Coloring Outside the Lines

an excerpt

Chapter One

"I don't think you're grasping the gravity of the situation." Ralph sipped at his drink then gave his best friend, Tony, a squarely pokerfaced look. "I'm about to explode my cock is so in need of being sucked."

Tony chuckled and rolled his eyes. "You're such a drama queen," he accused warmly.

Ralph pursed his lips and then swallowed the rum mixture in his glass. "I need another one of these." At least one more. He wouldn't argue if a half dozen drinks suddenly appeared marching across the tabletop. That sounded liked a great start to his birthday. He tipped the tumbler then tapped the bottom to get the last chunk of ice.

"Ralph, you're only thirty-five. It's not the end of the world."

He huffed. "Says you. You have Mr. Hottie Centerfold."

Tony laughed under his breath. "Brandon is not a centerfold." Tony leaned close to be heard over the house style music vibrating the air. "Could be, though."

Ralph groaned loudly. "See!" He smacked the tumbler down. "Fetch, or I'm going to get pissy."

"Okay, okay," Tony relented, rising from his seat, still chuckling. "Stay."

He frowned. "Arf."

"Hey, you just told me to fetch."

Ralph glared at him. "Touche." He sighed once Tony was out of earshot. It wasn't his friend's fault he was feeling like warmed over shit. It was his birthday for one. Turning thirty-five should have been a good thing. He was settled in a good career. Had a great job, juggled more accounts than a sane man would ever dream of taking on, and his best friend had brought him out to celebrate. Sadly it wasn't turning out to be the party Tony thought he was giving him.

Three nights ago, he'd bumped into his ex. It hadn't been a fun reunion. No, darling Jackie had rubbed his face in his new love life and all the wonderfulness thereof. When Ralph hadn't been able to produce even a name to say he wasn't sucking in his mid-thirties, living a mediocre life, Jackie and his beau had left in a wail of laughter. He may only be thirty-five, but lately he'd felt eighty.

He ran a hand down his thigh, the sleek linen pants holding their crease. The rich seashell white tone went well with the rose hue of his shirt. It was late summer and he wanted to enjoy the colors before fall sucked out all the brightness from every fashion eyeball on the planet. He detested fall. Orange. Who in their right mind built a wardrobe around orange and brown? He could work with mint green... He shook his head. Who was he kidding?

Give him spring and summer. He could almost work with winter, but fall? Hell no!

He shivered, wrapping long fingers around his upper arms, sending a seeking look into the crowd hunting for Tony. It was early yet, so the dance floor wasn't very full, but that was only a matter of time. Ralph was a watcher, not a dancer. Maybe by the time he was a little more plastered, he'd be enjoying the scenery more. He guessed he was still stinging from Jackie's kiss off and the fact that he was hornier than hell with no hope in sight.

"Hello, sugar."

Ralph rolled his eyes at the interruption to his mental tirade, not to mention the exaggerated drawl. "Please." Last he checked, Texas was east. As in, weeelllll east. Then he turned to face the interloper to give him a very vocal smackdown. He was doing just fine pouting alone, thank you. He just caught his tongue from rolling out loose and free when his gaze landed on the man behind that drawl. The snark-filled, biting remark was cut off at the pass. "Uh, hello." Da-yum.

Eyes the color of sweetened cappuccino gleamed at him from beneath too-perfect for a guy eyebrows, surrounded by some of the thickest, darkest eyelashes Ralph had ever had the good fortune to see up close and personal. He was definitely delicious and Ralph had seen all brands, types, and breeds when it came to men, naked and clothed. Ralph's lungs worked on autopilot because this guy had sucked every atom of oxygen right out of Ralph's chest. Immediately, his mind's eye began putting him in poses and lights, wanting to bring him to life to save, and maybe to savor. God, the gorgeous things he could do with this man. And that was with his clothes on.

A hand rose and tried to drift through Ralph's locks.

He batted it away, the move rudely snapping Ralph out of his stupor. "Personal space. I don't even know your name."

"Julian." He purred it into Ralph's ear. The rush of lust that coursed through Ralph's body was hotter than lava with the low purr of a bass. "Why are you sitting here all alone, a beautiful treat like you?"

