Joey Reynolds didn’t intend for anyone to see him sleeping in his car, which was why he’d chosen a darkened corner of the car park. Unfortunately, he must’ve overslept because he’d planned to be on the road before dawn.
He stared at Ethan, who stared back. He sighed and looked away. Pushing the covers aside, he rubbed his hand over his face and head, slipped on his shoes and climbed out of the car.
“Morning,” he said.
Ethan blinked at him. “It’s too early for this conversation without caffeine in my bloodstream.” He shook his head. “Get yourself organised and meet me at The Cliff End Hotel.” He started to walk away. “Don’t leave me hanging, Joey,” he called over his shoulder.
Ethan climbed into his car and drove away, and Joey stood there wondering what the hell had just happened.
He did as Ethan ordered, though. He found some public toilets, got changed and washed in not the cleanest of amenities he’d ever seen, and checked the route to the hotel Ethan had mentioned. The man had been dressed in a suit, tie and waistcoat, and Joey could imagine him standing at the reception desk in a swanky hotel. He fit in perfectly. Just like Joey would’ve if he’d been in his old life.
He parked in the hotel car park and stood staring across the landscape. It had a magnificent view of the ocean, the waves crashing against the pier and the cliffs. He’d never planned on stopping at Whitby for longer than a few hours, but when he’d driven by the club, he realised how much he needed a breather, even for one night. And what Ethan had offered, Joey couldn’t resist.
Inhaling the salty, cold air, he aimed for the entrance, hoping Ethan was there. He didn’t want to be in public for too long, in case anyone looked at him too closely. He could hide some things—like his neck tattoos, thanks to the skin tone covering he had—but his actual facial features, he couldn’t do much about. He was miles away from London, though, so he hoped it was far enough.
When he stepped inside, the white walls and dark furniture immediately took him back to the many hotels he’d visited prior. It was probably a four-star hotel—he hadn’t paid attention to the information on the door—but what drew his focus was Ethan’s melodious voice. Ethan spoke to a woman who had a baby on her hip and a large suitcase at her feet. She appeared tired and wrung out, but his tone was calm and comforting as he checked her out of her room. The click of the computer keyboards and mouse merged with the gentle music playing, and Joey relaxed in the familiar surroundings.
Joey stayed back while Ethan dealt with the people waiting. Ethan leaned in to speak to a colleague, who nodded, then grabbed Joey’s attention.
Joey followed Ethan to an almost empty restaurant and pointed to a table while he carried on to the coffee machine. Joey sat, staring out of the large—and if he wasn’t mistaken, tinted—windows offering a similar view to the car park. He could see Whitby Abbey in the distance and the lighthouse at the end of the pier. It brought back memories of when his parents had brought him there as a child. It wasn’t often by any stretch, but he remembered at least two visits.
“I wasn’t sure how you took your coffee,” Ethan said, setting a cup in front of him with packets of sugar and milk.
“Thanks.” He added a splash of milk and stirred it before sipping and almost burning his mouth. He covered it by rubbing his lips together.
“So,” Ethan said, his hands around his cup. “Do you have no place to go?”
Joey sighed. He wasn’t getting out of this without some answers. “Yes, and no.” Ethan raised his eyebrows, his jaw tense, so Joey continued. “I have a home in London, but I needed to…get away.” He glanced out of the window. “I got into my car and drove. No destination in mind. Just stopping when I needed to sleep or eat.”
“What brought you here?”
Joey gazed at Ethan and shrugged. “No idea. I’ve been here before,” he said, echoing his earlier thoughts, “but it was years ago.”
“Are you planning on staying a while?”
He stared at his cup and shrugged again. “I honestly don’t know what I’m doing, Ethan,” he whispered. “I just know I can’t go back. Not yet.”
Ethan remained quiet for a moment, and when Joey glanced at him, his forehead was furrowed as he stared out of the window. Joey let him have the silence, undoubtedly trying to figure out what was going on. He jumped when Ethan started talking.
