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The Shelves of Destiny

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David stared at a pile of materials proving his lack of handyman abilities. Schmoozing with NYC’s art world elite? Easy as breathing. Talking his mom off a ledge after failing to win yet another Emmy? A practiced piece of cake. Mounting a few shelves to a wall? Far beyond his skills.

David checked the time. Ronnie’s employee was twenty minutes late and he had less than three hours until his date with an unknown random.

How the fuck had he let Jocelyn rope him into that? Between “he’s new in town” and “he’s nice” and “I think he just came out” and “you seem lonely,” David had caved under her insistent kindness. With Roland as Jocelyn’s example of an acceptable partner, David had zero trust in her matchmaking skills.

A light rapping against the front door drew his attention. An ordinary-looking man, wearing mid-range denim and a blue button-up the shade of a hospital gown, smiled. The smile wasn’t ordinary. It was… sweet. Mouth closed with the corners looked almost turned down, but still friendly.

About damn time. David unlocked the door and swung it open. “You’re late.” He grimaced. Those days, he usually had better control of his snippiness with strangers.

“Late?” The man blinked at him with round eyes the color of his favorite local honey.

David reluctantly pulled his attention from the man’s eyes and gestured toward the back room. “Ronnie said you’d be here at three. I need to leave by four. Can you get the shelves up by then?”

“Shelves?” He stared blankly at David, then looked down and rubbed his hand on the back of his neck. He had a nice neck. Very kissable. Lickable even. “Point me to where you want the shelves to go. I, uh, don’t have my tools on me. Any chance, um, Ronnie left some here?”

David rolled his eyes. “You look like a Boy Scout. Aren’t Boy Scouts supposed to always be prepared?”

The man quirked one side of his mouth up. It was cheeky and David liked it. “I didn’t stick with Boy Scouts long enough to earn that badge.”

“Ronnie left some stuff, but I have no idea if it’s what you’ll need.” David led him to the back room and gestured to what she’d left. “I’d like the shelves on that wall. Eighteen inches apart.”

“Precise.”

“I know what I want.” David glanced at the man’s lips. Possibly Jocelyn hadn’t been too far off the mark with that whole lonely thing. It had been a while since Jake.

The man’s smile turned positively wicked, which ignited a fire in David’s belly.

David watched as he picked up a pencil and a black box that looked like a remote. His thick fingers rubbed it along the wall, and each time it beeped, he marked the spot with a pencil. His fingers should come with an adult content warning.

“What’s that?” David was mesmerized by the muscles shifting in his forearms.

“A stud finder.”

David chuckled. “That would come in handy over at The Man Cave.” Oh my God. Did he just make a joke about the gay bar in Elm Grove? Lonely and rusty at flirting.

He turned around and looked at David. His smile was small and devious as he held the little box against David’s chest. “Beep.”

David’s mouth fell open. Bring it on, Denim Dan.

“Can you hold the brackets up while I drill?”

“I trust you won’t pierce me with the drill.” David’s voice was husky. Their fingers grazed each other as David took over holding the bracket. Electricity raced up David’s arm. The man looked up at him and they locked eyes. Whoa. Had that breath hitch been his or David’s?

He raised the weapon in question and pressed the trigger as he smirked. “Don’t worry. I never miss my target.” Now who’s voice was husky?

David managed not to jump or swoon or, really, breathe, as they worked shoulder-to-shoulder.

“What will you be selling here?”

David held another bracket in place and talked about Rose Apothecary. People were usually receptive, but he hadn’t yet received the kind of response as he did in that moment. Wide eyes, wider smile, and the man’s entire body facing David’s, brackets forgotten.

“That’s brilliant.”

“Thanks?” David felt his cheeks heat.

“Seriously. That’s like taking a farmer’s market up a dozen levels. I can’t wait to see it when you’re open.”

David bit his lips together to hide the enormous smile threatening to take over his face.

Their conversation came easily as they finished the shelves. David took a step back to admire the work. Their work. “This is perfect. Thank you.”

They smiled at each other. David hadn’t naturally smiled so much at someone before. It unnerved him, but he wanted more. The first taste of a drug providing comfort over escape.

“I’ll let Ronnie know what a great job you did.” David cleared his throat. He didn’t want to leave, but he had to get ready for the date he was now dreading.

“Please do.” Denim Dan’s eyes held a wicked glint.

“It was… nice talking to you.” Ask him out. Just ask him out.

His smile widened. “I’d like to do it again. Dinner tomorrow?”

Yes! “I’d like that.”

The man held out his hand. “I don’t believe I introduced myself when I got in. How rude of me.” His warm eyes sparkled. “I was startled out of my manners when I was informed of my lateness.”

David squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, as he took the offered hand.

“I’m Patrick.”

“David.”

“Well, David, I came by to say I’d be about twenty minutes late to our date because of a rescheduled work meeting. I don’t have your number, but Jocelyn mentioned you’re opening a business here, so I hoped to catch you.” He wielded that lopsided grin like a weapon.

David’s mind raced. Jocelyn? Date? “Wait, you’re—”

“The lucky man who has two dates with you this week.”