Cal Foster has experienced a heartbreak or two in his life. And because of that, he's sworn off men. No dating from here on out.
Enter Josh Gibson, the new man in a small town where everyone knows everyone's business. Cal can't help but run into Josh everywhere. When Josh works up the courage to ask Cal on a date, Cal is unable to say no. But a date is all it can be.
Josh Gibson slammed his palm on the steering wheel of his car as he pulled over to the side of the country road. He pushed the Trunk-Release button, turned on the flashers, and stepped out.
He groaned when he saw the flat rear tire. Thankfully he had a spare, but it was going to be impossible to keep his nice clothes clean while changing a tire. So much for making a good impression on the school board when he met them for the first time. Since he had been living in another state, he had interviewed over a web camera. Even though he already had the teaching job, he didn’t want to show up looking like a slob.
Josh rolled up the sleeves on his teal dress shirt and flipped his tie over his shoulder. He took a deep breath. This needed to go fast if he was going to show up on time. Was there a certain way to take the bolts off? He couldn’t remember. It’d been a long time since he’d actually had to do this. It looked easy enough.
Ten minutes later, Josh had four of the five lug nuts off. The last one was causing him trouble. He placed the tire iron on the bolt and pulled with as much strength as he had left in him. It didn’t budge.
“Need some help with that?”
“Christ!” Josh let go of the iron and landed on his butt in the dirt. “Holy hell, man. Where’d you come from?” Maybe it was because Josh was on his back, but the guy looked huge. He loomed over him. A full dark beard covered his face, and his white button-down shirt stretched tight across his wide chest and muscular arms.
Did he hit his head when he fell? His dream man stood before him. Josh had been looking for the perfect man all his life. What were the odds that Mr. Right would show up on a country road in the middle of a cornfield?
“Sorry, I‘d thought you would’ve heard my truck. You need some help?” The man grinned a little as Josh scrambled up.
Josh swallowed his pride. Without help there was no way he was getting this tire off. “Yeah. I can’t get this last lug nut.” He eyed the man’s arms. Fuck, the guy could probably just pull the tire off with his bare hands.
“I’m Cal, by the way. Are you new in town?” Cal bent down and grasped the tire iron with one strong hand. With what looked like barely a flick of his wrist, the lug nut loosened and he removed the flat tire.
Josh tried to find words, but his brain didn't seem to be working. “Um. Yeah. I, ah, just moved here from Detroit.”
“To our tiny town in Minnesota? Why?” Cal positioned the spare and began tightening the bolts, looking like he’d done this a hundred times before.
“I got a teaching position here. I’m actually on my way to the school now to meet the school board and other teachers. Or I was, when this happened.” Josh checked the time on his cell phone. With Cal’s help, he might actually make it in time.
“You the new history teacher?”
“Um, yeah. That’s me.” Did everyone in town know about him? What else did they know? Josh’s gut formed a knot, and he chewed his bottom lip. He’d been upfront with the school board about the fact that he was gay, but he’d expected that information to be confidential. Had it somehow gotten out?
Cal tightened the last bolt and stood straight. “You’re lucky it was only one tire. All of them need to be replaced, probably around ten thousand miles ago.”
“Yeah, I meant to do that.” Maybe he would get a new car. Now that he wasn’t in the city, he would need reliable transportation. It wasn’t like he could ride the bus to school each day.
“You should get it done before winter hits. Actually, might be best to get it done before we get any rain. With these bald tires, you’ll be hydroplaning all over the place. I own the mechanic shop in town right on Main Street and can order you a new set if you need it.”
Josh took another good look now that Cal was standing upright. He was tall, a few inches above Josh’s own five feet eleven. Christ. His muscles rippled through his shirt with each move that he made. “Looks like you got a bit of brake dust on your shirt.” Josh pointed at the line of dark black that marred the otherwise-pristine white shirt.
Cal looked down at himself. “Fuck. I don’t have time to change before my date. Hope he doesn’t mind if I show up a bit dirty.” Cal’s eyes widened slightly and his cheeks turned ruddy.
Josh blanched. He? Tall, dark, and muscular was gay? Go figure. First gay man he met in town was already attached. Maybe it was a first date, and it wouldn’t go well, and Josh could make a move. He almost kicked himself for thinking along those lines. Even though Cal was gay, it was unlikely a man like him would want someone as lanky and thin as Josh.
