Outside the Lines (A Bluewater Bay novel)

Outside the Lines by Anna Zabo
 
Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-652-1
eBook release: 
Dec 18, 2017
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-653-8
Print release: 
Dec 18, 2017
Word count: 
~68,900
Page count: 
~260
Type: 
Cover by: 
 

This title is part of the Bluewater Bay universe.

Ebook $4.99
Print $17.99   $14.39 (20% off!)
Print and Ebook $22.98   $16.09 (30% off!)

Miniature artist Ian Meyers has one week to rebuild his damaged set. Needing help, he goes to End o’ Earth, the local comic and gaming shop. Owner Simon Derry pushes all of Ian’s buttons, and he also has steady hands and the skills Ian needs.

Before they can even grab a beer, Ian meets Lydia Derry, Simon’s wife. If Ian had any interest in women, he’d suggest a threesome, but then Simon explains that he and Lydia are polyamorous, and if Ian wants Simon, neither of them will complain. If anything, Lydia encourages the relationship.

Ian’s all in, and it’s fantastic working with Simon to piece together his set and then take each other apart at night. His friendship with Lydia grows too. The only problem is, the more time he spends with Simon, the more he wants everything Simon already has with Lydia: A house. A cat. A commitment. So Ian runs, and shatters the trust he has with them both—right when they need him the most. Piecing their relationships back together might prove harder than a smashed set. 

This title comes with no special warnings.

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

Ian

It was amazing how fast two weeks’ worth of work could be destroyed. I mean, I’m used to it—half the models I built were meant to be blown up or set on fire or otherwise obliterated in a sea of special effects. This one wasn’t any different, a lovely detailed miniature of a sacred grove, complete with altars and idols—everything the larger set had—surrounded by trees in the heart of the forest. My miniature had been destined to be burnt to the ground in a spectacular magical explosion, since the EPA kind of frowned on pyrotechnics in the forest on the Olympic Peninsula. Apparently, fire and trees didn’t mix.

At least, that had been the intended fate of my model before Anderson had fallen backward into the damn thing and crushed it into tiny little bits. Stunt actors, I swear—bones made of steel. Poor set was absolutely no match for two hundred pounds of falling man.

My heart stopped, or tried to.

Would have made a great shot had Anderson been in a giant rubber suit. But this was Wolf’s Landing, not some science fiction show with mecha and monsters.

Ginsberg helped Anderson up and looked at the ruins of the model in the same way someone peered at roadkill. Pity mixed with revulsion. “Oh, shit.”

“Sorry, dude.” That from Anderson.

I couldn’t speak. Didn’t know what to say. We were supposed to film the scene this evening and now my model was . . . gone. Anna was going to have kittens. Large hungry kittens with claws and teeth and a taste for blood.

You think stuff is safe on set, that people would be careful. I croaked, still looking for the right words.

Anderson scratched the back of his head. “Can you fix it?”

I met Anderson’s gaze. Behind him, Ginsberg’s eyes were wide, and he backed away, his hands raised in surrender.

“Did you . . . really . . . just ask me that?” I barely recognized my own voice. It was too calm and cool. Nothing like the litany of oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck running through my soul.

Anderson flinched and glanced at the shards of wood, clay, and paint—he’d also managed to bend the metal leg of the table my model had been sitting on—then met my stare again and hunched his shoulders. “I mean— I’m sorry. It was an accident.”

“Tell that to Anna.” I jammed both hands into my hair, and the trembles started. Holy shit. Two weeks of work undone. I barely had any supplies left, and the production schedule was so damn tight, I didn’t know if there was any time for me to rebuild the set.

“Tell me what?” Anna Maxwell’s voice cut through the air like the thin blade of a utility knife. Her footfalls followed until she stood next to me and oh, the look she gave my ruined model . . .

Yup. Kittens. Mountain lion kittens. I pressed my lips together and tightened the grip on my hair.

“Um.” Anderson shifted back and forth from one foot to another. “We were fooling around with a hacky sack and I, uh, fell.”

“Hacky . . . sack,” Anna said.

Claws and teeth and blood.

“Yeah, it’s that game with that kind of ball—”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, I know what a hacky sack is.” She waved Anderson quiet and turned to me. “Don’t tell me that was tonight’s shot.”

