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C2 Chapter Two

By the time he got up and peeled the sheets—and possibly some skin—off the next morning, Colby had sufficiently moved past any concern about being lonely. When he went to bed, he had a tendency to let his emotions get away from him. Feeling sorry for himself was a stupid waste of time. Even if he ever did meet his fantasy man, it wouldn’t matter. Colby wasn’t going to build a sweet little house with a picket fence around it with anyone, not even in his imagination. Daydreams like that were of no use to him. Real life called and he had to live it.

On the off chance that the snarly jerk from the night before would come in again, Colby made certain there was fresh coffee available around the same time as he had the prior work shift.

It was just his luck that Christy got a phone call from one of the guys she saw when the mood suited her. She dashed to the back, assuring Colby that she’d be off the phone shortly.

He knew better. She might even have whichever guy she was talking to come up and meet her around back. Colby never asked what they did out there. He didn’t want to know.

A little after two in the morning, when he was trying to straighten up the cooler, Colby heard the buzzer alerting him to customers entering the store. He peeked out from between bottles, shelves, and slots. Two men, each in dirty blue coveralls. Colby couldn’t see their faces but he did see that their hands were empty.

There hadn’t been a convenience store robbery in the small town in a decade almost. That didn’t mean Colby would let his guard down. With so many new people coming into and through the area, crime was increasing, too. He had no desire to die in a robbery—or in any other way, come to think of it.

Colby left the cooler. His skin prickled beneath his polyester uniform shirt the moment he stepped into the store.

He was met by a sneer from the customer who’d come in the night before. Olivares. Aka Asshole. Colby couldn’t quite muster a fake smile as he gestured to the coffee. “Christy just made it.”

“And where is she?” Olivares asked.

A chill went through him. He was all of five foot six and that was counting the soles of his tennis shoes giving him a lift. Before him were two big men, one sneering and the other… Colby just kept from arching his brows in surprise. The second customer was glaring at the first one.

“Brad, just get your damn coffee and stop being a dick,” the second man said.

His rich, deep voice brought to mind thoughts Colby needed to repress while working. Especially around homophobic customers.

“You fuck off, Hunter, unless you got a thing for little queer boys,” Brad retorted heatedly. “Guess he looks like a girl with that hair.”

Colby most assuredly didn’t look like a girl. He didn’t have soft features, but more masculine ones. Not that he was going to argue with that asshole.

Hunter turned his attention to Colby, and Colby froze in place under the man’s perusal. Dark green eyes framed with thick lashes—Colby thought Hunter’s eyes were prettier than any man’s Colby had ever seen. His thick russet hair was sticking up in every direction, and he had a heavy stubble-scruff on his face. It didn’t hide his bowed top lip or the plump bottom one. Hunter wasn’t pretty, either. He probably wouldn’t be considered handsome, not with the break his nose had taken at some point that left it with a sizable bump and a slightly crooked lean to the left.

But he was sexy, big and strong, and not looking at Colby like he was a turd stuck on the heel of Hunter’s boot.

“You’re an idiot,” Hunter said distinctly.

At first Colby thought Hunter was talking to him, since Hunter hadn’t looked away from him.

But it was Brad who cursed and told Hunter to fuck off.

Colby unfroze then, stepping quickly aside before Brad could shove past him. He had no doubt the asshole would have plowed him over and laughed about it.

Hunter flicked a glare at Brad’s back before returning his attention to Colby. “Sorry. He’s…” Hunter finally shrugged, raising his hands palms-up. “Family.”

If Colby had been attracted at all, that right there would have killed it. Did kill it, because he’d thought Hunter was hot, even if he was kind of big and intimidating.

Colby didn’t reply. There was nothing to say, anyway. His family wasn’t his anymore. Apparently those family ties were only strong for other people. Or maybe it was just easier for the family to disown him because he was adopted and not who they wanted him to be. Either way, they weren’t a part of Colby’s life anymore.

