* * * *
Crap. Crap. Crap.
Ben bobbed and wove his car through interstate traffic, employing some serious maneuvering and racing tactics to get to the motel as fast as possible.
As he’d done for the past few days while waiting for David to finish work, Ben had settled into his spot, a perfect little patch of grass between two huge, bushy trees. Today, after twenty minutes past David’s schedule, the guy still hadn’t shown at his bus stop. Ben had placed a call to the shelter under the guise of looking for a friend, only to find David had caught a ride home from a fellow employee.
I didn’t figure on that happening at all, let alone so damned quickly.
From observing David recently, in addition to what he’d learned of the man from talking with the warden, Ben had pegged David as introverted, insecure, and nearly terrified of his own shadow. At this point, Ben couldn’t see David resuming his stalking of Christian Sanchez—or in truth, even talking to the man again. David no longer seemed to possess the misguided passion often associated with a person who stalks with the rationale of being in love. Ben had mentioned this to Jonah Roberts in a phone conversation earlier in the day, but Jonah had insisted that given time, once the newness of being released from prison wore off, David would slip back into his old ways.
“And since I don’t have anything to do anyway,” Ben muttered to himself as he eased onto the exit ramp to the road that led to the motel, “I’m gonna be grateful someone gave me some work to help keep my skills honed while I’m away from the job.”
Right then, as Ben rounded a bend, a battered car swerved into his side of the road. The vehicle barreled straight at Ben at top speed just as, less than fifteen feet away, David darted into the street. Fucking shit.
Adrenaline pierced straight into Ben’s chest and kicked his heart rate into overdrive. Jerking on the steering wheel, Ben careened out of the way of the oncoming car—just barely. The lowrider grazed the driver’s side of Ben’s car, but Ben couldn’t even flick him the finger, let alone shout, because David raced in front of Ben’s car, shouting something incoherent and signaling stop with his hands.
“What the fuck!” Ben whipped the car around David, onto the side of the road, and screeched to a stop. With endorphins pumping hard and fast in his system, Ben shifted the car into neutral and shot out of the driver’s-side door. “Jesus, man.” He stormed to the back of the vehicle, straight at David, his breathing hard and heavy. “Do you have a death wish or something? Two people almost just hit you.” Ben leaned down and roared right in David’s face, “What in the hell were you doing?”
David stood on his toes and yelled right back, “I was trying to make sure you didn’t hit the kitten!”
“And in doing so I almost hit you!” Standing toe-to-toe with David like this, so much closer than they’d been those two times at the motel, Ben absorbed David’s features up close; he couldn’t help himself. Rich strands of darker honeyed wheat were layered within light blond hair, and David had a tiny hint of turquoise in his blue eyes, as well as a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of his nose. His mouth was far too lush for a man, but he had a pronounced Adam’s apple, sculpted shoulders, and a height that, while didn’t match Ben’s six feet five, was taller than most. Damn it—standing so close to David woke up something very basic from a long nap in Ben’s core—he’s stunning.
In response, Ben’s heart pumped faster, and it didn’t make him happy. “Do you think it would have been better for me to have to live with slamming into you?” He curled his hands into fists at his sides so he didn’t shake the beautiful fool. “What if I had killed you? Did you ever think about that?”
Crimson flooded David’s cheeks. He parted his lips. “I…I don’t… I’m sorry.” His hand low, David pointed a shaky finger behind him. “The kitten.” He then spun and hopped down into a tree-lined ditch riddled with weeds and bramble, leaving Ben on the side of the road.
He’s going after the damned kitten. Muttering “Shit” under his breath, Ben skidded down into the ditch after his prey.
Broken tree branches littered the shallow ditch, and Ben cursed again as the sharp end of one jammed into his shin. A dozen feet away, up into the trees on the other side of the ditch, David dropped to his knees and crawled under the low-hanging branches of a weeping willow.
Within moments Ben could no longer see David, but he heard the guy softly say, “It’s okay. You can come to me. I’m not going to hurt you.” He paused and then added, “Come on. Come on. It’s all right.”
Shit. Shit. Shit. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” Backtracking quickly, Ben leaped across the ditch and swung open the passenger-side door of his car. “I don’t even like cats.” Still, he grabbed a bag of cheese crackers and hustled back to the willow tree.
Reaching the tree, Ben kept his voice gentle. “Here. Take these.” Squatting, he reached under the willow branches to hand David the bag of fish-shaped crackers. “They’re probably not good for him, but maybe they will get him to come to you.”
