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Authors: Frey Ortega

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That was where Nick came in. To prove that no matter
how much money they had, someone out there could still put a stop to all the
shit they did to the people around them.

The fact that some of the names that popped up in the
dossier had ties to multiple underworld organizations, among a whole slew of
illegal activities, was also disconcerting.

The target and his family were well-documented in the
dossier. He had a stereotypical life—white picket fences, went to college, went
to business school, got an MBA, was part of one of those nuclear, 2.5 children
families with a dog or three in the suburbs—until he’d started an investment
firm with his business partner and good friend. He had a clean record. In fact,
the only prior he had was a driving while intoxicated when he was eighteen
years old. It wasn’t until his only son had assumed a role in the company that
shit started to go down. Apparently, his son was a spoiled brat. And it wasn’t
until his son had any stake in the company that shit started to go very, very
right for them, but very, very wrong for a lot people, and a lot of other
companies.

Ruthless business ethics wasn’t enough. Drug deals,
extortion attempts, and even a hand in human trafficking due to his son’s
involvement with some shady, shady people seemed to follow him. The question
now was
why
it was the father to be
blamed when it was the son who had a laundry list of crimes?

Nick checked the dossier again.
Oh. The son’s the target. Well, that makes more sense.

What followed was an even more in-depth laundry list
of things the son had done in the past that made Nick feel like he needed a hot
shower just to clean himself of the filth. Maybe the least shifty thing that
this person had ever done was cheat on an ex-lover, and even then Nick thought
that would have earned him a punch in the gut, at least. Frowning, he flipped
the page.


Shit.” He couldn’t help cussing out at what he’d read. His insides
turned cold.


What is it?” Pace asked, looking up from his phone and raising an
eyebrow at Nick.


That guy I’m going on a date with tomorrow is my target’s ex-boyfriend.”
Nick said, which made Kristian turn from what he’d been doing, and Caleb to
stop lifting his spoon up mid-bite. Pace stared.


Dude. That’s … weird,” Caleb said unhelpfully.

Like Nick didn’t already know that.

Well, fuck.

Daniel Walsh was Thaddeus Langham’s ex-boyfriend.
They’d broken up two years ago.

Daniel, who had that cute, but awkward smile.

Daniel, who was tongue-tied around him.

Daniel, who Nick already knew was a complete
sweetheart who might’ve just had bad taste in men.

This was going to be more complicated than he
originally thought.

Chapter Four

 

In spite of any initial misgivings on Nick’s part, he
knew he had to go through with the date. He was still attracted to Daniel,
after all, and considering the fact that the man had been gone for two years
and his actions hadn’t even registered as a blip on the radar on the dossier,
it meant he wasn’t doing anything bad.

That’s what he hoped, anyway.

Nick had always been a pretty good judge of character
for most of his life. He wasn’t about to be steered wrong just because he
wanted to bury his dick inside of Daniel. Or have Daniel bury his inside Nick.
He wasn’t picky, not about that. And honestly, attraction or not, Nick knew
when a person was a good guy. People who had secrets to hide often had that
certain feeling Nick couldn’t quite place. Nick’s
abuela
said it best.
Caras
vemos, corazones no sabemos.
While it often meant not to judge a book by
its cover, it definitely meant Nick had to at least give Daniel the benefit of
the doubt.

Or maybe that was just his attraction to Daniel
talking and he’d gotten his grandma’s words wrong. A little part of it might
have been his dick talking.

Daniel was a good guy who got caught up in the whirlwind
of an asshole. Nick was going to find that out today. And sure, ex-boyfriends
aren’t exactly the best thing to talk about on a first date, but considering
how important this pivotal piece of information was to Nick’s wellbeing—well,
not his well-being, closer to his
sex
life’s
wellbeing—he was going to have to bring it up at some point during
the day.

Oh, and as God was his witness, he definitely was. For
his own sake as much as his mission’s.

Nick was surprised to hear the doorbell to the house
ring. He’d still been stuck figuring out what to wear, and he’d only
just
settled on something a little more
casual, like one of his tattered denim jeans and a plain white shirt. He was
still on the fence about wearing either a blazer or a leather jacket. He didn’t
want to dress up too much because he hadn’t really been clear about whether or
not this was going to be a date.

Which it totally was. At least, to Nick.


Nick! Daniel’s here for you,” Caleb hollered from the front door.


I’ll be right down! Just a minute.” Nick rushed with applying some
cologne and dabbing away some sweat from his brow. He peered at his reflection
in the mirror and smiled. Damn, but he did look good. Like he wasn’t trying,
even, with a little tousle of his slightly wavy hair and a downward tug on his
white shirt.

