"Damn, damn, damn, damn." Heart pounding and breathing heavily after his run from the short-term parking lot where it had taken him a good ten minutes just to find a parking space, Jake trotted around the edge of another pack of seemingly oblivious people. They all seemed determined to walk like it was a leisurely Sunday stroll and their all-in-a-row line jammed up the traffic behind them on the sky bridge. It was still two weeks until Christmas and SeaTac already sucked.
God, he hated navigating this airport. He should have remembered that when he'd impulsively offered to do this favor.
He'd been in a meeting with the Bran's Visions Yule charity concert's production manager, Jo, when Colen had frantically phoned her because he couldn't make it to the airport to pick his friend up personally. It seemed like a great way to pay back one of the favors he owed Jo while, at the same time, possibly getting closer to the man he'd been a fan of for years.
He was only the secondary photographer for the concert and Jo had given him that gig, despite having a heavy-hitter as the primary. Unnecessary and pretty much invisible, especially until the rehearsals and the actual concert night. This was his chance to be useful enough to keep around, even as a gopher. He was never unwilling to pay his dues, after all.
Of course, now that he was in the midst of the holiday chaos, he wanted to kick his own ass for making the offer.
After a last-second dodge of someone's drifting luggage cart, perilously stacked with wrapped presents and bulging suitcases, he finally got off the bridge and inside the terminal itself. Still puffing a bit, he found one of the scattered arrivals boards and fished his phone from his jeans pocket. Jo's text message came up and he searched the board for the flight number that matched the one she'd sent him.
Was it too much to ask that maybe the flight would be late? Maybe really, really late?
"Aww crap." Apparently it was too much to ask - the flight had landed fifteen minutes early, so Colen's friend, Al, had been waiting around for about twenty minutes now. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."
Dammit, he hated being late, even if it wasn't technically his fault.
The woman standing to his right glared at him and covered her oblivious toddler's ears before leading the kid away.
Oops. His voice must have carried over the heavily processed "winter holiday" songs frequently interspersed with loud but indecipherable announcements on the airport PA system. Did everyone who used the PA at the airport mumble?
He focused on the board again and repeated the number of the baggage claim area he needed several times to himself just to be sure he'd remember it, then shoved his phone back in his pocket and took a calming breath before he headed off toward the center of the terminal.
After threading his way back through the glut of travelers, he finally made it to the escalators and down to the baggage area. The designated carousel's light was still flashing and there were quite a few people standing around it, so at least he wasn't unpardonably late.
He scanned the scattered clusters of waiting people for anyone who matched the description he'd been given. Al was supposed to be tall with long blond hair, usually worn in a braid and who would probably be wearing a lot of black and sunglasses. Sounded a whole lot like Colen, actually.
Jake wove through the trickles of people departing with their baggage and began to methodically circle the carousel. Most of the remaining passengers were clustered closely around it, eyes fixed on the ramp that was still tumbling bags down onto the carousel itself, a few at a time.
Finally, he came around the bulk of the ramp to see a striking man leaning serenely against one of the support pillars, arms crossed in front of his chest.
"Holy shit." The words escaped before Jake could stop them. Was this Al? The man was tall, blond hair slicked back from his face into a low ponytail, which gave his angular cheekbones and nose the appearance of a raptor. The effect was heightened by the mirrored grey sports sunglasses he wore. His pale skin didn't look all that out of place in Seattle, especially in winter, but he looked almost Goth in the black leather duster, black jeans and harness boots he was wearing.
Goth or part of the fetish scene, maybe?
The thought of the striking man standing naked except for the sunglasses, boots and a leather strap gave Jake a near instant hard-on.
What the hell?
Jake had never been into the scene, and found the players in both it and the local Goth crowd to be far too impressed by their own self-importance. Gah. He really needed to get laid if he was getting this turned on by a stranger, even one as tasty as this.
This man had a presence. He commanded attention without saying a word or moving an inch.