“That was tonight’s shot,” I whispered.

Anna closed her eyes, and I could almost hear her counting down from ten. She let out an exhale. “You . . .” She pointed at Anderson. “Get your ass to Natalya for some extra training.”

Anderson didn’t have to be told twice. He didn’t walk away—he fled at top speed. Anna turned back to the model and rubbed her chin. “Fuck.”

I slipped my fingers from my hair. Yeah, that was about all I had too.

“How fast can you rebuild it?”

Not fast enough. “I don’t—”

“Ian.”

Oh, man. I hated when Anna looked at me like that. It wasn’t anger, but there’s this . . . stare . . . directors got. One that made you want to cower in fear.

“Like . . . a week? Maybe?” If I worked around the clock. If I had what I needed on site, which I didn’t.

“Specifics, please.”

Shit. Well, it was Wednesday, so I had the weekend. “A week. Seven days. This time next week.”

She nodded. “I think we can live with that.” Some tension eased in her shoulders, and her razor-sharp expression softened. “I know this wasn’t your fault. I’ll have a talk with the crew and remind them to be careful around the sets.”

I really, really didn’t want to be there for that. “Thanks.”

We parted ways; her to scare the pants off someone else, and me, after gathering the sad wreckage of the grove into a box, back to my shop.

Didn’t take long to pull out the reusable bits from the detritus—pretty much only the stuff I’d sculpted out of polymer clay. At least that was good—those had been a pain to get right.

What wasn’t good was the level of supplies in my shop—I was more or less out of everything. I’d used so much shit making this model that I’d burned through the bulk of my stock. I had supplies on order, but who knew when that would show up in this little backwater town.

I huffed out a breath. Bluewater Bay wasn’t that bad, but shipping shit here took forever for some reason.

And I’d told Anna I’d have the model built in a week. Oh, God. Ian Meyers, you are well and truly screwed.

* * * * * * *

Desperate times and all that. I parked my car along Main Street in lovely downtown Bluewater Bay and tapped my fingers against the steering wheel. Usually when I came to Main, I went two blocks down to Stomping Grounds for some caffeine. I tended to avoid this part because it was home to Howling Moon, the mother of all Wolf’s Landing merchandise shops. The tourists were plentiful around here. Down at Stomping Grounds, the townsfolk ran interference for us, especially when we were wearing our crew jackets or hats. Kept the gawkers from doing more than gawking—like that time when a guy tried to swipe a grip’s badge.

Unfortunately, Howling Moon was next door to where I needed to go: End o’ Earth Comics and Games. I’d already come up bust at the local craft stores. I’d managed to secure some items—mostly balsa wood—at the art-supply place, but I needed model paint. For that, you had to go where they sold models and miniatures.

Only one place in town had what I needed—End o’ Earth, unless I wanted to buy official Wolf’s Landing miniatures. Hell, maybe Howling Moon had a freaking Sacred Grove™ set. Plop that down for Anna to use.

I giggled. She’d kill me. Probably for real.

Right. I’d left everything that could possibly signal I worked on Wolf’s Landing at home. Should be safe enough to head into End o’ Earth. Up and out. Lock the car. Slink past the visiting tourists. Through the door and bang straight into my youth.

Oh my God. The colors. The glint of bags. The collectors’ issues carefully hanging on the wall. All of it sent a tingle up my spine. There was the swooping thrill in my chest at the sight of the racks. I gravitated toward the new comics. I was so out of the loop, I didn’t recognize many of the titles—and half of those I did sported unfamiliar faces.

But the shop as a whole? Like an old boyfriend standing there at the corner. Hey, sweetheart, where ya been?

I stared at the covers. I’m seeing someone now. No time for old loves. I’d get lost in too many other stories and aesthetics. I barely had enough time to keep up with my own sculpture, and it was hard keeping the Wolf’s Landing aesthetic from seeping into my own creative work.

It smelled like a comics and games shop, though. All ink and paper and . . . paint. Specifically, miniature paint.

The guy behind the counter was youngish, maybe in his early twenties, and had several piercings in his ear. Given the pink Yay for Gay T-shirt and lacy scarf ensemble, he clearly wasn’t afraid of his feminine side at all.

