Copyright 2010 Bailey Bradford All Rights Reserved
Another week passed before Jesse caught what he hoped was a break. The little reddish orange ball of fur bounced around his ankles. A smile bloomed as he realized why the poodle looked familiar. Bingo and a home run. This hyper creature was the same one he had seen in his neighbor’s backyard.
Now he had an excuse to go bang on the door, regardless of what the snotty sign said. So far, he had patiently waited for the story to unfold. Maybe here, in the form of a three-pound bundle of shivering canine excitement, was the thread that would unravel the whole tale.
“Come here, boy.” Jesse squatted and reached for the poodle, earning himself a face full of dog tongue, or dog kisses, whatever. He’d tolerate them if it meant finally meeting the man who had refused to acknowledge Jesse’s existence for over a month.
The guy couldn’t be totally averse to visitors, so it was either personal or applied to all strangers. Jesse was definitely leaning toward the latter, since he opened the door to one person at least. Or, to be exact, three people. A car had been there earlier, carrying an attractive woman and two little girls Jesse assumed were her kids. It was gone.
Twice he’d seen that car at his mysterious neighbor’s house, and while the man hadn’t walked outside to greet them, he had waited in the doorway and hugged his visitors before scurrying back inside. Jesse suspected they were family members. The woman was petite, her hair was reddish, and the little girls, with their auburn ringlets glistening in the sun, were like carbon copies of the man who had hugged them.
Well, except for being female. Jesse’s neighbor might be skinny, and he wasn’t tall, at only about five-eight, but he didn’t look feminine. Even his slight build was off in a way that seemed unnatural to the man’s frame, as though it was a result of whatever had happened to him.
Jesse had no doubt it was violent, whether it was a wreck or, hell, attempted murder. The first week or so the man had been covered in bruises and had moved as though every part of his body screamed in agony.
Now there was the added twist of family of some sort. Jesse supposed he could be wrong; the woman could be an ex for all he knew. Somehow that scenario didn’t fit for him. He wasn’t going to examine why that was so just now.
Scooping the small dog up in one hand, Jesse made his way across the street. He thought he saw the blinds twitch in the living-room window. The idea his neighbor might have been watching had Jesse’s lips quirking up in amusement. Maybe the man hadn’t been able to ignore him after all. Hell, he could have his own timeline of Jesse sightings behind that unfriendly front door.
At the door, Jesse didn’t stand on the last step up. He was already taller and bigger than his neighbor and didn’t want to intimidate the man. He’d just raised his fist to knock when the door swung open a few inches and a narrow strip of coppery hair appeared. The bundle of canine joy went into a fit of ecstasy, squirming and wriggling as it yipped. Jesse held on to the dog, waiting for the door to open the rest of the way.
The first thing that hit him was the jewel-bright green of the man’s eyes. Damned if Jesse had ever seen eyes like that. The fact he could see the color through his own dark-tinted lenses surprised Jesse and had him sliding the black frames on top of his head. He looked for a ring around the irises, some sign of contacts, but could find none. Jesse noticed little flecks of deep green and brown close to the pupils, creating a riotous starburst pattern that was…breathtaking was the only word he could think of. Thick auburn lashes provided a contrast for those wide, vibrantly colored eyes.
Jesse realized he was staring, letting his plain brown eyes linger as he memorized every detail. But hell, it wasn’t like the other man wasn’t looking too. Goose bumps rose on his skin everywhere that nervous gaze landed. He had the forethought to know that if it dropped to his half-hard cock, he might end up with the door slammed in his face. Who could blame the guy? What kind of sick jerk was he to be turned on by a man who was so obviously messed up and scared?
Clearing his throat, Jesse slowly stuck out his free hand -- worried any sudden moves would send the man off in a panic. The gesture brought that glittering gaze back up to his face as a long, bony hand landed in his bigger one.
“I’m Jesse Martin, live across the street.” Jesse gestured over his shoulder, since the neighbor had withdrawn from the handshake as quickly as possible. Then he waited; there was a certain sort of power in silence that most people couldn’t tolerate. He was betting this man wouldn’t be any different.
The smaller man’s eyelids flickered as he glanced from one spot to another, never looking directly at Jesse. Jesse almost felt bad knowing the man was uncomfortable, but whatever caused such nervousness -- and, okay, fear -- needed to be confronted. The little dog squirmed and yipped again, breaking the silence and giving the auburn-haired man something to focus on.
“May I have Loopy back?” The question was rushed and breathless. Jesse nearly dropped…Loopy. What the hell kind of name was that? What about Rex or King or… eyeing the fur ball, Jesse realized Loopy was probably a good fit; the dog did seem a bit ditzy.
“Sure, of course.” Handing the dog over, Jesse subtly, he hoped, let his hand brush against the warm skin of the other man’s hand. The jolt of sensual awareness that shot through him had him bobbling the dog, and judging by the startled gasp from his neighbor, Jesse wasn’t the only one who felt it. Then again, maybe the guy simply didn’t like being touched. There was no help for it; he had to ask.
“What’s your name?” Rough and gravelly, Jesse’s voice sounded unnatural to his ears. The man’s eyes shot up to his and widened. An audible swallow, then another and another before Jesse got an answer.
“I’m Caden, with a C. Tomas. I mean, Caden Tomas.”
Caden. Different and interesting, like the man it belongs to. Now Jesse had a name for his gorgeous neighbor.
“Thank you for bringing Loopy back.” Caden stepped back, and before Jesse knew what was what, that damned front door started closing in his face.
Reflexes had him slapping a hand against the heavy panel, stopping it forcefully and giving Caden a severe start. Shit, he hadn’t meant to scare him.
“Sorry.” Jesse didn’t have to fake the apologetic note in his voice. “I didn’t mean to, ah, freak you out or anything, honest.”
Caden’s head bobbed up and down before he caught himself. Still, he wouldn’t look at Jesse.
“Caden.” The panic in those green depths didn’t subside, but Caden did succeed in looking in his eyes. Christ, the power behind that look sent a coil of heat throughout Jesse’s body, but more than that, it made Jesse want to hold the man close and keep him safe. What the fuck?
“Wh-what?” A sheen of sweat broke over Caden’s brow and trickled down his temples.
Jesse wanted to trace the path that sweat was taking, either with his tongue or his finger. His hand was moving before he realized it -- and he probably wouldn’t have stopped if Caden hadn’t made a strangled sound that hit him straight in the heart. So intense and surprising was the feeling, Jesse pulled back his hand and pressed it against his chest in an attempt to counteract the pain. He could do nothing to squash the overwhelming need to reassure the other man, though.
“I’m sorry, Caden. I wasn’t going to hurt you, just brush something off the side of your face. I won’t make any sudden moves like that again.” Fear, shame, self-loathing -- Jesse saw those things and more flash across Caden’s face. “Hey, it’s okay. It was my fault.” Caden just shook his head, looking so broken Jesse was at a loss for what to do.
“What can I do to help you?” Right now, Jesse would do anything to get that look off Caden’s face, out of his haunted eyes.
“Let me shut my door,” Caden whispered, staring at his feet.
Sick with guilt, Jesse could only comply. He pulled his hand back and watched the door shut, listening as several locks clicked into place before he turned and headed back to his trailer.