I need a night to remember and forget. Tate Gibson sat in his car in the parking lot of Donovan Apartments and stared at the building. Although he saw the shadows moving in front of the windows, he wasn’t paying any attention. He had too much on his mind. He hadn’t planned on making the detour home and sure as hell not for the reasons he’d come back to where he’d grown up.
He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. His friend Blake had sworn the party would be a good way to get his mind off his troubles. He had to be crazy. Coming to the college for a night of drinking and possibly hooking up with someone wouldn’t take his mind off anything. Still, he hadn’t driven across town to sit in his car.
Tate left the vehicle and hit the lock. In less than forty-eight hours’ time, he’d be on his way back to South Korea. He scrubbed the top of his head with his palm. Jesus. He’d been through too much in the last year. He didn’t mind coming home, but not for a funeral. He was too young to deal with this kind of heavy psychological stuff.
“Get your ass in here,” Blake shouted out of his front window. “Been waiting for you.”
He sighed. Trust Blake to know when he needed to be pulled out of his own head. He strode across the parking lot to the apartment building. Someone had propped the door open and people milled around the foyer as well as up the stairs to the second level. He snorted as he approached the door to Blake’s. A thick rock held the door open and music blasted into the hall.
Blake appeared in the doorway and held a plastic cup. “About damn time.”
“It’s not a good day, okay?” He stuffed his hands into his jeans pockets. “Lay off.”
“I’ve got someone here I want you to meet.” Blake draped his arm around Tate’s shoulders and steered him into the apartment. “He’s sweet and handsome and loves to suck cock.”
Finding a fuck friend for the night appealed to Tate, but he disliked when Blake set him up. “I don’t know.” Blake’s taste in men left more than a little to be desired.
“Bullshit. You do, too. You want someone to make you forget, right? Even if for an hour? He’ll hit the spot.” Blake marched Tate up to a man with blond hair and a tattoo on the side of his neck. The man grinned and folded his arms. The muscles in his upper body bulged.
“This is Lance. He’s up for anything and clean.” Blake pushed Tate into Lance. “You’re welcome.”
Tate eased back a foot and forced a smile. He didn’t mind tats on anyone, but the neck tat of a skull breathing fire turned him off.
“So, I hear you’re in the Army.” Lance nodded. “You’re a runner, too?”
Oh fuck. “Yes, on the runner part. It’s how I blow off steam, but no on the Army part. I’m in the Air Force. I oversee maintenance on the planes and work on them when they break down or are damaged.”
“Uh-huh.” Lance’s eyes widened. “Sounds exciting.” He sipped from his plastic cup. “Uh, do you want a beer?”
“Sure.” Truth be told, he didn’t need the alcohol, but he doubted Lance would keep up the conversation without it. He drifted to the edge of the living room and surveyed the crowd. For only twenty-six, he felt a lifetime older than the rest of the people at the party. Most of the men and women were still in college, worrying about papers, exams and life beyond graduation. Not him.
He’d spent the last two days talking his mother down from her emotional ledge and suppressing his own feelings. He shook his head. He didn’t belong there. He’d been given five days’ leave and should be at home. Christ, there was so much to do. He refused to let anyone down again. What did he think he’d accomplish by going to a party? He could hear his sister’s voice in his head, reminding him to have fun. Fat lot of good that did for her. He’d gone off to join the Air Force and left her behind. She’d told him she’d be all right. Promised him she’d stay out of trouble. He should’ve known from the first moment he’d seen her latest boyfriend, Aaron, she’d be in for a world of hurt. He hadn’t held up his end of the deal. He’d let her live her life and in return, she ended up dead. His mother blamed him and Aaron, despite being the reason she’d gotten into the damn car, swore Tate’s leaving had caused her to act recklessly. Fucking hell. He so did not belong at a party.
Tate kept his hands in his pockets and strode across the room. At the doorway, he collided with a solid body. “Sorry,” he muttered. When he glanced up, he stared into the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. “Whoa.”
The owner of the blue eyes grinned. “Hi.”
“I’ll get out of the way. I was just leaving.” Tate ducked into the hallway and the cooler air.
“Are you okay?” the man said. “You look lost. Did someone slip you something? I told Blake not to have that shit here.”
“Huh? No.” Christ. The last thing he needed was an illegal substance in his body. “No, I’m good. Sober and clean.” He appraised the man and bit back a sigh. Tall, dark hair with a hint of curl. A slight dimple in his cheek and perfect teeth. The T-shirt clung to his upper body like a second skin. So the man was a little thin? He knew how to wear the shirt and jeans. Why couldn’t Blake have set him up with this one? Probably because this guy was already taken.
“Cool.” He extended his hand. “I’m Raine. Like the stuff that falls from the sky.” He shrugged and blushed from his hairline to his collar. “My mom was a hippie.”
“There’s nothing wrong with a little creativity.” He shook hands with Raine. “I’m Tate. I have no idea where my mother got my name.”
Raine grinned. “I take it parties aren’t your thing?”
