Authors: Chrissy Munder
Tags: #m/m romance
are red. Violets are blue. If I ever got my hands on your fine ass, oh baby, the things I would do.
Russ Manners glared at his computer screen. His brown eyes darkened with frustration before he pressed the backspace key and watched the letters and their crisp Verdana font disappear one after another. Well, that little rhyme blew, he thought in disgust. Big time.
He rubbed his temples and stared at the glossy pages cut out of an assortment of magazines and taped to the wall of his office cube. They didn’t help his futile search for inspiration. In fact, the more he focused on the colorful images of decorated eggs, baskets, and bright, cartoon rabbits the more he wanted to gouge his eyes out.
The pictures’ perky themes clashed with the Christmas music piped through the office’s overhead speakers, adding to his piercing headache. Russ never understood this time of year. He lived in southern Florida, for crap’s sake. Was he the only one who got the memo explaining that no snow equaled no Christmas?
Russ didn’t deliberately live out of sync with the rest of the world, but his demanding job writing greeting cards ensured he lived his life two or three holidays ahead. Normally he thrived on the resulting chaos. So what was his problem? The stuffed, yellow rabbit perched above his monitor regarded him with blank, black eyes. “A lot of help you are.” Russ muttered.
Soft brown hair hid his face as Russ lowered his head to his keyboard and let the plastic cool his overheated forehead. He was so screwed. Instead of happy, lilting Easter greetings guaranteed to bring smiles to the faces of their special recipients, Russ had been reduced to writing cheesy Valentine tags no self-respecting card company would publish.
Here he sat, a few weeks away from his drop-dead date for the upcoming Easter line, and his mind absolutely positively refused to cooperate. Russ didn’t understand why. He’d never had any problems creating his trademark, catchy sayings before five weeks ago.
And there was his answer. He blamed everything on newcomer Ian Fiorillo.
As if on cue, Russ heard a low grunt from the cubicle next to him. Despite his intention not to give in to temptation, he clambered on top of the two-drawer file beside his desk, ignoring the files he knocked to the floor and the hard metal beneath his kneecaps so he could peek over the top of the cubicle wall.
Truly, this was his hell.
Because Ian wasn’t sitting at his computer, composing amusing ditties for Left-Brain Cards, the company they worked for. No, Ian was currently on his hands and knees with his head stuck under his desk, leaving Russ staring at the very same ass to which he had just composed yet another in a long line of excruciatingly bad odes.
Russ couldn’t help himself. Ian had a great ass.
Despite his efforts not to dwell on the subject, Russ would give almost anything to see Ian’s ass without its current khaki covering. Well, that and the rest of him. Because from where he knelt those hamstrings looked pretty sweet. Hell, even Ian’s ankles were attractive. But it wasn’t only Ian’s body Russ found irresistible. No, Ian proved to be as funny and friendly as he was eye-catching.
Ian Fiorillo was hands-down the main reason Russ hadn’t produced any work for weeks, and that was wrong on too many levels to count. Russ claimed the title of head writer at Left-Brain Cards when the small company started. At the advanced age of thirty-two, he was the old man, the grand poobah, the undisputed star of the office. He hadn’t wanted competition from someone younger and new to the business, and he never expected to
Russ had cheerfully planned to hate Ian ever since he learned a new employee had been hired to bring fresh life to their card and coffee mug line—his view being there was nothing wrong with the ideas they had. But somehow that changed on Ian’s first day. The very same day everything in Russ’s world turned upside down. The day he couldn’t manage to forget…
Mondays at Left-Brain Cards tended to be crazy, but Ian’s first day had seemed chock-full of more than the average amount of weirdness. There were advantages to working for the boutique card publisher instead of freelancing, but damned if Russ could have named any of them that morning.
Bad enough the coffee machine had malfunctioned. Even worse, the malfunction involved a crack in the pressurized water line and a weekend’s worth of time gone by without anyone noticing. Russ had come in early, hoping to get a jump on his latest project and forget about last night’s hook-up from hell; instead he had been the first to find the mess.
When Russ had walked in the front door of the office building where Left-Brain rented their suite, it had seemed like any other Monday. His hangover hovered on this side of tolerable, and with the promise of caffeine dangling before him, he punched in the code to silence the alarm’s obnoxious beep. Instead of blessed quiet when Russ hit the last key however, he heard something… different.
Following his ears, Russ searched out the source of strange noise. The squelch of the wet carpet beneath his boots alerted him to the problem. With the overhead fluorescents turned off for the weekend, Russ squinted through the faint glow of emergency lighting to see a waterfall flowing above the receptionist’s desk.
Russ stopped in his tracks, stunned by the surreal image pouring out of the recessed light fixtures set into the ceiling. The water splashed and pooled across the switchboard, clear rivers streaming over the dark wood to saturate the rug underneath. Honestly, it looked pretty cool.
However, by the time Russ had contacted the building’s tenant emergency number, made his way to the second floor and found that the leak started from the coffee machine in Left-Brain Card’s suite (which mean no caffeine for him, damn it), the coolness had worn off.
When it became obvious a flooded office building didn’t qualify for an emergency response from maintenance any quicker than anything else ever did, Russ gave up and fumbled to find the main shut-off valve for the water supply himself so the mess wouldn’t get any worse.
By the time the rest of the office had shown up for work, grease covered Russ’s shirt and he was wet, cold, and still un-caffeinated. Not a good combination. He sprawled across the couch in Left-Brain’s small foyer, arms crossed over his chest and eyes closed to the soggy mess in front of him. He knew where the cleaning crew kept a mop and bucket, but he had already gone above and beyond his job description.
“I’m still drunk, aren’t I?”
