Grant was drenched in rain by the time they reached his backyard.
He'd been trying cover up Rowan as they struggled through the woods. But it was in vain. The younger man hadn't brought his jacket and just moments into the storm his t-shirt was completely soaked through.
Rowan shivered and stumbled his way into the bungalow. Grant immediately threw a wool blanket around him and rubbed his arms with long, firm strokes. He wasn't letting anyone get hypothermia on his watch.
"Thanks," Rowan managed through chattering teeth.
Grant led him to the bedroom and opened his closet. "You'll need to change into something dry." He laid out one of his plaid shirts, wool socks, a pair of his lounge pants.
His need to get warm outpacing his modesty, Rowan dropped the blanket and began to strip. It was no wonder he got cold so quickly - he was ripcord lean, flat and taut, not an ounce of fat on him.
Grant faced the door to give him privacy.
He wasn't a prude by any means. He'd spent hours in locker rooms, in tight quarters with other men in various states of undress. But changing with your squadmates after drills was a little different than standing in your own bedroom with a man you were trying very hard to act gentlemanly toward.
Still, Grant caught glimpses. Not that he was trying to. But he did: ivory skin glistening from the rain; round, pink nipples; a light treasure trail; strong, defined thighs and calves. He definitely had a body for running and climbing. Slender, yes, but not fragile.
Not at all what he imagined a librarian would look like without clothes.
A finger tapped his arm and Rowan was fully dressed again. He already looked better, a flush of color returning to his cheeks. Grant gave him a towel to dry off his hair.
"Thanks," Rowan repeated. No chattering or shivering this time. The plaid shirt came down to his thighs but he didn't seem to mind. He actually looked comfortable. "The rain I could deal with, it was all that wind that froze me. I couldn't breathe."
"Glad I was with you. How is your ankle?"
"Better, actually. Just a little sore." He wiped his wet bangs off his face. The brilliant blue of his eyes resurfaced. "You really came to my rescue today."
"I did what any man would do."
"I don't think just any man would have done that." A chuckle escaped him. "Man. You look like Clark Kent but you're so damn modest."
"Clark Kent. Huh." He hadn't heard that one before. His nickname in the Navy was Grizzly Adams. "You think so?"
"Well, if Clark Kent gave up his journalism career and razor to live in the woods by himself. But really, you've said don't think you're a nice guy. Where does that come from?"
A knot hardened in Grant's stomach. His hand went to his chest, expecting to find his dog tags, and then he remembered for the four-hundredth time that he stopped wearing them. Muscle memory was a bitch.
"I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of."
Much to his surprise, Rowan's face darkened. Like a small cloud briefly blocking out the sun. And then it was gone.
"I have my own demons too. Voices inside me that whisper and tell me I'm no good. Some days I let myself believe them. But..." He looked at his feet, which looked a little ridiculous in the oversized wool socks. "...but I know at the end of the day that those voices aren't real. Because I see what a difference it makes when I help a student find the scholarly journal they need for an essay. Or when I sit down with an elderly patron who needs my help setting up a Facebook account so she can talk to her grand kids. I choose to help people. Just like you chose to help me today."
A smooth hand slid onto his. He looked down, finding Rowan had made contact, and didn't know if he was nervous or grateful or a disorienting mix of both.
Rowan's lip movement slowed. The vibration of his voice was different too. Low. Earnest. "Those demons inside you, whatever they are, they don't know what they're talking about. Because they're definitely not in control of the man I'm looking at."
What Grant did next was something he did not think about. It was the first reaction that came to mind. Pure impulse.
He raised Rowan's hand to his mouth and gently kissed it.
And as soon as his lips fell away the regret came thundering in. What was wrong with him? Throwing himself at the first person in years who could stand to be around him longer than a minute? And in his own damn home, too. It was a goddamn scene out ofBeauty and the Beast...
"I'm sorry," Grant said before he could gauge a reaction. "I'll put your clothes in the dryer." He gathered the wet clothes and left the room without another word.
Rowan felt like an idiot.
He meant everything he said to Grant but he was moving at a faster, more personal clip than the other man was used to. At least, that's how it seemed from his perspective. He hadn't planned on touching his hand but it was sincere, honest.
And the hand kiss, well, that certainly came out of nowhere. Not that he was complaining. He could still feel it lingering along his knuckles. Grant's stubble had scratched the back of his fingers but his mouth was soft and hot. It was so old fashioned, too. Sweet. When was the last time a man had beensweetto him? Thinking about it made his heart catch in this throat.
