The Guarded Heart

By: K. Sterling

Chapter 1

August 2015

“You don’t have to keep justifying it, Jonathan,” Clint said as he held the door open. “If Marco is that big of a dick and no one enjoys working with him, we stop booking at his club.” He stepped onto the sidewalk and gave Jonathan’s shoulder a reassuring shake.

“You’re sure? He’s going to chew you out as soon as he realizes we’ve taken those clients someplace else,” he warned and Clint shrugged.

“Let me worry about that,” he said and Jonathan looked beyond relieved and Clint shook his head as he pulled his phone out of his back pocket.

“It’s pretty simple. Marco’s an asshole and doesn’t create a positive working environment. We’re in this because we love the music and want to support our friends. It’s supposed to be fun and no one’s having fun around Marco. So, we take Marco out of the picture.” Clint waited for Jonathan to nod in agreement then smiled as he looked for the nearest cab. The door to the coffee shop opened and Clint’s lungs locked before the man stepping out even looked up. When he did, it was like being hit in the chest with a heavy ball of heat and Clint stumbled back a step as a swell of incredible longing and joy filled him. God, please let me touch him, Clint begged as his hands shook.

“Clint? Is something wrong?” Jonathan asked and Clint shook his head.

“No. Give me a minute.” It was barely words and he wasn’t sure if Jonathan understood as he staggered forward. Clint exhaled loudly as he started to move faster. He couldn’t let him leave. “Ryder!” He called as he raised his hand and he saw Ryder shut his eyes briefly and knew he was hoping Clint would pretend they didn’t see each other. He couldn’t do that and his eyes greedily drank in as much of Ryder as they could. Clint’s heart was slamming into his eardrums and the sounds of the street were muffled when he reached Ryder. He looked so beautiful. So the same but different in a hundred ways that Clint was quickly cataloging as he waited to catch his breath. He filled his lungs and his knees almost buckled as the scent Clint spent months clinging to as it slowly faded from his pillows and clothes rushed through him. “It’s so good to see you.” It wavered and rasped and Clint didn’t give a single fuck as he reached for Ryder and pulled him into his arms. Tears flooded Clint’s eyes as more heat and joy spread through his body and the muscles in his throat strained as he reveled in the feel of Ryder’s body against his. It was the most perfect thing Clint had felt since the night he let Ryder walk away.

“Clint…” It was so wary and distant as Ryder patted Clint’s back weakly. “It’s good to see you too,” he said as he gripped Clint’s shoulders and stepped back. It was summer but everything felt cold and an ache settled in Clint’s chest as he fought back a tidal wave of words and feelings and pulled his face into a relaxed, happy grin.

“Are you back?” He asked and Ryder nodded jerkily as his eyes jumped around Clint’s shoulders, avoiding contact with Clint’s.

“I’m at…a school,” he murmured before he finally offered Clint a tight smile. He didn’t want to share that and Clint resisted the impulse to push.

“I’m glad you’re back. Can I call you?” He asked carefully and Ryder’s jaw twitched as he studied the coffee cup in his hand.

“I don’t think…” His head snapped up and Clint cursed silently.

“Well, who’s this?” Jonathan asked loudly as he elbowed Clint. Clint’s cheeks puffed out as he waved toward Ryder.

“Jonathan, this is Ryder,” he said before he tilted his head toward Jonathan. “Ryder, Jonathan,” Clint said wearily and Ryder ducked his head as he reached for Jonathan’s hand.

“It’s nice to meet you but I’m afraid I have to get going. I haven’t even started unpacking and I have to get my classroom ready for Monday,” he explained and Clint started to shake his head as panic bloomed. Ryder ignored it and offered a stiff nod. “It was nice seeing you. Take care of yourself, Clint,” he said before he raised his hand and turned for the curb as a cab stopped. Clint froze, paralyzed and helpless as Ryder shut the door and the cab drove off.