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Wild Thoughts

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Alex was shocked that a man so devilishly handsome, with all the cowboy swagger in the world right within his grasp, was so boring.

On paper, Michael Guerin seemed like a perfect match for him. He was tall-ish, with Alex tended to go for. And he had a moppy mess of curls that Alex couldn't help but marvel at. Plus, he was intelligent. Like the kind of smartness that could be intimidating if you were someone who wasn't confident enough in your own intelligence.

But alas, he and Michael had no spark.

They'd been at dinner for over an hour, and the most exciting topic broached had been talk about Alex's chicken Florentino and how well spinach could be incorporated into different meals.

When the check came, Alex didn't put up much of a fight over Michael insisting he would pay, although it was clear there wouldn't be a chance for Alex to pay Michael back because there was never going to be a second date. So, he let Michael put dinner on his card, and he left a generous tip for their waitress before the two made their way out into the relatively bustling parking lot to say their goodbyes.

"Well, that was a nice dinner," Alex forced himself to say as they approached Michael's centuries-old pick-up that was closest to the restaurant.

Michael smiled, but it felt more perfunctory than genuine, and held out his right hand. "Yeah, sure. Nice to meet you, Alex."

Alex grasped his hand and was surprised to feel a warmth invade his belly. The man was gorgeous, if not incredibly bland, so it shouldn't have shocked him as much as it did.

"You too, Michael. Safe travels home." He gave the man a tight-lipped smile and then turned on his heels to find his truck, which was a couple of yards away.

Before even starting the car, he pulled his phone out of his back pocket to text his brother Greg, the man responsible for this awkward date.

Alex : I appreciate the effort, but that was a total dud. 

GregNoooooo. I thought you guys would hit it off. Michael's a cool guy.

Alex : I guess…

Greg : Sorry brother. No more set-ups from me. Promise.

Alex knew his brother was lying, but it was hard to be mad when he just wanted to see him happy.

When he'd moved to Albuquerque ten months ago to take some classes at UNM after a decade-plus in the military, Greg was the only person he knew. And Greg had made it his personal mission over the last few months to introduce Alex to as many people as he could in a bid to help Alex come out of his shell a bit.

It wasn't like Alex was a loner or anything, but he worked all day doing freelance cybersecurity jobs, took his night classes, and went home to his one-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city. He didn't have much time for friends, let alone a significant other, when he'd first come to town. However, he had a routine now, and he found that he could carve out some time to have a social life, and Greg was determined to help him find one.

Greg had briefly dated Michael's sister a year or so back, and he and Michael had stayed in touch, thus how he'd found himself at a nice, if not slightly bougie Italian restaurant across town. Alex seldom left his little neighborhood downtown, so he thought nothing of making the half-hour trip out to a place closer to Michael's house.

But he started to regret that decision when he went to start his car, and it sputtered over and over again.

"Crap!" Alex screamed into the silence of his car.

Alex : What are you doing now?

Greg : Went camping with some of the guys, remember? I told you the other night you were over. Why?

"Crap!"

Alex : Yeah, I forgot. No reason. Have fun brother!

Alex had no one else to call on a Friday night to help him out besides Greg, so he sat in his car for a while, playing out the different scenarios in his head.

Option one was to call an Uber, ditch his car for the night, and figure out what to do about it during daylight hours. But who knew what would happen if he left his car there, and he wasn't interested in coming back the next day and seeing it had been towed or worse.

Option two was to google the closest garage and see if anyone had an after-hours tow, so he'd at least know his car was in a safe place for the evening, and he could deal with it in the morning.

Option two was the better option, but Alex found it difficult to contact anyone at the garages within a ten-mile radius.

It wasn't until the fifth garage he called that a grumpy older man answered and said he would get someone over to the restaurant within the hour. And he didn't lie.

An entire hour went by with Alex fiddling around on his phone and almost dozing off at one point before he saw a tow truck make its way into the parking lot.

It was pushing 11 pm, and the lot was pretty empty, but he didn't give the old man any information about his car, so he jumped out and flagged down the truck, arms waving around wildly until he was spotted.

The lot was dimly lit, and he couldn't see much when the truck pulled up except for a halo of curls in the driver's seat.