“Sorry about that. I’m sure he’ll understand.” Josh laughed his high-pitched laugh that only came out when he was nervous. Great. Real nice impression to make. “It’s good to know I’m not alone out here. Wasn’t sure how a small town would be with a gay teacher.”
Cal shrugged, but didn’t meet Josh’s eyes. “It’s not a big deal.” He checked his watch. “Shit, I’ve got to get going. Get new tires on this thing, all right? If your tire had blown when you were out on the highway…” He shook his head and turned toward his truck.
Josh didn’t want him to leave. He searched for a reason, any reason, to prolong their conversation. “Thanks. I really appreciate you helping out. I’ll be sure to stop by and order some tires. Good luck on your date.” He clamped his mouth shut to keep from saying more and ran his hand through his hair. Cal probably thought he was some sort of incompetent idiot. Not that it mattered. How likely was it that he would see Cal again? Even if he went to get new tires.
Josh picked up the flat and threw it in the trunk with the rest of the tools. Cal was in his truck and down the road so quickly Josh almost wondered if he’d imagined him. His dream man in real form, swooping in to save the day, but taking off before he could even make a move. Go figure.
* * * *
Somehow, Cal managed to pull into the restaurant right on time. He grimaced when he caught sight of himself in the reflection of the glass doors. His shirt was stained black with brake dust, and he was pretty sure all the time he’d spent scrubbing his hands clean with the paper towel he had in the truck hadn’t done any good after changing Josh’s tire.
Thoughts of the other man flooded his mind before he could stop them. The tall, trim teacher had taken him by surprise. He’d heard a little about him through the grapevine, but really hadn’t paid much attention. None of the gossip had mentioned he was gay. So damned attractive with his dirty blond hair all disheveled, his jaw set in determination as he tried to loosen the last bolt on the tire. Cal had almost laughed when Josh had fallen on his ass. He shook the thoughts away. He shouldn’t be thinking about another man while on a date with Skylar. Even if it was a double date that he really didn’t want to be on. He’d only agreed to come because his sister had begged him.
“Skylar’s perfect for you. I promise,” Ginny had said.
Yeah. Cal had heard that before.
Cal hadn’t met his date in person yet, but he’d spoken to him on the phone, briefly. Apparently, he and Ginny had met at a yoga class in Saint Paul.
Yoga. Cal shook his head. He didn’t know a damn thing about yoga. Most certainly never crossed his mind to try it. They probably didn’t make mats that fit his big frame.
As he entered the restaurant, he wondered yet again what made Skylar agree to go on a date with a small-town guy like him. Skylar was an accountant or a manager of some sort. Cal couldn’t remember. What could he possibly have to talk about with a mechanic? Cal tried for optimism, but couldn’t muster it. He’d been burned too many times by suave, sophisticated guys who were slumming for a night. Or a few months. Or in William’s case—a few years.
“Cal!” Ginny waved from a booth in the corner.
Cal could barely see her; his eyes hadn’t adjusted to the dark room. Maroon walls, paired with dim lighting didn’t quite make for a bright atmosphere. The decorative lights hung so low that he was afraid he’d knock himself out if he wasn’t careful. Maybe it was some sort of chic, classy thing he didn’t understand. He preferred his restaurants light enough to see the plate in front of him. He liked for the menu to be in English. He’d lay odds this place was some sort of Italian or French or something. God, he hoped he didn’t make a fool of himself tonight.
“Dude, what the hell happened to your shirt?” Martin, Ginny’s husband shot him an odd look from his corner of the booth. He didn’t appear to be anymore thrilled to be here than Cal did. “How come I had to put on a damn tie and he gets to show up with grease all over him?”
“Some guy had a flat tire and I stopped to help him out.” Cal slid into the booth and took a deep breath. At least the expensive leather seating was comfortable. “I hope Skylar doesn’t mind.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’ll understand. He’ll probably think it’s sweet that you’re such a Good Samaritan.” Ginny’s brown eyes lit up with excitement. The hopeless romantic in her seeped out of every pore.
