“I wonder if anyone ever hooked up at the dog park.” Cameron Johnson walked his dog, Winston, to the wrought-iron gates. He shouldn’t be talking to himself. If one of his students saw him, they’d tease him. He didn’t care about being teased or spotted. He loved the kids and a little ribbing from them wasn’t a big deal. What he did care about was finding someone. Jesus. He hated being alone. Sure, Winston was a great companion and could warm the lonely nights, but Cameron wanted a boyfriend. His last one, Lance, drank too much and his constant desire to party had driven a wedge between them.
He led Winston through the gate and closed the locking mechanism. “Okay, Win. Go nuts.” He unclipped the dog’s leash. Winston bounded away from Cameron, then whipped around. With his tongue lolling down the side of his mouth and one ear standing on end, he appeared to be smiling.
Cameron laughed and tugged the tennis ball from his pocket. “Are we really going to play fetch today? Or another game of catch and destroy?” He threw the ball, then strode over to Winston. The dog caught the tennis ball, but instead of bringing it back to Cameron, he plopped onto the grass and proceeded to destroy the flocking.
“For being labeled a black Labrador Retriever, you sure don’t live up to your name.” He scratched Winston’s belly. “You hate water and your retrieval skills leave a lot to be desired. Good thing you’re adorable and I love you.” Cameron shook his head. He shuddered as he thought about the last time he’d given Winston a bath. There had been more water on the grass and patio than on the dog.
Cameron checked the grass, settled beside Winston and stretched out his legs. He’d fallen in love with Winston from the moment he’d seen him and read the accompanying description at the shelter—lovable pup with boundless energy and appetite to match looking for home with someone willing to train him. According to the woman at the shelter, Winston was a guaranteed chick magnet—if he could be trained. Cameron hadn’t wanted a dog to snag a girlfriend. He’d rather snag a sexy man instead.
He swatted Winston’s rump. “Your energy and enthusiasm has pushed more men away than attracted. I’m beginning to think it’s part of your grand plan.”
Winston glanced back at him, snorted then resumed destroying the tennis ball.
“Of course. You don’t like to share.” Cameron leaned back on his hands and surveyed the people in the dog park. He knew pretty much everyone who frequented the area. Most of the folks were friendly and chatted with him. One man seemed to either avoid him or not notice him. He spied the bench and his heart skipped a beat. The hottie had arrived. Every afternoon at five, the same handsome man with the Collie showed up at the park.
Cameron watched the guy. He hadn’t screwed up the courage to say anything to him. ‘Hello’ and ‘goodbye’ were about it. He wanted to talk to him…something like inviting him to coffee or asking if he was single.
But he’d kept his mouth shut.
He turned his attention back to his dog. Why was talking to a guy so hard, but not standing in front of a room filled with teenagers? He didn’t know.
A shadow stretched across Cameron’s legs and Winston stopped destroying the ball. He wagged his tail but didn’t bark. A Collie sniffed Winston’s head. Cameron froze. He knew that dog… It belonged to the hottie on the bench. He glanced up at the owner of the shadow.
“Hi.” The Collie’s owner grinned and extended his hand. “Dolly’s been dying to come over here since we arrived at the park. Our dogs like to play.” He knelt beside Cameron. “Mind if I sit here?”
“Uh…” Shit. Where was his voice? He swallowed and blew out a ragged breath. “Sure.” He nodded. “Your dog is Dolly?”
“Yeah.” The guy sat beside Cameron. Dolly plopped onto the grass and sniffed the ball, then nosed Winston. The man laughed. “She isn’t the most sociable dog.” He met Cameron’s gaze. “Yes, she’s Dolly the Collie. When I got her, she was so small and reminded me of a stuffed animal. It started out as her nickname, but it stuck. What’s your dog’s name? Since my dog has taken such a shine to him…her?”
“Him. His name is Winston,” Cameron said. “Named after the former Prime Minister. I’m not British, but I love history and World War II history. My first dog, a yellow Lab, was named Churchill. Poor guy had cancer and after he passed, I couldn’t go very long without another dog. When I saw Winston, he was named Skip. It didn’t fit. I adopted him and had another name in mind, but he managed to destroy one of my books on Churchill, so I decided he’d be Winston.” He pressed his lips together. He’d given such a long description. “Sorry. I like to talk.”