"You've got to be kidding me," Alex said louder than he meant to, as Michael exited the truck and hopped down with a plop on the asphalt. He'd changed from his earlier outfit of black slacks and a maroon button-down into ridiculously tight jeans, obnoxious cowboy boots, and a flannel that was possibly missing some buttons.

His words had come from a place of confusion since Michael had told him he was an engineer. 

"Sorry to disappoint," Michael mumbled, making his way over to the truck and tapping on the hood.

Alex hadn't moved from where he was standing next to the driver's door, taking in Michael's rugged appearance and letting his eyes roam over the hair that decorated his broad chest. It took another tap on the hood for Alex to catch on to the fact Michael wanted him to pop the hood, and he ducked his head sheepishly and reached inside the car to pull the lever that freed up the hood.

Michael quickly figured out how to support the hood and then started looking around, utterly silent while working. Alex thought about walking over to stand beside him, but he knew nothing about cars and didn't want to hover, so he stayed by the door and kept quiet himself.

After about five minutes, Michael lowered the hood back down and leaned down on it. His face, while gorgeous, was stony and unimpressed, eyes zoned in on Alex like he wanted to be anywhere else in the world than standing here with Alex.

"Looks like it's your transmission. I can tow it back to the shop and take a look tomorrow," he said matter of factly.

Alex nodded and cleared his throat. "Um, I thought you were an engineer?

"I am."

"And you moonlight as a tow man?"

"Tow man?" Michael mimicked. It was dark, but Alex thought Michael might have rolled his eyes.

"Been working at the garage since I was a teenager, and I pick up some extra shifts when Sanders needs help. Pretty sure I mentioned that during dinner, but I guess you weren't listening." Michael said that last part softly, turning quickly on his heels and walking back over to the truck to start the process of attaching his vehicle to the bed.

There was a 'sorry' on the tip of Alex's tongue, but his throat seized up at the last minute, and he couldn't get any words out. He felt like the biggest asshole in the world, but he didn't even know where to start with an apology. He just stepped aside and let Michael do his thing for the next few minutes, watching him and looking at Michael with fresh eyes.

Was a change of clothes really changing Alex's whole opinion about the man? Alex was attracted to Michael two hours ago, so it couldn't be just that. No, this Michael just carried himself differently, like he was more comfortable in his flannel and more secure in himself. The Michael from dinner was stiff and awkward and struggled to make eye contact.

"Alright, you ready? I can drop this at the garage, and you can call an uber or something." Michael said it over his shoulder before climbing back into the truck and not waiting for Alex to respond.

Alex followed quickly and gingerly climbed into the passenger seat.

Much like the last half hour, there was nothing but silence between the two as Michael drove them a few miles down the road to a junkyard that had a slew of cars in the small lot. He parked in front of a trailer, and Alex could see his old pick-up parked in front.

"You can get out and wait for your ride over by my truck. I'm going to drop the car off by the garage around back," Michael huffed out, staring straight ahead.

It was a blatant dismissal, and Alex didn't even bother answering. He just got out of the truck as quickly as possible and stalked over toward the trailer as Michael pulled off.

He couldn't blame Michael for being cold to him. He'd blacked out to the point he hadn't even listened to Michael when he spoke earlier, and if the roles had been reversed, Alex would have been upset as well.

When he pulled up the uber app, he found that not only was an uber home going to cost nearly fifty dollars, but the nearest one was over twenty minutes away. By the time Michael had come back, he'd made a decision, and he hoped like hell Michael was a better person than him.

"Nearest uber isn't close by. Could you maybe give me a lift? It's only twenty minutes from here, and I'll pay you, obviously," Alex offered up with a small, pleading smile.

Michael looked at him, really looked at him, eyes making prolonged contact with Alex's for the first time all night, and Alex sucked in a huge breath. 

"I was actually headed to meet my sister. She organized this fundraiser at a bar by my place, and since my night was free now, I told her I would come help."

"I can come with you!" Alex blurted out without thinking.

Michael laughed softly to himself, eyes darting around the sky above Alex's head. "Why would you want to do that?"

It was a valid question that Alex didn't have an answer for outside of the fact he felt bad he was such a crappy date earlier, and he wanted to make it up to Michael, maybe walk away from this night with a friend if nothing else. 