Before Cal could roll his eyes, a man dressed in a designer suit—at least Cal assumed it was designer, it looked awfully expensive—approached the table. “Please don’t tell me you’re Calvin.”
Skylar was short and skinny with coal-black hair slicked to one side. He was handsome, that was for sure. But the frown on his face spoke volumes about what he thought of Cal on first impression.
“Yes. I’m Calvin. Are you Skylar?” Cal’s voice came out shakier than he would’ve liked, but he couldn’t help it.
Skylar’s disapproving frown quickly turned into a forced smile. “Yes. Ginny, you didn’t tell me your brother was so…big.” Skylar’s judgmental gaze roved Cal’s entire body, making him feel self-conscious. He wished he had a jacket on to pull closed or something.
The words stung. Cal sighed. It wasn’t the first time he’d been told he needed to lose a few pounds, but coming from a man that he barely knew hurt. He resisted the urge to suck in his belly. “Actually, I—”
“Skylar,” Ginny started, in a calm voice, “Cal just came from changing a stranger’s tire on the side of the road. Wasn’t that nice of him?”
“Quite.” Skylar pulled his phone from his pocket and stared at the screen. “Could you excuse me for a moment, I’ve got a call to make.”
Once Skylar left the table, Cal let out a ragged breath. “Really, Ginny? You thought that guy and I might have something in common?”
Ginny shrugged her petite shoulders. “It was worth a shot. I just want you to be happy, Cal.”
“And I appreciate that, but hooking me up with every gay guy you meet is not going to work. I’m perfectly happy being single.” He turned to Martin, who just gave him an apologetic smile.
Ginny had a good heart, so it wasn’t like he could be mad at her. In the future, he would just have to get better at saying no when she told him she found the perfect guy for him. Again.
“Twenty bucks says he doesn’t come back,” Cal said.
“Fifty says he comes back and says he has to leave because a relative just died, or some excuse like that.” Martin laughed. “I used to do that all the time when I was on a date that wasn’t going well.”
“Nice.” Cal shook his head. The quicker this night was over with the better. Even if it meant he went home without any dinner. He could always pick up fast food on the way. Yeah, that would help his waistline tremendously.
Skylar returned to the table, but didn’t sit. His met Cal’s eyes and gave him a sad smile that didn’t quite seem genuine. “Sorry, I’ve got to go to the office. There’s been an emergency with some of my accounts and I have to go.”
Thank God Cal hadn’t taken Martin up on that bet.
“Sure. I understand.” Cal didn’t bother mentioning rescheduling another date, or asking for Skylar’s number. He knew a brush-off when he saw one.
Skylar waved goodbye to Ginny and Martin, then was on his way out the door. Cal could practically see the trail of dust following him.
Of all the scenarios Cal had played out in his head for his blind date, an insulting brush-off was not one of them. Fuck it. Who wanted to be in a relationship anyway? In Cal’s experience they were overrated, and not at all worth the heartache. That’s it then.No more dates. If he wanted to get laid, he could just as easily go to the nearest gay bar and find Mr. Right-For-The-Night since Mr. Right-for-Life didn’t seem to be anywhere in sight.
Cal turned toward his sister with one raised eyebrow. “Can we stop with the blind dates and trying to hook me up with every guy you meet?”
Ginny bit her lip and gave him a half smile. “I just want you to be happy, Calvin.”
“I am happy. I’ll be even happier if this place has some good food. I’m starving.”
“I’m sorry about Skylar. I didn’t realize he was going to be a jerk.”
“Outright asshole would be a better way to describe him, honey.” Martin slipped his arm around Ginny’s shoulders and pulled her close.
A slight pang of jealousy shot through Cal, but then he remembered—no more dating. None. He was done. It wasn’t worth it. He would just be happy with his work and that would be just fine with him.
“All right. What’s good here?” The menu was in English; that was a good start. Now he needed to find a good steak and put this whole Skylar fiasco behind him.
* * * *
Josh opened another box labeled “Miscellaneous” and wished to hell he’d organized better. Inside he found pots and pans. Now why in the hell hadn’t he labeled that “Kitchen”? He set the box in the corner of the garage with all of the other kitchen stuff. He stretched his back, listening to it pop and crack, reminding him he’d been at this all morning, and he was no closer to being unpacked. He’d been hoping to get the garage cleared out before the middle of the day so he could get his makeshift wood shop set up. That was not likely to happen.
