John only went into the cafe to have a brew and wait out the storm. He didn’t expect to find love at the same time.
And it really is love at first sight. Chris is like nobody John’s ever known, and John is caught from the start. All he wants, from that very first touch, is to never let go. But John is badly burned from his last relationship and in no fit state to try again. When Chris asks him out, he ought to say no.
But what if he says yes instead?
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"FARK THIS," RHODRI said, "fer the ace o' farking spades."
John grunted, busy watching a Facebook slanging match unfolding on his phone. It had started to snow, which — despite Sheffield getting snow on a regular basis in the winter — ensured everyone promptly forgot how cars worked.
A fact that Rhodri backed up by leaning out of the van window and bellowing, "Who taught yer to farking drive, yer daft cunt!" at a middle-aged man in a BMW.
John snorted, grinning, and squinted out of the slush-smeared windscreen. They were nearly at the high street.
"I can walk from here," he said. "Turn around and use the ring road, if you don't want to be here all night."
"Fark the ring road," Rhodri grumbled in his thick, garbled accent. "It'll fark the suspension."
"You mean it's not already?"
Rhodri snarled a defence of his beloved, twenty-year-old death trap of a van, but John firmly stuck by his assertion as the rust bucket was hauled over to the side of the road, and the handbrake screeched like a banshee in an opera house.
"Monday for the renovation?" John asked as he curled his coat collar up.
"Yeah. Gazzer's looking fer a spring sale."
"Have a good weekend, then."
John grinned and slammed the passenger door on the pseudo-affectionate dismissal. The day Rhodri Campbell started talking nice to his friends was the day hell froze over.
Mind you, John thought, squinting at the black sky, that might not be too far off.
He was supposed to meet his older sister for dinner, but she'd be at least another hour. Grimacing at the weather, John decided to find a café and settle in to wait out the snowstorm. Hunching his shoulders, he broke into a jog, aiming for the first sign he saw, and soon shouldered his massive bulk through the glass door of a tiny, heavenly warm coffee shop.
It was busy inside. Everyone else had had the same idea. The floor was crowded with shopping bags, a buggy thoroughly blocking one aisle. John's absurd size earned him some dirty looks that were hastily wiped away when he glanced back. Even the barista, when he asked for a large tea, sighed and popped her gum like it would be an enormous bother to cover her wide-eyed stare. The prickle of unease rose under his skin, and he forced it back down.
"Keep the change," John told her as he handed over three pounds and folded his arms to wait, knowing that — even in Sheffield — a man with biceps like the steel ropes on a suspension bridge was not going to be left waiting for long. Especially if he folded his arms.
That was when he messed up.
He stepped back to glance around for a table, and in doing so, bumped the one directly behind him. A cup banged. Someone swore. And John felt the hot flush of shame flood his face, even as he spun on his heel to try to fix the damage.
"I'm so sorry. I —"
"It's all right. I think it missed me."
"Here, let me get you another — what was it?"
And then the man looked up from patting down his jeans and T-shirt with a napkin and smiled right into John's face.
And John just stopped.
The way the man smiled was ... breathtaking. Literally. The air caught in John's chest, his lungs seizing for a brief moment, when a crooked smile spread across narrow features, creasing a pale face from good-looking into gorgeous. It was like the sun bursting over a still sea, like the car dashboard when the ignition was first turned in the dark. A sudden spark lit behind an attractive face to make it utterly beautiful, and John stared.
The stranger was tall and lean, with a halo of messy black curls that surrounded his face and threw the ethereal beauty of that smile into sharp relief. The smile itself was formed out of the most ridiculously kissable mouth John had ever seen. And the face. God. It blazed with the brilliance of that beam, and above it lay the burn of eyes the colour of an endless summer sky.
"A mocha with peppermint and a double shot of espresso."
"A ... what?" John asked, still staring stupidly.
The man chuckled, and John died. His soul ascended into heaven on the back of that sound. Jesus. Holy goddamned Jesus.
"Just ask for Chris's regular."
"T-that's you, then?"
"Um. John. Nice to — nice to meet you."
The touch of his hand was like a cattle prod. John felt it all the way up to his brain, and the most inappropriate parts of his brain too. He had to learn how to breathe again. His heart was pounding. He wanted — desperately, stupidly, urgently — to reel Chris in and kiss him as if they were the only two people in the room.
He let go and ducked back into line to ask for the guy's regular. Tipped double. And when he took it back to the table, John knew for his own sanity and safety he should apologise once more, take his tea, and go.
Instead, he said, "Mind if I join you?" and instantly hated himself for it.
And then didn't, when Chris smiled a little wider and said, "Please."
"I am sorry about that. I'm not usually that clumsy."
"Just an accident. It sounds busy in here."
"It ... is," John said slowly and frowned.
