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Once Burned

by Alexa Land



The Firsts and Forever Series 15.5

















U.S. Copyright 2018 by Alexa Land.

All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission in whole or in part of this publication is permitted without express written consent from the author.



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either used fictitiously or are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, business establishments or locales is purely coincidental.



This gay romance contains adult language and sexually explicit material.

It is intended for ADULTS ONLY.



Books by Alexa Land Include:



Feral (prequel to Tinder)

The Tinder Chronicles (Tinder, Hunted and Destined)



And the Firsts and Forever Series:

1 Way Off Plan

2 All In

3 In Pieces

4 Gathering Storm

5 Salvation

6 Skye Blue

7 Against the Wall

8 Belonging

9 Coming Home

10 All I Believe

10.5 Hitman’s Holiday (novella)

11 The Distance

12 Who I Used to Be

13 Worlds Away

13.5 Armor (novella)

14 All I Ever Wanted

15 Take a Chance on Me

15.5 Once Burned (novella)







Dedicated to

Ron P.

Friend and Reader,

With love



Acknowledgements



A big thank you to

Valerie S.

For the title suggestion



Special thanks to

Tom and Ed

My two favorite Irishmen

For the insights



And thank you

Lilian

For a bit of local color



A million thanks as always to my fantastic team:

Jera, Melisha, Kim, Ron, Kelly & Amanda

I truly appreciate your help and support <3



And thank you to My Firsts & Forever Group on Facebook for keeping me company every step of the way!



Table of Contents



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen





Chapter One



I’d made a lot of bad decisions in my lifetime, but this was truly the worst of them all.

What had I been thinking when I let my friend Dante Dombruso talk me into being a part of a gay bachelor auction for his grandmother’s charity? Okay, yes, it was for a good cause. But it was going to be so damn humiliating when no one bid on me.

And why would they? At thirty-two, I felt run-down and weary, especially compared to all those perky twenty-something bachelors. It didn’t help that I’d spent my entire Saturday at work and hadn’t had time to shave or change before heading to the fundraiser. Not that either of those things would have made much difference.

Dante was busy checking off names on a clipboard as the other bachelors arrived for the auction, so I saw a window of opportunity and headed for the stairs. But I only made it about two yards before he bellowed, “Don’t even think about it, Doyle! You agreed to be a part of this thing, and you’re not going to disappoint my grandmother.” He was a huge, intimidating guy, maybe six-four and solid muscle, and his deep, booming voice left no room for debate. I gave it a shot anyway.

“I was off my rocker when I agreed to it,” I told him. My usually faint Irish accent sounded exaggerated, because I was nervous. I opened the flaps of my tan trench coat and said, “Who the hell’s going to bid on this? Tell you what, I’ll just write your gran a nice, fat check and we’ll call it even, alright?”

Dante’s frown eased a bit, and he handed a cute, blond bachelor named Quinn the clipboard and crossed the room to me. “You need to get back out in the dating world, Cam. You and I both know it. Give me the trench coat, and let’s straighten your tie.”

“It’s going to be damned embarrassing if nobody bids on me,” I told him, as I handed over the coat and finger-combed my short, auburn hair.

“That’s not going to happen. But if it did, I’d bid on you myself,” Dante told me. There was sympathy in his dark eyes. He probably realized what a mistake it had been to include me in the auction. As he brushed off the shoulders of my wrinkled, navy-blue suit, he muttered, “What have I told you about sleeping in your clothes?”

“I didn’t! And you can’t bid on me. You’re married! What would Charlie say?”

From across the room, Charlie called, “I’d say my husband has excellent taste! Don’t stress out, Cam. This is going to be great! You’ll see.” I didn’t share his optimism.

A few moments later, a stunningly beautiful man appeared at the top of the stairs. Finally, there was someone else around my age, but there ended the similarities. He had thick, dark, shoulder-length hair, a short beard, and a mischievous, lopsided grin that drove me to distraction. He told the guy with the clipboard, “Ignacio Mondelvano, checking in to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. It makes me hard just thinking about it!” He had a heavy Spanish accent, which was sexy as hell.

Even sexier was the unmistakable air of confidence about him. I’d always admired men like that, who were so perfectly comfortable in their own skin. He adjusted one of his long, exotic-looking necklaces, then pushed back the sleeves of his white linen shirt, which he was wearing with a pair of ripped jeans. Both arms were sleeved in tattoos. I found myself wondering how much more of his smooth, olive skin was inked.

