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Chapter One

He’s wearing the Wayfarers again. He’s wearing them, and he looks so damn sexy it really ought to be illegal, but I won’t say that, especially not since he’s napping right beside me. Let’s face it; Maxwell Daniels is gorgeous, end of story.

The thing is, I gave him the damn sunglasses, a sort of present before we left on this vacation together. I was so uncertain about what we were even doing, going away like this for the very first time. So I walked into the sunglass shop, and after hovering over the chrome display case for an embarrassingly long period of time, I finally chose these classic shades.

Maybe I picked them because the old Don Henley lyric kept drumming through my head. You know, the one about the Wayfarers?

It’s end of summer now, like in the song, but I refuse to believe that we’ve only shared some short-term fling. Not with the intensity of what’s happened.

Yeah, I bought him these sunglasses, but I never counted on how hot he’d look in them. Like now, when he’s dozing lazily beside me in the sun, arm draped over the side of his beach chair. I can’t stop staring. Not at the way his luscious mouth falls open with sleep, not at how bronze his skin has tanned over the past week.

But I catch myself. I’m too obvious, and that’s not good for either of us. Summer may be over, and the beach may be emptied of the throngs that held court here a week ago, but we’re still surrounded by a few families, children, and even beautiful girls.

I make a point of watching one beautiful girl as she promenades right past us, nose in the air like some prize peacock. I’m supposed to look at a girl like that, and so I do, tracking her progress halfway down the beach.

But then she’s gone, and I focus back on the one person who interests me most, taking a little sideways peek at him. He’s the only one I want to ogle like that, and I can’t stop now that I’ve gotten started. Through the corner of my eye, I take in his curling dark hair, the jawline shadowed with beard because he’s not shaved in days. I stare at his upper lip. Good God, it’s so kissable, with its little outline of a faint moustache. I want this man so much that I literally ache with the intensity of it.

Wayfarers. Now that was a really good plan, I think, with no small amount of self-chastising. If only Maxwell weren’t so delicious in the damn things.

Almost as if in response, he sucks in a sudden breath, shifting in his beach chair. The sunglasses slip down the bridge of his nose a little, and I see flecks of white sand by his eye. It takes everything within me, but I resist the urge to brush the grains away. That kind of gesture would be far too public. After all, we’re supposed to be two healthy males here on vacation. We’re here for the girls.

Yeah, right.

Those damned flecks of sand are screaming at me, begging to be swept off his tanned cheek. I steal a quick glance around our perimeter, and once I know it’s truly safe, I lift tentative fingers to his face. Gently, I brush the grains away, but of course he instantly stirs beside me.

I drop my hand as if I’ve been scalded, and he smiles lazily back at me. He knows the score.

“Thanks,” he murmurs, lowering the sunglasses so that I’m staring straight into the most vibrant eyes I’ve ever seen. The sexiest eyes, I think, shivering a bit beneath his sleepy gaze.

“No problem.” I’m terse, distant. What a game we play.

He lays that way, head turned to the side, studying me. I stare out at the rolling waves, anywhere but at Max.

I don’t expect it, but suddenly I feel the tender brushing of his fingertips against my shoulder.

“You’re getting burned.”

I glance down at my shoulder, surprised to see his palm resting there without apology. It’s his hand I focus on, not my own reddening skin.

He won’t hide like I do, and I only wish I had his boldness.

His fingers press into my fleshy shoulder, and white imprints against pink skin.

“See? You need more lotion,” he scolds, the sunglasses drifting even lower down the bridge of his perfect nose.

I’m white like a beached whale, and of course he’s turned this gorgeous shade of bronze. How I want him, I realize, sucking in a steadying breath.

He drops his muscled legs around both sides of the lounge chair, patting the place between his thighs. “Here,” he urges with a soft smile, “let me get your back.”

God, he loves me. What did I ever do to deserve this kind of love? I collapse onto the chaise between his legs. Instantly, the warm lotion meets my fevered skin, as he slathers it onto my shoulders, but I barely take notice.

What I’m focusing on is the way his legs are open to me, how I feel the silky hairs along his thighs bristling against my own.

I’m keenly aware of how his groin nearly presses into my backside.

We’ve never done what I find myself contemplating, yet I harden at the mere thought of it, because of how we’re sitting together, his legs open to me this way. He leans a little closer behind me, stretching his muscled body as he runs his palms down my arms.

He’s obvious, and really doesn’t care what anyone here thinks about us, yet I’m throwing cautious glances in every direction.

“Hunter, relax,” he whispers against my cheek.

“I can’t, not with you behind me like that.”

“Nobody gives a shit about what we’re doing.”

“That’s not what I mean.” My voice is husky with desire, and I can’t regret putting my hunger out there this way.

I’ve given words to the unspeakable thing that stands right between us.

We’ve done a lot together, but not that. Not yet.

Max drops his hands from my shoulders, and I hear his sharp intake of breath. Otherwise, he remains perfectly silent, studiedly so, and I know that I should move. But I’m nearly paralyzed by the moment. My hard-on is killing me, and I want to hear him say that he’s okay with this. That he’s ready to make love, to truly become one.

But I also know what it will take, and I’m not sure that I can share myself that openly, at least not yet.

Max is a virgin in every possible way—and if he gives me that, it will only be on one very specific condition.

I have to commit to him.

“You ready to stop lying?” he asks suddenly, slipping a generous palm onto my thigh.

Bold. Gutsy.

I’m terrified.

“What do you mean?” I manage to sound indignant, but it’s a pretty lame effort.

“Louisa. Veronica. Our friends.” It’s a small litany. “Are you ready for them to know about us?”

“Max—” I begin, invoking my most placating tone.