“Answer me one more question.” Joey nodded. “Are you wanted by the police?”
Joey shook his head. “I promise I’m not. I’m just…” He sighed, not wanting to go into what was happening in his life that made him want to run away from it all.
“Not ready. I get it.” Ethan sipped his coffee, holding it in both hands with his elbows on the table. “If you found a place to stay, would you stop running?”
Joey considered his question. If he could guarantee no one would find out who he was, he would be happy to stay, and not only because Ethan was here. He liked how relaxed he’d felt breathing in the sea air. “If I could keep below the radar, yes.” Ethan narrowed his eyes. “I promise it’s nothing to do with the police. It’s more to do with…the media.” He had to give Ethan something.
“The media?” He waved his hand almost immediately. “Don’t answer that. Do you need a job?”
“I’m fine for money.”
“You have three choices, as I see it. You can get a room here, and I’ll book it under my name so no one knows it’s you. You can find a guest house somewhere and do the same thing. Or you can stay with me. I have a second bedroom in my palace.”
Joey grinned at the mention of his palace. Despite the house being small, it had a big personality, just like its owner. “I won’t put you out like that, and I won’t stay here. It’s too close to where I’ve been before. If you can recommend a guest house that can keep quiet, I’d be willing to try.”
Ethan grimaced. “Unfortunately, most of the places around here are gossip mills. Everyone knows everyone in the hotel business. Whitby has famous people visiting all the time, and I’m going to assume you’re famous enough to be noticed in certain circles, so it might not be your best option.” He drained his cup. “I don’t mind you staying with me, especially if you can cook.” He winked.
Joey chuckled. “I actually can.”
Ethan rested a hand on his chest. “Oh, be still my heart. I’d consider marrying someone for less.”
“Honestly, I don’t want to intrude in your space—”
“It’s fine. Do you want to head over there now, or do you want to wait until I finish my shift? I finish at two o’clock.”
Joey rubbed a hand over his beard. “I’ll wait. I won’t be there without you. It’s not right.”
Ethan stood. “Okay, well, you know where I live. I’ll be home around two-thirty.” He smiled. “I’ll see you later.” Joey nodded, and Ethan headed away, then stopped and faced him. “I know you said you have money, but are you any good at handyman jobs?”
Joey frowned at the change of subject. “I get by doing my own.”
“Do you fancy some busy work?”
Ethan stepped closer again. “Our usual handyman is off sick, and everyone is busy. We have some lightbulbs that need changing, a leaky pipe in one bathroom, stuff like that.”
Joey chuckled. “I can try. That’s all I can promise.”
Ethan grinned. “It’s better than what I can do.” He tilted his head in the direction they’d originally come from. “Let me introduce you to my manager.” He paused. “What’s your surname? If you can give it to me.”
Joey licked his lips. “Use Joey Rendall.”
“Pseudonym. Got it.”
Joey followed Ethan out of the restaurant and into the foyer. Ethan stopped briefly to let the other receptionist know where they were going, then pointed down the hall to a room at the end. Ethan knocked.
The woman sitting behind the desk was in her fifties, if he was to guess. She had black hair streaked with grey, black glasses and wore a suit similar to what everyone else wore.
“Ethan! What can I help you with?” She frowned at Joey.
“Meredith. This is Joey Rendall. He’s a friend of mine who’s staying with me for a little while. He’s offered his limited handyman services if you’d like them.”
She narrowed her eyes. “How limited?”
Joey smiled. “I can do basic things that any house would need, but nothing major.”
Meredith rubbed her forehead. “If you’re sure, I’ll take you up on that. We’re seriously in need of someone who can help around here, even if it’s just a few minor things.”
Ethan clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ll leave you with Meredith. He’ll need to finish with me at two o’clock today.”
Meredith nodded. “Understood.”
Ethan disappeared, and Joey settled into a chair opposite the manager. She narrowed her eyes again.