He glanced up a moment later and caught me looking at him. When our eyes met, he flashed me a dazzling smile. I attempted a grin in return, which probably looked as awkward as it felt. Why was I even trying?

Loud music began to play downstairs, and the emcee announced the start of the auction. A cheer rose from the crowd. We were in an old firehouse, which had been converted to a transition shelter for LGBTQ young adults, and we were supposed to make a big entrance by sliding down the brass poles onto the stage below. What a fucking nightmare.

As the first two guys slid down to thunderous applause, my heart began to race. I felt nauseous and prayed I wouldn’t throw up. A few moments later, another pair of bachelors slid down the poles, and Dante said something to Quinn as he retrieved the clipboard from him. Then my friend pointed at me. Oh hell, it was time.

I forced myself to walk over to one of the poles and wiped my hands on my suit jacket before gripping it tightly. I took a few deep breaths as Quinn grasped the pole to my right and shot me a friendly smile. When the emcee introduced us, we slid down to the stage.

About two hundred and fifty people crowded the main floor of the firehouse. All I could do was stare at them. Quinn waved to the audience, and then he grabbed my hand and guided me to the row of bachelors. I was grateful for his help, but my throat was too dry to thank him.

A few more pairs of bachelors made their entrance. The handsome Spaniard was in the last set of two. He sauntered to his spot near the back of the line, perfectly at ease in the spotlight.

The auction moved at a snail’s pace. The DJ played a different song and the emcee read an embarrassing, fictitious biography for each bachelor while the audience laughed and applauded. Bids on the first few men reached several hundred dollars each. At that point, I would have been happy if I got even a single bid for twenty bucks.

When it was my turn, I stepped forward on shaky legs. I could feel sweat forming on my brow, which probably looked disgusting. I didn’t pay attention to the made-up biography, and I cringed at my theme song, which was ‘I Wanna Sex You Up’ by Color Me Badd. Jesus.

Then the bidding began, and Quinn called, “Two hundred dollars.” I assumed Dante had asked him to do that.

Surprisingly, a couple of men in the audience called out bids of three and four hundred dollars. But then, Ignacio Mondelvano yelled, “Two grand!” Wait, what? The emcee’s mouth fell open along with mine, and he struck the podium with his gavel.

I was dazed as I got back in line. After a moment, I leaned forward and glanced at Ignacio, who met my gaze and licked his lips suggestively. I straightened up again and tried to swallow, but my throat was still too dry to manage it.

Over the next half hour, eight more men were auctioned off. I was pretty sure it was never going to end. Then it was Ignacio’s turn. He strolled over to the podium, plunked down a fat roll of hundred dollar bills, and said, “I bid whatever that is for myself, and I give me to the handsome man I purchased earlier.” He smiled at me over his shoulder, and then he told the audience, “That is all the money I have, so be kind and don’t bid against me, bueno?”

Everyone cheered, and the emcee banged the gavel and yelled, “Sold!” What the fuck?

The handsome Spaniard crossed the stage and stopped right in front of me. Since we were both almost exactly six feet tall, we stood eye-to-eye. He searched my gaze for a moment before leaning in and brushing his lips to mine. The kiss was sweet and tender, which was yet another surprise. I started to reach for him, but I held myself back.

He looked in my eyes again as he tucked a slip of paper in my jacket pocket. “That is my private number,” he said. “Regrettably, I am flying home to Barcelona on the red-eye in a few hours, and what I intend to do with you will take a great deal of time, so our date will have to wait until my return. But when I get back, I’m going to rock your world.” Holy. Shit. Ignacio caressed my cheek before returning to his place in line.

I whispered to no one in particular, “What just happened?”

My mind was reeling as the last bachelor took center stage. I was vaguely aware of the fact that he brought in a huge amount of money, which sent a ripple of excitement through the crowd. But all I could think about was Ignacio. Every time I glanced at him, I found him watching me with a little smile on his full lips.

Maybe it was all some sort of joke. His expression didn’t look mocking or even teasing, though. It actually seemed…hopeful.

Finally, the auction ended, and Ignacio and the rest of the winning bidders headed to the podium to pay. After standing there awkwardly for a few moments, I decided I really should vacate the stage. I headed down the stairs and was intercepted by Dante, who slapped my back and exclaimed, “Didn’t I tell you it was going to be great?”