Startled, Josh nearly tripped over the box on the floor as he whipped around to see who was there.
A young woman, probably in her mid-twenties approached. She smiled wide and stuck out her hand. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. My name’s Ginny. I just came to welcome you to the neighborhood.”
Coming from a big city, Josh was concerned at what exactly this “welcoming to the neighborhood” would entail. Was she casing the place? No. She looked too nice for that…but then again, in the city he’d been mugged by a fourteen-year-old girl with a knife, so he knew he couldn’t be too careful.
He shook her hand. “Nice to meet you. I’m—”
“Josh Gibson, the new history teacher.” She waved a hand in the air. “It’s a small town, everyone knows everything and everyone. You’ll get used to it. Are you settling in okay?”
Once again, Josh found himself startled by her kindness. People did this in real life? “Um. Yeah. I mean, I’m still unpacking, but I love the house. The neighborhood is great. I’ve seen the school and met a few of the teachers. I’ve already met the town mechanic. And I’m rambling on about nothing.” Josh clamped his mouth shut. If he kept going on, he might tell her the combination to his safe.
Ginny’s eyes lit up. “Oh! You’ve met Calvin? He’s my brother. Isn’t he great? Were you the man with a flat tire the other night? Bless him. He just can’t pass up an opportunity to help someone out.”
Josh’s mind reeled. Damn, the woman could talk a mile a minute. He instantly liked her though. Her genuinely nice personality radiated from her.
“Yeah. That was me. I hope I didn’t make him late for his date.”
“Oh, no. He was right on time. Too bad his date was kind of a jerk. The two of them didn’t hit it off and that was putting it mildly.”
A small spark of happiness lit up inside Josh. He tried not to let it show. Just because Cal’s date didn’t go well didn’t mean Josh had a chance. He only met the man once for Christ’s sake.
“That’s too bad. Cal seems like a great guy. It was nice to learn I’m not the only gay man in town. Wasn’t sure how a small town was going to take to that kind of thing.” Damn. He’d said too much again.
Ginny’s eyes went wide and a slow smile swept across her face. “Well, Cal is a great guy. Best there is. Are you going to see him again?”
Uh-oh. Even though Josh had none of his own, he could recognize a matchmaking sibling when he saw one. “Not socially, no. I am going to take my car to his shop to get new tires though.”
“Oh.” Ginny’s smile slipped, but she caught herself. “I just wanted to stop by and welcome you to the town. I live just a few blocks over with my husband Martin, so if you ever need anything just holler. And be sure to get those tires. Cal will make sure to cut you a good deal. Tell him I said he had to.”
Josh laughed and shook Ginny’s hand again. “Thanks. I’ll do that. It was great to meet you.”
Once Ginny left, Josh shook his head and smiled. How many other people would be stopping to welcome him to the neighborhood? So far living in the small town was proving to be way different than living in Detroit. He liked it. For the first time in a year, he felt like he was home.
* * * *
Josh waited three days before going to Cal’s shop to get new tires. He’d been busy at his new house unpacking and organizing the mess he had made for himself with his lack of planning when he’d packed up all his belongings. There was only one week until school started and he wanted to be completely unpacked by then. Who knew one guy could acquire so much junk in only twenty-seven years.
As he stepped out of his car, his heart kicked up a notch. He tried to ignore it. There was no reason to be nervous. Jeesh. He was just there to get tires. It wasn’t a date. There probably wouldn’t be any flirting, either.
He hadn’t stopped thinking about the mechanic in the past few days. He’d always been attracted to bigger guys. Cal and his muscles were definitely his type. Any guy would be lucky to land a man like him.
Josh stepped inside the building, trying to ignore his thundering heart. The lobby area was cleaner than he’d expected, decorated nicely with trendy art on the walls and an extensive magazine rack off to one side.
Surprisingly, Cal sat behind the counter, eyes fixed on the computer in front of him.
“Can I help you?” Cal said, without looking up.
Josh approached the counter and leaned against it. “Well, I was hoping I might be able to order a set of tires.”
Cal looked up quickly, and smiled at Josh.