“Are you legit?”
“On the up and up. No arrests or jail time. Not wanted by the police.”
Meredith sighed. “That’s all I can ask, really.” She grabbed a list from an immense pile of paper on her desk, making Joey think it would all topple over, and handed it to him. “This is the list we have so far—that we know of. If you can try to fix what you can, leave what you can’t, and add to the list anything else you find that you can’t fix yourself.”
“As for wages, I can offer just above minimum wage if that suits you?” She named an amount.
He opened his mouth to decline being paid, but then realised how suspicious that might look. “Perfect. Thanks.”
“Brilliant. Get Ethan to show you where everything is, and I’ll have a contract ready for you before you leave today.”
“No, thank you,” she said with a smile. “You’re saving us at the moment.”
Joey found Ethan back at his post at reception, and he showed him the handyman’s closet, as Ethan called it.
“Sorry for throwing you into it. It might help to keep you off the radar if you’re working and aren’t around many people.” Ethan grabbed a baseball cap and shoved it on Joey’s head. “Even better.” He chuckled.
Joey raised his eyebrows but hid his smile as he readjusted the cap. “It’s fine. May as well keep busy.”
He headed for the first job on the list, which was changing the lightbulbs in the corridors of the third floor. He carried the ladder with him, smiling at those people whose gazes he met but trying to keep his head down as much as possible.
By the time Ethan found him and told him it was nearly finishing time, Joey had lost himself in the mundane but occasionally physically demanding work. He’d enjoyed every moment.
“You ready to go?” Ethan asked.
“I’ll just put these back, then yes.” Joey carried the stuff to the closet, locking it up. “Oh, I need to see Meredith again. She wanted me to sign a contract.”
Ethan nodded and led the way down the hall. “Yes, it would seem rather weird if you didn’t want to be paid.”
“Exactly what I thought.” He planned to give the money to Ethan as rent and for any food or whatever else Joey might need to use or borrow.
Meredith had the contract waiting, and within seconds, they were out of the hotel and heading for their respective cars. Joey sat behind his steering wheel and realised he’d never felt so relaxed. At least, not since… He brushed that aside. He couldn’t think about that now.
Following Ethan again, he tried to decide what he could make Ethan for dinner that night. He made a mean curry, or he could make lasagne. He’d have to see what Ethan wanted and go to the supermarket if he didn’t have what Joey needed. It was a little unnerving how quickly things had snowballed since he’d met Ethan, not even twenty-four hours ago. Had it really been less than a day?
He was able to find parking closer than he had the night before, probably because people were out at work. He grabbed a bag from the boot but left everything else where it was.
“Is that all you’re bringing?” Ethan asked, opening the door.
“At the moment. If I need anything else, I’ll get it later.” He put the bag near the stairs, out of the way, and asked, “What would you like me to make for dinner?”
Ethan chuckled. “I was only joking about cooking for me. You don’t need to.”
“I don’t mind. I like to do it to relax, especially after a long day doing…” He stopped himself.
Ethan stepped in front of him. “Look. I know you’re hiding something, and it’s absolutely fine. I have no issue with it. But know that I can keep a secret if I need to. If you want someone to confide in, I’m here. You don’t have to watch your words with me.”
Joey sighed and rubbed a hand over his head. “It’s not that I don’t trust you. If you’ve not recognised me by now, you probably won’t, but it’s still too…raw to talk about.”
Ethan rested his hand on Joey’s chest. “Okay. Offer will always be there.”
“As for dinner,” Ethan continued, “anything.” He waved his hand towards the kitchen. “Whatever I’ve got is yours to use.”
Joey leaned down and placed a kiss on Ethan’s cheek. “Thank you for everything.”
Ethan smirked. “You’re welcome. Now, I’m going for a shower. Feel free to join me—oh, I mean, shower after me.” He winked and sauntered to the stairs.