I took my overcoat from him when he held it out to me, and I asked, “Did you put Ignacio Mondelvano up to that?”

“Of course not.”

“Why would he bid so much and then turn around and buy himself for me? What was that?”

“I think it’s safe to assume he’s into you, Cameron.”

I said, “There has to be another explanation.”

“Why?”

“Because he looks like a fucking rock star, that’s why. And rock stars don’t want guys like me.”

Dante sighed as he brushed his black hair from his eyes. “You really sell yourself short. That guy obviously thinks you’re something special. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have dropped a bundle to take you on a date.”

I pulled on the coat and muttered, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. This has been a weird fucking evening, and I need to clear my head.”

“Are you really coming back?” I thought about that, then shook my head. “Didn’t think so. Aren’t you going to say goodbye to Ignacio?”

I glanced at the stage, where my winning bidder was sharing a laugh with a handsome brunet from the auction. “He’s busy. Besides, he already gave me his number and told me he’s about to head out of town, so I think we’re good.”

“Alright. Call me next week, and don’t forget, Charlie and I are expecting you for dinner on Thursday.”

“I’ll be there.”

I started to wade into the crowd, but I glanced over my shoulder when Dante called, “Hey Cam?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks for letting me coerce you into the fundraiser. I know you hated every minute of it, but you raised a lot of money, and it’s going to go a long way toward helping the residents when this shelter opens at the end of the month.” I gave a single nod, then headed for the nearest exit.

After the auction, the noise, and that crowd, the stillness of the back alley was a welcome relief. The late September evening was cool and just a little foggy, and I pulled up the collar of my trench coat as I paused and looked both ways. Heading left would take me home. To the right was my office. It took me a few moments to decide which was worse: the cluttered, lonely apartment, or the endless pile of painfully dull paperwork waiting on my desk.

Finally, I headed to the right. But I only made it about twenty feet before someone called, “Cameron?” I turned toward Ignacio as he jogged down the alley to catch up to me. He stopped when he was a couple of feet away and asked, “You’re leaving so soon?”

“Well, the auction was over, so.…”

“You didn’t say goodbye.”

“You were busy.”

He took a step closer and studied me in the pool of light spilling from a second-story window. “Are you disappointed? I saw you looking at me before the auction so I thought you were interested, but maybe I misread the situation. Were you hoping someone else would place the winning bid?”

I shook my head. “I’m glad it was you, but you said you have to catch a flight, and—”

He closed the distance between us and pulled me into a passionate kiss, and my entire body responded. I grasped the front of his shirt in my fists and crushed my mouth to his as lust shot through me. After a few moments, he rubbed his cheek against mine and whispered in my ear, “I have a little time. Not enough to take you home and let you fuck me all night, but I still want to make you feel good if you’ll let me.”

I pushed him against the wall of the building beside us and kissed him again as I ran my fingers into his thick hair. Ignacio overwhelmed my senses. The sweet taste of his mouth, his clean scent, and the warmth of his strong body intoxicated me. I tried to shut off my brain and just go with the lust that coursed through me.

When my hard-on brushed his through our clothes, he moaned against my lips. Ignacio dropped to his knees and reached for me. I was dying to feel his warm, wet mouth around my cock, but I found myself taking a step back before he could get my zipper down. Damn it!

It had been months. My need for sex and human contact were nearly consuming me, and here was an absolutely beautiful man who was perfectly willing to give me everything I needed. So why the hell couldn’t I stop thinking and enjoy what he was offering me?

He sat back on his heels and asked, “Am I being too aggressive? I can tone it down.”

I muttered, “You’re fine. I want this, but—”

“Someone hurt you.” Jesus, was it that obvious?

“No.” I said it too quickly. Ignacio knew it was a lie, and his expression became sympathetic. I blurted, “I know this isn’t what you were hoping for, so I’ll give you a check for the amount you paid and we’ll call it even, alright?”

Ignacio stood up and drew me into a hug. Despite myself, I sank into it. After a moment, he said softly, “Come home with me.”

“But I don’t think I can go through with it.”

“Not for sex. I just want to talk to you.”

Even though my first response was thanks but no thanks, I wrapped my arms around him and made myself shut up, for one simple reason: I desperately needed what he was offering me. Ignacio nuzzled my cheek before taking my hand and leading me out of the alley, and I asked, “What about your flight?”