Rushing down the stairs, Nick could feel his heart
beating at what felt like a million miles per second. As soon as he found
himself just a single flight from the ground floor, he slowed his walk down to
a purposeful gait, and he played one of those cheesy, 90s style theme songs in
his head as he walked. If this were a movie, he thought, it’d be one of those
scenes where as soon as he hit the bottom step, air would flow over him and
there would be light shining from behind him like he was some strange, sexy
cherub.

People would gawk at him and gasp, but none of that
really happened because this wasn’t some strange, 90s-esque romantic comedy.
Instead, Pace was on his phone as usual, and Caleb was eyeing Daniel up and
saying something lame that seemed to make him less uncomfortable. There were no
musical cues. There was no sudden shift in lighting, and there certainly wasn’t
that moment where Daniel’s and Nick’s eyes met and both their breaths were
taken away.

No. This was real life, and real life meant Kristian
was off somewhere in the house, probably making another handy fix to one of the
rooms. Caleb was waggling his eyebrows and making a snappy one-liner at Daniel.
Pace had the slightest grin, as though he was fighting the idea that he’d ever
laugh at one of Caleb’s dumb jokes. Daniel was still very awkward, even with
the polite chuckle that came out of his mouth.

In spite of his awkward shifting from one leg to the
other, Daniel looked great. His strawberry-blond hair was perfectly coiffed
back into place. Silvery grey eyes glimmered in desire as he looked over Nick’s
form. Daniel had a pair of bright, fluorescent pink shorts that clung to his
thighs and ended an inch or two above his knees. He also wore a much plainer,
black checkered shirt that completed that whole nerdy, preppy vibe that Nick
was just eating up.

All in all, it seemed like Daniel was dressed for a
date. It made Nick grin.


Hey, you ready to go?” Nick asked, giving Daniel a slight smile.


Huh? Oh!” Daniel turned, and his eyes widened when he caught sight of
Nick. He offered back one of his own smiles and nodded. “Yeah. There’s a good
spot for lunch somewhere, and maybe we can visit a museum.”


Well, that sounds great!” Nick said, placing a hand on Daniel’s
shoulder. He then turned to regard both Caleb and Pace, offering them a wink.
“Don’t wait up for us.”


Oh, we won’t,” Caleb replied, waving the pair off with a smile. “You
kids have fun on your date!”


Date?” Daniel asked, as though startled. So he
didn’t
think this was a date! A little disappointing, but Nick made
sure not to show any of that on his face. He smirked at Daniel playfully. He
hoped that conveyed the message enough.


What did you think it was?”

In reply, the smaller male seemed to smile along with
him. “Okay. Date it is, then.”

Pace grinned. “Bring us some dinner if you’re here
before nine.”


You wish,” Nick said, chuckling. He turned to Daniel, and slowly wrapped
his arm around the smaller man’s shoulders from merely just placing a hand
there. “Let’s go?”


Yeah,” Daniel said, his voice a little dreamier than before as he looked
down at Nick’s arm. “Let’s go.”

And when Nick saw just how big Daniel’s smile was,
there was but a single thought that kept echoing in his head.

How could someone so cute be caught up with someone so
… wrong? It just didn’t make any earthly sense!

****

Time passed by so quickly, so much so that Nick had
barely realized it was already close to sundown. Daniel and he had talked for
what was basically hours, and Nick realized one thing.

Daniel definitely wasn’t the type of guy to get caught
up in the shit his ex-boyfriend was in. It didn’t take a genius to realize he
didn’t even know what his boyfriend had been doing. Or if he did, it was clear
that he’d had nothing to do with it.

That made Nick feel better about the date, at least,
but it also worsened that feeling inside of having lied to someone that he
could potentially see dating a couple more times, maybe even start a serious,
romantic relationship with. Not that Nick wanted Daniel to fuck him on the
first date, and it probably wasn’t the best idea, but they could do other
stuff.

Right?

Like talk. Or, well, Nick really wanted to grab a hold
of Daniel and—

Nope. Definitely wouldn’t do to get an erection in the
middle of the conversation.

For Daniel’s safety, it would have probably been
better if Nick didn’t do anything more than this. But the way they talked,
after he got Daniel to throw his barriers down, felt better than any one-night
stand Nick had in the past five year
s
. It didn’t feel like it was going to lead to just a one-night stand.

It actually gave Nick hope, and that was both the best
part and the scariest part. How were they going to go forward from this point
on?