Hunter watched him until Colby felt his face heating with a blush. He knew the customer was always right, but he was getting annoyed. Colby dared to give Hunter a narrow-eyed look in return. Hunter’s mouth lifted on one side in a crooked grin. The man touched two fingers to his forehead in some kind of weird salute to Colby, then joined Brad-slash-Olivares-slash-the asshole, getting himself a soda from the fountain drinks instead of coffee.

Colby went around the aisle rather than passing too closely to either man. He was almost to the register when Christy came inside through the customer entrance, her lipstick smeared and her hair disheveled. There was a bright red hickey about mid-center of her neck. Her work shirt was buttoned up wrong.

Colby gestured toward it, mouthing for her to fix it. She ignored him and walked behind the counter to the register.

“Your lipstick is all over your face,” he whispered, almost hissing at her. Then he recoiled in horror as he spotted the dab of white liquid on her chin. “You—” He pointed. “Wipe it off!”

Okay, that almost came out as a screech. He had to chill out.

Christy took her phone out and used the photo app to look at herself. She smiled like she was pleased as punch over her just been fucked—or deep-throated—appearance.

Colby covered his face with his hands. “Christy, come on—”

He heard footsteps and lowered his hands.

“I got this. Shoo.” Christy did at least wipe at her chin and rub off her makeup. She still looked like a not-so-hot mess.

Colby joined her behind the counter but began straightening the cans of chewing tobacco rather than face the customers.

“This all?” Christy sounded like she really didn’t give a shit if it was or not.

There was a long pause, then Brad spoke, “Well, I’ll take some of what you were givin’ away.”

Colby spun around at the same time Hunter growled. The low rumble shot down Colby’s spine and curled up around his balls. It didn’t faze him at all. “Hey, you can come in here and talk shit at me all you want, but leave Christy alone.”

Brad’s nostrils flared and Christy retorted, “I wouldn’t blow you with Jessica Martin’s mouth, and that bitch puts it on everything. Seventy-five cents.”

“You—”

Hunter slapped a hand to the center of Brad’s chest. “Cut it out before they call the police, you dumbass. You’re already on probation. Are you seriously in a big hurry to go back to prison?”

“Fuck you, Hunter. Keep your goddamned mouth shut,” Brad snapped. He tossed a dollar onto the counter then pointed at either Colby or Christy—or maybe both. “You think you’re too good for me? You’re just used to playing with little boys, like the faggot behind you.”

Christy slapped his finger aside. “You sure seem fixated on Colby. Maybe you do wanna go back to prison.”

“That’s enough.” Hunter grabbed Brad by the collar. “Outside!” He began dragging the cursing jerkhole toward the door.

The angry expression on Hunter’s face shouldn’t have turned Colby on, but it did.

“You owe me eighty-five cents for the soda,” Christy called out.

“Just dump it, Christy.” Colby took the soda and the coffee over to empty them out once the door closed behind Hunter and Brad. “Maybe you shouldn’t smack the customers. Just a little advice.”

Christy probably made a face at him. Colby didn’t turn to look.

“Whatever. That asshole started it. Daddy’ll have him in jail so quick—huh. I should talk to Daddy, see about getting someone’s parole revoked.”

That had Colby spinning around to face her. “Don’t, Christy. Just…let it go, okay?”

She stuck her bottom lip out. “Aw, come on. He was a totally cunt to you and me both.”

“But you hit him,” Colby pointed out. “And if anyone ever watches the security tapes, they’ll see that.”

“Ain’t no one gonna watch those tapes,” she argued. “Uncle Joe probably doesn’t even have them running. Besides, I’m his favorite niece. He won’t do anything that’d hurt me. Between him and Daddy, they’d take care of that jerk.”

Since Christy’s father Axton was one of the six police officers in Ballotsville, he wielded some power. He also counted the chief of police as a close friend, so Christy was probably right. It was just a fact that politics and who a person knew in town made all the difference. There were people who got away with dealing drugs and others who couldn’t roll through a stop sign without getting ticketed. Colby was left alone, but he also never gave the cops a reason to look twice at him.

He finished tossing the drinks in the trash then got a damp cloth to wipe down the dispensers with. The door buzzed.

“Really? You didn’t get the hint?” Christy asked lazily.