But then he remembered the deep pull of embarrassment in Grant's eyes, the sudden way he shut the situation down.
Rowan hadn't given much thought to the other man's sexuality before. He had a huge crush on Grant, yes, but he never assumed those feelings were reciprocated. Maybe he wasn't comfortable with that part of himself. Or maybe it was just an odd reflex that meant nothing.
On top of everything else he couldn't even excuse himself to leave, he was stuck in Grant's pajamas until his clothes dried.
An awkwardness permeated the air. Grant was in the laundry room, a part of the bungalow he hadn't seen yet, and Rowan moved to the living room to watch the storm rage in the front yard. He couldn't deny how comfortable Grant's flannel felt on his naked skin, though. The freshly laundered clothes still held the manly, welcoming scent of their owner.
Footsteps. He turned from the window and looked up, up, and up into Grant's steel eyes.
"Hey. I'll get out of your way as soon as my clothes are dry."
Grant peered down and scanned his face, posture, the tension in his shoulders and arms. Rowan felt another blush creep in under his weighty gaze. The stark difference in their physicality really jumped out at him then: one man broad and solid, the other lean and lanky.
"I'm sorry," Grant signed. "I took it too far."
"No, please don't be sorry."
"You had just hurt yourself. You were vulnerable. And in my own house."
"If you're apologizing because you thought that you were-"
"I'm a bigger guy than you. I wasn't giving you much room to say no-"
"Grant, I swear, I never felt like you were crossing a line." Rowan almost chuckled in disbelief. Really, it wasn't that big a deal. "The only thing you did was kiss my hand. And you pulled away, not me."
"What would you have done if I hadn't pulled away?"
His breath caught as his heart skipped a beat. "What wouldyouhave done if you hadn't pulled away?"
Grant, who had spent so much of their time together playing the stoic and immovable one, actually seemed flustered. "I don't really do things like this."
"Like kiss the hands of librarians? Yeah, most people tend to avoid that."
"I mean I gave up that part of my life. Getting close to people."
"Well, you shouldn't. That's not healthy."
"You're not my doctor."
"I didn't mean to judge, I just-"
"My life is nobody's business but my own. That's my choice."
"I respect that but you shouldn't close yourself off to something just because it scares you."
"How do you know it scares me?"
The conversation had derailed so quickly it made Rowan dizzy.
"I only wanted to apologize," Grant said with finality. "I'm sorry things got uncomfortable."
Whatever tenderness allowed Grant to let his guard down in the bedroom had become something much more curt and matter-of-fact. Rowan hoped his disappointment didn't show. He felt stupid for getting his hopes up.
"It's okay," he said lamely.
Grant returned to the laundry room and stayed there until the dryer cycle finished. Rowan changed back into his clothes, gathered his things, and left Grant's bungalow with an awkward, ungraceful handshake.
"What's up with you?"
Neil leaned against the circulation desk as he munched a handful of chocolate-covered almonds. His preferred late-night-shift snack.
"I'm trying to get this circulation report printed." Rowan usually gave as good as he got but he wasn't in the mood tonight. Or the last four nights.
An almond knocked the side of his head. "Hey!"
"How long are you going to be in this mood?"
"I'm not in a mood."
"You're seven years too old to be in such a CW teen drama snit, my man."
"I am not in a mood or a snit."
"Then by all means continue to clench your jaw. Should I just make your next paycheck out to your dentist?"
"Seriously, what's inspiring the rain cloud that's been hanging over your head all week? I would've thought that trip to see the sexy lumberjack-"
"Is the printer jammed? This is the third time I've hit Control-P."
"-would've had you skipping around the Harlequin shelf like a hungry puppy. Especially since you never told me why your delivery took two hours-
"Did one of the high school kids wedge another fidget spinner in there? God, I swear we need to start putting the printer in a fiberglass case."
"-and especially when Crothers Woods is only half an hour away and it takes maybe ten seconds to hand someone a damn tote bag-"
The printer sputtered to life. Finally. Rowan headed for it, all too aware that Neil was nipping at his heels. "We've got an hour until closing. Can you save the nagging for another day?"
"I did want to run something by you. Not about the sexy lumberjack, I promise."
"Ah, I can feel my spirits lifting already."
"I'm planning on heading home a little early tonight to surprise the wife."
"Yes." Neil cringed. "Well, last week. Unbeknownst to me."