He let me browse for a bit, but eventually coughed to catch my attention. “Let me know if you need any help.”

What I wanted, for an insane moment, was one of everything on the racks. But I didn’t have that kind of cash, and I certainly didn’t have that kind of time. I tore my attention away from the new issues. “Actually, what I need are miniature supplies.”

The clerk nodded to the right. “They’re in the back, behind the board games. Simon’s there and he’s the man for miniatures—he’ll give you a hand.” A nice professional smile. “Follow your nose.”

“Thanks.” When I walked past the graphic novels and games, I understood what the guy had meant. The familiar delightfully pungent smell of paint wafted from deeper in the store. At the back was a man painting a model at a table, and for the second time, I was struck by color and light. Not from the starship in his hand or the one next to it, but from the man himself.

If I’d known they grew them like him in Bluewater Bay, I’d have spent a hell of a lot more time on this end of Main Street. Mahogany hair, thin elegant fingers that held the brush just so, cheekbones that went on forever, and pale-blue eyes, like the sky sometimes got out here—when you could see it.

I must have made some sort of undignified noise, because his intense focus shifted and pinned me to the ground.

As did his wide smile. “Hey, hi! Give me a sec to finish this, and I’ll be right with you.”

Simon. The clerk had said his name was Simon.

“Yeah, okay.” Stunning first line, that.

With trepidation, I moved closer and followed the flow of his fingers to his brush, to the model. It was better than staring at Simon, but not by much.

Because his painting? Superlative. Maybe better than mine. Yeah, he was using a magnifier, but I did that too. His hands were so very steady and the line he drew—utterly straight. Perfect. That starship could easily have been at home in a prop shop.

How had I missed a guy like this? I’d been in Bluewater Bay almost a year and had never seen him. Before I started making any additional strange noises, I stepped away as quietly as I could, and took stock of the area around me. Tons of supplies. My geeky little artist heart flipped over—what was left that wasn’t already tumbling from watching Simon. Yeah, they had a lot of what I needed.

And something I wanted. I swallowed against desire. Down boy. You know nothing, Ian Meyers.

Simon exhaled. “There.” He set the starship down, cleaned his brush, and stood. “Now, what can I help you with?”

My brain locked up. He wasn’t particularly tall—we were about the same height—but the way his jeans hung on his hips cupped him perfectly. Legs and torso and, God, that bemused expression. “Uh.”

I’m so fucking eloquent.

“Paints?” he said. “Models? You working on something particular?”

Apparently, a nice boner. Boy, I needed to get a grip. “Yes, paints.” I swallowed. “And yes, something in particular. But it’s not a commercial model.” I waved at the kits.

He lit up. “Are you sculpting? I’ve wanted to do that, but I have no talent, whatsoever.”

I did sculpt. Stuff that would work in a shop like this too. Dragons. Fantasy beasts. Weird organic spaceships. “Your painting is exquisite. That takes talent and a steady hand.”

He snorted. “It’s not horribly artistic.”

I stepped closer to the table and him. “It can be.” The detailing on the ship—it wasn’t any particular film or television property’s merchandise—was not what was on the cover of the nearby box. “You’re doing your own thing.”

“I usually do,” he murmured.

When I glanced up, I got the distinct impression he was checking me out. Delight clashed with fear and zinged down my legs. “Me too.”

He met my stare, and his smile could have been called cocky in some script or another. “You still haven’t told me what you need.”

A one-night stand? A quickie in the back room? Dinner and a movie? Shit. “I’m here for work. It’s kind of a desperate situation.”

“Work?” He pursed his lips.

Simon had a mouth that begged to be kissed. Plump, wet, and lovely. I quieted my voice. “I make miniature sets for Wolf’s Landing.”

His breath hitched. Wasn’t sure if it was me or what I’d said, but it didn’t matter. There’s something about flustering a guy that drives my pulse skyward. I’d take it.

“What happened?” he whispered.

I told him, and he tried hard not to snicker. Failed. By the end of my tale, I was laughing too. The absurdity of it all, Anna’s reaction, and what the stunt guy would probably go through during training. “So,” I said, “can you help me?”

I hoped he could, because if the answer was no, I was out of options. And I’d never get a chance to take him out for a beer, ’cause Anna would have me buried out in the forest somewhere.