Then it clicked. That brilliant blue was as vacant as a summer sky too. And he'd never once looked John quite in the eyes. John glanced about. There was a cane leaning up against the table. A glint of a gold medical bracelet around one thin wrist. And the way Chris slid his hand across the table, heels together and fingers spread, until he found the coffee cup ...
"Are you sheltering from the weather too?"
"Uh, yeah," John said, snapping out of his reverie. "It's snowing. I'm supposed to meet my sister for dinner later, but I'm stupidly early, so ... here I am."
"Sorry, sorry." Chris waved a hand. "Ignore me. Big important family dinner, is it?"
"No, not really. She probably just wants to have a whine about our mum. Mum's — well, Mum."
"Let's pretend for a minute I don't know your mum ..."
John chuckled, ducking his head. "Mum's ...she loves us, she wants the best for us, but her best and our best doesn't always mesh, you know?"
"Ah, one of those. Yes, I know." Chris raised his cup in a saluting gesture. "To parents running interference."
"She's very practical," John said. "Very — you know, we ought to all marry well-off, well-educated folks with careers and good ankles. And Nora — my sister — she's cocked that up a bit." Then he winced at his crass phrasing and started to apologise.
Chris talked right over it. "Cocked it up how?"
"Well, she's currently divorcing her well-off, well-educated, well-ankled husband for a bloke who makes sandwiches."
Chris snorted and laughed. The coffee cup wobbled dangerously before he set it down to put a hand over his mouth and laugh a little harder, and John curled his toes in his boots. A warm flush spread from head to toe. God, he wanted to touch that. Wanted to reach out and curl his fist into that wild hair and kiss him like the world was ending.
John wanted him.
"Well," Chris said when he'd recovered, "if your sister has a voice anything like yours, then that's the luckiest sandwich man in the world."
"What about you? Ditching your missus for the maid?"
John's stomach twinged. "There's no missus."
"I — no."
"Sorry," Chris said again. "I guess I'm being a little too hopeful."
"I — are you ... flirting with me?"
"Yes." Chris raised both eyebrows. "Don't tell me that doesn't happen often."
"Well ... it's been a while," John admitted. "And not usually in coffee shops." Or from men. John wasn't exactly good-looking, and in his experience, it was mostly women who were into the huge and hulking thing rather than men.
"Where does it usually happen? I could always try doing it there, if you like."
John barked a startled laugh. "Er — well — clubs. Here's — here's nice though. Here's fine."
"I refuse to believe it doesn't happen often."
"Really? Hm. Local clubbers need to open their ears, then."
"I — thank you?"
"I'm making you uncomfortab —"
"No," John interrupted quickly. "I just —
I'm ... not used to this."
Chris turned the coffee cup around in his hands, biting his lip.
"You sounded ... I don't know. You sounded like you saw something you liked. And I felt something when you shook my hand."
"You ... you don't want to be trying me out," John said carefully.
It wasn't the bright, beautiful smile. It was a slow smirk, devious and dirty. And John's cock swelled fiercely in his jeans. His dick didn't care about Daniel and his damage. His dick just wanted to have that incredible body around it, and to hell with the risks. Oh, God. That was a dirty trick, and judging by the way Chris lounged in his chair, pure sex, he knew it.
"You have a voice," Chris said, "like the hot afterburn of whiskey."
"Smooth, liquid, and so easy to bask in. Like being drunk and not caring."
John swallowed again. He was half hard. Chris spoke so slow and soft, so very deliberately, that it was turning him on even though he wasn't saying anything filthy at all.
"I'm a dumb idea," John croaked.
"So am I."
John wanted to look away. But he felt incapable of not looking. He was spellbound, completely captured by this stranger's wide smile and fluttering hands. They were large hands, but thin. John wanted to call them spidery. Long fingers, but narrow palmed. He wondered wildly what they felt like. John's hand were rough from his trade, but Chris had a completely smooth paleness to his skin tone, and his face was impossibly young, not weather-beaten and wind burnt. His hands, John decided, would be just as smooth. They would be cool, too, like refreshing water against John's calluses.
And then they slid over the table and hooked casually over John's thumb.
John's heart hiccuped and clenched again, and the flood of pure want was so powerful that his vision flexed, like a fisheye lens homing in on this stunning man. He wanted to kiss him, hold his hand, say yes, something. And yet he felt paralysed — moths to flames, deer to headlights, whatever. He was caught.
"If you're really not interested, then that's fine," Chris said. "But —"
"That's definitely not it," John muttered.
"So — you want to get dinner sometime?"
The smile softened into something sweeter. More hopeful. More —
John's dick softened. Because his heart tightened, his stomach clenched, and his throat opened.
He should say no.