Joey wanted to follow him, but he refused, not wanting to mess up their new friendship. He was beginning to like it there. Checking the fridge told him Ethan liked meat and fruit but not much else, and unless he’d already eaten them all, he wasn’t a vegetable fan. There was some chicken, which he could use to make stir-fry, but he’d need to grab some peppers and onions. And maybe some tortillas. Ethan was also nearly out of milk, so Joey made a list, and when Ethan came back from his shower, all pink and toasty, Joey said he needed to go to the supermarket.
“Let me go. You stay here and have a breather. It won’t take me long,” Ethan said.
Joey offered him some money, but Ethan refused, and Joey set a note to tally whatever Ethan spent on him, so he could pay it back later.
While Ethan was gone, he familiarised himself with the kitchen and where everything was, then settled on the sofa and rested his head back. He knew he needed to call his mum and let him know he was doing okay, but he didn’t want to ruin the even keel he was on at that moment. He had people who counted on him, even those who worked for him, but he’d left Ani in charge, and she knew what she was doing. If she had a problem she couldn’t solve, she would call him, and he’d answer.
The lock clicked, and he sat upright, expecting to see Ethan, but a woman came in.
“Hey, babe! I didn’t see your car, but that doesn’t mean you’re not here!” She shut the door, then stopped, her bright green eyes boring into him. “Who are you? And where’s Ethan?”
He held up his hands. “He’s at the supermarket.”
She pointed a sharp nail in his direction. “And who are you?”
“His new lodger.”
She put a hand on her hip and pursed her lips. “This house is barely big enough for one giant, let alone two. Who are you really?”
At that moment, the door opened, and Ethan returned. “Oh, hey, Christi.” He glanced between them. “This is Joey. Joey, this is my best friend, Christi.” He pushed the door closed with his ass, and Joey jumped up to grab the bags from him. “I bought a bit more than I went out for.”
He’d say. Definitely more than the peppers, onion, milk and tortillas he’d put on the list. Carrying the bags to the kitchen, he left the two friends to argue not so silently in the living room while he put away what Ethan had bought, which included crisps, more fruit, vegetables he was sure were just for him, and some milk, plus other snack food.
“Okay, then,” Ethan said, smiling brightly. “I thought you had work this afternoon?”
Christi tucked her dyed blonde hair behind her ears and rolled her eyes. “Two appointments cancelled at the last minute. I have to go back at four o’clock for my final appointment, but I wasn’t waiting around just to get harassed again. I thought I’d harass you instead.”
Ethan chuckled, flicking the kettle on. “Leave Di alone, and she’ll leave you alone.”
“She started it!”
“And you can finish it and have a happy work environment again.” Ethan glanced at Joey. “Christi is a beautician, but her arch nemesis is trying to take her clients.” He looked at Christi again. “You know your clients are loyal.”
Christi stared at Joey. “Please tell me you’re straight?” she asked, instead of responding to Ethan’s words.
Joey cleared his throat. “Sorry, no.”
She huffed. “Ethan, why are all the big ones gay?” she whined.
Ethan snorted. “I promise, not all big guys are gay, but we are. Sorry, hun.”
“Are you a model?” She tilted her head. “You look like you could be.”
Joey ducked his head a bit, trying to stop her from examining him too closely. “No. Just a normal guy.” He helped Ethan with the drinks.
“I love these tattoos.” She stepped closer.
“Oh, Christi. Didn’t you want to show me those pictures on your phone? The different patterns you wanted my opinion on?”
“Yes! I’d almost forgotten. Let’s sit down so I can show you without spilling my tea down me.” She sauntered off.
Ethan stopped in front of him. “You owe me big time for this. I hate listening to her drone on about these designs, but I’m doing it for you.”
Joey didn’t think. He dropped his head and kissed Ethan on the lips. “Whatever you want in return.”
“Whatever is a big word,” Ethan cautioned.
“Whatever,” Joey stated again.
He leaned back against the counter and blew out a breath. Should he stay, or should he hightail it with the next dawn?