Copyright © 2013 A.M. Arthur
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
At precisely 1:21 p.m., Gavin Perez dumped an entire serving bowl’s worth of cranberry sauce on the most adorable boy he’d ever seen. Gavin knew the exact time of the saucing because his mother had just asked him for it (the time, not the sauce), and the only reason he wasn’t looking in front of him was because he’d glanced down at his cell phone.
Head down + Push door = Disaster.
He couldn’t blame his mother. She’d asked an innocent question. Gavin should have stopped walking long enough to check his phone and answer her question. Should have. Did not. Usually did not and/or could not. They’d never had the money for an official doctor’s diagnosis, but Gavin had all the major traits of adult hyperactivity.
Plus he’d read a bunch of books on the topic. After twenty-three years, he figured he knew a heck of a lot about himself, including his incurable need to multitask from waking to bedtime. He also had a long mental list of mishaps and accidents caused by his need to be on the move and going at optimum speed. The cranberry sauce collision just jumped to the top of said list.
And to be fair to himself, the incredible cutie he’d sauced hadn’t seen him either, or gotten out of the way. They were both trying to go through the same door at the rear of the diner—Gavin into the back room and Cutie Pie out of it and into the dining room. The door had a wide window at eye-level, probably to prevent such accidents during regular business hours, and neither of them had used it.
Gavin had stopped short the moment he realized he’d caused an accident, and Mama ran right into his back, which nearly made him ram into the door a second time. He grabbed it as it swung back at him, ignored Mama’s curious squawk, and peeked around the corner.
Cutie Pie gaped down at the huge splotch of red goo clinging to the front of his white dress shirt. Most of the sauce was still in the bowl, but some had dripped to the floor and onto his shoes. He hadn’t even looked up yet to see who’d dressed him up like a Thanksgiving turkey. But in a diner as small as Dixie’s Cup—and with so many people rushing around getting food out to the counter—they’d already drawn a small audience.
“Dios mio,” Mama said. She’d inched around Gavin to see what had stopped him. “Oh dear, that’s going to stain.”
“My mother made this from scratch,” Cutie Pie said to the bowl of sauce.
“Most of it is still in there,” Gavin replied.
He thought it sounded helpful, but Cutie Pie gave him a sour look. “It splashed all up on my shirt. Do you think people want to eat cotton fibers with their cranberry relish?”
“Sorry.” That sounded horrible, even to Gavin’s ears. “I mean, I’m sorry about hitting you with the door.”
“My fault too.” He gave the cranberry relish such a forlorn, kicked-puppy look that Gavin was struck momentarily speechless—and that didn’t happen often.
“Look, dinner doesn’t start for twenty minutes,” Gavin said. “I’m sure we can find some canned sauce somewhere.”
“On Thanksgiving Day?”
“No need,” Mama said. “We have some in the stock room. We can doctor that up and use it for today.”
Cutie Pie blinked. “Why does Dixie have canned cranberry sauce in stock?”
“For Barrett’s Gobbler Panini. It’s a lovely sandwich he does on special once a week.”
Gavin gave himself a mental head-knock. Ever since Dixie had splurged on a Panini press two months ago, her night cook Barrett McCall had been experimenting with combinations. The Gobbler had been a success from the first day. Mama had called Gavin in to taste test it before it went public, and he’d called it “Thanksgiving on a bun”.
Barrett had corrected him and said it was “Thanksgiving on ciabatta”.
“Great. Problem solved,” Gavin said.
Mama ushered the three of them into the small, cramped back room of the diner. She took the bowl of ruined sauce from Cutie and stuck it in the large industrial sink, then disappeared to root around for the canned sauce.
“Half the problem is solved,” Cutie said. “I need to change.”
There is absolutely nothing wrong with you, sweetie, very nearly popped out of Gavin’s mouth. That would have been incredibly embarrassing. The simple fact that Cutie Pie was here helping out with Dixie Foskey’s annual Thanksgiving Feast meant she knew his family, which meant Gavin should know him too. After all, Gavin’s mom had worked for Dixie for over ten years and Cutie Pie was awfully familiar.
“I mean, my shirt’s ruined,” Cutie added.
“Not necessarily,” Gavin said.
“So big red spots on white shirts are fashionable now?”
The light-hearted tease gave Gavin hope that he hadn’t made a total disaster of a first impression. “Well, maybe in a hipper town than Stratton, but we can save the shirt.”