But he couldn't say that, not after the disaster from a couple of hours earlier. 

"I don't know. I'm not ready to go home yet."

A series of emotions passed over Michael's face, and for a solid ten seconds, Alex was sure Michael was going to tell him to go to hell, have a nice life, and never contact him again. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised by the response.

"Alright, Alex. Let's go for a ride."

***

Michael stopped himself several times from looking across the truck bench to drink in the sight that was Alex Manes.

He was breathtakingly sexy in his black jeans and gray sweater, and if their date hadn't been the worst date he'd ever been on in his entire life, he would have already propositioned him and asked him to ditch the bar in favor of a nightcap in his bedroom.

But Alex was uptight, uninteresting, and a poor listener. His stark cheekbones and perfect pink lips couldn't keep Michael from remembering how bored he'd been for the hour and a half they sat across from each other earlier.

Though there was something different about Alex when he was a little frazzled and out of his element. He could tell Alex needed to be in control a lot of the time, but he wasn't in control of his car breaking down, and he was even less in control when he saw that Michael was the one that came to save the day.

And learning that he'd completed ignored something Michael had said during dinner? Well, now he was officially losing it.

"What's your sister raising money for?" Alex asked as Michael pulled his truck to a stop a block away from The Stallion Bar and Lounge.

"It's to raise funds for a local boys and girls club," he said brusquely as he got out of the truck.

He walked over to the sidewalk and cursed himself silently for being such a gentleman and opening the door for Alex, who beamed back so bright Michael had to look away immediately.

They walked to the bar, and when they got inside, the place was packed with people of all ages listening to his charismatic sister, who was on the small stage, thanking everyone for the turnout. Michael shot her a thumbs up once she spotted him, and he walked through the crowd toward the back corner where you could always find a booth across from the bar.

He could sense Alex hot on his trail, and he kind of liked knowing he was so close. He could smell his lavender and vanilla-like scent, and man, was it intoxicating.

Michael found a booth and slid in, watching Alex slide in across from him. Before he could speak, his favorite ex-lover and lead waitress, Mandy, came over to get their drink order.

"Hey!" She exclaimed happily, her warm brown eyes shining and her long black hair bouncing against her standard bar uniform. She leaned over as she always did to give him a quick peck on the cheek.

"Hey, Mandy," Michael said back with a grin. He stole a glance at Alex, expecting him to be looking around the bar and focused on anything but him. But he was stunned to see that Alex was staring at the both of them, eyes darting back and forth with an almost irritated expression.

"What can I get you guys?" Mandy asked. "Well, I know what you like, Michael. But what about you?"

Alex snickered, and Michael felt his cheeks flame, partly from embarrassment and partly from shock. "I'll have what he's having."

Mandy was none the wiser to Alex's little attitude, and she bounced away without a care in the world, stopping by another table and infecting them with her positive energy.

"Friend of yours?" Alex asked after a beat.

"Ex, actually," Michael replied, leaning back in his seat.

Alex raised an eyebrow. "You friendly with all your exes?"

"I try to be. If it ends well, why not stay friendly?"

"How friendly?"

Michael shrugged, staring back at the man across from him who was deadly serious and nothing like the distant guy from hours ago. It was much easier to stare into the eyes of this guy. "Not that friendly. But friendly enough to be able to come into her bar, order a whiskey, and it not be weird for either of us."

Alex seemed to consider his answer and then smiled before turning his attention to the rest of the bar, who'd broken out into loud cheers as Isobel wrapped up her speech.

He knew he had about thirty seconds before Isobel descended upon their table, but she must have been hitting the cardio at the gym a little harder these days because she got to them in fifteen.

"Howdy, brother!" She screamed as she playfully pushed him aside and sat down next to him. "And howdy, little Manes."

"Ah, most people just call me Alex."

"Well, where's the fun in that?" Isobel drawled, sizing Alex up with a sweeping looking. And he found himself pleased to see that Alex wasn't wilting under her gaze. He was giving it right back to her.

"Great turnout, Iz," Michael chimed in.