“It’s okay. I like to talk, too.” He extended his hand. “My name is Josh. It’s a pleasure to meet you and Winston.”
“Oh.” He shook hands with Josh. Somehow the name suited him. Cameron fumbled for his words. “I’m Cameron. That’s Winston.” He bit back a groan. Jesus. He wasn’t good at socialization.
Josh laughed. “I’ve seen you here so many times, but I didn’t want to be pushy.” He sighed. “I like this park. It’s nice and open, but the other dog parents seem cool.”
“It is. A lot of my students bring their pets here, too.”
“Students? What do you teach?” Josh’s eyes sparkled. “College?”
Cameron breathed in the scent of Josh’s cologne and a shiver slid up his spine. Up close he saw the flecks of hazel in Josh’s brown eyes. A lock of Josh’s black hair slid over his forehead and the start of five-o’clock shadow darkened his cheeks. He noticed Josh’s goatee and wondered what it would feel like to kiss him. Would the whiskers be soft or coarse?
“Cameron?” Josh tipped his head. “Are you in there?”
Fuck. He’d been caught staring. “Sorry. I’m not a college professor. I teach eighth grade history at Collins Junior High. I live right around the corner and so do many of my students. They know if they have questions, all they have to do is hunt me down here and I’ll give them help.” He paused. “I’m babbling. Sorry.”
“You apologize an awful lot.” Josh waved his hand. “You’re fine. I never wanted to teach, but I appreciate what you do. I’m not much of a people person.”
“Oh?” He sat up a little straighter. “People aren’t so bad.” He stifled a wince. People aren’t so bad? Where had he come up with that gem? He wasn’t sure, but damn it, Josh made him nervous.
“I’d rather deal with megabytes and code.” Josh shrugged. “They tend to cooperate more and don’t argue.”
“Do you futz with computers?” Gads, he needed to stop talking.
“I’m the IT person for the Shipman, Goldman and Gladstone law firm. They screw up the computers and I fix them. They can be real dicks to work with, but I have my own office and mostly quiet time, so it isn’t too bad.” Josh patted his thigh. “Dolly, stop licking Winston.”
Dolly glanced back at him before she resumed stuffing her nose in Winston’s ear.
Cameron ruffled Winston’s fur. “He doesn’t seem to mind.”
“Maybe not, but she’s still being pushy.” Josh met Cameron’s gaze again. “Would you be interested in grabbing a cup of coffee?”
Cameron opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He flattened his hand on Winston’s rump. Josh, the hottie, had not only struck up a conversation with him, but also looked better than Cameron’s dreams up close and had asked him out…where were his words to respond?
“I guess I took a page out of Dolly’s playbook. I’m sorry.” Josh blushed. “I spend too much time behind my computer.”
“No.” He had to say something and salvage the situation. “I’d love to have coffee with you. The Fourth Street Coffee Paws allows dogs and is nice. I know the guy who owns it.”
“I’d like that.” Josh smiled. “Don’t they have pastries there, too?”
“And special fare for the dogs.”
Josh stood, then offered his hand. “I’m buying.”
Cameron stood and he could’ve sworn sparks shot from his hand to his heart. His breath lodged in his throat. He didn’t care if Josh paid for the coffee or treated his dog. He’d never met someone who’d caused such a deep reaction within him so fast.
“Come on, Dolly. We’re going for another walk.” Josh patted his thigh. “Ready?”
Dolly sniffed the air, licked Winston’s ear once more and stood. She joined Josh at his side.
“She’s so well-behaved. Winston’s a whirling dervish by comparison.” He rattled Winston’s leash. The lab stretched, then wobbled to his feet. He yawned as Cameron clicked the clasp onto his collar.
“He seems pretty mellow.” Josh smiled again. “Maybe Dolly’s magic ear massage relaxed him.”