 

Chapter Two

Simon

Can you help me? The words rang through my head and it took all of my restraint not to blurt out Yes, yes, I can! Help someone from Hollywood, someone from Wolf’s Landing with anything? Oh God, I wanted to jump up and down and beg.

My wife, Lydia, called it my inner fanboi, and she was right. I squeed with the best of them, though not in public, especially not about Wolf’s Landing. Not when they’d revitalized the town.

“Yeah.” I tried to keep my voice steady and smooth. Didn’t help that this guy was Hollywood gorgeous and everything I liked in men. My height, dark hair, rich brown eyes that I could spend eternity falling into, a waist I wanted to hold, and shoulders made for biting.

I was hopeless when it came to men.

“We certainly have paints and most of the other supplies. I might have some stuff at home, too.”

He shoved his hands in his pockets. “I don’t want to cause you problems. Get you in trouble with the boss.”

My laugh bubbled out, high and giddy. “I am the boss.”

The way his smile crinkled around his eyes set my blood alight. His gaze darted down and up my body, and every bit of me heated. No, I hadn’t been imagining him checking me out.

Damn. Damn. “I’m Simon Derry.” I offered him my hand and he took it in a warm, strong grip. Rough skin.

Electrifying. Hell.

“Ian Meyers.”

His shy smile played with my nerves in wicked ways, and we both let go at the same time. I could almost hear Lydia whispering in my ear, Go for it. Except whenever I did, I got shot down hard. I’d given up on men long ago, at least in these kinds of situations.

Being poly and a bisexual guy was asking for trouble. We stuck to swinging with other couples and all the guys were straight, so I got to look, but not touch. Bi guys weren’t exactly welcome as swingers.

Ian? I really wanted to touch Ian. Would never happen, though. “Do you need somewhere to build it, too? I mean, if the paint has to dry quickly, this is a great space. We keep the humidity down, or try to, for the books and comics.” I nodded to the bread-and-butter section of the store. “Plus, if you need anything . . .”

Ian’s grin wasn’t so shy now. “I suspect you don’t have stunt artists running around playing hacky sack in the aisles, either.”

“No, not usually.” I laughed. “Though some of the crew do come in for their comic fix. Not sure who’s who.”

Ian seemed startled by that tidbit of info. “You don’t have any trouble with the fans?” He nodded in the direction of our next-door neighbor, Howling Moon.

“You’d think they’d come in here too, right?” That had been our hope when they’d opened next door.

Ian nodded.

“Some do, but far fewer than you’d expect. They can get Wolf’s Landing comics at their local stores. Here, they’re only interested in the stuff you can’t find anywhere else. Other than the comics and the books, we can’t sell anything Wolf’s Landing, so they glance around at the comics and leave.”

Ian wore a shocked expression again. “You . . . can’t sell Wolf’s Landing stuff?”

“Not anymore. They licensed all the merchandise to certain vendors once the TV series hit big.” Which had been about the same time Howling Moon had opened. “Makes sense, in a way. Don’t want one shop poaching from another.”

“But you can still sell the comics?” Ian focused on the new issues racks with such a longing that I wanted to slide up to him and give him a hug. Desire, loss, and need played across Ian’s face. Part sexy, part heartbreaking.

I’d seen that before. In parents who wandered in with their kids and in those who came in off the street “just to look around,” as they said. Had usually collected comics as kids, but stopped, or had their issues thrown out, or something like that.

I wondered what Ian’s story was. “Well, there’s really only one distributer for comics. Not even Hollywood can break that monopoly. We get the Wolf’s Landing issues in with all the other comics.”

Ian nodded absently, that yearning still etched in his face. He clenched and unclenched his hands.

So far gone. “You collect?”

He shoved his fingers through his hair. “Used to. No time now, and Anna will have my balls if I don’t get this set finished.”

I croaked, and he got the most wicked smile.

Yeah, I kind of wanted his balls. In my mouth. But explaining everything about my life? That shit took time, and I wasn’t fooling around with anyone until I told them about my situation. Of course, that inevitably led to never seeing the guy again. Ah well. “So, when do you want to get started?”

Now his grin was straight from the devil. “On the set?”