"Uh oh, he unloaded a three-syllable word." Rowan snatched the report from the printer. "Marilyn must have been thrilled."
"She was ecstatic, trust me. I wanted to know if you'd be alright closing by yourself."
He looked around, noting the library's usual emptiness this time of night. "Yeah, we're clear of stragglers, I should be fine. Commence damage control."
"Thanks, kid." Neil gathered his coat and briefcase. He leaned in from the exit doorway before he left. "And it's none of my business, as you are all too quick to point out, but whatever's got you in a funk? You'll move on. You're young and still have all your hair."
"I'll be okay. I promise." He fanned the printer-warm paper against his chest. "Circ report on your desk alright?"
"Yeah, yeah." Neil waved him off as he left.
"Don't forget your keys this time!"
"Yeah, yeah!" The exit door shut.
Rowan found a space on Neil's desk between a Jessica Jones figure and a Daredevil coffee mug to dump the report. And then he turned with a deep sigh to face the empty library.
Without any patrons to keep an eye on, Rowan found an errant cart of unshelved paperback novels and guided them to the fiction shelves. Shelving had been a decent stress reliever for him, it reminded him of his days as a page, just starting out in the public library system. It gave him something to focus on. Something that wasn't about the mortifying way last Saturday ended.
As he slid the first paperback into its rightful place, the front door opened and closed. Ugh, Neil was so predictable.
"I told you to remember your keys!" Rowan called. "Make sure Marilyn knows I warned you. And I would avoid telling her I'm your 'work wife', she flinched at me the last time she visited."
He shelved another three paperbacks. No answer from Neil, only the sound of footsteps coming his way.
"Dude, your office is on the other side. It's just me and James Patterson over here."
A couple of knocks echoed from somewhere in the stacks. His brow furrowed. Why was Neil knocking? He took a peek out of his aisle and into the catacomb of stacks that surrounded him.
A familiar voice called out. "Rowan? Rowan?"
Heart fluttering, he recognized the deep, halting tone. That definitely wasn't the senior librarian.
Rowan turned around and there he was at the far end of the aisle, looking big and powerful and sullen and handsome in the dismal overhead light.
He started to apologize for mistaking him for Neil but realized, feeling like an idiot, that Grant wouldn't have heard that.
"What are you doing here?" His eyes were saucers. "Is everything okay?"
"Can we talk?"
"If you want to return something or you're not satisfied with your delivery fulfillment then I could-"
"It's not about the damn books. Please, I need to talk to you."
Rowan's stomach wanted to drop right out of him. He nodded, swallowing his fear, and led the two of them through the stacks and into the adult reading room. They sat opposite each other on big, comfy reading chairs. A table of rabbit-eared Entertainment Weekly magazines sat between them. That seemed safe. A barrier.
"Okay," Rowan nervously raked his fingers up and down his thighs. "Let's talk."
"Are you still my delivery person?"
"Uh, I..." That wasn't quite what he was expecting. "Yeah, as far as I know."
"And you're still coming next Saturday?"
"Delivery frequency is every month, not every week. That gives the patron enough time to finish using the materials."
"What if I'm already finished."
A statement, not a question. Rowan tilted his head. "It's been five days. You finished all fifteen books already?"
"What if I don't find any of the books interesting and want to return them."
"I thought this wasn't about the books."
"Then why are you here?"
The man breathed deeply. His pecs, still impressive even under his coat, rose and fell. "I wanted to make sure you were still on my route. And that last Saturday didn't change anything."
"You came all the way here to ask me that? You could've sent an email."
"I needed to know."
"You needed to know at 10 o'clock at night?"
Rowan had to admit, he was impressed. He thought Grant's lone wolf nature kept him from setting foot outside his house. The fact that he came all this way, just to see him, talk to him again...
"I'm still assigned to your route. Earth continues to revolve around the sun. Nothing's changed, I swear."
Grant absently ran his hand over his stubble, which was much fuller and darker. He hadn't shaved since their last encounter.
Rowan smiled at him gently. "I think it's really nice you came."
"Yeah. Also, I can fingerspell my name so much faster now. I don't trip up on the A-to-N hand shapes anymore."
"I'm glad to hear that. I mean, to learn that. You know what I mean."
Seeing him nervous like this was kind of adorable.
As they wrapped things up, Rowan led him back through the maze of stacks. Their pace was leisurely and unhurried. A weight had been lifted.
At least, that's what Rowan thought. His guest still looked distracted.
