Jude sat at his desk, overlooking Los Gatos town square. The outside temperature soared and heat shimmered from the cobbles. To the right was the ice cream parlor with its fake Western cladding and swing doors. It was doing a roaring trade—the kids, fresh out of school, clambered there, socks askew, bags dragging on the ground and clutching a few dollars.
To his left was the Sunnyside Mall. Not much happening around the entrance. People didn’t linger when they could be shrouded in air-conditioning. A phone rang and his colleague Mary answered it with a bored, “Tinton’s Stationary, satisfying all your office needs.”
Jude sighed and admired the courthouse opposite. It was a majestic building, several floors high with tall black windows. Eight steps led to pillars that housed a brass rotating door. For a low population, the courthouse in Los Gatos was always busy. But Jude didn’t mind. It meant his dull job had some interesting scenery at least. Once there was even a police standoff in the square, when a criminal had decided to make a run for it rather than serve his ten years behind bars.
That had been an exciting day.
Not like today. Today was dull as dishwater and had no promise of improving anytime soon.
He watched a patrol car pull into the lot reserved for the courthouse. It was the only vehicle there apart from a shiny black Harley with chrome handlebars, which stood leaning to the right on its kickstand with the sun glinting off its polished exhaust.
Jude had never been on a bike. He’d always wanted to, but not had the opportunity. Perhaps he should give it a go. Try his luck at burning rubber and hit Route 66.
He huffed and weaved his pen between his fingers. Who was he kidding? He’d never pass as a rough, tough biker. His biceps were barely pimple-sized, and despite living in California all his life, his skin was bed-sheet white. Not that he was bad looking. Carl, his last boyfriend, had told him often enough that he was handsome. Jude just wasn’t of the macho variety.
“Jude, you got those reports yet?” Nicole called.
“I’m on it, boss,” he shouted back and returned his attention to the brain-scrambling spreadsheet before him. He couldn’t see the point in these weekly printouts. No one ever did anything with them. They gave him a headache, then they were filed away for all eternity.
But he had no option but to set to his task. So, with a heavy heart and his pulse thudding in his temples, Jude got to it.
Eventually, five o’clock arrived. With a flourish, he flicked off his laptop and shut the lid. He stood, stretched out his spine and pushed his arms above his head. Time to go home, finally.
Not that there was much going on at home, but at least he didn’t have to stare at spreadsheets for another minute. Since he and Carl had gone separate ways, life had been quiet. Jude knew that he’d fix that at some point. Get himself out there again, on the market for love and lust, but not yet. Not that he didn’t want someone to share his life with, he did, he just didn’t want the hassle…or the sting of rejection.
One rebuff a summer was enough.
He’d loved Carl but Carl hadn’t loved him. That’s the way it was.
He called goodbye to Nicole and Mary, then patted his wallet to check it was still in his pocket. Maybe he’d treat himself to an ice cream the way the kids had. It wasn’t as if he had to watch the calories, in fact, he needed them.
The California air hit him like the blast from a hairdryer, hot and parched. Pulling on his shades, he wandered over the square. As he did so, a guy in black worn leather pants and a faded gray T-shirt headed quickly down the steps from the courthouse. He threw a look over his shoulder, his tousled black hair flicking across his face, then threw a set of keys in the air and caught them with a snatch.
An appreciative tremor went through Jude.
Now there is a perfect specimen of a man.
The epitome of tall, dark and handsome. Not only that, he was wrapped in sexy leather that left nothing to the imagination. Broad shoulders, wide chest, neat waist, long, thick legs and some interesting bulges around the groin area.
The guy paused for a moment when he hit the bottom step, shot a glance Jude’s way, grinned then strutted up to the bike.
Jude found himself walking straight past the ice cream parlor.
The god-wrapped-in-leather threw his leg over the bike and jammed in the key. A deep rumble thundered from the exhaust.
Jude’s stomach did a flip of excitement. He’d already been admiring the bike—it was a million times more gorgeous now it had a hot bit of ass on it.
“Hey, wanna ride?” the guy called.
Jude looked over his shoulder. Surely he wasn’t speaking to him.
There was no one behind him.
“Yeah, you. Wanna ride?” the guy said again then revved the engine.
“I…I don’t have a helmet?”
He shrugged, cocky smile still in place. “Neither have I.”
Something about that smile called to Jude. He wasn’t sure what it was. The flash of white teeth on a face dark with stubble? The piercing eyes peering from a mop of black hair? Or the way the engine seemed to vibrate through the air, zinging over his skin, his nerves…to his dick.
“Yeah, all right then.” Jude walked up to the bike.
“Quick, get on and hang on.” Another gut-rumbling rev jangled in Jude’s ears.
He didn’t hesitate. It was out of character for him to be so spontaneous, take a risk. But he embraced it.
What was the worst that could happen?
As the bike pulled away, roaring past the cop car parked next to it, Jude slipped his arms around the rider. He was wide and solid, and when he leaned forward his T-shirt was soft on Jude’s cheek.
The road became a blur as they sped past several shops, over the lights and past the opposite entrance to the mall.
“Where are we going?” Jude shouted.
“Anywhere away from here.” The rider flicked his head to the right a little. “I’m Neo.”
Neo leaned farther forward and went up a gear. “Hold on tight.”
As he’d spoken, they’d hit the freeway. The bike was like a stallion let loose at the racetrack. It was as if it wanted to be ahead of all the other traffic on the road.
Or was that Neo who wanted to be ahead?
He was a great rider, Jude acknowledged that, and it was thrilling to be going at such a speed it was impossible to count the lampposts at the side of the road.
