Derrick wasn’t a huge fan of crowds, but he loved art, which was the only reason he was in downtown San Antonio on a Friday afternoon. He’d come to the Hemisphere Arena grounds to check out the new Art Bonanza with the hopes of finding something special for his new house.
“Ohhhh, you look like a man in dire need of a walk on the wild side!”
Derrick spun around so fast that he was dizzy for a couple of seconds. He blinked away gray and black dots so he could see who had spoken, or borderline cat-called him. Maybe full-on. I don’t know.
His gaze landed on a short man with a big smile, a lot of freckles and bright red hair. Derrick’s first thought was the guy looked like a leprechaun.
“Yeah, I’m talking to you, good-lookin’. Come on over here and try my wild and wicked devil dog!”
What the heck… Derrick noticed the cart and sign behind the man. Niall’s Gourmet Hot Dogs. He cocked an eyebrow at the guy who might or might not be Niall. “Do you always harass potential customers?”
The redhead’s smile didn’t falter at all as he winked at Derrick. “Well, you weren’t a potential customer when you walked on by me, but now you are, so I’d say my advertising methods work. Gotta take a chance now and then, you know. Nothing ventured, and all that. Besides, you’re here to celebrate art! Have a little fun—and a spicy, amazing hot dog!”
Derrick wasn’t the only by-passer. “Why aren’t you trying to sell to them?” He gestured at some of the people walking near them.
Rather than answer, the man stepped behind his cart and used tongs to remove a hot dog from the grill. He held it up and waggled his eyebrows. “You know you want some.”
Derrick willed himself not to blush. “Are— Are you—” he spluttered, unable to get the rest of the question out.
“I’m just asking if you want a wild and wicked devil dog. Live a little, my man.”
Maybe the guy wasn’t flirting. Derrick had thought— No, he just wants to sell a hot dog. He wouldn’t flirt with me for real. It’d been a while since a guy had flirted with him in any way, however, so it wouldn’t hurt him to get a hot dog and chat with the cute redhead for a minute. Besides, Derrick couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a hot dog. “Okay, sure. Er, what’s on this amazing hot dog?”
“Why don’t you let me surprise you? I promise, it’ll be a good surprise. I’m Niall, by the way, and you are?” Niall dropped the hot dog onto a bun and started piling on toppings.
Derrick tried not to wince. Relinquishing control of what was going into his body had always been tough for him, and that didn’t just mean food. “Derrick. Tovar. Derrick Tovar.” He sounded like an idiot.
Niall winked at him again. “Well, then, Derrick Tovar Derrick Tovar, my last name is McKinley. Come a little closer. I won’t bite unless you ask me to.”
That blush was back, heating up Derrick’s cheeks. “Do you flirt with all the guys?”
“Nah,” Niall said. “Not even half of them. Same with women. I’m particular about who I offer my favors to.”
Hm. Bet he sells a lot of hot dogs with that schtick. But there weren’t any other customers around. Derrick moved closer to the hot dog cart. His nose burned when he caught a whiff of hot peppers. “I should have taken something for heartburn. Spicy foods, you know.”
Niall chuckled. “Oh, nah, you won’t need any of that with my dogs. I have a secret ingredient that makes ’em heartburn-proof.”
“Sure you do.” Derrick licked his lips in anticipation. So what if he got heartburn? It might be worth it. The hot dog smelled delicious and it was piled high with toppings.
“It’s true,” Niall assured him. “Old family recipe, brought over with us from Ireland. Here. Take a bite.” He had placed the dog and bun in a white paper tray. “I’ll get you some chips to go with it, and a drink, too.”
Derrick took the hot dog, his mouth watering and his hunger making itself known with a rumble through his belly.
“You want plain chips, barbecue, sour cream, or salt and vinegar? And what kind of drink do you want? I have soda, tea, water.” Niall tapped the salt and vinegar chips. “I think these are the best.”
“Those, then, and a sweet tea, please.” Derrick stopped tormenting himself and took a bite of the hot dog. “Mmph. Ohmygod. S’good.” Forget not talking with food in his mouth—he had to sing Niall’s praises. The flavors of quality meat, spicy peppers, tangy cheese, crunchy…other things, all blended together for a near-orgasmic explosion of culinary perfection. Even a few days of heartburn would be worth the price.
“Told ya it’s good.” Niall opened the bag of chips and set them in front of Derrick. He grabbed a bottle of chilled tea. “I can make better tea myself, but this is easier for the customer and me. Not bad, either.” He twisted the top off the bottle. “Enjoy, stud. I’ve got to take this kind lady’s order. Don’t run off on me.”
Since Derrick hadn’t paid, he couldn’t very well leave. He didn’t mind eating at the cart, though. He had shade and there was a nice breeze tempering the hot, humid day. As Derrick ate, he watched Niall. While Niall was chatty with the customers, he didn’t give any of them the same broad smile he’d given Derrick, and he didn’t flirt, either.