"Yes, it is. You know, there's a little date auction coming up later, and one of our eligible bachelors backed out. There's no chance either one of you handsome men would care to fill-in?" She asked both of them, but Michael knew she was hoping Michael would agree. She'd already asked earlier when he'd told her his date sucked and he was going to stop by, so it wasn't clear what angle she was going for bringing it up in front of Alex.

Alex laughed. "I'm good. But maybe Michael might like to do it. It's for a good cause, right?"

Michael felt like a bucket of ice-cold water had been dumped over his head, and he'd been slapped upside the head, but he didn't know why. He didn't even like Alex, and yet his words felt like a stinging rejection.

"I agree, little Manes. There are many men and women in here who would love to spend some time with my brilliant brother. What do you say?" Isobel purred, even batting her eyelashes.

Michael rubbed his hands against his face, avoiding both sets of eyes on him, and groaned. Alex didn't want him, but maybe someone else here did. "Whatever. Sign me up."

Isobel shrieked and planted a massive kiss on his head before getting up from the table, and Michael presumed setting things up for the auction. As soon as she departed, Mandy came back and set four glasses of whiskey down on the table.

Michael raised an eyebrow at her in question, and she just smiled harder. "It's busy tonight, and I may not be back for a bit. I just wanted to make sure you would be taken care of."

"You're the best," Michael said with a wink that made Mandy blush before she sauntered off. He heard Alex snort, and he turned his attention to him.

"Not that friendly," he murmured around a sip of bourbon.

"Why do you care?" The words were out before he could think it through.

"I don't."

"Okay, Alex," Michael replied a little harshly. He saw Alex wince, and he immediately regretted his tone but didn't say anything to help the situation.

They sipped on their drinks and listened to the pop music filling the air for a few minutes until Alex leaned across the table, lips wet from the alcohol and eyes a little glassy.

"Have you always liked working on cars?" He asked, yelling over the music to be heard.

The question caught Michael off-guard, and he suppressed the urge to laugh since this was the most sincere question Alex had ever asked him. "Um, yeah. I guess. I mean, it's just something I've always been good at."

"That makes sense."

"Does it?"

"Mechanics are good with their hands. And I imagine engineers are as well," Alex proclaimed, and Michael couldn't help but nod.

"You're right."

Neither one said anything to follow-up, once again resorting to clamping their lips shut. But having already downed both glasses of whiskey, Michael got some liquid courage and chose to speak.

"How are you liking UNM?"

Alex did that thing again where he smiled like he meant it, but Michael didn't look away this time. "I love it. I never thought I would get the chance to go to school. And I feel old as hell, but I love it."

Michael smiled back. "I went to UNM. I loved it, too."

"Best times of your life?"

"Eh. Had some good times for sure, but I kinda hope the best times are yet to come." Michael meant it in the general sense because he hated thinking that the best years of his life were spent existing off easy mac and hooking up with random people at frat parties, but whatever he said sparked something in Alex, who was regarding him with a look that could only be described as sweet.

"Greg said you were a cool guy," Alex stated with no follow-up.

"Greg said you were a little rough around the edges."

Alex laughed, and it was a marvelous sound. It was the kind of laugh that made you happy just hearing it.

"He's not wrong," Alex began. "You agree with him?"

"I think you're a tough guy to figure out, Alex Manes."

"Can I ask you something?" Alex said before flagging Mandy down and holding up two fingers to signal they would need more drinks.

Michael fidgeted a bit in his seat but nodded. "Sure."

"You're like a completely different person here than you were at the bar. Why is that?"

"Look who's talking," Michael responded quickly.

"What? I think I'm behaving exactly the same."

Michael scoffed. "I don't think you heard half the things I said at dinner. You decided within the first five minutes we met that you weren't interested."

"That's not true."

"Oh, it's not? Tell me what you thought about me. For real."

Alex took a long time before answering, even giving Michael a tantalizing look that made his jeans feel even tighter. "I thought you were dry and a little dull. You didn't seem comfortable, and it made the conversation feel flat. That's probably why I kind of zoned out. Which I'm incredibly sorry for, by the way."

Michael regarded him tenderly with a soft half-smile. And since Alex was being honest, he figured he deserved some honesty in return. "I'd never worn that outfit before in my life. Izzy made me get new clothes a few days ago. I don't go on many dates these days, and I was nervous. I think I let my nerves get the best of me, and I suddenly needed to do a deep dive into what makes spinach such a valuable vegetable."