He fumbled at his hip for his camera only to come up empty. Crap, he'd not brought one into the airport with him, not wanting to deal with the potential issues between security and just ease of movement. Figures. This man would have been interesting to take a few candids of, just for his own private gallery. Too bad about the sunglasses, though.
The other man seemed oblivious to Jake's approach, eyes seemingly fixed on the carousel instead, even when Jake was within arm's reach of the taller man.
Jake cleared his throat. "Excuse me, but Colen asked me to pick up someone named Al. I don't suppose that's you, is it?"
The chiseled face turned toward Jake and the man smiled a devastatingly sexy smile, but still didn't take off the sunglasses. Dammit, Jake really wanted to see his eyes. You could tell a lot about a person by their eyes. Would he have blue eyes? Green? Maybe even hazel? With some effort he wrenched his attention back to what the other man was saying.
"A few people call me Al, Colen being one of those few." His voice was a rich, deep bass that seemed to flow over Jake's nerve endings like a dark velvet glove. "I got a text from him that he was stuck in a meeting but he'd sent someone to meet me. I take it you're Jake?"
"Yep, I'm Jake. Sorry I'm a bit late - both traffic and parking were fucked."
"Not a problem. Nice to meet you, Jake." Al held out his hand and Jake grasped it.
Nice grip, not a show of strength but firm. Long fingers with smooth, trimmed nails and warm skin with a few callouses made a tingle of pleasure race up Jake's spine. He forced himself to let go.
Al crossed his arms and leaned against the pillar again. "I'm still not quite sure how Colen convinced me to participate in this concert, let alone travel at this time of year, but I'm here now. Figured I'd just wait until the crush for luggage eased a bit. Plus I checked in pretty early so my bag will probably be one of the last ones off the plane."
"What do your bags look like? I'll see if I can nab them for you." He'd better distance himself a bit from Al before he drooled. He was sure he'd never met Al before but there was something really familiar about the other man, and it was nagging at Jake's memory. He'd seen him before, somewhere, but could not place him. He had to stifle his snarl of frustration when he couldn't come up with when or where that might have happened. Usually he had an excellent memory for faces, too.
"I just checked one. It's a medium-size hard suitcase with wheels and has bells tied to the handle. Lime green, too, so there shouldn't be too many of those." Al didn't shift from his relaxed pose and seemed content to let Jake fetch the bag.
"I can see it from here. That's one eye-bleed color." He trotted over to yank the suitcase from the baggage carousel and set it down on the floor. Sure enough, there were a half-dozen or so jingle bells tied individually around the handle but it was hard to believe Al needed something besides the green color to make his bag distinct. Maybe he just liked the sound.
After a bit of fiddling, Jake got the handle extended and wheeled the bag over to where Al waited. "Just this, then?"
Al tapped a worn black rectangular hard-shell case on the floor with one booted foot. Jake hadn't even noticed it there. "I brought this as carry on and just checked one bag, plus sent a box early to Colen's house with my electronics in it. Only clothes and my dopp kit are in the bag I checked."
"Ah, smart. Don't need to give the airlines a chance to lose something important, especially during the holiday crush." Jake spun the green suitcase and turned to lead the way, then stopped when he realized Al hadn't moved to follow him.
"Ready? Do you need anything else?" Hadn't Al already said these were all the bags he had?
"Nope, that's it." Al picked up the hard-shell and looped the long strap of it over his head and across his body so the case was slung along his back. "Let me get out my warning system, though."
Warning system? What the hell was the man talking about?
Before Jake could voice his question, Al reached inside his coat and pulled out a white bundle, which he deftly assembled into a cane. A red-tipped cane.
Frozen, all Jake could do was stand and stare while trying to wrap his mind around the implications of that object. What the hell?
Al shocked him out of his stunned silence with a laugh. "I'm going to guess that Colen didn't bother to warn you that I'm blind, right?" He stepped toward Jake and held out his empty left hand. "Ever played guide dog before?"