Fuck, yeah, he knew I was into him. “I— Yeah. The set.” Heat on my face. “I’m in the shop every day, so I’m available whenever.”

“For the set.” That smoldering gaze burned straight down to my dick and balls.

I wasn’t going to get out of this gracefully. Might as well head toward what we both wanted . . . and then get shot down in flames. I swallowed my fear. “Let’s start with the set.”

Ian had eyes I could drown in. A smile too. “Okay,” he said. “Then you’re on for tomorrow.”

I struggled to find a sexy or witty reply, but was saved by Ian’s phone whistling.

“Fuck,” he muttered, and whipped the cell phone out. “Shit. I’m gonna be late for a meeting.” He met my gaze. “I’m sorry. I gotta run.”

“No problem. I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”

His grin was perfection and he did that up-down number again, practically undressing me with his eyes. “I hope so.” He turned and headed out the door.

Well, here we go. I watched the trail Ian blazed and returned to my model. It seemed such a dull, amateur job now. Much like my flirting.

But if there was one thing I’d learned over the years—you had to keep trying.

* * * * * * *

I spent the rest of the day attempting to work, but thinking about Ian. After he left, I’d sat down at my table and picked up a paintbrush, but my hands had been too unsteady to go back to painting the model.

Instead, I wandered up to the front of the store to help Jesse shelve and board issues until I’d stopped vibrating. If he noticed my distraction or bounciness, he gave no sign. Sometimes, I wondered if he’d put some pieces about me and Lydia together—we tried to keep our polyamory on the down-low in town, but you couldn’t hide everything. And Jesse wasn’t an idiot.

If he knew, he obviously didn’t care. He was our best employee. Lydia and I often talked about making him assistant manager, should her career take off.

Once I calmed my ass—and dick—down, and my hands were back to their steady state, I returned to my models.

A little before four, Lydia emerged from her studio in the back of the shop and found me with a brush in hand. Sometimes, we worked the same hours, sometimes not, depending on the schedules of our other employees and what freelance lettering and coloring jobs Lydia had going on. She’d been on several tight deadlines for clients the past week or two, but given her bright smile and the crinkles around her eyes, she was done with at least one of them.

Which meant Chinese take-out for dinner. God bless her clients and deadlines. Pretty much the only time I got my egg foo yung fix was when she turned impossible tasks around on time.

I put down the ship I was painting—same one I’d been working on when Ian had come into the store. Lydia leaned over and gave me a peck. Her lips tasted faintly of tea.

“You seem happy.” I cleaned the brush I’d been using in a cup of water, shaped the tip, and laid it down to dry.

“Finally finished one of my lettering jobs. Wasn’t easy with all those different speech types they wanted, but God, the comic’s great.” She peered down at me. “Si, you’re beaming. What’s up? They let you order those Wolf’s Landing miniatures in?”

Heat rose to my face and Lydia’s lips parted a fraction. “Kind of, but not really?”

She gave me her patented do go on look.

“One of the prop guys came by from Wolf’s Landing, looking for supplies. Some stunt dude fell on his miniature set.” I filled her in on the rest of the story and how Ian would be rebuilding the set here. I left out the part about him seemingly mentally stripping the clothing from my body with every glance.

“The sacred grove. Oh my god, Si, that’s fantastic!” She gripped my shoulder. “And you get to help?” She knew it was a dream come true.

“Maybe? We’ll see.” I paused for a second and gulped down a breath of air. Time for the rest. “I think he was checking me out.” Think? Knew.

Lydia’s smile widened. “Please tell me you flirted back this time?”

Yeah, my wife knew me well. To be honest, I was hopeless with any gender and turned klutzy and dorky the minute I was the least bit attracted. I didn’t flirt well—but I did flirt. She’d seen that firsthand.

“Maybe we should talk about the rest of that over dinner?” Some close friends knew about our open marriage and our polyamory, but it was not exactly something we went around blurting out, especially not in the middle of our store. Washington state may lean liberal, but not every place here did.

She glanced at her watch. “Let me ask Jesse if he wants anything, and I’ll go grab some Chinese.” A moment later, she vanished past the graphic novel display.

Score. Egg foo yung heaven awaited.

I eyed my half-painted spaceship. I wouldn’t be finishing it tonight, not between talking to my wife and chowing down, so I closed up the paints and packed everything away.

