Where You Least Expect It

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.

Where You Least Expect It

TOP SHELF

An imprint of Torquere Press Publishers

PO Box

Round Rock, TX

Copyright by M. Durango

Cover illustration by Alessia Brio

Published with permission

ISBN: –-

www.torquerepress.com

All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law. For information address Torquere Press. Inc., PO Box , Round Rock, TX .

First Torquere Press Printing: November

Printed in the USA

Chapter One

As Matt Halston left his condo building for his weekly basketball game with his best friend, Sam Bishop, he was happy to note that the October weather was mild enough for an outdoor game. In the two years since Matt had left the Army, he and Sam had rarely missed a game, playing indoors at the YMCA during the winter.

Autumn in the Pacific Northwest could be unpredictable and the prolonged summery weather was definitely not unwelcome, even if it meant Matt would have to wait to test out the new wiper blades he’d put on his black Ford Ranger yesterday.

Matt knew he was cutting it close by stopping for breakfast instead of just grabbing something to go, but he worked hard enough at his IT job during the week and refused to be rushed on his days off. By the time he got to the park, he realized he’d underestimated how scarce parking would be; people were out in droves, taking advantage of what might be the last nice weekend for months and months.

Oh, well. Sam would bitch about having to wait, but he’d live. Matt could see him already on the court, shooting free-throws.

After parking, Matt waited against the fence until Sam sauntered over, lazily dribbling the basketball.

“Hey, man. You’re late.”

Matt pushed off of the fence. “That’s because you kept me out ‘til after midnight.”

“Dude, the bar was hopping. It’s not my fault you lack a social life.” Sam spun the ball on his middle finger.

“I have a social life.” Matt made a lunge for the ball.

Sam snorted and danced backwards. “Lifting weights at the gym and playing basketball don’t count as a social life.”

“Sure they do,” Matt countered. “Give me the ball.”

“Bullshit, Mr. Responsibility.” Sam taunted him, keeping the ball just out of reach.

“Hey, I’ve got a mortgage to pay.” Matt got into Sam’s personal space, trying to knock the ball out of his hands.

“Oh, right, Mr. Brand-new-yuppie-condo owner.”

Matt wasn’t having any luck getting the ball. “Fuck off. Who the hell says yuppie anymore?”

“Oooh, sensitive.” Sam jumped away, passing the ball between his hands.

“Hey, if my boss wants to pay me for my highly valuable skills, I’m not going to live in a dump.”

Sam looked affronted. “Dump? Are you calling my place a dump?”

“Dude, your place should be condemned.” Matt knew the rent was dirt cheap for a reason.

“Oh, that’s it. Prepare to pay for your slander.” Sam still hadn’t let go of the ball.

Matt sprang first, knocked the ball out of Sam’s hand and took off for the net. He needed to make the most of his offense to combat Sam’s extra height. Matt wasn’t small — not by a long shot — but Sam’s six-foot-three left Matt at a three-inch disadvantage. Matt’s bulk, honed by the Army and hours spent in the gym, made him just a tad less agile than tall and skinny Sam.

After Sam beat him soundly two games out of three, they collapsed next to the fence.

Sam reached into his bag for a bottle of water and took a long drink. “Where the hell did you disappear to last night, anyway?”

Matt almost choked on his own water. He thought he would have a few minutes of peace before Sam started giving him crap for ducking out of the bar early.

“Me? I was there until almost last call. Besides, I turned around ten minutes after you introduced me to your ‘friend’ and you were nowhere to be seen.”

Sam shoved his light brown hair off his forehead. “Dude, I wasn’t gone that long. Sara and I were just talking.”

“Right, talking.” Matt was relieved he wouldn’t have to hear any lurid details, at least. “I left after getting bored to death by Misty.”

“Mindy,” Sam corrected.

“Whatever. She basically asked me how much money I make and if I’d killed anybody in the Army.” Matt rubbed a hand across his eyes, remembering his aborted attempts at small talk with the latest woman Sam tried to set him up with. “Then she told me all about the fashion industry. Fucking fashion, Sam. Jesus, I shop at Target. You have a shitty-ass record with trying to set me up, you know.”

“You, my friend, are entirely too picky. She was hot and you probably could’ve fucked her.”

Typical Sam: no discretion when it came to picking up women for random sex. Since Matt’s girlfriend Katie had left him, Sam had been berating him to get out and “mingle” more. Sam had been the one constant in his life since they’d met in high school and had seen Matt through pretty much everything — Humanities class, his parents’ death, his break-up with Katie; still, the concern was starting to wear thin.

“You know I’m not into that, man,” Matt explained for possibly the millionth time. “I want to at least be able to have a conversation with the person I’m sleeping with.”

“Whatever, man. When your balls explode from lack of sex, don’t come complaining to me.”

Matt snorted. “Trust me, you’re the last person I’m going to talk about the state of my balls with.”

“Thank God for small favors.” Sam shifted and grabbed a towel out of his gym bag. “You know, you could at least try to make an effort—”

“Don’t start that shit, man.” Matt shifted against the fence, irritated that Sam wouldn’t drop it. “That’s the crap Katie always gave me. It has nothing to do with whether or not I want to make an effort. We had nothing in common.”

“You talked to Mindy for twenty minutes.” Sam shoved his water bottle back in his bag.

