He turned to the young man still standing on the street with him--Zane. "I'm sure this Terrell guy will get permission for you to get your clothes; everything will work out okay."
As if a geyser had exploded, Zane suddenly burst with animated life. "No it won't!" Clear panic streaked through his voice. "You don't know the owner; he's a total asshole. We've been out for two days now and our stuff is probably already gone." The guy ranted, paced, and tunneled his dark hair into total disarray. "My brother and sister won't have any fresh clothes for school, and I'll run out of money for the motel by tomorrow." He swung his head to look up at Noah, and wildness ruled his gaze. "And if I don't have an address then nobody will hire me, and then I'll be homeless, and I won't be able to pay for food, or a place to live, or anything."
"Whoa. Whoa. Okay." Noah intercepted Zane on his trek and guided the young man to his truck. "Breathe, man. Take a couple of breaths or you're going to hyperventilate and pass out." After opening the passenger side door, Noah eased the guy onto the edge of the seat and pushed his head down between his legs. "There you go. Breathe." He squatted on the sidewalk in front of the kid and squeezed his shoulder in encouragement. "Give yourself a minute, and then start over."
In silence, Noah watched as this young man's frame lifted and fell with each breath he took, for a full minute, before things seemed to return to normal.
Zane finally lifted his gaze, and this time it was almost steady. "I'm sorry." He scrubbed his face, and the gesture exaggerated the paleness of his lips and the dark circles under his eyes. "I know I must look like one of those nut-jobs who rant and rave out in public, who people cross the street to avoid."
"No." Noah looked, stared, couldn't seem to break away. A vicious, yet somehow tender tightness clutched his chest. Shit. He took a breath himself. "You look like someone who's scared."
For a moment Zane's entire body went tense. Then the fight appeared to drain out of him and he slumped against the torn seat covering. "Yeah. I am."
"Okay." Silently, Noah ticked back through Zane's cacophony of rapid information and sorted out the basic information from the mania. "Correct me if didn't process everything, but I recall that you were kicked out of your apartment two days ago, you weren't given a chance to get any of your things, you have a brother and a sister, and that after tonight you won't be able to afford a place to stay." With that, Noah nodded and added, "Does that about cover it?"
Zane's lips thinned to an even paler line. "Yeah."
"Is there a relative you can call?"
Zane immediately went tauter than a drum. "That's not an option."
"All right." There's a story living in that response. Questions, dozens of questions that didn't make sense and Noah had no right to ask punched at his throat to get out. Instead, he measured his tone, and continued to tread carefully. "Do you have steady work?"
"Not full time," Zane replied. "I lost my job a few months back when the business I was working for finally went under." The more he spoke, the more color returned to his skin. "The last two checks they gave me before that wouldn't clear the bank. I have a part-time job now, but it doesn't pay enough, and it doesn't offer nearly enough hours or benefits to take care of my brother and sister."
Noah muttered, "Shit."
With a chuckle, something that sounded ridiculously sweet and genuine, Zane said, "Agreed."
Grinning a bit in return, Noah pushed to his feet and let the wheels start spinning in his mind. He churned and spit out ideas, certain that a solution sat right on the tip of his brain, if only he could grab it. While tossing out a few ideas that weren't realistic at all, or were far too presumptuous, Noah grabbed his tool kit and belt from the bed of his truck. Cans of paint--and why he had them--sent a rush of adrenaline through his system.
Yes. That could work.
"Okay," Noah turned to Zane and crouched down next to him again, suddenly full of adrenaline, "so here's what we're going to do. While you wait for Terrell to let you in to get your clothes, I'm going to go in and take a look at the leaky showerhead in one of these units, because apparently maintenance doesn't stay on top of their job in this place."
Noah flashed another smile. "Right. So I'll take care of that, and then I'm going to show you a cabin. It's just outside of town, up the mountain a bit, and right now it's empty. I live up there too, and in my spare time I'm fixing this other cabin for the owner. Once you see it, you can decide if you want to stay there with your brother and sister, at least until you can get back on your feet." Looking up at the guy from his kneeling position, Noah raised a brow. "How does that sound for a temporary solution?"