Alex chuckled and shook his head. "Hey, you're not wrong about that."

They sat watching one another for several seconds, and Michael felt himself getting lost in all things Alex, but before he could do something wild like reach across the sticky table and hold Alex's hand, Mandy came back with their drinks.

"Thanks," Alex said without even sparing her a glance. He waited for her to disappear before he asked his next question. "What did you think about me?"

Michael thought about lying. They'd somehow turned things around to a point where they were actually vibing and getting along, and he didn't want to ruin that. But he also figured he didn't have much to lose by telling the truth.

"I thought you were dreadfully boring. Like next level boring. And arrogant. It didn't seem like you wanted to be there, and it only made me more nervous," Michael got out in a hurry. Without the whiskey coursing through his veins, he would have cast his eyes down to the table, but he didn't dare take his eyes off Alex right then.

Alex took a deep breath. "I'm very set in my ways. And I think it comes off as arrogance, but I swear that's not me. I'm a kid from small-town in New Mexico, and I'm no better than anyone in this bar."

Michael found himself putting his hand down on the middle of the table, almost in invitation. "I believe you. And I'll say, nothing is boring about you right now."

He watched as Alex regarded his hand and understood the implication, but just as he started to move his hand across the table, both their heads jerked to the stage where Isobel was standing and beckoning Michael to come up.

Oh, yeah. Michael had forgotten Alex wanted him to go on a date.

With someone else.

Chapter Text

Michael looked like Christmas morning under the lights on the small stage tucked in the front of The Stallion bar.

He was beside Isobel, and a pretty redhead who was riling up the small crowd of people gathered around the stage by waving her hands excitedly and bouncing away in her tight black dress. She appeared much more relaxed than Michael, who seemed to be lost in thought and not looking out into the sea of faces. 

Alex wasn't sure why he'd pushed for Michael to even do the auction when it was becoming increasingly clear that the more time they spent together, the more Alex wanted to see him again. A thought he most definitely did not think was possible at dinner.

Vacating the booth and finding a seat facing the bar, Alex took in the group and began to wonder who would end up with the winning bid for a night with Michael. Girls and guys alike were staring at Michael, eyes taking in the tight jeans and well-defined chest peeking out from behind the flannel.

Mandy and a gaggle of other waitresses had temporarily abandoned their tables and were standing behind the bar counting ones, and Alex couldn't help the flash of jealousy that flowed through him. With the not at all subtle glances Mandy was throwing Michael and the way the girls were all shrieking as they seemed to hype Mandy up, it was crystal clear she was going to be bidding on him.

And Alex found himself both saddened and enraged at the prospect.

Mandy seemed nice enough, but now that he had a taste of the real Michael, he wanted another lick. Literally.

And he was willing to bowl over anyone who got in his way.

When Isobel tapped her perfectly manicured fingers on the mic, the noise slowly started to petter out, and all eyes went to her smiling face. "Alright, you beautiful people. The night is winding down, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate all you guys have done tonight to help the Boys and Girls Club of Albuquerque. You have been so generous all night, and we have one more awesome thing for you guys to bid on in the form of a date with Kiki and my darling little brother, Michael."

The whoops and hollers that rang out were loud, and while Kiki was clearly in her element on stage, Michael was less enthusiastic. He had a grin affixed to his face, but it didn't reach his eyes, and he seemed to be looking everywhere but at Alex, which stung.

"Now, ladies are always first, so let's welcome Kiki," Isobel began, linking arms with the excitable young woman. "My friend Kiki here is not only gorgeous but an accomplished writer. She enjoys long walks in the desert while sipping on a skinny margarita, all animals, and the sound of her own voice. So let's start the bidding at fifty dollars, shall we!"

Alex had never been to an auction of any kind before, but he imagined they didn't last for very long. And Kiki's moment in the spotlight was extremely short-lived.

She had a throng of admirers scattered around the bar, but there were really only two men vying for a night with her once the price crept to three hundred dollars. And she was eventually "sold" to a decent-looking guy who looked absolutely thrilled, and if the piercing scream from Kiki was any indication, she was equally enthralled with her suitor.