Matt rolled his eyes. “And how long does it take to determine whether or not you have something in common with someone? It’s not fucking rocket science.”

“Fine, you want to keep hiding in your apartment avoiding anything that takes a minimal amount of effort, go ahead.” Sam stood up and grabbed his bag. “I’ve got to go. I have a date.”

“Jesus, you’re storming off? What the fuck is your problem?” Matt stalked after Sam. They’d had a few knock-down, drag-out fights over the last decade, but storming off wasn’t Sam’s usual style.

Sam turned around. “Look, I have shit to do. I’m fucking tired of your attitude. You’ve been grouchy as hell since Katie dumped you over your commitment phobia. I figured you’d get over it, but you don’t really want to, do you? You’re fucking miserable for no apparent reason and it’s a fucking downer.”

Sam thought he had commitment issues? “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” As a defense, it was weak comeback, but it was the best Matt could come up with.

Sam started to say something, shook his head, and then tried again. “Matt… Look, you just… I don’t know. You want to get a beer? I have a couple of hours before I have to pick Kim up.”

“Sure. Who the fuck’s Kim?” Matt was glad to be back on more normal ground, however sudden and inexplicable. He didn’t like to talk about his social life or sex life — with Sam or anyone else — under the best of circumstances.

Sam’s lascivious grin was back. “Didn’t I tell you about Kim?” His grin got bigger. “Dude…”

***

Matt tapped his finger absently to the AC/DC track playing on the truck’s stereo as he followed the directions his GPS spoke at him. Sam had cajoled him into attending an “awesome” party across town; given their earlier argument, Matt acquiesced, even though he knew it would be like all the other parties Sam had dragged him to over the last ten years. Still, Matt wasn’t a complete jackass and was willing to make concessions for his friend.

That didn’t mean he wasn’t annoyed by the fact that he would be wasting Saturday night watching people he didn’t really know drink too much and try to hook up. He didn’t have any other plans, but damn it, keg parties just weren’t his thing.

He was so focused on being annoyed that he almost didn’t see the bicyclist until it was too late. Matt’s quick reflexes saved both of them.

He leaned on the horn and shouted at the rider, adrenaline overcoming his common sense. “God damn it! Watch where you’re going.”

Matt could just make out the biker’s features in the evening light as the man regained his composure and snapped back.

“I had the right of way! Maybe you should check your blind spot, asshole.” He didn’t seem very shaken in spite of almost being flattened.

Stupid biker was probably used to almost getting himself killed, Matt thought. “Try paying attention to traffic and maybe you’ll live longer.”

The biker rolled his eyes dramatically. “Don’t fucking lecture me about how to ride.”

A horn blared behind Matt, cutting off any further argument. Matt swore and continued making his turn, leaving the biker behind to shout expletives at him. Fucking asshole bikers thought they owned the God damned road.

He managed to get to his destination without further incident and squeezed into one of the last parking spots in the apartment complex’s lot. He pulled out his cell phone and hoped Sam’s ringer wasn’t drowned out by the din of the party.

Sam didn’t bother with a hello. “You’d better not be bailing on me.”

“I don’t know why I let you talk me into these things,” Matt said.

“Because you need to have a freaking social life, man. You’ve been wallowing since Katie broke up with you and it’s getting boring. Now get your ass up here and meet people.”

“I know lots of people,” Matt countered.

Sam’s words came clearer, the background noise of the party fading as Sam presumably moved outside. “You know lots of the same people that you’ve known for years. Half of them are friends with Katie and probably aren’t even talking to you anymore.”

Matt rubbed the bridge of his nose, knowing his oldest friend was right. Just for the record, Matt added, “And you know I’m not into parties.”

“Not into parties, not into bars. Whatever. I’m here, you’re here. Get up here.”

Matt held back a sigh. “What apartment?”

Sam told him the number, adding, “Just follow the noise, man.”

At least Sam wasn’t coming out to drag Matt from his truck. Hell, at least Sam trusted Matt enough to drive himself and not come up with a last-minute excuse; Matt supposed that was a testament to their long-time friendship.

Matt found the apartment easily enough, the sound of music spilling through the closed door. He had to knock twice before it was opened by a young blond guy with spiky, bleached hair, who was clearly more concerned with the conversation going on in the living room than with Matt.

Matt was about to push his way in when the man finally turned, eyes narrowing. It took Matt a minute to recognize the biker who had tried to cut him off earlier.

The man crossed his arms. “Are you here to lecture me about how to ride my bike in traffic?”

The anger that had dissipated on the drive over bubbled up and Matt had to force himself not to mimic the other man’s stance. “I’m here for the party,” Matt said flatly.

The blond quirked his head, demeanor suddenly changing from annoyance to curiosity. “You know Paul?”

Matt frowned. “My buddy Sam knows him.” Matt scanned the room, wondering if he would find Sam or if his friend had managed to disappear in the two minutes it took Matt to get from the parking lot to the apartment.

“Oh, he’s here somewhere,” the blond answered, making a sweeping gesture with a hand holding a pink glass. No, Matt realized, the glass wasn’t pink, the drink was.

“Matt!” Sam’s voice carried over the noise, drawing Matt’s attention. Matt smiled in relief when he saw his friend pushing through the crowd toward him.

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