A long stretch of silence filled the air between them. During that time, Zane kept his head down, studying the series of scrapes and scratches on his forearm. He picked at a particularly nasty piece of peeled skin, but then suddenly lifted his gaze and blurted, "Why would you do that for me?"
Swirls of too many very readable emotions--uncertainty, fear, suspicion, and good Christ, hints of what looked like desperate hope--created layers and layers of unmatched color in Zane's stare, exposing a very human vulnerability he probably didn't understand showed so clearly in his eyes.
"Why--" Huskiness suddenly coated Noah's voice, a thickness of empathy he hadn't felt build in him so quickly in years. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Why wouldn't I?"
Furrow lines appeared between Zane's brows. "Won't you get in trouble for letting strangers stay at this cabin?"
An overwhelming desire to see this man laugh and feel free and full of ease washed over Noah in a powerful wave. "You let me worry about working out the details with the owner," he shared, his tone softer now--at least, as much as someone with too much grit in his natural voice could achieve. "Seems like you have enough keeping you awake at night already."
Zane didn't reply, and the reality of this moment crash-landed straight into Noah's brain. Fuck. He thinks I'm a pervert or some kind of murderer.
"If you're not comfortable coming with me," Noah got to his feet and gave Zane plenty of space to call his own, "you can call someone to let them know where you're going. You can follow me up to the cabin in your own car."
Red crept up Zane's cheeks, turning them ruddy. "I don't have a car."
Noah bit back the urge to smile. "I'll give you the address and you can use the money you were going to spend at the motel tonight to pay for a cab instead."
Zane licked the edge of his lip and then started to worry it between his teeth. "I don't have anything to give you as payment or rent for the cabin. At least not today. Maybe in a few weeks I could come up with something."
Noah exhaled, and a hundred-pound weight flew off his shoulders. He's not scared of me; it's just that his pride won't let him take charity. Back on steady ground, Noah explained, "The cabin needs repairs done to it. Most of them are cosmetic, or only require a minimal knowledge of home repair. Painting, resurfacing the floors, some exterior beautification ... stuff like that. If you want to take a few of those tasks in hand, I think I can work out a deal with the owner for reduced rent for you. I know her. She's a good lady."
"Okay, it's a deal." Just as fast as Zane lifted his hand in offering, it fell to his side, and he slumped. "Living in town, I can walk my brother and sister to school in the morning, and they can get a ride home in the evening from someone who lives close by. If I'm halfway up a mountain, I won't be able to get them to and from school."
A solution flashed like a neon sign in front of Noah, but before it spilled out of him, he swallowed the offer back down inside him. Good Christ. What am I doing? I don't know this kid. Then Noah caught the way Zane rubbed his palms repeatedly against his jeans, and once again saw the cut-up forearm. On instinct, Noah let his gut take over from his head. "I pretty much drive my work truck everywhere," he shared. "As long as you can afford to put gas in it, you can use my car while you're staying at the cabin."
Zane's pupils dilated and took over the blue. "I don't know..."
Terrell emerged from the apartment building right then, with three overstuffed trash bags in hand. In a winded voice, he said, "Owner wouldn't let you back inside, but he let me get the clothes. I threw in a few other things from the kids' room I thought I could get away with."
In a rush, Zane flew to Terrell and shook his hand. "Thank you. I appreciate everything you were able to do for me for as long as you did."
With a nod, Terrell went back inside.
As Zane dragged the bags across the sidewalk, Noah settled his tool belt over his shoulder and lifted his kit from the ground. "I'm going to go take care of that leaky showerhead." He walked backward and jerked his thumb toward the building. "If you want to throw your bags in the back and wait for me, I should be out within an hour. I'll show you the cabin then. If you decide to move on, I'll understand that too. It's up to you."
With that, Noah gave Zane some space to breathe and think. As Noah rang the buzzer for the appropriate apartment, he got a glimpse of Zane, standing with his bags, still as a statue, a decision clearly not yet made. The young man hadn't moved by the time Noah went inside.
Noah knew what he wanted, though; what truth sat in his gut with a certainty he hadn't experienced in ages. It didn't make a damn bit of sense, but Christ, Noah really, really wanted Zane to be sitting in his truck when he came back outside.