With barely a glance at Ben, David took the snack. “Thanks.” After pouring a few in his hand and setting the bag down, David put his palm with the treats flat on the ground. “Are you hungry, baby? Here’s some food for you.” He tossed one of the fish toward the tree trunk.
Now that Ben was in a crouch, he could see a small, furry brown-and-tan ball wedged into a knotted cavern of roots at the base of the tree. Huge blue eyes and a pink nose dominated the kitten’s face. The animal eyeballed the cracker on the ground just a few inches away, and his nose twitched.
“Go ahead and take it,” David crooned, on his knees about four feet away from both Ben and the kitten. “You can eat it. It’s all right.”
Slowly, ever so slowly, the kitten unfurled himself and crept toward the treat. Once he reached it, he sniffed again and then gobbled it up in one bite.
David tossed another one, not quite as far this time, and the kitten went for it. He set down a second, third, and fourth one, creating a trail that led straight to him. The kitten, clearly starving, easily took the bait. The moment he got within grabbing distance, David scooped the animal up and tucked it in the crook of his arm. The kitten instantly meowed and struggled to free himself from David’s hold.
“Quick.” David snapped his fingers in Ben’s direction and held out his hand. “Put some more of the crackers in my hand.” Just as fast as David stretched out his palm, the kitten wiggled under his arm toward his back, and David twisted and threw himself fully into subduing the animal. “He needs to know he can keep eating, and we weren’t just tricking him to catch him.”
In two lightning-fast moves, Ben grabbed the bag off the ground and dumped the rest of the crackers into his own hand. “Here. Here. Here.” Moving his hand in front of the kitten’s nose, Ben lured him back to resting comfortably in David’s arm and then let him eat what was left of the treats.
As the kitten crunched on a fish, David stroked the animal’s head and back. Ben couldn’t help noticing the corded lines down the back of David’s forearm and hand, and the surprising length of his fingers. David had dirt wedged under the short nails, and his forearm had fine blond hairs and a sprinkle of freckles too. A tightness started forming low in Ben’s gut, flared south, and his mouth began going dry. Fuck.
Ben ripped his stare up to David’s face, and when he noted David had his full attention on the kitten, he breathed a sigh of relief. Immediately, though, Ben zeroed in on a smudge of dirt on David’s jaw, and his fingers itched to wipe it away. Or maybe lick it away. Fuck, I bet he tastes good.
No way. Don’t even think about him like that. Ben tore his gaze away and took a fast step back. The kitten meowed at him, but with a glance down, Ben thanked God the food was already gone from his hand. He’d moved so quickly he could have roused curiosity and suspicion in David.
Ben blurted, “Maybe we should get him to the car while he’s still happy and calm from the snack.” Ben then took another step away, making it look as if walking back to the car had always been his intention.
David jerked and lifted his focus to Ben. “Oh.” His voice rose an octave, and he started to fidget. “You’ve done so much already. We’ll be okay. I don’t want to put you out any longer.”
All Ben’s hackles pricked up on end. “The motel is the only thing up this road”—his tone was a little more clipped than he’d meant it to be, but damn it, he didn’t like being brushed off—“so I’m assuming you were headed back to your room when all this went down.”
“Yes, I was.” David scrambled to follow Ben.
“And I was heading back to my room too.” With a flourish—Jesus, everything felt too fucking serious, and Ben needed to lighten the mood—Ben swung open the passenger door and dramatically swept his arm across the opening. “Hop in, and I’ll give you a ride.” Thinking fast, he quirked a brow. “Unless… I’m sorry. Are you parked farther up around the curve?” Ben knew the guy wasn’t, but it was best not to give any cause for suspicion by assuming a grown man didn’t own a vehicle.
David flicked his stare to the ground. “No.” His tone barely registered above a murmur. “I don’t have a car.”
Shit. A tug grabbed Ben in the chest hard. Don’t start feeling bad for him; he’s a job. Wiping his hand against his chest, Ben did a sharp quarter turn and strode around the car. “Then we’re back to my original thought. Get in, and I’ll give you”—Ben eyeballed the bundle of fur from across the hood of the vehicle—“and the budding lion a ride.”
David got in the car without further fuss, and Ben breathed easier.
As soon as Ben got behind the wheel and buckled up, David whispered, “Thank you. For everything.”
Ben shifted the car into drive and muttered, “It’s the least I can do for someone I almost killed.”
“Sorry about that.”
With a glance at David, Ben took note of the spots of red burning his cheeks. “Don’t sweat it. I was just joking.”