Alex watched Kiki hop off the stage and jump into her date's arms before turning his attention back to Michael. Isobel had her arm around his shoulder and was whispering in his ear while he was biting back a small laugh.

Seeing Michael in a relaxed state was quickly becoming one of Alex's new favorite things.

"Attention, everyone! We have another eligible bachelor up here, and I know you're all just dying to take your chances on a night with this hunky little cowboy," Isobel said in a drawl that sounded ridiculous. And Michael's appalled look seemed to agree.

"Michael here is an accomplished engineer and a master of many, many talents. He can fix your flat tire and then turn around and cook you a five-course meal and follow it up with a delicious massage if you're lucky. Now, don't be shy, ladies and gentlemen. My brother is very single and very ready to mingle, so you never know where one date might take you. So let's start the bidding again at fifty dollars!"

Isobel barely got out the word 'dollars' before a tall, leggy brunette at the front of the stage waved a stack of money in the air. She bid her fifty dollars, and the price continued to climb and climb as about seven different people bid, and the price ballooned to two hundred and fifty dollars in less than a minute.

Alex had whiplash from how fast everything was going. He could see how pleased Michael was with the attention he was receiving, and he couldn't blame him for that.

A bunch of people bidding for your affections had to feel good. And Michael came out of his shell the longer he was under the lights, that charisma Alex was just starting to see coming out in spades.

Even though he was actively sort of on a date with Michael, he felt like he was losing him with each raised hand, and it hurt. He knew that if his car hadn't broken down, there was a good chance their paths would have never crossed again, and he shouldn't be feeling that upset about the thought of Michael going out with someone else, but the reality was that the night had changed entirely when Michael showed up in that tow truck.

Now he was watching a room full of people throw money at the man he was dying to get to know better. And that just wasn't going to work for him.

"Do I hear three hundred and fifty?" Isobel asked with a lilt in her voice.

Alex missed the price increase, but he was just getting ready to raise his hand when a familiar voice beat him to the punch.

"Six hundred and seventy-five dollars!" Mandy exclaimed, practically beaming as she started to waltz closer to the stage.

Both Michael and Isobel looked like deer in headlights, probably unprepared for that amount of money. However, Isobel quickly replaced her shock with a devilish smirk, while Michael shook his head a little and smiled weakly at Mandy, who was now right by the stage.

She already had her money outstretched like she knew no one was going to beat her, and while Alex pondered just how well people tipped in that bar, Isobel was getting ready to close things out.

"Six hundred and seventy-five dollars going twice…."

"Twelve hundred dollars!" Alex heard himself say the words, but it didn't even sound like his voice. On the contrary, it was higher pitched and almost needy, and he would have been mortified if he hadn't also been so proud of himself for going after what he wanted.

All eyes were turned to him, and if they'd been in the middle of a 90s teen movie, the DJ would have cut the music dramatically for added effect.

For the first time since he'd taken the stage, Michael brought his eyes to his, and the shyest grin pulled at his lips. The sight momentarily froze Alex, and he knew he was smiling back like a lunatic, but he was powerless to the feeling.

"Well, well, well. We've got a bid of twelve hundred dollars on the table," Isobel said pointedly and cast a glance down at Mandy, who was shaking her head slowly in defeat.

Alex still hadn't moved from his stool, and he and Michael were still locked in their staring standoff while Isobel went through the motions of ending the bidding war. 

"And we are sold to little Manes for twelve hundred dollars!"

Alex vaguely saw Isobel waving him forward, and he willed his feet to start walking. The crowd of people parted for him as he made his way, and he passed a sullen Mandy, giving her a gentle nod as he approached his curly-headed prize.

"I hope you take cards," Alex said sheepishly to Isobel once he reached them.

She held her hand out to him, and he took it as she climbed down to the main floor with Michael close behind.

"Oh, we take it all, baby," Isobel replied with a wink. "Give me your card, and I'll write down your details."

Alex fished his wallet out of his pocket and handed over his American Express, acutely aware of the hole Michael's eyes were burning in the side of his head.

"Thank you. I will be right back!"

With Isobel off, Alex and Michael were left standing together, surrounded by bargoers who were starting to use the dance floor for its intended purpose.