"I'm not alone."

A deeper than brown eyebrow arched teasingly. "Oh?" He blatantly searched the table. "I'm sorry. I didn't see your imaginary friend."

Ralph growled. "That's not even close to being funny." Gratefully, Ralph spotted Tony weaving back to the table then. He waved a hand in his direction. He was not alone. Much. "See?"

"Deduction. He's not yours."

Ralph gasped, leaning clear to stare into Mr. Perfect's face. "Why would you say that?"

"He's wearing a ring. You are not. Plus, three drinks. Unless Mr. Imaginary is real, I sincerely doubt that is for me."

The light stroke of fingers at the small of his spine had his cock twitching like a flag in a brisk wind. From a touch. Ralph wanted to grind his teeth. He didn't even know this jerk and he was acting like Pavlov's dog. God! He so needed to get laid.

"So you're an infuriating charmer?" He twisted his lips, mocking Julian. Good looks be damned. The man was arrogant as hell.

"Here you go." Tony slid the drinks onto the table, then seemed to falter as he focused on Ralph and the man who had become his shadow at his shoulder. "Uh, sorry. Who are you?"

"Julian Franzese." He reached across the table to shake.

"Tony Teagan. Friend of Ralph's?"

"I am now," Julian purposely said close to Ralph's ear, nodding in answer to Tony. "Now I know your name. I'll know even more before you leave."

Ralph wanted to throw him off, but wasn't going to start a scene. "Presumptuous of you, don't you think?"

"I like a little coy playfulness," Julian said at his shoulder.

"You're a game hunter."

"Not as much as you probably think."

"I'm not going to play along."

Julian neared and hummed against Ralph's neck. "So you say, beautiful. You've been caught and you don't even know the trap has been sprung."

Ralph growled. Loudly. The bark of sound earned him a curious look from Tony. "Is Brandon coming?" he asked, determined to ignore and get away from the leech homing in on his neck. The man was draped around Ralph like a shawl. Or a boa constrictor. He clearly had never heard the definition of personal space. He tried to put a bit a space between, feigning to reach for his drink. He hoped Julian took the cue, standing straight again. Maybe he had. Ralph took a stiffening deep breath, straining to hear Tony's reply over the music.

"Just called. He finished his registration details and starts classes in three weeks."

Ralph wasn't surprised. Brandon was ready to tackle his final year. The guy had really come into his own since finding Tony, not only for work but in his private life, as well.

Ralph grabbed one of the drinks and started to inhale it. He knew he was just feeling sorry for himself amid all the happiness Tony exuded whenever he spoke of Brandon.

"So what do you do, Julian?" Tony asked easing closer to talk over the waves of sound from the bar and music.

"I'm a cop."

Ralph spit his drink. Julian was nice enough to grab napkins and cover his leaky chin.

"Easy, sunshine."

Ralph glared at him again. "What is with the nicknames?"

"One of these days, I'll tell you." Julian winked.

"Any particular department?" Tony asked.

"Street patrol. Nothing exciting. Well, not often anyway."

Ralph spotted the arms as they appeared looping around Tony's middle, then the cap of red hair. The sheer pleasure that overcame his best friend killed Ralph. He wanted that. So badly.

"Hello, beautiful boy. How was it?"

Brandon slunk around, coming up under Tony's arm to be cradled into his side. "Long lines, bitching, moaning. I think someone lost it but I wasn't close enough."

Ralph caught the shudder of distaste. That had to be charming to witness.

"Nerves?" Tony asked. He wedged Brandon between his thighs, holding him as close as publicly allowed.

"I wouldn't be surprised." He nipped at Tony's chin until he got a kiss in greeting.

Ralph felt Julian's body shift into his side, to be closer to be heard. "I know you." Julian peered openly across to the other pair.

Brandon's lashes lifted when Tony straightened. "Oh?"

He snapped his fingers. "The tea ad? Right?"

Brandon beamed and laughed. "Yeah. How many of those billboards did Gwen put up, anyway?"

"I've seen at least three," Julian answered. He offered a hand. "Julian."


And just like that, Julian became part of their group whether Ralph wanted him there or not.