Nick learned about how Daniel had basically given Thad
six years of his life, and the dramatic transformation the guy’s personality
seemed to have taken. He’d always been cocky and a little self-centered, but
once they both started working at the same company and Thad, by sheer nature of
his relationship with the CEO, was pulled up to a managerial position while
Daniel stayed entry-level, they’d started to drift apart until it just became
worse and worse.

It was clearly uncomfortable for Daniel to talk about,
too. He’d had to get more than one glass of wine during lunch just to get the
story out. Nick wanted to throw his arms around the guy and give him a hug, but
he knew it was inappropriate. Right now, anyway. Maybe he could do it later, in
private.

But for now, they were perfect. Sitting here face to
face, in the middle of a not-so-crowded coffee shop, where the view of the city
was perfect, and they could really get to talk better with each other. This, of
course, after forgetting to tour the city like they wanted, because they were
too wrapped up in talking to each other.

Nick shared some of his own story, too. Cherry-picked,
of course, as he didn’t know exactly how to come out with the fact that he was
some form of mercenary-for-hire by the government. He probably would, in time.


A little part of me thinks I knew the relationship was doomed when I’d
forgotten our anniversary. I always did like throwing myself into my work when
things got tough.
The last straw was when I caught him fucking a woman in the apartment we
shared together,” Daniel said. “It was the day after our sixth anniversary.”

Nick gritted his teeth. What could he really say at
this point? “That sucks,” he said. It was the only thing he could say
emphatically and still mean it. “But for what it’s worth, I’m glad you’re out
of a relationship that was going nowhere. At least that leaves you open for
other opportunities.”

Like me
. That was the message hidden underneath his words.
Nick offered the slightest of smiles, even though every cell in his body wanted
to pulverize every bone in Thaddeus Langham’s body into a fine, crumbly powder.


Yeah,” Daniel replied noncommittally, his gaze averted from Nick’s. He
gazed down at the cup of coffee in front of him, and he was slowly stirring a
packet of sugar into the liquid. It took him a few moments before he spoke once
more. “I even laid him out flat. Screamed out, ‘mail, motherfucker!’ Nothing
witty or anything. I was just so angry.”

Nick barely contained the snort of laughter that came
out of his lips. He hid it by taking a sip of his coffee. “You really said
that? You punched him, and screamed
that
out?”


Honestly, there are moments in time where I’m not sure anything I do is
real,” Daniel admitted, shaking his head. “In fact, I’m still not sure if any
of this is even real.”

Nick tilted his head. “If what is real?”

Daniel nodded. He gestured to Nick, and then to
himself, awkwardly shifting in his seat. “All of this. You know, having this
conversation with you. Being on a date with you. I just thought you were being
nice.”

Nick grinned and leaned forward, trying to look Daniel
in the eyes. He waggled his eyebrows playfully. “Why can’t it be both? Can’t I
be nice while also wanting to go on a date with you?”


You could, but then I’d accuse you of lying, because I think you’re
being nice because of some ulterior motive,” Daniel said, finally meeting
Nick’s gaze once more. “Then again that could just be the part of me that
doesn’t want to expect anything so that I don’t feel betrayed.”

Nick lifted up his cup of coffee and took a sip.
“Couldn’t the ulterior motive be wanting to get to know you more and seeing if
your damage and my damage are compatible?”

It took a few moments for Daniel to respond, but when
he spoke, there was another slight smile on his face. “Putting it that way, I
think that’s possible, but I’m still not sure why you see me as more than just
single-date material.”

Now Nick didn’t get that part at all. Even though Nick
knew that Daniel had suffered through a few things in his love life and that he
felt like this failure defined him, it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Daniel was attractive, he had a sense of humor, he had a smile that made Nick
wanted to smile right back at him, and he was kind-hearted. All he needed was
to give himself a chance.


And why exactly do you think I wouldn’t want to date you?”

Once more, Daniel turned away. Nick was beginning to
sense that when Daniel was uncomfortable, he had a tendency to avert his gaze
from people. “The shallow part of me wants to say, look at me. I’m like a
double-scoop ice cream cone, or like the Pillsbury dough boy. Round in the
middle, and a little on the pudgy and soft side. I don’t even compare to you.”

Nick chuckled. “No one said you had to be compared to
me. And you’re right, that
is
shallow.
The only physical aspect you should be thinking about is how compatible we are
when we do physical things.”

Daniel’s lips quirked slowly into a smile, like he
couldn’t help himself from reacting the way he did. There was thinly-veiled
intent in Nick’s words, after all. “I also feel like I’d be inadequate for you
in a lot of other ways. Maybe it’s just the image in my head, but that might
just be that star-struck part of me, you know? The one that still feels sort of
happy that someone like you could be paying me any attention.”

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