“Normally, I’m game for a few beers with my friends, but Blake… He knows how to throw a party that can get out of hand in seconds.” Tate leaned on the wall. “He’s one of my oldest friends, so I put up with a lot of his shit.”
“I’ve lived across the hall from him for almost a year. He’s a piece of work all right.” Raine tipped his head. “If you want a little kind of silence, I’m right over here.”
He glanced over his shoulder at the party, then swept his gaze over Raine again. He’d said he wanted to forget his sadness. Raine fit the bill physically. “Got a couple of beers?”
“I do.” Raine opened his door. “Come on in.”
Tate strode across the hall and followed Raine into the other apartment. Once Raine closed the door, the sound from the party lessened. Tate sighed. “Is he always this loud? Blake?”
“Every weekend.” Raine opened the refrigerator and withdrew two amber bottles. “It’s light beer. Blake brought it over and never took it home.” He handed one over to Tate. “What’s your major?”
“Shit.” Raine rummaged through a drawer. “I don’t have an opener. I forgot these aren’t the twist ones.”
“I’ve got a church key.” He pulled the bottle opener from his wallet. “I got this when I got my first promotion.”
“A church key?” Raine tipped his head. “Is your mom or dad a minister?”
“No.” He stared at Raine. “You’ve never heard of a church key?” He held up the credit-card-sized piece of metal. “Back in the day, the deacons at the church had keys and supposedly they looked like this. I don’t know, but that’s what I’m told. Anyway, my old man always called bottle openers like this the church key. It stuck.” He popped the top on the bottle. “Hand me your beer.”
Raine watched him as he opened the second bottle. “Huh. I never knew that.”
“Now you do.” He surveyed the apartment. Where Blake’s was crowded with furniture and usually people, Raine had a minimalist theme going. “Mind if I sit?”
“I’d be offended if you didn’t.” Raine perched on the arm of the lone couch. “So you and Blake. He’s not your boyfriend or anything?”
Tate shook his head. “Blake isn’t the type to settle down and I’m not into guys who can’t keep it in their pants.”
“I’ve never seen him with the same man twice.” He sipped the beer. The tangy brew slid down his throat and cooled some of the fire in his belly. “But he does pick out good alcohol.” Shitty at matchmaking, too.
Raine clinked bottles with Tate. “Here’s to Blake’s lousy taste in men, but decent one in booze.” He rested his feet on the coffee table.
Tate downed more of the beer, then stared at the table. “That’s milk crates and plywood,” he blurted. “Sorry. I’ve never seen such a situation.”
“Oh, yeah. I needed something to put my laptop on when I’m working and didn’t want to buy a desk. This is easier to pack up and move.” Raine crossed his ankles. “Until last year, I had to get a new place at the end of each year. Since I’m going into the master’s program in the fall, I don’t have to move.”
Tate sighed and gripped the nearly empty bottle. He shifted on the seat enough to look at Raine. “You asked me, so I’ll ask you. Where’s your boyfriend?”
“Don’t have one.” The blush returned. “Single and ready to mingle or whatever it’s called.”
Raine waved his hands. The beer sloshed in his bottle. “Strike that. I mean… Christ, I don’t know what I mean. I don’t have a boyfriend. The last time I tried to date, the guy said I was too nerdy and turned me down.”
He placed his palm on Raine’s thigh. “What if I said I wouldn’t?”
Raine dropped the bottle onto his lap and yelped. “Wait. Wouldn’t turn me down?” He wound his fingers around the neck of the beer and stared at Tate. “You just met me.”
“So?” Tate stood, then put his bottle on the makeshift coffee table. “Sometimes things are meant to happen fast.”
“Fast maybe, but are you sure? I’m…no one. I bet Blake has a guy over there that’s more like what you want.” He scrambled to his feet. “Someone hotter.”
“You’re one of the sexiest men I’ve ever met.” Tate tugged Raine into his arms and stuffed his hands into Raine’s back pockets. He liked the way they fit together. “Dance with me. The music is just loud enough for ambience.”
“Sure.” Raine bowed his head and draped his arms around Tate’s shoulders. “I’m not very good at dancing.”
As they swayed together, Tate held Raine to his chest and breathed in the scent of him. Spicy, but fresh. He rested his chin on Raine’s shoulder and feathered a kiss over Raine’s neck. “You’re doing a great job.”
“Am I?” Raine smoothed his hands up and down Tate’s back.
Tate relaxed a bit. He needed this—a soft, quiet moment to gather his thoughts. Having Raine in his arms was definitely a plus. Neither he nor Raine spoke for the longest time. He’d just met Raine and didn’t have much to offer the guy in terms of anything beyond that night, but still. He liked the innocence in Raine’s eyes and the almost clumsy way he conducted himself.
“Tate?” Raine asked. “Can I… I have a question.”
“I’m here,” he whispered.
Raine leaned back in Tate’s arms and toyed with the short hairs at the base of Tate’s skull. The muscle in Raine’s jaw tensed and he blew out a long breath before he spoke. “Will you stay tonight?”
Tate nodded. He didn’t want to be anywhere else.