“I’ll get a later one.”

“Why would you do that for me? I’m a total stranger.”

“But I don’t want you to be.” I gripped his hand a little tighter.

We walked for maybe fifteen minutes, climbing steadily for most of it. Even though it was nearly ten at night, San Francisco was alive all around us, buzzing with people and weekend traffic. The only part that held any interest for me was the beautiful man at my side. Neither of us said anything as we walked, but the silence was comfortable, and his hand felt good in mine.

Finally, we entered the lobby of a six-story, pale gray building that looked like it dated from the 1920s. We rode the elevator to the top floor, and he let us into his huge apartment. It featured a sprawling city view through a wall of windows to our right, a black and white checkered tile floor, high ceilings, and gorgeous period details, including wide, fluted trim around every window and doorway. It was a bit shabby, though. A couple of the tiles were cracked, and the blank, white walls were dingy and faded, which was surprising in what was literally a million dollar apartment.

It was also really empty. At the far end of the long, rectangular living room, a mattress heaped with rumpled linens sat on the floor in front of a grand fireplace. The bed was flanked on the left by an overstuffed, dark red couch, and on the right by an easel with a blank canvas, which was centered on a paint-spattered drop cloth. Those were the only furnishings, and the way they were clustered together made me think he was used to living in a much smaller apartment.

I asked, “Did you just move in?”

Ignacio shook his head. He pulled off his scuffed, black cowboy boots and dropped them beside the front door as he told me, “I’m a guest here. This place belongs to Olivio Caravetti, do you know him?”

“A little, since he’s married to my friend Dante’s grandmother. He seems like a nice guy.”

“Oh he is, and I’m forever indebted to him. Ollie encouraged me to come to San Francisco because he thought it would be good for my career. I’m a painter, and he’s always been so supportive of my work.” Ignacio looked around almost wistfully and said, “He no longer needed this apartment when he got married and moved in with Mrs. Dombruso, so he let me stay here and refused to accept any payment from me. It’s been over a year, and I know I need to think about moving on soon. A place like this is worth a lot of money, and he really should sell it.”

“Where will you go?”

“Europe, maybe? I lived in Italy for a while before moving here, and I could see returning to Rome, or possibly Florence.” He turned to me and asked, “I noticed you have a bit of an accent. Do you get back to Ireland very often?”

“Not really. My mother moved us to the U.S. when I was eleven, after my parents divorced. I used to spend summers with my dad, and after college, I tried to go back every six months or so. But it’s been nearly three years now. All we ever do is argue, so I’ll admit I’ve put off visiting him.”

“I can see why.” He gestured toward a doorway on our left and asked, “Would you like a drink?”

“I’d love one.” I took off my overcoat and followed him into the kitchen, where about twenty bottles of alcohol were clustered on a large, marble island. To make conversation, I asked, “Were you headed to Spain tonight to visit family?”

He pulled a pair of highball glasses from the dishwasher and shook his head. “I’m going to be painting a series of murals in the courtyard of a community center in Barcelona. Ollie arranged it. He used to own a famous gallery in New York, so he has all sorts of connections in the art world. Even though he’s retired now, he’s been acting as my agent because he wants to see me succeed, and he says this is ‘good PR.’ I just think it’ll be fun. Less enjoyable will be the meetings with gallery owners, journalists, art critics, and so on, which I’ll need to do while I’m there. I hate that part of the job, but it’s a necessary evil.”

“How long will you be gone?”

“The murals should take six to eight weeks to complete.” He gestured at the bottles on the counter, but instead of asking what I wanted, he said, “May I surprise you?”

I considered that for a beat before agreeing. Ignacio poured about an inch of yellowish-green liquid into each glass from a rustic-looking bottle. While he did that, I folded up my overcoat and awkwardly stuck it on the kitchen counter, since there was no place else to put it. He found a pair of antique-looking slotted spoons in a drawer, balanced them across the rims of the glasses, and topped them with sugar cubes. Then he retrieved a plastic bottle from the refrigerator. As he slowly drizzled a little water over each cube in turn, I asked, “Absinthe? Is the plan to get me very drunk, very fast?”

He smiled at me and said, “The plan is to let you experience something new. Have you tried it?”

“Can’t say I have.”