“I guess.” He picked up the tattered remains of the tennis ball and debated tucking it back into his pocket. Nah. He followed Josh to the exit and fell into step beside him. “Normally, he’s running like a maniac. The lady said he had boundless energy and she wasn’t kidding.”
“How old is he?”
“About four. I’ve had him for two years.” He stopped and tossed the remains of the ball into the trash bin. Winston whined. Cameron patted him on the head. “Sorry, but if you’d stop destroying them, you could take them home.”
“Dolly does the same thing with stuffed toys. She’ll fetch with the best of them, but give her something with puff inside and she’ll have it eviscerated in half an hour.” Josh gestured to the sidewalk. “I’ve wanted to talk to you for the last month, but I was too nervous.”
“Oh?” He laughed and relaxed a bit. “I guess that makes me sound like a creeper. I’ve been watching you since April.” The tips of his ears burned. Should he have admitted he’d crushed on Josh for almost three months? Well, he hadn’t said crush, but still.
Josh didn’t say anything until he and Cameron reached the coffee shop. “So, you know the guy who owns this? Talk about a stroke of genius to allow dogs in the building. I bet they get lots of traffic from the dog park.”
“That’s what Milo tells me.” He nodded to one of the U-shaped couches. “We went to college together.”
“Ah, so there’s history.” Josh settled on the left side of the sofa. “And you’re still friends?”
Cameron sat opposite Josh and patted the cushion. Winston jumped up beside him and rested his head on Cameron’s lap. “He and I were roommates during our first two years of college. I was out already and he wasn’t sure. We kissed a few times and talked about boys we were crushing on at the time, but never took things beyond the innocent level. He likes bodybuilder types. I’m too skinny and, as he put it, like a brother.”
“Nothing wrong with taking care of yourself,” Josh said. Dolly curled up at his feet. “She’s not allowed on the furniture at home.”
“Winston invites himself wherever he wants.” Was he blushing again? Or was his temperature on the rise? He wasn’t sure.
Milo strolled over to the couch. “Hey, you.” He switched his gaze to Josh. “And hel—lo. What can I get you? Your usual, Cam?”
“Yes, please.” Cameron wished he could melt into the couch. He loved Milo like a brother, too, but he should’ve known his friend would be interested in Josh’s stocky ruggedness.
“I’ll have whatever Cameron’s usual is.” Josh nodded once. “Thanks.”
“Sure.” Milo stared at Josh, then met Cameron’s gaze. ‘So hot,’ he mouthed, then wandered away.
Cameron sighed. “You’re his type.”
“Good for him.” Josh shifted in his seat and rested his ankle on his knee. “I take it he liked to push in on your dates?”
“You could say that.” Cameron smiled to hide his frustration. Milo might have been a nice guy, but he did like to poach…including Cameron’s last boyfriend, Lance.
“Well, he can try all he wants. I gathered the courage to talk to you, not him.” Josh grinned. “Now I’m going to take the biggest step…would you like to go out with me some time?”
Cameron’s jaw slackened. Go…out…on a date? Yeah… “I would.” He couldn’t believe his luck. Josh wanted to ask him out. Very cool.
Josh leaned back in his seat. “It’s a date. How about tomorrow?”
He had to think. His schedule wasn’t all that full, but still.
“Tomorrow would be great. I’ll have my sister keep an eye on Winston.” Cameron toyed with the dog’s leash. “I doubt she and her boyfriend are getting together.”
Milo strolled up with the coffees. “So, here’s your tall black with three creams and here’s yours, too.” He offered the paper cups, then faced Josh. “If you change your mind, don’t hesitate to tell me. I make a mean cappuccino. Cameron.” He strolled away before Josh could answer.
Josh propped his cup between his knees. “Well, that was interesting.”
“That’s Milo.” Cameron dumped the creamer into his coffee. “If he’s not the center of attention, he’s not happy.”
“We’ve all been there. My last boyfriend demanded that everyone look at him. If they didn’t, he wasn’t happy.” Josh half-smiled, but the light didn’t shine in his eyes. “I almost married him, but the poor fool wouldn’t pick a date. I was devastated, but I see now that his hesitance was my windfall.”