Colby pivoted on his heel, too quickly. He was actually a little dizzy when he blinked at Hunter, who was standing just inside the store. This time Colby noted the name on his pocket. Talamentez. Hunter Talamentez.

“I wanted that soda. The caffeine, in particular, and I don’t like coffee,” Hunter said, looking right at Colby.

Colby gulped. He wasn’t scared-nervous, not really. His insides were just unaccountably jittery, and he was glad his ugly uniform shirt hung down over the front of his jeans, because strangely enough, his dick was starting to fill.

Hunter grimaced. “Look, I’m sorry about Brad. He’s—”

“Family,” Colby said. “Yeah, you mentioned.”

Hunter took a step closer. “I was going to say gone. He’s my cousin, and I can’t help that. We came here in different vehicles. Usually we go to the Shop N Gas down the road, but Brad wanted to stop here tonight.”

Colby frowned.

Christy huffed. “Yeah, uh huh, ’cause he didn’t get enough of picking on Colby last night. Your cousin’s a closet case, mister. Being an ass to Colby then coming on like a total chauvinist to me. Whatever. Make sure he knows my daddy is a police officer, and my uncle owns this store.”

Hunter had paled mightily at the police officer part. “I’ll make sure he knows. Look.” He strode to the counter. “Christy.”

Colby was confused until ding ! He remembered they had on nametags.

“Can you let this go, just this once?” Hunter asked. “Please. I won’t let him come back here. Brad just got out of prison. I know you heard me say so.”

Christy popped her gum. “What’d he go in for?”

When Hunter didn’t immediately go on, she added, “Or not. I can ask my daddy, and that won’t make him suspicious at all, right?”

“Drugs,” Hunter snapped out. “Okay? He was caught with drugs and put away since he’d been intending to sell them. He served four years, and I’d like him to not serve any more time. It almost killed my Aunt Theresa to have her son in prison.”

“Then maybe he shouldn’t have been dealing,” Christy pointed out. “And anyway, I don’t really give a fuck who it kills, if he comes in here again or gives Colby any shit anywhere else, I will find out and I will have my daddy on your cousin’s ass so fast he won’t know what hit him. Understand me?”

Hunter nodded.

Colby had heard Christy go off on people before. Those who didn’t know her just assumed she was a brainless hussy, but she wasn’t. Christy was smart and she didn’t let anyone mess with her friends.

“He won’t. If he does, then Brad gets what’s coming to him,” Hunter said.

“Right after Colby whips his ass up and down,” Christy continued. “He’s got belts in all kinds of shit.”

“Just karate,” Colby piped up. “And Tae Kwon Do.”

Hunter looked at him with what might have been respect. “That’s good. It’s a good thing for—” He snapped his mouth shut.

Colby crossed his arms over his chest.

Christy leaned toward Hunter.

“Let it go,” Colby advised, gaze locked with Hunter’s. “He’s right anyway. It’s a good thing for a gay guy living out here—or probably anywhere—to know. Or for a short man like me who weighs one-thirty dripping wet.”

Hunter’s tanned cheeks darkened with a ruddy blush. “I didn’t mean anything bad. It’s good for anyone to know how to defend themselves.”

“Right. You can ring this one up.” Christy took the dollar Brad had tossed down. “I’m keeping this for all the trouble your idiot cousin caused.”

That seemed to amuse Hunter, if the smirk was anything to go by.

Colby stepped up to the register. “Go ahead and get your drink. I’ll take it out of the dollar.” And pay for it himself, because he wasn’t having any part of being a thief in that way for any reason.

Hunter waved him off. “I got it. Brad can stand to lose a buck, and I can pay for my own drink.” But instead of heading to the soda fountain, Hunter stayed right where he was, looking at Colby.

He looked for so long that Colby became uncomfortable. “What? Do I have a booger or something?” He pinched at his nose.

Hunter did the same thing to his own, as if the gesture was contagious. Maybe it was, kind of like yawning despite what experts said.

