Key To Me

an excerpt


"Can't I stay?"

The pillow beneath Noah's face smelled of sweat and musk, with faint traces of citrus shampoo. Breathing it in, he let his straight blond hair obscure his face as he twisted his neck slowly so he could see the man sitting beside him on the bed. Big, almost stocky, with a thick thatch of dark hair covering his chest that was a few shades darker than the short, buzzed hair on his head. He was mostly in shadow since the only light in the room came from the open door behind him, but Noah knew well enough what his big blue puppy dog eyes looked like. A good looking guy. But not the one he wanted. How did I ever think he might be the one?

"Probably not a good idea."

Bob's eyes wandered from Noah's face to his bare back. He reached out to pat Noah's shoulder. The pat turned into a caress. The caress spilled down the curve of his shoulder, down Noah's spine, to the dip of his lower back, right next to where the green sheet lay over his ass.

Noah's skin tingled but he was sated enough not to respond. He squirmed aside, not quite out of reach. "Bob."

The hand stopped. Bob heaved a sigh and pulled back, standing. Jeans and dress shirt were back on. He'd even buttoned up. "Yeah, I know. Time for me to leave." His attention returned to Noah's face. Despite the shadows blurring his blunt features, Noah could see the open longing in his face. "Can I see you again?"

No. Guilt tugged at Noah. "Bob, we talked about this." And that should have been Noah's first hint. Noah should have trusted his existing instinct about Bob.

Bob nodded, his face showing that he heard the unspoken negative loud and clear. "I know, I know." He ran a hand over the buzzed dark hair on his scalp. "You're a beautiful man, Noah."

"Thank you." He resisted the urge to pay back the compliment. It'd only give Bob hope where there was none. Stupid to sleep with him. You knew he couldn't be the one. But it was too late now.

With a little smile, Bob lifted his hand in a wave. "See you around." He turned and left.

Sighing, Noah closed his eyes and snuggled back down on the pillow, resting for just a bit before he went to clean up. His soft sheets were damp from exertion. The sex had been good. He'd enjoyed it. He knew Bob had enjoyed it as well. He did not have to feel guilty. He'd been perfectly upfront with Bob, just like he was with all of his lovers. Bob didn't have to know that Noah had held out a secret wish that he might be someone far more intriguing to Noah's heart.

The sound of voices in the kitchen reopened his eyes. They were faint, but he heard the words loud and clear.

"Hey, Mitch."

"Hey, Bob."

Mitch?! Noah pushed up to his elbows, eyes wide on the open bedroom door. The door that had been open the entire time he and Bob were…"Ah, shit." He scrambled out of bed and snatched up the soft ivory lounge pants draped over his desk chair. As he stepped into them, he heard the front door open and close. Spearing two hands through his hair and tying it in a quick, loose knot at the nape of his neck, he checked to make sure there was no stray spunk on his skin before heading for the kitchen.

His roommate, Mitch, sat at the kitchen table in one of the uncomfortable plastic and metal chairs, face and remote control aimed at the 13" television seated on the table against the wall. His dark brown curls were freshly trimmed, revealing the back of his neck, and the blue plaid flannel shirt he wore was new. A plastic tub with the familiar pale shapes of lemon bars in it sat at his elbow. So he had gone to see his mother.

"What are you doing here?"

Mitch glanced over one big shoulder at him and smiled. "Hey."

Noah stalked over to the table to see Mitch's face properly. Strong square chin, long-ago-broken slim nose, and thick black brows over steely gray eyes. Only the absurdly long eyelashes and curved sensual mouth saved that face from looking too harsh. "What are you doing here? What happened to your mom?"

Mitch continued to channel surf, the smile still playing around his sharply defined lips. "She's fine. She got called in for a late night shift so I came home instead of staying over." He nudged the plastic bin closer to the empty chair beside him. "She sent the sweets you love so much."

"Oh." It was a measure of Noah's distress that he didn't pounce on the plastic tub. He glanced back toward his bedroom, chewing his bottom lip. How had he not heard Mitch come through the front door? "How long have you been here?"