“That’s my sister and the guy she dated before the one she’s got now.” Cameron shook his head. “Her ex had his good points, but he needed a lot more than she or anyone else could give. I liked how he helped us fix up the house, but he and his mother were…original. I know she wasn’t happy, but I’m grateful for the pool and patio he put in.”
Josh sipped the coffee and grinned. “You’ve got a pool?”
“And a sister that goes with it,” Cameron blurted. “My sister and I share the house our folks bought when I was a baby. We turned it onto a duplex, sort of. I have the upstairs and she’s got the first floor. It’s a pretty nice set-up.” Admitting that seemed so shameful, but he wasn’t sure. “Too much information. Sorry.”
“You’re fine. We’re getting to know each other.” Josh smiled and this time, the joy shone all over his face. “I live in an apartment. Just Dolly and me. It’s cramped, but it’s home.” He clunked his cup against Cameron’s. “Here’s to a new relationship.”
“Yeah.” Warmth spread throughout Cameron’s body. He’d almost forgotten the thrill of learning about the guy he liked. He’d been out of the dating pool for too long.
Josh jerked in his seat. “Shit. I forgot I had my phone in my back pocket. It’s on vibrate.” He pulled the phone from under him and swiped his thumb across the screen. “I hate to cut this short since we’re having a good time, but I have to go. Work beckons.” He turned the phone around. “Put your info in for me.”
Cameron fumbled with his own phone and traded with Josh. “Text me the details for our date.” He added the numbers and his name, then placed the device on Josh’s thigh. “We’ll have to plan a playdate or two for the dogs, too.”
“Certainly.” Josh finished typing and handed Cameron his phone. “I’ll square up the bill with Milo.” He left his seat, then leaned forward and kissed Cameron on the cheek. “I had a great time this evening. See you tomorrow.”
Cameron nodded and his skin sizzled from the kiss. “Yeah. Call me.”
Josh winked and patted his thigh. Dolly nuzzled Winston before trotting off with Josh.
Cameron sat rooted to the spot. He couldn’t believe his luck. Josh seemed so wonderful and their dogs got along. There were so many positives. Josh was a dog person. He had his own place. He wasn’t offended by Cameron’s living situation. Best of all, he and his dog liked Winston. God help me, just don’t let Josh be a drunk like Lance.
“So…” Milo sat opposite Cameron in the place Josh had occupied. “He’s cute.”
“He is.” Cameron stroked Winston’s head. “He’s nice, too.”
“I just met him.” Jesus. “Are you going to put the moves on him?”
Milo shook his head. “He’s a little thin for me.” He crossed his legs and arms. When he tipped his head, the pink streak in his hair caught the light. “He seems like a good fit for you, but if he’s got a brother, send the brother my way.”
“Milo?” He narrowed his eyes. According to Milo’s words, he wasn’t making a move, but Cameron wasn’t convinced.
“I’m serious. He’s all yours, but if he’s got a brother, I want to meet that guy.” He leaned forward. “Oh, and he paid for the coffee. Even said he liked what you’d ordered. He’s so weird.”
“Because ordering coffee without a bunch of craziness is weird.” Cameron rolled his eyes.
“Hey, when I’m making drinks that barely seem like coffee…yeah.” Milo unfolded himself and stood. “Don’t be such a stranger. I miss talking to you.”
Cameron stretched his legs, then left the sofa. “You do?”
“Yeah, you’ve always been the compass I needed. Without you, I would’ve dated that sexy bear in college. He turned out to be a good time, but not forever like I wanted.” Milo scratched Winston behind the ears. “See you tomorrow?”
“I’ve got a date, so maybe Saturday morning,” Cameron said. Winston jumped off the cushion and yawned. He ruffled the dog’s short fur. “Or Sunday if things go well.”
“Deal.” Milo waved. “Later.”
Cameron headed through the coffee shop and waved before he left. For one of the few times in his life, he trusted Milo. He swiped through his phone and stopped on Josh’s number. Josh McDowell. He clutched the device to his chest and grinned. Was he on the edge of something fantastic? He wasn’t sure, but whatever was happening…it felt good.