He was still a mess from Daniel, still wounded after nine whole months, still unable to so much as flirt on Grindr without questioning himself, his motives, how he came off. There was no way this was a good idea. Not with anyone, and least of all this brilliant, beautiful, blind guy.
After all, if Daniel were right —
If Daniel were right, if there had been any truth in the things he'd said, then John was the last person who should be going out to dinner with a blind man.
John should have said no.
But he said yes instead.CHAPTER 2
JOHN LIVED IN a small flat with his older sister in the Kelham Island redevelopment.
The redevelopment was a gentrified hipster-magnet, full of boutique coffee shops selling vegan, organic, gluten-free, lactose-free, taste-free flapjacks and thimbles of coffee for five pounds a go. John's sisters all looked the part, in one way or other, and fitted in, or at least appeared to. John, being a man who had to both duck and turn sideways to get through the average-sized door, did not.
But while being in the city centre made him feel uncomfortable — trying to squeeze down to fit into everyone's else little worlds — in Kelham Island he felt almost smug. Let any of that lot, with their three-foot words and university theses about why cars were racist or whatever, change a light bulb. It was kids like that who kept John in such good business. And with the economy in its current state, he'd out-earn the lot of them put together too.
In truth, he didn't really like living there, with pretentious neighbours and bad parking. But the flat had been cheap, in the midst of a housing crisis, and John had bought it before the development was finished. He'd originally lived with Aljaz — the closest John had ever come to finding 'the one.' But when that broke down, Aljaz moved out, and Fran, in the midst of her short spell at art college, moved in. And ever since, the flat had been a revolving door of John and whichever sister needed a room that year.
Currently, thanks to her divorce, it was Nora.
John had three sisters. Nora, at thirty-seven, was only a year older than him. Fran and Tasha, in their early twenties, could be politely referred to as surprises. All of them were blonde, less than five foot four in height, and utterly, completely, one hundred percent, in control of their stack-of-meat brother.
That was sort of a trend in John's life. He was a behemoth of a man ... and everyone else in his world took absolute control. From his diminutive grandmother to the sister young enough to be his own child, everybody else ruled John. Every boyfriend had, too.
Maybe now it was time Daniel stopped ruling his life. After all, he wasn't here anymore. And John might have someone new on the horizon.
So, the first thing he did when he got home was find a bin bag and start emptying the hall closet.
All of Daniel's things, everything he'd left behind, had been rammed to the back and forgotten. Mostly. Photos, gifts, clothes. Even old climbing gear they'd bought together, back when John had been in love and thought there was something real about it all. All of it disappeared into the bag. Ugly memories of an ugly man.
His name was Daniel Ostrowski. They'd met — typically, for John's track record with men — in a gay bar in Sheffield. Daniel was exactly John's type: tall, slim, and with eyes like the sea. He lived in Doncaster, so they didn't get to spend as much time together as John had wanted, but for a whole year, John had adored him. He really had. He'd been head over heels in love, almost as much as those amazing four years with Aljaz, and he hadn't seen the signs that were so obvious now.
Like how Daniel never invited John to Doncaster to see the flat he kept bragging about. How he'd never entertained the idea of moving to Sheffield, or John moving to Doncaster, and actually setting up a life together instead of stolen weekends here and there. How, after a whole year, John had yet to meet any of Daniel's actual family.
Turned out Daniel's boyfriend might have had something to do with that.
Daniel was engaged to some other man, and when this fiancé found out about John, Daniel lied through his eye teeth and made everything so much worse. He'd tried to get away with it, tried to come out of it smelling like roses, and in doing so, had thrown John not only under the bus, but under the entire Stagecoach fleet.
He nearly destroyed John's life.
They'd split up nine months ago, yet John was nowhere near recovered. Daniel and his lies — persistent, dogged lies he spouted to anyone who'd listen and so insistently he even had John questioning if they were true — had left scars. Mental ones and, after one drunken night alone in the kitchen, physical as well. John had nearly killed himself over the whole thing, and still woke sweating in the night, hearing Daniel's accusations on a loop inside his head.
Nine months, and only now was John clearing the evidence of Daniel's existence out of his flat. Only now did he feel able.
Now, out of nowhere, it felt easy where before it had been impossible. To pick out their pictures and crumple them up. To retrieve the long-abandoned T-shirts from the back of the wardrobe and throw them away. He even found a bottle of aftershave he wasn't sure was Daniel's, but he couldn't remember buying it himself, so away it went.
"What are you doing?" Nora asked when she came back from her shower, standing in her plaid pyjamas and drying her honey-blonde hair with a small towel.
"Cleaning out some of Daniel's things," John said.
"Oh," she said eventually. Then she frowned.
"Any reason why?"
"Well, it's not like he's coming back."
She rolled her eyes. "Why now?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Tea"
Copyright © 2019 Matthew J. Metzger.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
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