Michael nodded toward the back of the bar and started to walk in that direction, and Alex followed along. Their booth was still open, so they easily slid back in and sat in silence for a few long seconds.

"So," Michael broke the silence, amusement dancing across his face. "If you wanted to go out with me again, all you had to do was ask."

"Shut up. You're paying for the next round."

***

Michael had never been happier to be proven wrong.

As he sat across from Alex and really drank him in, he was sure this man was far from the flop he initially pegged him as. Instead, this man was driven, intriguing, and sexy as all hell. Plus, he'd just spent over a grand to block someone else from taking him out for a night.

Michael was willing to bet once Alex was all in on something, he played for keeps. And in the current moment, Michael couldn't think of anything better than being the man who got to be kept by Alex Manes.

"What are you thinking?" Alex asked, leaning his elbows on the table after taking a long drag of his beer.

A forlorn Maddy had congratulated Alex on nabbing himself the sweetest guy in New Mexico and brought them over two beers to celebrate, though Michael politely sent his back and asked for water instead. The whole act of being auctioned off had sobered him up, and he was Alex's ride after all.

She'd just left after dropping off the water when Alex narrowed his eyes and asked that open-ended question.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what is going through that brain of yours right now."

Michael took a second to consider what was floating around his brain at that moment, aside from wondering how Alex would taste on his lips. He couldn't tell him that. Not yet, at least.

"To be honest, I kind of feel bad for Mandy," Michael said truthfully. But when he saw Alex's face drop slightly, he instantly wanted to take it back.

"Oh. I mean, would you have rather she won the date?"

Alex sounded unsure, and Michael cringed internally. He put his water down and cautiously extended his hand out until his fingers lightly brushed against Alex's forearm. He let Michael's finger linger there for a few seconds before he relaxed his arm and then took Michael's hand in his.

The thrill that traveled from Michael's toes up through his body was unlike anything he'd felt before. "I'm happy you bid on me, Alex. I just feel bad because Mandy and I barely dated, and I didn't even realize that she was still interested in me like that."

The way Alex raised his eyebrow was too adorable for Michael to put into words. "I could have told you she was still interested, and I just met her."

"I guess I can't pick up on things like that very well," Michael conceded.

"You can't tell when someone likes you?"

Michael shrugged and felt heat rush to his cheeks. "If someone is all over me, then I guess I can infer that they like me. But it's not like that's happening all the time."

And at that, Alex stifled a laugh.

"That wasn't supposed to be funny," Michael said, feeling a bit self-conscious.

"I'm not laughing at you. It's cute, actually," Alex said behind a smile that started to put Michael at ease again.

Michael squeezed Alex's hand softly. "Well, I'm picking up on a vibe right now."

"And what kind of vibe is that?"

"Oh, just thinking maybe this adorable guy who paid twelve hundred bucks to take me out on a date may like me a little bit."

"Hm. You could be right, but I think you should test that theory." Alex licked at his lower lip, and Michael almost spontaneously combusted.

"And how do I do that?"

Alex let go of Michael's hand, leaving him momentarily cold before Alex cocked his finger at him and started to lean across the table, lips headed right for lips.

Michael caught on a second too late to what was happening, but as he started to meet Alex in the middle, he was forcibly pulled back into his seat by a firm grip. He was about to wail on the person when he turned around but stamped down his anger slightly when he saw his sister standing there.

"Um, what the hell, Iz?" He asked angrily. He noticed Alex was lounging back in his seat, an unreadable expression on his face. He wanted to link their hands again and feel his warmth, but he figured it wasn't the time with Isobel hovering.

"Sorry to interrupt this…moment. But I came to give Alex his card back and tell you guys about your date," she said, totally unbothered by the fact she'd just interrupted them. "You are very trusting, little Manes. I could have raked up quite a bill on your tab."

Alex took the card and an envelope from Isobel's outstretched hand. "Pretty sure I could have found you."

Isobel shrugged. "Okay, so look. Kiki wanted the museum tickets, which left you guys with the hot air balloon and picnic date. I know Michael isn't afraid of heights, but what about you?"

Alex looked amused. "Retired Air Force."

"That's right. Well, the voucher is good for any Saturday for the next two months."