Mitch chuckled, tossing chin-length black curls back from his face. "Long enough."

"Oh. Shit. I'm sorry." He grimaced. "You said you weren't going to be home."

"No sweat. My fault." Mitch paused to listen to the football scores. "Sounded like you enjoyed it." A sly look. "Or, at least Bob did."

Noah went to get a glass from the strainer on the counter by the sink. "Yeah. He's loud."

"I'll say. Damn. He thinks you're something special."

Noah winced. Never having slept with Bob before, he hadn't known how loud he was. And descriptive. Even Noah blushed at hearing some of the ways Bob had described him. He filled his glass with milk from the refrigerator. "Yeah."

Mitch turned in his chair, draping one arm over the back as his steel-gray eyes regarded Noah. "I'm kind of surprised. You don't usually bring your dates home."

Noah put the milk back and closed the fridge. "You weren't supposed to be here."

"Do you bring them back when I'm not here?"

Noah drank down half of his glass then sat in the chair beside Mitch. "Not usually, no." He set the glass down and reached for the tub of pastries.

"That was that guy, Bob, right? The one you said's been after you for years?" Although Mitch was straight, he'd often gone with Noah to his favorite gay clubs. He claimed to like the atmosphere more and was easygoing enough to be flattered rather than offended when guys hit on him. Bob frequented the same clubs, so they had met.

Noah paused to inhale lemony goodness, his mouth watering as he reached for a sticky sugar-powdered sweet. "That's the one."

Mitch leaned forward on the table, setting the remote down and reaching for a bar. "What made you decide to finally fuck him?"

Noah eyed Mitch as he chewed. "You're full of questions tonight," he observed, mouth half-full as he licked sugar off his fingertips.

Mitch's gaze dropped to the treat in his own hand as he lifted it. "Not every night I get to hear you getting pounded into the mattress." He laid the whole bar on his tongue then shut his mouth over it.

Noah flushed, but laughed. They'd been roommates for seven years, three in college and four since, and in all that time Noah rarely brought his dates back to the apartment. Mitch was mostly the same way. "Hey, if I'd known that's what you wanted to hear, I'd bring back dates more often."

Mitch laughed, chewing. "Nah. I'm just curious why you'd finally let Bob have you after all this time."

Let Bob have you. It fit. Noah had fended Bob off for years. But tonight he'd taken a chance. Tonight, he had hoped that Bob would turn out to be…

But he wasn't.

Noah shrugged.

"Is he your mystery man?"

Noah slanted a scowl Mitch's way.

Mitch grinned as he sucked sugar off his thumb. "That is why you slept with him, isn't it?"

Noah sighed, reaching for another bar. "Yes."

"Is it him?"

"No."

"You sure?"

"Yes." He held the bar up before him, carefully breaking it in two before bringing one half to his lips. "I thought it made sense for it to be him but…" He popped the treat into his mouth then shook his head.

Mitch laughed. "How did a doormat like Bob make sense?"

Noah winced. "He's the only one I know who's really after me."

"You have tons of guys after you."

"To fuck me, sure. But none of the guys I know have the romantic streak to pull off the gifts."

"True. Actual thought went into them. Other than just getting in your pants, I mean."

Noah stuck out his tongue at Mitch before putting the other half of the lemon bar into his mouth.

Mitch's eyes glittered with mirth as he reached for Noah's glass of milk. "It's driving you crazy, isn't it?" He took a drink.

Snatching the glass back, Noah pouted. "Yes!"

Laughing, Mitch switched off the television and stood. At six foot two he towered over Noah's mere five foot seven, but Noah had never once felt intimidated by his friend. "Cheer up," he said, patting Noah's bare shoulder before he started toward the door to the bedrooms. "I'm sure the mystery man will arrange for you guys to meet soon."

"God, I hope you're right," Noah muttered, reaching for another treat as a balm to his frustrated desire.