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It wasn't as busy in the mall this time of year as it was just before the holiday rush. A January lull just before the rush of the Valentine's Day crowd. But then again, everybody was pretty sick and tired of the cold weather.
Caleb stopped to look in the window of the chocolatier. Hearts of chocolate decorated with red candies, pictures of lovers--male and female--in close embraces advertised the Valentine's Day specials. He should be used to it by now, but it was still hard. Still made him feel like he wasn't the same as everyone else. Of course, he'd taken that a step further by dressing with a flourish and starting up a company that drew attention to himself. Velvet jackets, plaid vests, tweed trousers. He was really quite in love with the vintage black velvet frock coat he'd purchased at an auction last week. He'd gotten used to the strange looks. Strangers who summed him up with a glance. Why hide it?
He didn't have the brawny build of the trainers who he appreciated so much at his health club. His was a wiry frame, more from lack of regular meals than anything else. Although he did work out regularly, he just didn't look it. His profession kept him on the go more than in his office. He couldn't make it to every Enduring Vows affair; that's why he had a large staff. But if they were in the city, he tried to at least make an appearance. It wasn't that he didn't trust his staff; he just felt that personal touch, and the contacts, were good for business.
Strolling past the chocolatier, Caleb gazed into shop windows, always on the lookout for inspiration. He stopped in front of a men's formal wear shop. Now this was a grand display. Two male mannequins dressed intuxes. One with full tails, the other a standard-length jacket. The owner had sent him several good clients in the last couple of months. Nice guy. Bisexual who had a penchant for threesomes. Caleb didn't really want to think right now about how he knew that little fact. It had only happened once. It hadn't been planned. It was the frantic call from Caleb's assistant that had brought him to that particular reception just as it was ending. A walk past the coat closet. If he hadn't stopped, it wouldn't have happened. But there had been so much naked skin. One of the best-looking tight asses he'd ever seen flexing and humping away at the woman half dressed in rose taffeta.
He'd have slipped quietly away if Roy hadn't looked up and caught his eye. And Caleb just couldn't pass it up. Damn, it had been a long, hard day, and at the thought of sex with the gorgeous man whose cock was buried inside the pussy of the cute blonde, his scruples crumbled.
He'd taken a step inside the closet, and before he knew it, Roy had wrapped Caleb's tie around his hand, yanked him close, and fastened his mouth to Caleb's as he continued to fuck the woman spread out on the counter near the back of the small room.
Caleb shook himself out of his memories. That had been several months back. It had been damn hot, but it had been a one-time thing. He had since seen Roy out with the very same blonde on more than one occasion. No hard feelings on that score. Right place, right time, right strangers, could lead to some amazing sex. But it wasn't the kind of thing that Caleb liked to make a steady diet of. His gaze turned to study the mannequins in the window. He was looking for a guy--the right guy. And even at the time, something had told him that Roy wasn't that man.
It was a shock when the image of the man from the restaurant flashed into his mind as he thought about the man of his dreams. They'd come face-to-face as Caleb and his father were leaving the restaurant. He'd felt a sharp pain in his chest and then the oddest sense of recognition. It was a sensation Caleb had never felt before they'd brushed shoulders. A jolt that shot right through him.
He shook himself free of the intriguing memory. He looked down at the watch and realized he had to get going; he had a meeting in an hour. What was he thinking? Woolgathering was something he most certainly didn't have time for. He had a meeting with the Smith-Huffington family, and they wouldn't take kindly if he was late. He hurried along, bypassing two jewelry stores, a bridal shop, and an engraver, until he finally reached the entrance of the store he was looking for. Morgan and Sons Jewelers.
He reached inside his pocket and his fingers curled around the ring box. Forty years his parents had been married. It was a long time to commit to another person. He admired his parents' staying power. Caleb had learned long ago to hide his feelings from his family. He had been happy for Shelly and Gavin when they found their partners. Hell, he'd planned their weddings for them. He'd stood up for his brother. He was godfather to Aimee, his sister's firstborn.
If he thought too hard, it would just make him depressed. An uncle, a brother, a best man, but never a father, a husband, a lover. Sometimes his life seemed so empty if he thought about it too deeply. Yes, he had friends, he had family, but there was still something missing. He should have found another profession, because every day it was brought home to him the very thing he yearned to have for himself but could never seem to find.
Well, so be it. He opened the glass door of the store and stepped inside. The place had the smell of fresh paint and new carpeting. From what he'd discovered, it had just moved into the mall not long ago. It certainly wasn't here the last time he'd stopped by the mall, so it was the first time he'd been inside this particular jewelry store. He strolled along the counters, studying the pristine displays. Looked like reasonable prices on those items that were marked. He made a point of checking out the wedding sets and diamonds engagement rings. Very nice.
His father had been very specific about having Caleb's mother's ring cleaned and reset at this particular store. It was at Morgan's that his dad had purchased the ring, and he didn't want anyone else touching it but a Morgan.
"See if Old Man Morgan is still around," his father had said. "It was him who designed the setting and saw to the cut of the diamond for me. I don't want anyone else touching it."
"What if he's not around, Dad?" Caleb's father could be so stubborn sometimes. Once he got something in his head, there was no changing it.
"You'll find him."
Caleb was glad that he had finally discovered where Morgan had moved his shop to. He had relocated from the older section of town, in an area that no longer was as safe as it once had been, into the large mall on the outskirts of the city. It had to offer better exposure and traffic for the place.
"Can I help you?"