If only most things in my life were that easy to handle.

 

Chapter Three

Ian

Standing in Anna’s office, I watched as she perfected her expression—a cross between you’re out of your mind and explain that to me again. “You want to build your set in town, in a comic-book store?”

I tried not to shrink into myself, because my plan was a good one. Anna was intimidating, but fair when she understood why you wanted to do something unorthodox. “It’s been raining all day. It’s going to rain for the next couple of days.”

She rubbed her forehead. “Don’t remind me.” The shooting schedule had been upended completely due to the weather, which happened pretty much every month unless we were filming scenes in the rain. On the other hand, everyone marveled at how authentic the downpours appeared on the show.

It had also been warmer than normal for this time of year, leading to very sticky and damp conditions. “I know the shop trailers are supposed to be cool and dry and—”

“They’re swamp-like right now.”

“The set will dry faster at the store. There’s supplies on hand, and the owner offered me a space to work free of falling stuntmen.”

Anna flinched. Not much, but enough. “Build a set in public, though?”

I shrugged. “Everyone knows the grove’s going up in a fireball. The book’s been out for years. And the graphic novel. And the comic. And . . .”

Anna held up her hand. “You’ll have it done when you said?”

“Cross my heart.” I did too. Still had enough Catholic in me for that.

“Fine. Go. Do.” She gestured at the door.

She didn’t have to say it twice. A moment later, I was out of her hot and humid trailer, and heading across the lot to my car. All the salvaged bits from the miniature set were packed, along with the base, the plans, and the few supplies I had. I’d loaded my Mini as soon as the drizzle started. Waiting for rain to let up was pointless out here—it only ever got worse before better. That could take days. Ah, the Pacific Northwest. So very . . . moist.

I booked it to the parking lot though I didn’t know if it was the rain or the prospect of seeing Simon again that had me walking so fast. Oh hell, who was I kidding? It was Simon. His eyes, his hands, the way his shirt clung to his chest. Yeah, lust had gotten a grip on me, but there were things I liked about Simon other than enough perfection to get my dick hard.

Simon was kind. Friendly. A geek, like me. And he could paint. Understood miniatures, even if they weren’t the movie-set kind. Not the type of guy I normally found around here. Mostly, I ended up meeting men who were only interested in Wolf’s Landing or worse—they were employed by Wolf’s Landing.

Lots of people on set fished off the same pier. It worked for some, like Carter Samuels and Levi Pritchard, our star-crossed big-name actors. And Anna and Natalya.

Heck, I’d gone spelunking into the pool of available guys a couple of times, but it was damn awkward when a one-night stand fizzled into regret . . . and you had to say “Yo” to that dude the next day. And the next . . . and the next. After the third “Oops maybe not, man,” I’d stopped. Better to take things into my own hand, so to speak, than spend weeks cringing when we bumped into each other on the job.

But Simon? Simon was gorgeous, engaging, and worked in town. Couldn’t ask for a better chance. I was dying to see if I’d imagined that spark of interest. Still, I took my sweet time driving over to the shop. The cops liked to sit on this stretch of road, and the rain had gone from annoying to insulting. Fastest setting on the wipers wasn’t cutting it. I’d bought this car for sunny and dry California, not rain-soaked Washington state.

By the time I pulled up in front of End o’ Earth, my heart was thudding against my ribs. This was the start. One set. One comics guy with a wicked smile, and me. Had it been my imagination yesterday? Na. Dude was a flirt. I was a flirt.

We could be flirts together.

Before I unpacked the monstrosity of the base and all the items stuffed into my car, I ducked into the shop to see if Simon was ready. It was after lunch and I didn’t know if he was in. We hadn’t discussed the time—only that I would be here today.

I dashed through the door, and this time, there was a woman behind the counter: neon red hair, a nose piercing, and some wicked tats up her arm. Her smile was bright. “Hey, how’s it going?”

“Good! Well, other than the rain.”

She gave me an eyeroll that I recognized as Oh, this one’s a California boy. “Yeah, puts a damper on the day, huh?”

I snorted. “Or at least makes everything damp.”

Apparently, my charm washed out, given her unimpressed raised eyebrow.

I cleared my throat. “Is Simon in? He was expecting me.”