Alex's phone started to ring in his pocket, and he excused himself to take the call outside, leaving Isobel to take his place in the booth. His sister had a suspicious look on her face, and he knew he was about to get grilled.

"Alright, Michael. What the hell happened from dinner to now?"

Michael wished he had a clever response, but he was as shocked as she was. This night had gone from forgettable to one he didn't want to end, and he had no explanation for it.

"I don't know! Everything was going so shitty, but then it changed when it was just us not trying to be something we're not. He's funny, and I think we do have a connection. We just didn't see it at first."

Isobel shook her blonde hair as she laughed. "Well, you know how you can be. And he just spent a ton of money on you, so be good to him. Plus, you adore Gregory, and I don't want you to mess up that relationship. It survived our breakup, but it won't survive you screwing over his brother."

"Go back. You know how I can be? What does that mean?" Michael asked incredulously.

"Um, did you not see the girl blowing all her tip money on a second chance with you? You, my dear, dear brother, are a love em and leave em kind of guy. But you don't even realize it's what you're doing," Isobel said in the slightly patronizing voice he'd loathed his entire life.

Michael honestly had never thought of his dating record that way and simply thought his past relationships had just run their course. But he could see where Isobel was coming from when he thought about the fact he was more than likely the one doing the breaking up.

But he hadn't found his person yet, and he never saw the use in sticking around in situations that never had a future.

"Whatever, Iz. Alex didn't even like me at first, so pretty sure if anyone were to leave anyone, he'd be ditching my ass. And we're connecting now, and I want to see where it goes. So, if you could be on your way, that would be great."

Isobel rolled her eyes before standing up. "Just be careful, okay. I'm a little concerned that you went from calling the man a pompous asshole with a shitty personality to making googly eyes with him in the span of like two hours."

The angle with which Isobel was standing, coupled with stragglers hanging around the booths, meant neither Isobel nor Michael noticed Alex standing a few feet away and taking in everything Isobel had just said.

"Alex!" Michael spat out, eyes wide and scared.

Isobel, for her part, looked embarrassed and apologetic, an expression Michael had seen maybe once in his lifetime. And she hastily made her exit after gifting Alex a sympathetic smile and mouthing an 'I'm sorry' to Michael.

Alex once again was unreadable, and it was breaking something inside Michael. He waited for him to sit down, but when he continued to stand in his own world, Michael carefully got out of the booth to stand next to him.

"Alex, I'm sorry," Michael half yelled as the music seemed to drown him out.

Alex turned to him and scoffed but didn't say anything. He turned to walk out of the bar, and Michael immediately followed, even though it wasn't like Alex asked him to tag along. He shouted to Mandy to close his tab out and handed her two folded twenties from his back pocket, losing Alex in the crowd as he stopped to settle up.

When he finally made it outside, he saw Alex walking down the street, and he started a brisk pace to catch up with him, eventually following in step with him until Alex stopped next to Michael's truck. He propped himself casually against the door and looked at Michael like he was waiting for him to speak.

"Alex, please," Michael bellowed, sticking his hands in his pocket and leaning back on his heels.

"A pompous asshole is one thing. But a shitty personality?" Alex quipped, his lips turning up into a sneer. "And to think all I told Greg just now was how you weren't nearly as depressing as I originally thought."

Michael's fear started to dissolve as he saw the mischievous gleam in Alex's brown eyes. "Depressing, huh? I'm a delight."

"You're about to be something that starts with a d," Alex said, digging down deep in his registry to ignite a fire in Michael's belly.

Michael took slow steps forward, giving Alex plenty of time to side-step him or push him back if he wanted. But none of that came, and within seconds he was pressed against Alex, chest to chest.

"And what d is that?"

Alex looped his hand behind Michael's lower back and gently pushed him further into his body until their lips met, and Michael lost track of time, space, and his own name. 

It was all soft lips working in sync to deliver pleasure to one another in waves on the dimly lit city streets of Albuquerque.

When they finally parted, both panting and holding onto each other like they were afraid the other would disappear if they couldn't feel them, Alex spoke, his voice barely above a whisper, but the hunger in his eyes all-consuming.

"Driving. The d is for driving. Please take me home. Now."