If Josh wasn’t nervous before, he sure was now. That smile could melt snow in January.
“You been driving around on that spare all this time? That’s not good for the car, ya know?”
Josh chuckled. “I haven’t left the house much. Been trying to get organized.” He paused for a moment and ran a hand through his hair. “I, uh, actually met your sister, Ginny. She stopped by and welcomed me to the town.”
“Sounds like Ginny. She likes to know what’s going on around town, but she isn’t a gossip or nothing like that. She just likes to be friendly.” Cal typed away on his computer and after a moment, he said, “Looks like I can get a set of tires in for you by Friday. Can you wait that long?”
“Yup. I don’t have any place to go.” It wasn’t like he knew anyone in town anyway. Except for Cal and Ginny. “So, you double as a receptionist and mechanic?”
Cal shook his head. “Not usually. The rest of the staff is at lunch, and I needed to get some paperwork done anyway.”
Josh nodded, unsure of what to say next. “How did your date go?” He nearly kicked himself. Like he had any business asking about that, especially when he already knew.
Cal’s jaw tightened, and he turned back to the computer. “Pretty good. Got another one tonight.” His voice was quiet, and Josh had to strain to hear him.
That surprised him. Ginny made it sound like the date hadn’t been great. Then again, maybe Cal didn’t share stories about his love life with his sister. Who would? The other guy was a lucky bastard, whoever he was. “Got some exciting plans then?” Why did he keep talking?
“Just going to see a movie.”
“Sounds like fun. Let me know if he has a single friend.” Josh flashed a smile, but Cal continued to stare at the computer.
“Yeah. Sure. I’ll do that.” Cal’s voice was devoid of emotion.
Josh could take a hint. Obviously he’d crossed a line, asking questions that were none of his business. Go figure. He’d managed to alienate the only person he knew in town. He cleared his throat. “Do you know of any place I can rent a truck? I ordered some furniture, but they want to charge me an arm and a leg for delivery. I was hoping I could get it done myself.”
Finally, Cal looked up and met Josh’s eyes. “Hell, I got a truck. I can help you get your furniture. When do you have to pick it up?”
Cal was going to help? Josh hadn’t expected that. “Are you sure? You’ve done so much for me already. I don’t want to take advantage.”
Cal laughed. “That’s what being in a small town is all about. You’ll get used to it.”
Josh wasn’t so sure about that. “Well, all right. Um, does Saturday morning work for you?”
“Yeah, that’ll be just fine. I can get one of my guys to cover the morning shift.”
“Okay. If you’re sure.”
“We can work on the details on Friday after you get your tires. Can you be here around ten? Shouldn’t take more than forty-five minutes to get them put on.”
Giddiness filled Josh, and he nearly bounced on his toes. Then he remembered that this wasn’t a date, it was routine maintenance on his car. Hardly something to get all worked up about. “Sounds great. Thanks.”
The sound of a small dog yapping away with a high-pitch bark had Josh turning around to look at the front door. A teenage kid came inside with a small Yorkie on a leash. The little dog had a pink bow in its hair.
Josh suppressed a laugh when he saw it. Who put bows on their dog?
Cal stood and came around the counter. “Princess, did you enjoy your walk?” He bent down and picked up the little dog, cuddling it close to his chest. The dog shook with happiness and lapped at the side of Cal’s face.
“That’s your dog?” If anything, Josh would’ve expected a Saint Bernard or a pit bull. Not a little ankle-biter. Although, there was something very endearing seeing the bigger man holding the tiny pup.
“Yeah. She’s mine. She was sort of a gag gift from a friend. I think he expected me to get rid of her, but after having her around for a while, she grew on me.” Cal pulled a treat from his pocket and offered it to Princess. She snapped it up right away.
Josh tore his eyes away. It was adorable. Way more than it should have been. “Well, I better get going. I’ll see you Friday.”
“See you.” Cal smiled, then turned back to desk.
Josh was reluctant to turn away. It’d been a while since he’d had been drawn to another man. He’d spent the last year taking care of his dad’s estate after he’d passed away and had little time for himself. Living in a new place, all he had was time and he was ready to share it with another person, even if they were just a friend.
After a moment, Josh spun around and left. Time to go home to his empty house.