Russ groaned when the sagging cushions of the couch bounced and his headache worsened. He frowned at the dark-haired man responsible. That was Mike. Russ’s closest friend at work and a royal pain in the rear.
Mike’s specialty included the new line of divorce, breakup and any type of card needing more than the usual amount of sarcasm. He would be the first to admit he worked in a niche market. Left unspoken were the reasons he was so good at his job.
“Either I’m still drunk or you had way too much fun this weekend and didn’t invite me. I’m deeply hurt.” Mike ran his hand over his thinning hair and sniffed. “Gross, you smell like a wet dog.”
Russ ignored Mike in favor of the large, carryout cup of over-priced coffee he carried. “Nothing about this morning has been fun, trust me.” Taking advantage of Mike’s distraction, Russ grabbed the container out his hands and took a deep gulp, disregarding all risk of cooties in his desperation. He sat back out of reach while Mike waved his arms in protest.
“Wow, look at you two.” Lacey, the older woman who worked on what they called the “grandma line,” walked in next. She unwrapped the cable knit scarf at her neck (unlike Russ she was born and bred in Florida and believed that anything below seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit qualified as scarf-wearing weather) and stared at the two men and the water-soaked carpet through her unfashionable plastic-rimmed glasses. “Eww, Russ, how much did Mike pay you and did you enjoy yourself?”
“I’m sensing a distinct lack of sympathy here.” Russ struggled to his feet and refused to give the coffee back to Mike. “This is the thanks I get for coming in early and saving this office from floating away?”
“You may qualify for the title of savior of the office, but for your fine work, not for any other reason.”
All three of them snapped to attention at the sound of the fourth voice. Sandy McAllister, the owner of Left-Brain Cards, strode through the front door with her usual smooth grace, but she wasn’t alone. Trailing behind, hands jammed deep into his pants pockets and wearing a polite and uncertain smile could only be their new co-worker.
Russ blinked. This was the newbie he wanted to hate? First he told himself his lack of focus was perfectly natural after the events of the morning. Then Russ gave up and just enjoyed the view. Tall, blond, and long-legged, the new guy should have looked gawky and uncoordinated, but the muscle covering his rangy frame smoothed that all away. Despite his chilled state, Russ’s body temperature increased until he expected steam to rise from his clothing.
“Oh my God, what happened here?” Sandy gasped when she saw the water-stained walls and carpet. “Someone please tell me the computers are okay!”
Mike and Lacey turned to Russ, but instead of speaking up. he stared at the newcomer. The man gazed intently back at Russ, his hazel eyes lingering over the transparent fabric of Russ’s ruined shirt and the hard bud of nipple visible through the thin, wet material.
The new guy grinned. A wide parting of his lips that made deep dimples appear in the lean flesh of his cheeks. Before Russ could censor his response a welcoming smile broke over his own face. Doomed, he held out his hand.
“Hi, I’m Russ. Welcome to Left-Brain Cards.”
, Russ.” The privacy panels of the desk muffled Ian’s low rumble, but the sound of it was enough to bring Russ back to the present.
“Hey, Ian.” Russ managed to choke out through his dry mouth as Ian raised his head and winked at him from his position on the floor. “Whatcha doing?” Russ shivered every single Ian spoke to him. He couldn’t help it. Ian had one of those voices that it didn’t make any difference what he said, everything sounded hot and dirty to Russ’s ears in that really good, bend-over-and-call-me-daddy kind of way Russ preferred.
“Dropped my damn pen and now I can’t find it.”
Russ watched, hypnotized by the flex of toned muscle beneath him. “You need any help?” He took pride in his ability to make conversation given his brain’s sudden deprivation of blood flow and his irrational desire to hump the partition in front of him.
“Nah. Damn thing’s down here somewhere.” Ian rose to his knees with a mouth-watering (for Russ) stretch and a groan before he smiled up at Russ with those killer dimples. “It’s part of a set my sister gave me as a graduation present, and I’ll be in big trouble if I lose it.”
No wonder everyone including Russ liked him. Ian actually got along with his family as well as being kind to children and small animals. He might be single, but everything about him screamed relationship material. That sucked, because Russ didn’t do relationships. Not of the tender and loving type. One of the reasons he excelled in his career, he supposed. Russ pushed all his romantic yearnings into the cards he created.
He and Ian could be friends. Co-workers. But no way would Russ risk screwing up their budding association with his usual inept brand of hit-and-run. So not going there, he firmly reminded himself again and again. Especially once he spent time around Ian and discovered they batted for the same team.
Russ tried to fixate on Ian’s lesser qualities. Like how he mocked Russ’s lack of enthusiasm for mornings and then turned it into a best-selling coffee mug, his tendency toward hypochondria, and the bad moods he fell into without warning, requiring Russ spend hours talking him out of them. Worse was listening to Ian’s constant bitching about something stupid, like the office temperature or a bad call during a ball game, never shutting up until Russ acknowledged his gripe.
Nothing seemed to work.
“Everything okay?” Ian looked up at him with noticeable concern, his hazel eyes more green than brown today. Russ decided it must be the reflection from the polo he wore. “We still on for our run after work?” Ian tugged at his earlobe. A nervous habit Russ tried not to find adorable.
“Yeah, sure.” Russ said. “Sorry, I’m a little distracted. Big project, you know.” Russ shrugged apologetically. Mike saved both Russ and his knees from further discomfort as he walked past Russ’s cube.
“Break time, Kimosabe.” Mike grinned, his rabbity front teeth protruding and reminding Russ of his approaching deadline. Russ flinched when Mike slapped his ass as he passed. “Come entertain me.”
“See you later, Russ.” Ian knelt back under his desk, and Russ gave one last, lingering look before he climbed down from his precarious perch and trailed after Mike.