“Oh.” David kept his focus downward.
After a moment, when it became clear David didn’t intend to give Ben eye contact again, Ben pulled back onto the road and got them going in the direction of the motel. Unable to help himself, Ben kept sneaking peeks at David, checking on him. On David’s end, he positioned the animal on his lap and ran his fingers over small areas at a time, sifting through fur and feeling around under to the skin.
“Is the little guy okay?” Ben wondered aloud.
“I don’t see or feel any cuts or bites.” As David shared, he lifted the kitten in one hand and frowned. “But he’s really skinny. And really dirty, and he has a ton of fleas. I’ll try to clean him up a bit tonight and then take him with me to work tomorrow. Maybe he has a chip in him, or someone might have reported him missing.” Finally, as Ben pulled into the parking area of the motel, David looked up at him and offered a small smile. “I work at a rescue shelter.”
“Ah.” Ben smiled back. “Then it was fortuitous he ran into your path tonight.” An empty pool stood in between two rows of motel rooms, with parking on either side of the pool. “Which number are you, exactly?”
Once David answered—even though Ben already knew; on his second day of surveillance, he’d shifted down a few rooms so he could be in the room directly across from David’s—Ben eased into the spot in front of David’s door.
“Thanks again for helping me.” David lifted the kitten a bit and wiggled him. “For helping us.” With another little grin, one Ben read as shy, David climbed out of the car.
Rather than drive away, Ben leaped out of the car too. “Do you want me to go get you some stuff for the kitten for tonight?” He glanced between David and the animal. “A can of food and maybe a litter box or something?”
David snapped up to eye contact, his stare wide. “Oh, you don’t have to.”
Ben growled as his hackles rose again. “I wasn’t implying you were forcing me. I’m merely asking if you would like me to.” Taking a breath, Ben ordered himself to dial down his irritation. Jesus, he didn’t know why the guy’s apologetic manner bothered him so much. Plastering on an easier smile, he added, “Besides, you said you didn’t have a car, so you can’t exactly go get the stuff yourself. Do you want the cleaning bill if the kitten poops and pees the night away in your room?”
David rolled his eyes and laughed as his cheeks went pink. “Good point. Let me give you some money.” He reached over his shoulder and immediately muttered, “Crap, I left my backpack on the side of the road. I threw it down when I ran into the street to get the kitten.”
Before David made another move, Ben lifted his hand. “Don’t worry about the money or your bag. Go get an extra key from the office, and I’ll pick up your bag when I pass it on the way out.” After stepping back to his car, Ben paused, his hand on the door. He looked at the too-handsome man in front of him and couldn’t stop words from spilling out of his mouth. “I’m going to grab some dinner first. Do you want me to bring you something to eat?”
Somehow David’s eyes went wider. “Oh no, thanks, but that’s okay.” He waved Ben off. “I didn’t break for lunch until late today, so I’m still full.”
“Okay.” Ben couldn’t help grinning again. Damn, the guy made Ben want to give him a hug and make a promise that the whole world didn’t hate him. Instead, Ben very deliberately swung open his car door. “I’ll be back in a bit with stuff for the kitten.” He started to tuck down into the car but just as fast popped back upright. “My name is Ben, by the way.”
“Hi.” Tucking the kitten higher against his chest, David offered a wavering smile. “I’m David. Thank you again for your help, Ben.”
With that, Ben climbed into the car and closed the door. Hands on the steering wheel, he felt his blood buzz with crazy life right under his flesh, and his nostrils flared as if on the scent of valuable prey. At the same time, his brain screamed with denial. What the hell are you doing, Evans? This man is not for you.
Still, Ben glanced up at David through the windshield, and their gazes collided. Rich pools of blue offered entry into this man’s very soul, and Ben’s cock awakened and his skin grew even hotter. Christ, he hadn’t stared into such sincere, welcoming eyes while sinking deep into a scorching, tight ass in forever. The lure of an endless and sweaty night of coma-inducing sex had Ben reaching for the door handle, his mind already halfway to tearing dirty clothes from David’s lanky body. Hell yes.
Just as fast, Ben let go of the door handle as if it were made of blistering-hot oven coils, and slammed his hand back on the steering wheel. No. No. No. No. Rather than get out of the car, Ben peeled out of the parking lot faster than the law allowed. As he did, he vowed to read every label on cans of cat food when he got to the store, not stopping until he found the best one. Whatever it took to get his mind off the attractive David Joyner.
A possibly unstable man who was his job.…