Perfecto.” He removed the spoons and handed me a glass, then held up the other and said, “Salud y amor y tiempo para disfrutarlo.”

“You lost me after salud.

He drained his glass without flinching, then told me, “I said to health and love and time to enjoy it.”

I raised a toast to that, then tossed back the drink and muttered, “Christ, that’s strong.”

“I developed a taste for absinthe when I spent a summer in Paris. This was a few years ago. I don’t know or care if it’s still all the rage there.”

I knit my brows and said, “It tastes like burning licorice.”

“One more?”

“Why not?”

We drank our second shot straight, which made me cough a bit as it singed through me. I loosened my tie and unfastened the top button on my shirt as I said, “I’m going to stop there.” I pivoted the bottle and read the label. “Ninety proof. That explains a lot.”

“Come and sit down,” he said as he took my hand. “It’s cold in here, so I’ll get a fire going.”

Wood, paper and kindling were already stacked in the fireplace. While he lit the balled-up newspaper with a silver cigarette lighter, I settled onto the puffy couch, which faced both the mattress and the view. After a few moments, Ignacio joined me. The alcohol was making everything soft around the edges, which was nice.

He said, “Tell me about the man who hurt you.”

I was surprised by his directness, and I muttered, “He’s not worth talking about.”

“Yes he is, for one simple reason: until you’re able to move on, he still holds power over you.”

“You don’t even know me,” I protested. “Why would you want to hear this shit?”

“Because talking helps, and I’m the perfect person for the job. As you said, we don’t know each other. That makes me a neutral party, like a therapist, or better yet a bartender.”

I watched him for a few moments, and then I said, “Here’s the long and short of it: I got involved with a man last year who lied to me about who he was. I was stupid and gullible, and as a result, I nearly got a friend killed.”

“Seriously?”

“I guess I need to start at the beginning. I’m an arson investigator for the San Francisco Police Department, and I became friends with Dante Dombruso while I was working a case. He and his family had been targeted by an arsonist, who tried to trap the Dombrusos in a burning building. It was a miracle everyone escaped unharmed.”

Ignacio murmured, “It happened during Ollie’s bachelor party. I was supposed to be there, but I’d been called out of town.”

“I’m glad you missed it. By all accounts, it was terrifying.”

“Ollie never wants to talk about any of this, but I’ve heard things about the Dombrusos. They’re said to have ties to organized crime. Is that true?”

I said, “I think it’s in the past now, but they still have enemies.”

Ignacio’s dark eyes went wide as he put two and two together, and he blurted, “Don’t tell me the man you became involved with was the arsonist!”

“Exactly. I had no idea at the time. He got close to me so he could gain information about the case and keep tabs on Dante, who was conducting his own investigation. When my friend was on the verge of discovering the truth, I unwittingly told this person right where to find him, and Dante was almost killed.”

“Where is this man now?”

“He’s dead.”

Ignacio blinked and leaned back against the arm of the couch. “I was expecting a story about a boyfriend cheating on you, or something along those lines. This though, madre de dios.”

“So, now you see why I’m having a hard time moving on. I’m just finding it really difficult to trust anyone, even for something as low-key as a random hookup.”

“But a random hookup is exactly what you need to make you forget about that horrible person!”

“It’s not that simple.” He said something very quickly in Spanish, and I told him, “I didn’t catch any of that.”

“I said of course it’s that simple. You just need to get laid and put some distance between yourself and that psychopath! He’s the last person you’ve been with, right?” I nodded embarrassedly, and Ignacio said, “You can’t expect to get past what happened as long as that’s the case. I’m not saying you’re ready to date. That’ll take time. But you do need to fuck someone, and the longer you wait, the tougher it’ll be to get back out there.”

He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it aside, and I asked, “What are you doing?”

“Giving you what you need.”

“I thought we came here to talk.”

“That was before I knew the situation. I’m not going to force myself on you, Cameron,” he said, “but I’m yours for the taking. Tomorrow I’m leaving for Spain, so there are no expectations beyond tonight. You can simply enjoy me, if you choose to.”

I watched him for a long moment and noticed the way the glow of the fire made his dark hair and smooth skin shimmer like silk. He was mind-bogglingly sexy, and I started to get hard as I ran my gaze down his body and the happy trail that disappeared into his faded jeans. But I muttered, “I can’t just use you to forget about what happened in the past.”