But he couldn’t help be a little worried. He’d thrown caution to the wind and was now hurtling toward the Pacific coast at an incredible pace, without a helmet, and with a man he knew nothing about.
Still, it beat a meal for one and reruns of The Sopranos.
They drove on and on, going north up the coast. The ocean stretched out to their left and the homes that overlooked it were exclusive and beautiful.
Eventually, Neo slowed. The bike purred past several houses, pausing slightly outside each one, then came to a halt on the driveway of Ocean Retreat. The mailbox out front had several letters and junk leaflets sticking from it.
Neo stomped his feet onto the ground and silenced the engine.
“You live here?” Jude asked.
Really, did I get that lucky? Gorgeous and rich?
“Nice, huh?” Neo nodded and pushed his messy hair over his head.
“Yeah, just a bit.” Jude checked his carefully styled quaff. Yep, it had gone to shit with the rush of wind. As he pressed it back into place best he could, he took in Neo’s home.
It was a low-rise building with a flat roof and painted blue-gray. It had an oak door with a long, misted window next to it. It was minimal, with topiary pot plants set against the walls and a cerise bougainvillea hanging down the left-hand side, its one splash of color.
Jude climbed off the bike, his feet sinking in the gravel on the driveway.
Neo kicked down the stand then stood. He raised his chin and sniffed the air.
“Smells good,” Jude said.
“What?” Neo frowned slightly.
“The sea air.”
“Oh, that. Yeah, it does.” He strode to the mailbox and retrieved its contents.
“You been away a while?” Jude asked, looking at the pile.
“Yeah, something like that.” Neo grinned and walked up to the front door.
Jude got his first real look at his bike partner’s backside. And hot damn, what an ass. The perfect handful, high and pert, encased in black leather…
Jude knew he could have some fine fun with a rear like that. He just hoped Neo was of that persuasion.
Of course he is. Why else would he pick me up and bring me here?
But he’s so out of my league.
Jude shook his head, ridding his self-doubt. Being dumped by Carl had done that to him. Had made him wonder if he was loveable. He pulled in a deep breath and followed Neo up to the door.
Neo was stooped and fiddling with the lock. It appeared to be temperamental.
“Everything okay?” Jude asked.
“Perfect.” The door swung open and Neo held it wide with the flat of his hand. He tipped his head as though waiting for something. An alarm? But there was no sound, only the silence of the innards of his house.
“Wow, this is nice,” Jude said, peering inside.
“In you go,” Neo said. “Make yourself at home, Jude.”
Oh, Jude liked the way his big biker said his name. It rolled off his tongue and he elongated the ‘U’ making it sound super sexy and kind of lazy.
Jude beat down a wave of lust as he stepped past Neo and into the shadows.
But he soon saw only the hall was shadowed. The rest of the house was bursting with light. The lack of windows at the front was more than made up for at the rear. The entire wall was glass, set before a balcony, and giving a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean as it spun great white rollers onto the shoreline. The sun hovered above the horizon, a great orange orb that had a single skinny black cloud slicing it in half.
“This is incredible,” Jude said, walking across the shiny wooden floor past a long low sofa to the window. “Have you lived here long?”
“No.” Neo shut the front door and headed into a kitchen area.
“You must really like the ocean.”
“I thought you would.”
Jude laughed. “You thought right.”
Neo pulled the refrigerator door open. “Cool.” He paused. “You wanna beer?”
“Well it sure beats the ice cream I was considering treating myself to after work.”
Neo chuckled. “Sounds like you enjoy living dangerously.”
“Hardly. Not wearing a helmet back there is the one and only time I’ve ever broken the law.”
“I got you here in one piece, didn’t I?”
“Can’t deny that.”
Jude watched as Neo tugged two bottles of Becks from the fridge, set them on the counter, then popped the lids. They rattled across the granite.
“Seriously, this is the most exciting thing I’ve done for months,” Jude said, taking an offered beer.
“Really?” Neo drank deeply, then retrieved a drip of froth from his top lip.
“Yeah.” Jude mimicked his action, the chilled liquid a welcome relief to his dry throat.
“So why did you?” Neo asked.
“Why did I what?”
“Get on the bike?”
Neo grinned. “I like your style.” He walked up to the window, assessed the horizon, then set his drink on a low table.
“I like your style,” Jude said quicker than he’d planned to. The words had slid off his tongue.
Neo didn’t respond. But he did put his hand down the front of his pants and appeared to adjust himself as he ran his gaze from Jude’s face to his feet and back again.
“I’ll just…” Neo nodded at a door to the right. “I need a shower. Back in a sec.”
He disappeared, leaving Jude to stare out of the window as she sipped his drink.
What am I doing here?
What am I hoping will happen?
Is Neo an axe murderer?
He huffed and drained his beer. Seriously, his imagination knew no bounds.
The glass door before him had a small silver key beneath the lock. He turned it, then tugged at the handle. It opened, and as it did, he noticed it was a folding door. Quickly, he pushed at it, pleating the panes against one another and exposing the entire front room to the elements.
What a place to live. No wonder Neo appeared so chilled. Who wouldn’t be, living here?
He stepped out onto the balcony, enjoying the briny breeze that pressed his shirt against his torso. To the right, the golden beach stretched for miles, flanked by a sandy cliff. To his left was another house, on stilts, then another similar. He guessed these properties cost an arm and a leg. He wondered what Neo did for a living. Something more exciting than working at a stationary supplier, that was for sure. Perhaps he was a lawyer as he’d been in the courthouse, or a detective, perhaps a private detective, maybe a murder one, or a forensic scientist.
“Hey.” Neo appeared at his side with only a towel around his waist.