That had her straightening up. “Yeah, hang on.” She opened a door behind the counter and called inside. “Si? There’s a guy here for you.”

Yeah, I was here for him. I had to bite my tongue to keep from smirking. I had no poker-face whatsoever, and I wasn’t certain I wanted the fiery comics gal to know I was macking on her boss.

Simon appeared at the door and met my gaze . . . and I’m not sure what expression I had, because comics gal took one look at me and punched him in the arm. Simon only widened his grin, which formed dimples on his cheeks.

Glad I hadn’t tucked my shirt in, because dimples were kryptonite to my self-control. “Uh . . .” And to the ability to put words together. “I have . . . stuff.” I pointed behind me. “In the car.”

Sometime during my brilliant use of the English language, Simon had rounded the counter and had come to a stop next to me. He was slightly taller. Right. I’d forgotten that part.

“Shall we get your stuff?” Simon held my gaze a bit longer, as if he knew he’d shorted out my mind with his smile, his hair, and those lips. Then he peered out the door and crinkled his brow. “I think there’s a lull in the rain.”

That’s when my brain engaged. “I didn’t think rain ever lulled here.” We moved toward the door, side by side, but he paused to let me go first.

“Been known to happen. Count your lucky stars.”

“Astronomical or Hollywood?”

Simon let out a bark of laughter as I unlocked the car. He sobered pretty quickly. “I can’t believe you got that much into a Mini Cooper.”

I shrugged. “I’m good at squeezing things into tight places.”

Simon made a sound that might have been a swallowed giggle and wouldn’t meet my eyes at all. His skin held a blush nicely, though. “I suppose that’s a good talent to have.”

“Never got any complaints from my ex-boyfriends.”

Simon met my gaze, and his smile was wicked. “Really?”

Gotcha. “Really.” I opened the Dutch doors to my Clubman. “Ten more inches than the regular Mini, and I know how to use every extra inch.”

“Wow.” Simon’s eyes never left mine. “Your exes must have been fools.”

Some of them, yeah. But I was far from perfect. I bumped Simon with my shoulder. “Let’s get this stuff unloaded before it starts raining again.”

His smile was a nice combo of turned on and shy. We pulled out bags of supplies and boxes and ferried them all into his shop. Didn’t take long to unbury the base of the set.

“It’s bigger than I thought.” Simon rubbed his chin.

“Too big?” I didn’t want to overtake his store with my problem. The guy still had a business to run.

“No.” His grin was toothy and melted my bones. “I can take it.”

Holy shit. My turn to have screaming hot cheeks. I totally deserved that line, and the smirk Simon gave me.

“Mostly, I’m worried about getting this through the door.”

We managed, though, with a bit of maneuvering and help from comics gal, whose name turned out to be Dexy.

“That short for anything?”

She sighed. “Yeah. Dexys Midnight Runners, the eighties band. Dad really liked them.”

When I glanced at Simon, he held up both hands. “Honest to God, it’s true.”

Dexy showed me her license. Given that her middle name was Eileen, Dad must have been a huge fan. “I’ll be damned.”

She gave a little rueful smile. “I like it now. It’s unique.”

Sure was. With her help, we got everything back to the tables Simon had been painting on the day before. “You boys have fun,” she said, before sauntering off to the counter.

“Um. Is she actually old enough to call us boys?”

Simon shook his head. “Not nearly.” His delightful smile was back and it warmed my blood.

I focused on the table, rather than on Simon, and that kept me from being too obvious. I hoped. “Well, this is it.” I waved at the base of the model and all the bits. “Looks great, huh?”

Silence. I chanced a glance over, and Simon was rubbing his chin. “You’re gonna build a grove in a week out of this?”

“Yup.”

His gaze met mine. “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”

“Hey! I’m a professional!” I clapped him on the shoulder. “Trust me.” Beneath my hand, he was warm and tense, and I loathed to let go. But that seemed the best move.

Such an adorable smile. “Tell me what you want me to do.”

Oh, so much. But the clock was ticking, and Anna’s exacting filming schedule needed a set more than I needed a blowjob. The latter could wait. “Start unpacking the bags, and I’ll show you the plans and the photos of what this looked like before a stunt dude fell on it.”

