Out of the Shadows

By: K.C. Wells
When Christian appeared in the doorway, dressed in faded jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, Josh blinked. “Isn’t it a little warm for long sleeves?” He already had an inkling why Christian had chosen to wear it, but he was determined to show him he had nothing to fear.



Christian seemed to consider his words. After a moment, he nodded. “Maybe you’re right.” He disappeared again, and Josh got on with making the coffee. When Christian reappeared, this time wearing a dark green T-shirt that hugged his contours, Josh wanted to stare for a whole new set of reasons. Christian’s toned arms. Christian’s abs.



Think he’d notice if I started drooling? He gave an internal grin. I could always blame it on the croissants.



Christian walked over to where he stood, not meeting Josh’s gaze. Whatever small measure of triumph Josh had experienced at having Christian join him evaporated.



We’ve clearly got a long way to go until he feels comfortable around me. Not that they had time to do that. It wouldn’t be long before Josh was finished, and then he’d be out of there.



Then I’ll have to work fast, won’t I?



Josh loved a challenge. And he wasn’t thinking about the kitchen.





Acknowledgments





AS ALWAYS, a huge thank-you to my team of betas—Debra, Mardee, Helena, Lara—and of course my wonderful alpha, Jason.





Chapter One





Monday



CHRISTIAN Hernandez stared at the letter, his gut clenching. One look at its contents was all it had taken to send him spiraling down into a fit of panic.

He’d known it was coming, of course. He’d seen the posts on the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation website, all about how the housing association was putting together a list of their properties that were in dire need of renovation. He knew his building had to be on the list. They’d taken it over in the late nineties, along with several other properties along Minden Street, and nothing had been done to the buildings since then.

And here it was in black and white. His apartment was on the list for the first wave of refurbishments, which included the replacement of all the kitchen cabinets and countertops, plus the kitchen flooring. After that came the bathrooms, with new fixtures and tiles. The work would take two to three weeks.

Next Monday. They’re sending someone to start on it next Monday. What the hell do I do?

It wasn’t as if he had anywhere else to go, so that left one option: hiding in his room while whoever came to invade his apartment worked in the kitchen. And the bathrooms. Hell. That meant the bathroom next to his bedroom.

Looks like I’m going to be locking my bedroom door. The prospect of being holed up in his room for a couple of weeks made his heart sink.

Christian put down the letter on the kitchen table and walked into his living room, where patio doors opened up to the communal gardens that lay across the back of the buildings.

I need something to cheer me up, to take my mind off all this crap. And he knew just what would do the trick. He peeked through the blinds, knowing exactly what—or should that be, who?—he’d see.

Sure enough, there was his favorite handyman. Not that Christian knew the guy’s name. He only watched him every time the slim man with defined arms worked out there, mowing the lawns, repairing or repainting the fences, or digging up new flower beds and planting shrubs and trees in them. Christian estimated him to be in his midtwenties, and yeah, he was definitely Christian’s type. He loved it when the weather grew warm enough that Handyman would roll down his overalls to his waist, strip off his T-shirt, and expose all that tanned skin, with a light dusting of freckles across his shoulders.

Now, if the guy they send to work on my apartment is anything like him….

Christian knew the thought to be bullshit. There was no way he’d make any kind of contact with whomever the association sent. He’d just stay in his room, working there until the nightmare was all over.

It’s a couple of weeks—three, tops. I can manage. He figured if he kept telling himself that, somehow he’d talk it into existence. Yeah. I can stay out of their way.

Just so long as whoever turned up wasn’t a snooper.





Monday



JOSH Wendell straightened and stretched, his back aching a little from lugging the large shrubs from the truck into the gardens. They were going to be really pretty when the rhododendrons flowered. He always liked working on the Minden Street houses. It was a peaceful little corner south of Mission Hill, just west of Jamaica Plain, and the communal gardens were his pride and joy.

Occasionally there’d be a couple of guys working with him, and they got along fine. Even if they told some fanciful stories. Like the one about the guy in the first-floor apartment at #197—the guy they said no one ever saw. Josh had scoffed at that immediately: If no one ever saw him, how’d they know he was even a him? Besides, if he listened to them, the guy in #197, apartment #1, was the bogeyman, a hermit who lured little kids into his lair, only to eat them and bury their bones under the patio outside his window.

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