The deep, cultured voice took Caleb by surprised. He wheeled around to face the speaker. His heart almost stopped in his chest, and he felt that sharp pain again when he saw the man standing behind the counter. It seemed like the Fates had something planned for him because the man facing him was the very same gorgeous guy Caleb had been drooling over at lunch. And had bumped into before leaving the hotel. It took Caleb a moment to find his voice.
"Y-yes, you can. At least I hope so. I'm looking for James Morgan, the owner. Is he here?"
The man behind the counter studied Caleb for a long moment and then slowly nodded his head. "Yes. I'm James Morgan."
"But you're too young," Caleb blurted out and felt like an ass right after the words erupted from his mouth. He cleared his throat. Of all times for him to act like a stuttering idiot. "I mean--hell, I guess you must be his son."
Just a hint of a smile on those perfect lips in acknowledgment of the observation. He looked like a man out of time--sophisticated, elegant, and dashing in the impeccable Italian-cut suit. There was simply no mistaking the Dolce & Gabbana stamp in the sleek way it clung to his body. It fit the man.
Thick sable locks, side-parted, and combed neatly. So thick. Intense dark eyes, just the shadow of a pencil mustache on his upper lip, a dusting of dark whiskers on his strong jaw.
But there was so much more to James Morgan, the younger. Caleb had an inkling that a rebel lurked beneath that calm, collected exterior. Maybe it was the flawless diamond stud, or maybe the sneakers he'd seen on his feet at the hotel. Yes, definitely much more to his classy veneer than met the eye.
Caleb's hands curled into fists before he did something he shouldn't. Or touched something that would get him in trouble. Like the man behind the counter. He so wanted to peel back those layers of sophistication and find out what lay beneath. He wanted to reach out to cup that strong jaw and stroke his fingers over the length of that sexy, shadowed, sensual upper lip. To trace those lovely, strong cheekbones, to lean over the damned counter and--
"Yes, I'm James, the third actually. My father is retired, or rather, semiretired. Is there something I can do for you?"
Oh my God, is there ever. Caleb could feel his cock surging for attention against the front of his navy striped trousers. Just looking at James Morgan the third almost had him coming in his pants right there. He could feel the hot color rising along his neck and flooding his face. He had to get hold of his emotions before he made a complete ass of himself.
Fumbling, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the small jeweler's box containing his mother's engagement ring and the drawing. "I-I'm on an errand for my father." He thrust the box and piece of paper toward James. "My dad wants this reset for my mother. The design he wants is on the paper. Before Valentine's Day. It's her original engagement ring. Your father--well, I guess it's your father--cut and set it for him." His words were tripping over each other. He had to get a grip. He inhaled deeply and then let the breath out slowly. He grinned at James. "Sorry." Taking another deep, calming breath, he flipped open the cover of the box. Then he slid a glance to James.
The man was a sphinx. Caleb couldn't decipher the look on his face. Blank. Intense, dark eyes, but a politely interested look on his face as he reached out to take the ring. Then he glanced at the drawing on the graph paper. He nodded.
"My father is retired. But I believe we can get this done for you. You need it by Valentine's Day?"
"Yeah. But you'll do it, right? Dad said he wanted it to be a Morgan, not just somebody who won't know what they're doing." He looked at James. The heat of embarrassment again flooded his face. "Sorry. I mean I'm sure you hire some very good people, but my father was very specific." For some reason, he wanted to call him Jimmy, just to see if he could get that polite look off his face.
The problem was that Caleb wasn't good at making the first move. And he had no idea whatsoever if Jimmy was gay or not. He watched as James Morgan carefully pulled out an invoice from beneath the counter and wrote up the order.
Caleb couldn't help studying his hands, his long, slender fingers wrapped around the gold pen he'd pulled from his inside pocket.
"Your father's name?" He looked up at Caleb, and the look in his eyes had Caleb's cock pressing for attention.
"Why don't you put it under my name? I'll be the one picking it up. My dad doesn't come into the city much anymore. He's retired." Was he explaining too much?
James did smile then, and when he did that, those tiny little lines around his eyes deepened the intense bronze color of his irises. The smile softened his face. "Yes, my father retired three years ago. It's hard to get them to ease off."
The connection he felt just at that moment exuded a wonderful sensation of warm and fuzzy. "Yeah. Exactly." He liked the man's smile.
"So, your name?"
God, he'd lost his train of thought there for a minute and had forgotten why he was here. "Caleb. Caleb Wilson." He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out one of his business cards. He pulled out the black bargain-basement pen from his pocket and wrote his private cell number on the back of the card. Don't know if you don't try. And he was going to take any opportunity he could to connect with this man.
He set the card down on the glass counter. "My card. On the front is my business phone where you can usually find me." He flipped the card over. "My personal cell is on the back. It's my private number." A little emphasis there couldn't hurt.
There was a moment when James looked up at Caleb, right into his eyes, when it seemed like the world stopped turning. Caleb's stomach somersaulted. A couple more inches and lips would collide. James reached for the card and their fingertips brushed against each other. It sent a shuddering thrill through Caleb, a rush of sexual heat that almost sent him to his knees. He caught a whiff of expensive cologne. Nothing too strong, but definitely enticing.
James slid the card back across the counter and then straightened away. The wash of disappointment spilled over Caleb. He heard the electronic ding of the door sound as someone else entered the store. Damn.
James was again all business. "I'll just clip your card to the invoice. We'll call when the ring is ready." He glanced down at the card and then his gaze again turned to Caleb. "Enduring Vows."