“Don’t,” he snaps, lifting his hand to silence me. Anger edges his voice again. Max probably has the gentlest soul of any person I’ve ever known, but he can definitely pack a temper. It usually flares when he’s frustrated—I remember this as he shoves me off his beach chair.

I struggle to my feet, and throw a cautious glance in his direction, but he’s staring up the beach, unknowable behind those damn shades.

I drop back into the seat beside him, and watch the waves again. I wish I could be more like him, so unafraid of what’s growing between us.

Bold for me was last night, when we were walking on the darkened beach together. With only the glittering canopy of stars overhead, I did something dramatic. There, in a perfectly public place, I reached for Max’s hand. Anyone might have seen us—the kids running ahead with flashlights, or clandestine lovers hiding in the shadows. Yet I took his hand, cradled it lovingly for a brief moment, but I never expected him to do what he did next. He threaded his fingers together with mine, then held on tight. He wasn’t going to let go; we were one.

That’s Max. He’s courageous as hell in his love for me, when I only want to run light years away.

Even now, he huffs beside me, folding his arms across his chest, and I remember that this anger signals his frustration. So I try again, reaching slightly to touch his arm.

“I don’t want the lies anymore,” I promise.

He’s silent, scowling as he considers it, but then he lolls his head sideways, looking at me. “You mean that?” The words are almost lost in the wind. “You’ll stay?”

Will I stay? He’s asking if I’ll stop leaving before sunrise, before Ben discovers my Harley in their apartment parking lot on any given morning. He’s asking if I’ll lie in bed until he actually wakes, as the sun asserts itself against his bedroom walls.

What he’s really asking is if I’ll stay with him, damning all about his neighbors suspecting that we’re truly a couple.

He wants my commitment if he’s really going to give the precious gift of his virginity to me. But I’m not sure if I’m that ready for this.

So his last question hangs in the air, heavy yet weightless like the kites sailing in the air above us.

“Yeah, Maxwell, I’ll stay.”

The words are out before I can stop them, and the smile that spreads across his features is pure magic. I swear it lights up something right inside me, the way this pleases him. The dimples even pop into view, while he nods, blushing a bit.

He removes the sunglasses, folding them with a deliberate gesture. “You’ll let me tell everyone?”

I know he’s thinking of Louisa, his best friend in the world. And my ex-girlfriend Veronica, and how weirdly she’d looked at us both at the airport curbside. LAX had been packed, and I’d been hoisting our bags into the hands of the skycaps.

“So why Florida?” Veronica had suddenly asked, as I’d breathlessly heaved Max’s bag onto the curb. He was digging through his wallet for a few bills for tipping.

Veronica’s question hit the raw nerve in our relationship. The reason we were vacationing in Florida was because we were hiding. Without discussing it, we’d both craved the freedom that a break three thousand miles away would afford.

So I’d stood there at LAX, blushing furiously, then finally mumbled something lame about Max needing time away from his firm.

But Veronica is still Veronica, even after all these years, so she didn’t let it go.

“Yeah, well there’s plenty of beach here in California,” she argued.

I stared at her, my face burning with her ridiculous questions, then finally blurted, “We wanted to get away, okay?”

“Uh huh,” she answered dubiously, and I was shocked to see how Max’s expression saddened. I guess he thought I might own up to our relationship right then. He remains hopelessly optimistic when it comes to me—and it tears me apart when I disappoint him like that.

Now, I glance sideways again, and see how lazily he reclines in the beach chair. Yet he’s anything but easy, as he stares straight ahead at the rolling waves. I want him so much that the whole of my body aches with desire.

I love him. Easy enough to think, yet so very difficult to confess.

“I want to make love,” I blurt suddenly. I’m avoiding the pointed questions about our friends, and I know it. Hell, we both do. “Max, I want to make love to you.”

He nods, wiggling his toes in the sand thoughtfully. “I-I’m not sure you’re really willing to come out.”

“To our friends?”

“Yes, Hunter, to our friends,” he agrees with unbelievable patience. “I love you and hiding like this is starting to kill me.”

Why is it so damned easy for him to express himself this way? He places his finger on the pulse of his emotions, and instantly makes me understand. It’s that easy for Max. I’m still muddling my way into this with him, while he knows precisely what he wants from me. He even knows how to ask me for it.

“I don’t want to hide anymore, either,” I say. “Tell ’em whatever, okay? We both will.”

Again, he flashes that smile that lights up my secret places like some pinball machine. He’s amazing when he smiles that way. Hell, he’s amazing period.

The irony here is that he worries I’m ashamed of him, and his fears couldn’t be farther from the truth. I have this blazing sense of pride when it comes to Maxwell—sometimes I feel downright cocky about it.

I want the world to know that he’s totally mine. I just can’t seem to wrestle up the nerve to make that statement yet.

Max is still smiling. He’s beaming really, a charming, besotted grin. I feel my hard-on pushing through my swim trunks again. Especially when he levels me with his lovely, feline gaze, and asks, “Tonight, then?” His voice is undeniably husky, and his amber eyes darken like a clouded sun.

Oh, yes, baby. Tonight.

I swallow hard, nodding wordlessly, and wonder how in hell I’ll make it through the next few hours. Especially as he rises off the chair with the studied gracefulness of a dancer, stepping carefully toward the water.

I want him, here and now. Yet he’s said we’ll make love later. In fact, he’s smiled so broadly about it, I can hardly argue otherwise. That’s what I think as I watch him amble toward the lapping waves, his narrow hips moving in an almost musical movement. He knows I’m watching, and he’s working it for me.

Max Daniels is perfect, and later tonight he will become my lover. He will be mine and in every way.

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