“Take it off.”
“Hey, Jace, what’s—oh.” A brown-haired girl stopped in the back room doorway, eyes wide as she took in the pair of them. “What the hell happened to you?”
“Minor accident,” said Cutie Pie, whose name was apparently Jace.
Gavin knew exactly who they both were now. Jace and Rachel Ramsey, twins, college sophomores, children of Keith Ramsey, local police officer. The Ramseys had been staples of the diner for years, and Gavin had seen Jace dozens of times before without getting lost in the dark shaggy hair, the wide brown eyes or the dimples that wanted to say hello even when he wasn’t smiling.
College had been good to Jace Ramsey.
“But we’re going to fix it,” Gavin said, giving Rachel a bright smile.
“How?” she asked. “With blindfolds?”
Gavin rescued the ruined cranberry relish from the sink, grabbed Jace by the wrist, and dragged both items around to the small bathroom. He ran the water in the sink until it warmed up, then pulled the stopper and dumped half the cranberries into it.
“Take your shirt off, please,” he said again.
Jace gave him a dubious look but unbuttoned his shirt. Gavin reigned in his instinctive need to check him out—ogling while trying to be helpful was rude—and took the shirt once Jace had stripped it off. Gavin shoved the whole thing into the pink water, which enticed an adorable squeak of protest from Jace.
“Trust me,” Gavin said.
“Do I have to?”
“It’s too late now.”
When the sink was half-full, Gavin turned off the water and swirled the shirt around in it. He realized too late he should have been using gloves, because the water quickly stained his cuticles pink. After a minute of soaking in silence, he released the stopper.
“There should be a hair dryer in that basket of stuff beside the toilet,” Gavin said. “Can you find it and plug it in?”
Jace hesitated then turned around to rummage. He bent over, instead of squatting down, and the narrow room gave Gavin a lovely view of his ass in those black linen dress pants. An ass that was connected to a trim waist and a lean, smooth back… Nope. Gavin snapped his attention back to rinsing out the shirt. The white material was now stained pink all over, instead of only on the front, and by the time the rinse water ran clear, Jace was back with the hair dryer at the ready.
They tag-teamed the shirt until the newly pink fabric was dry enough to wear and only smelled slightly of fruit.
“That was kind of brilliant,” Jace said after he’d put the hair dryer away.
“I was an accident prone kid. Sometimes you have to get creative when there’s no money to buy new clothes.” Gavin wasn’t ashamed of growing up poor. Most people in Stratton knew him and his mother, and they also knew his father was a deadbeat asshole who Gavin had vowed to kill if he ever laid a hand on him or his mother again.
Jace eyed the shirt but didn’t put it on. He didn’t seem to know where to focus his attention—the shirt, the floor or Gavin. The bizarre nervousness made hopeful little butterflies spring loose in Gavin’s stomach. He hadn’t actually lucked into meeting someone his own age in town who was—
“Hey, you guys coming?” Rachel asked. She appeared in the doorway, and her thin eyebrows shot up when she saw the shirt in Jace’s hands. “Wow, you fixed it.”
“Kind of,” Jace said.
“It’s all one color now. I call that fixed.”
“Yeah? So are roses and baby butts. Suit up, bro, I’m hungry.”
Gavin laughed before he could stop himself. He liked Rachel already.
Jace gave him a look that seemed to say, “Don’t encourage her,” then put on the shirt. Gavin didn’t say it out loud, but he allowed himself a moment to appreciate the fact that Jace looked very good in pale pink. It lightened up his brown hair and made him even more boyishly adorable than he already was. Gavin, with his mixed Mexican and Hawaiian heritage, never had the complexion for pastels.
“All you need is a black string tie,” Gavin said once Jace buttoned back up and presented himself for inspection. “And maybe a jacket to sling over your shoulder. It’s very Sinatra.”
“Great, I’m channeling a dead singer,” Jace said. He was smiling though, which gave Gavin hope that he hadn’t made a complete fool of himself.
“A dead singer who had men and women falling all over him.”
Jace’s eyebrows jumped. “And probably a mafia boss or two puppeteering his entire career.”
“A man who knows old Hollywood.” Gavin had to mentally stop himself from falling head over heels into insta-crush with Jace. “Where have you been my whole life?”