“No, no I just was thinking that you’ve got to be a tough guy living out in a place like this, and not being in the closet—which, by the way, I don’t think Brad is. Most likely, he’s really the bigoted ass he comes off as being.” Hunter shrugged. “Then again, I don’t seem to have the gaydar that people talk about.”

“Don’t think you need one to figure out I’m gay,” Colby told him. “Brad can be whatever he wants. He just needs to be it away from here. What size drink are you getting?”

Hunter seemed surprised at the sudden change in conversation. His eyebrows winged up and he took a step back. “Same size as before.”

“Okay then. Eighty-five cents.” Colby was tired of being disturbed by the man. Hunter made weird feelings come to life inside him, and Colby didn’t want to deal with it. For all that he didn’t have a gaydar, either, he didn’t think he was wrong in reading Hunter as a straight man.

Hunter dug out the correct change. “Thanks. I’ll just, er…just get my drink now.”

“You do that.” Colby put on his smile that he reserved for customers he didn’t care for. He didn’t know what he felt about Hunter. It didn’t matter, either.

Hunter fixed his soda then stopped at the counter again.

Colby simply stared at him.

Hunter cleared his throat. “Uh. I think I saw you today—well yesterday, I mean. At the café right across the corner from here.”

“Yeah? So?” Colby asked, crossing his arms over his chest again. Defensive posture or not, he couldn’t seem to stop himself.

Hunter seemed taken aback by his disinterest. “I, um, I just… Was just saying.”

Colby would have cut him some slack but Hunter might just hang him with the extra rope for all he knew. With a cousin like Brad, who was homophobic as hell, Hunter could get off on pretending to be a decent human.

“I guess…” Hunter trailed off.

Colby’s conscience prodded him to stop being so standoffish. “I work there, too. Was that what you wanted to know?” And if so, why ?

“I don’t know what I wanted. Or if I wanted anything. I was just remarking on it, and—” Hunter ran a hand through his hair. “I think I need sleep. I’m not making much sense to you or me.”

He did look tired, with the skin under his eyes a shade darker than the rest of his tanned face. Colby resolved to stop being so snarky and treat Hunter like he would any other customer.

“Have a good evening,” he said, which was his standard line. If his smile felt a little more brittle than usual, Hunter wouldn’t know the difference.

Hunter shifted from foot to foot, glancing down at the floor, or perhaps his feet. “I am sorry.”

For the life of him, Colby couldn’t figure out why Hunter was still there. An unusual prickle of awareness ran through him, making Colby work hard to repress a shiver. It felt like the blond hairs on his forearms were standing up and quivering. Why? What the hell is happening here?

Then something very strange happened—Hunter shuddered, much like Colby wanted to. Goosebumps raced over Hunter’s forearms, where he’d rolled up his sleeves.

Colby blinked, wondering if he was seeing things that weren’t there. But no, fine little bumps spread over Hunter’s skin.

Hunter gasped, and Colby jerked his gaze up to find Hunter watching him with a startled expression. Hunter’s eyes were the color of the dark chocolate Colby loved to splurge on, and they were flecked with toffee-colored bits around the irises. Blended in among the shades of brown were tiny chips of mossy green. Colby could have stood there studying the intricate beauty of those eyes for hours, but the buzz of the door pulled him away from their spell.

Hunter cleared his throat. “I, uh. I should go.”

Colby shrugged, as if he didn’t care. Why should I care? So he has pretty eyes. So what. He gave a clipped nod then greeted the new customer. Hunter left, and Colby couldn’t stop himself from checking out the view of the man’s broad shoulders and the flex of his buttocks that even the ugly uniform couldn’t hide. When Hunter was out of view, Colby turned his attention back to his job. He wasn’t being paid to ogle oil field workers, and crushing on a guy like Hunter was stupid. Even if Hunter did turn out to be gay, Colby wouldn’t want to mess with him, not with someone like Brad sure to be a nuisance at the very least.

And anyway, Colby wanted out of Ballotsville and out of Texas. He wanted to live somewhere with all four seasons, where snow fell every winter and summer was clear and crisp without baking a person the minute they stepped outside.

He wanted to be comfortable in his skin, and that would never happen in his hometown.

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