"Everything okay?" he asked as they passed the biographies.
"I've been thinking a lot about what you told me," Grant struggled to say. "About how you had demons, too. How we all have those voices inside us."
"I don't want to let those voices speak for me. Not this time."
Goosebumps spiked the back of Rowan's neck. "What do you mean?"
Grant slid a mighty hand around the small of the younger man's back.
Oh my god.
"Is this okay?" Frozen with anticipation, Rowan nodded. Grant's other hand went to the back of his head and gently threaded his fingers through the soft brown hair.
Nothing like this had ever happened to him before.
"And this? This is okay?"
Rowan breathed deeply, filing his lungs with the man's spicy, masculine scent. "Yes."
"You can say no. I won't be mad."
"Grant." He delicately placed a finger over the man's mouth. "Read my lips."
Grant's eyes darkened with lust. God, he was so sexy. Dark and mysterious. Challenging. Gruff. But ready. Rowan was ready too. He stood on the tips of his toes - he had to, rather embarrassingly - and eased forward. Grant eased forward too, offering his mouth, encouraging the younger man.
His lips found Grant's and lightly tasted them. Grant let out a fierce, shuddering breath, reacting to the delicate yet overwhelming sensation. He pressed more firmly onto Rowan's mouth, making the younger man gasp. And then Rowan's arms wound their way around his trunk-like torso as their bodies eagerly ground together.
Grant knew he had to seriously dial down his desire to maul, ravage, and consume the hot young thing in his arms. Otherwise he could get in trouble. But it was hard to control himself when Rowan pulled their faces tighter, his skin soft and warm, his tongue pulsing against his lips, then slipping inside his mouth. Grant met him with an inviting lick, while the librarian's tongue darted inside and undulated against him.
Rowan muffled a cry of delight as Grant grunted - actuallygrunted- and pushed him against the shelf at his back. Books spilled to the floor. He didn't care. Not when such an unbelievably sexy man was exploring his mouth with his tongue and sliding a warm hand down his back to grope his ass. Grant's hips thrusted forward and Rowan felt it for the first time, an immense hardness straining against the man's jeans. He thrusted back as their kiss deepened, both of them swollen with need.
Rowan's hands explored his dense, beefy chest, which flexed under his eager touch. Then Grant bent, grabbed him under both thighs and easily lifted him up with both arms. Fuck. The casual display of strength turned him on even more. Rowan hooked his legs around the man's waist, claiming him.
Mine, all mine.
Grant pushed his thick erection against Rowan's taint, only a few layers of denim and cotton separating their sex. Another book fell, one nearly the size of a cinder block. The sound of it clattering to the floor briefly jolted Rowan back to reality. He was the only one who heard it.
He wanted more, wanted all of the delicious man he hooked his legs around. But... wait. That couldn't happennow. Could it?
He pulled away. It took a moment to catch his breath. "Hi. I- we-"
"This is crazy."
"I'm not the only one who noticed, huh?"
"I wasn't expecting this to go so fast."
"I wasn't expecting this to goat all."
The front door opened and closed. Rowan frowned at the noise. "Shit."
"Someone just came into the library."
He crouched to peek through the stacks. It offered a distorted view of the circulation desk where a prim old woman glared at her watch.
Ugh, Mrs. Stillwell, he thought with an odd mixture of relief and disappointment. She had a weird habit of visiting fifteen minutes before closing with a volley of questions about her account. Still, it was a fairly good exit point. Not that he wasn't aching to feel Grant grind him against a shelf of urban fantasy novels, but this was all happening so damn fast. He needed time to process it.
The distraction of Mrs. Stillwell seemed a small relief to Grant, too.
"I should go. I'll let you deal with this."
"Alright," Rowan breathed and lowered himself back to the ground. He readjusted his rumpled shirt and smoothed down the wrinkles. His erection, though, would take a few moments longer. "Well. Nice of you to drop by."
"I want to see you again."
"I do too."
"I mean it."
"I do too."
"You can text me if you want. My cell number was on the business card I gave you."
Grant steeled himself. "I don't think I've ever... texted... before."
"First time for everything."
"Yeah." He nodded. The idea started to feel good to him. "Yeah, okay."
Grant turned in the direction of Mrs. Stillwell to make sure they were sufficiently hidden. He surprised the handsome librarian with a goodbye kiss, hot and sweet and slow.
Rowan's face was flush and red with beardburn. Despite that, he smiled.