We got to work emptying the bags and setting out the supplies I’d brought, plus my tackle box of tools. Yeah, I could have used one of those expensive art boxes, but I liked going old school—with an expensive fishing box, instead. At one point, Dexy called Simon to the front of the store, and I took a moment to admire his back and ass as he headed to the counter.

I took another second to catch my breath. When this day was through, I was going to need a beer. Company too. Preferably the tall and lanky kind. Maybe nothing would happen other than flirting, but I wanted to know what was going through his mind. Or body. Whichever.

I dug out the set plans, my notes, and found an open space on the table. Simon returned while I was rooting through my supplies for paint. I had to have a bottle of the color I’d used under everything. Except I didn’t. “Damn.”

Simon’s warm hand on my back nearly made me jump out of my skin. “What are you looking for?”

“Paint.” It came out higher than it should have. “I, uh, used this particular sepia brown under everything, and I could have sworn . . .”

His fingers drifted down my back and fell away. “You wouldn’t happen to remember the name?”

No. But I had lists for that. A few flips of the pages in my notebook, and I’d found it. “Here.”

He took in more than the paint color above the tip of my finger. “This is high-end stuff.”

“Dude. This is Wolf’s Landing.”

A little red in his cheeks. “Right. Hollywood. Sometimes I forget.”

“Is that good or bad?”

He peered back at me, eyes the same shade as a morning sky. “Both, I think. It’s weird. A lot of you guys have become local-ish. Settled in. That’s good.”

“And the bad?”

“I don’t carry this brand of paint.”

Yeah, that could be a problem. “We’ll make do.”

He stepped up to the model and peered closer. “I bet I can match the color.”

Wouldn’t you know, he did. Nearly perfectly. There was a touch of red in the brand he carried, but in some ways, that was better. We rebuilt the upright columns that acted as tree trunks and fixed up the altar base until it was as good as new, then started painting the whole contraption. Simon’s color contrasted better when I added gray on top. While I touched up the paint, I set Simon to piecing together the shattered remains of the trunk texture. I’d spent so damn long to get those trees to appear real, especially in the flickering light that should play off them . . . right before the whole set blew up. I wasn’t going to waste that work.

He hummed to himself. Nothing I recognized—might not have been anything but random notes—but it was pleasant and sweet, and I wondered if he puttered around his house like that, making up little tunes under his breath.

That led to visions of Simon, bare-chested, wearing nothing but a low-slung pair of gray sweatpants in his kitchen. Man, did I want to see that. There was nothing like slim hips in sweats that begged to be slipped off.

Oh yeah. I had it bad.

“I do love puzzles,” Simon murmured, as he poked at pieces of tree bits on the table. He straightened and stretched his back. “I think I’m done.”

“Nearly there, myself.” I put a few final touches on the base, then stepped away. It looked decent too. Still a lot to accomplish, but my stomach told me we were close to dinnertime, and my watch confirmed. Nearly five thirty.

Not bad for a half-day’s work.

On the other table, Simon had arranged the bits and pieces of cracked tree trunk material, and it did kind of seem like a pieced-together puzzle, had the maker been a sadistic bastard. Which I guess I was, since I’d asked him to figure out how they all went back together.

“There’s parts missing.” He pointed out some spots where there were noticeable gaps.

I chewed on the inside of my mouth, arms tingling, and nodded. “There’s going to be, anyway.” I waved at the model. “The bases for those trees aren’t exactly the same as they were.”

“I’m surprised you don’t use real bark.”

He wasn’t the first to suggest it. “It looks wrong. Ridges are too big, since it’s actual tree-sized and not miniature.”

Simon snickered.

“What?”

“You drive a Mini.”

I stared at him.

“A miniature guy . . . who drives a Mini.”

Oh my God. “I . . . uh.” Never crossed my mind.

“No . . . Don’t fuck with me. You didn’t buy it because of that?”

“I didn’t! I got it because it’s cute and yellow and gets good gas mileage!”

We couldn’t stop laughing, and God, Simon was amazing. Dimples, laughlines, and a bright smile. His hair was disheveled and all I wanted to do was brush it out of his face.

from Publishers Weekly

**STARRED REVIEW**

This is a wonderful depiction of dynamics not often seen even in ménage romances.