That kind of made Derrick feel special. Stop it. He doesn’t think I’m special.
Niall glanced at him and Derrick stopped mid-bite, held captive by Niall’s emerald-green gaze for a moment before realizing he had to look like a fool, standing there with a hot dog in his mouth.
Derrick went back to enjoying his food while Niall served customers and rang up their bills. Niall was outgoing and the customers seemed to like him, laughing and joking with him. Even one guy who’d been snappish at first, grilling Niall on the ingredients of the hot dogs, had ended up grinning and giggling.
“See? Wasn’t a one of them that I wanted to flirt with.” Niall smirked. “Just you, stud. Tell me about yourself.”
Derrick finished off the bag of chips, then washed them down with a drink of tea. He set the bottle on the cart. “I’m a financial manager with a company that specializes in the medical field.” One of the best and brightest of the up-and-coming financial managers, but he didn’t add that. He knew how boring his job sounded, so he couldn’t help but add, “I also posed for a charity calendar, um, an all-male calendar to raise money to find a cure for childhood cancer. And I’m ninety-three percent sure the entire photo shoot was jinxed.”
Niall’s eyes went wide, his face lit up and he snapped his fingers. “Oh ho! I know what photo thing you’re talking about! The one that made the news a few months back because that lady poisoned people then tried to murder her husband? That one?”
Derrick’s gut cramped and he wished he hadn’t brought up the subject. “Yeah, that one. Anyway. How much do I owe you?”
Niall’s expression fell. “Hey, I didn’t mean to make you run off. The meal’s on me.”
Derrick was surprised. “Isn’t your whole point here to make money?”
“Not my whole point,” Niall countered. “I like to feed people and talk to folks. There’s more to this world than money.”
He must not have grown up poor. “You’ve forgotten what my job is.”
Niall braced one forearm on the counter. “Nope, not at all. You aren’t your job— Well, but if you think you are, then you need to get out and find yourself again.”
“I haven’t lost myself.” Derrick took out his wallet. His job didn’t define him, did it? His past did. Isn’t that how it works for everyone?
Niall reached over and pushed Derrick’s hand back before he could open his wallet. “Put that up. I told you, the meal’s on me. I wouldn’t say no to a date, though.”
Derrick was so startled that he dropped his wallet. God, he’s going to think I’m a dork. He picked it up. “What? A date? Are you serious?”
“As serious as I get,” Niall said. He smiled, and Derrick went warm with arousal. “Unless you only date people that go to work in business attire. Even then, you know what? You need to come on a date with me.”
“I do?” Derrick was amused and a little charmed. “Why is that?”
“Do you really need a reason? Am I not reason enough?”
The way Niall said it, the humor in his voice, kept him from coming across as conceited.
“Tell me,” Niall began, leaning closer to Derrick. “When was the last time you did something spontaneous? You strike me as a man that likes to follow a plan. You got those five- and ten-year plans drawn up?”
“Of course. Don’t you?” Derrick’s pulse raced faster the more Niall leaned in. “You must want more than to run a hot dog cart.”
Niall’s gaze lowered—to Derrick’s lips, he thought. He licked them and saw Niall’s nostrils flare.
“I do indeed want more, but the things I want can’t be consigned to a time limit,” Niall murmured. “People don’t work that way.”
He wasn’t making any sense, but Derrick didn’t care. He was about to do something impulsive—and he didn’t do impulsive. Even volunteering for the calendar shoot had been something he’d considered from all sides before committing to it. “When and where would this date take place?”
Niall brought one hand up then brushed his fingertips over Derrick’s bottom lip. “Tomorrow night. I’ll meet you here. My brother will be working the cart for me after six. Come dressed for fun.”
“What does that mean?” Derrick wanted a definition of fun in this instance. “Where are we going?”
Niall lowered his hand and took a step back. That broad, genuine smile was back in place. “It means you’ll have to wait until tomorrow night to find out.”
“You’re sure of yourself,” Derrick observed.
“Nothing wrong with being confident, or in reaching for what you want. Nothing at all. Gotta take some chances to achieve your dreams,” Niall said. “See you tomorrow, Derrick Tovar.” Then he greeted a group of customers as they strolled to the cart. “Good afternoon, folks. What can I get y’all?”
Derrick wasn’t sure whether or not he should hang around longer, wasn’t certain if their conversation was over, but the customers kept coming. We didn’t even exchange phone numbers. How does he know I’ll show up? Niall would be there, or his cart would. Renting a space for the art event couldn’t be cheap.
After a few minutes, Derrick caught Niall’s eye and nodded. Niall winked at him then went back to waiting on customers.
He didn’t seem to doubt that Derrick would be there for their date, or if he did, he was hiding it well.
Derrick wondered what made the man so comfortable in his own skin. He’d be sure to ask Niall tomorrow.