He sighed and said, “This is a thing with you, isn’t it? The overthinking, with a dose of guilt thrown in for good measure? I get it, believe me, but please don’t let it keep you from what you want, assuming that’s me. Though maybe I’m not your type. In that case, I’ll get dressed and take you to the nearest bar, so we can find someone you like.”

“Of course you’re my type. My God, look at you.”

Ignacio grinned at me as he pulled off his socks and threw them over his shoulder. Then he stood up and unfastened the fly on his Levi’s, pausing just a moment between each button for effect. He held my gaze as he dropped the jeans and briefs to his ankles, stepped out of them, and kicked them aside. That left him in nothing but a trio of long, silver and leather necklaces. My gaze continued down his gorgeous body and came to a stop on his thick cock.

He knelt on the mattress and looked up at me. “Please don’t say no, Cameron. I need this, too.”

I couldn’t have formed a rational argument against fucking him if my life depended on it. Instead, I all but tackled him, my mouth meeting his as I landed on top of him. He returned the kiss wildly, hungrily, grinding his cock against mine as he grabbed my ass with both hands.

I explored his naked body with my tongue and lips and fingers. I sucked his cock, then ran my tongue up the inside of his thigh and licked the sensitive spot between his balls and asshole, which made him writhe beneath me. Eventually, I worked my way back up, pausing to suck his nipples before kissing him again.

As his tongue claimed my mouth, he massaged my hard-on through my clothes. Then he rolled us over and knelt between my legs as he made quick work of my belt and zipper. When he pulled my cock from my briefs and wrapped his lips around it, pleasure and sensation radiated through me. I propped myself up on one elbow and tangled my fingers in his hair as he sucked me. There was something raw and vulnerable in his eyes when Ignacio met my gaze, and the connection between us overwhelmed me. I caressed his cheek, trying to give him something in return as he gave me absolutely everything.

A tremor went through me as he took me right to the brink of orgasm, then eased off. When he climbed off me, a little sound of protest rose from my lips. He crawled to the edge of the mattress and ran a hand underneath it. Pretty soon, he located a box of condoms, which he tossed onto the bed before leaping up and jogging into the next room. He was back moments later with a packet of wipes and a new bottle of lube, and he tore off the wrapper as he climbed back onto the mattress.

While he did all of that, I tossed aside my shoes and socks, followed by my clothes. He handed me the lube and got on his knees for me, so I squirted some of the clear gel onto my fingers and worked him open while he jerked himself off. When he was ready, I quickly wiped my hands and rolled a condom over my achingly hard cock. He was still on his hands and knees, and he dropped to his elbows as I knelt behind him.

His breath caught as I grasped his hips and pushed into him. I tried to ease in slowly, but Ignacio rocked back and drove himself onto me, whispering, “Oh fuck,” as he took every inch.

I wrapped my arm around his shoulders as I fucked him. I loved the feel of his strong body moving underneath me and the overwhelming sensation of his tight, warm hole around my cock. I reached underneath him and jerked him off, and within a few minutes, he moaned and shot onto the sheets. Soon after, a yell slipped from me as I began to cum. I thrust into him again and again, until my head was spinning and my body had nothing left to give.

We were both shaking as we dropped onto the mattress, gasping for breath, and I stammered, “Holy shit,” which made him grin. I peeled off the condom and tied it, then set it aside with the cum-soaked sheet. Ignacio pulled a soft, dark blue blanket over us, and after I settled onto the pillows, he curled up in my arms. As we both began to drift off, I whispered, “I’m so glad you missed your flight.”

He put his head on my chest and murmured, “Me, too.”



Chapter Two



I awoke sometime in the middle of the night, though at first, it felt like I was dreaming. The sharp smell of oil paint hung in the air, and the room was bathed in firelight. Ignacio stood at the easel with his back to me, in the center of a drop cloth strewn with tubes of paint. He was naked and painting with quick, sure strokes. I noticed his hair was held back with my tie, which trailed down his spine and grazed his gorgeous ass.

I propped my head up with my hand and watched him as he worked. The muscles in his back and broad shoulders flexed as he slashed the brush across the canvas, then brought it back to the big, wooden palette in his left hand for another dab of paint. He dipped the bristles into two colors and worked them together with a quick back-and-forth motion, but then he paused with the brush in mid-air and studied the canvas.


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