“Jude, are you telling me that you, of all people, have nowhere to be on New Year’s Eve?”
Jude looked over from the stove with a smirk as Noah shook his head and laughed. He was sitting on one of the stylish bar stools beside the granite counter in Jude’s condo, a glass of unsweetened iced coffee beside him. Meanwhile, Jude was searing salmon on the stove. He’d invited Noah over for New Year’s Eve this morning, which had been entirely unexpected, but not unwelcome.
Jude laughed. His long, red hair was tied back in a bun, with a few pieces framing his face. He tucked one behind his ear, then turned back to the stove. “You know, my entire life isn’t one big orgy,” he retorted as he flipped the salmon and it hissed against the cast-iron pan. “And you know, sometimes plans… fall through.”
“So you call your backup piece.”
Jude pointed at him with the spatula. “Exactly.”
Noah laughed. That was essentially what had happened. He had no plans for New Year’s Eve and was happy to get out of the house. While he loved the others and genuinely wasn’t angry, he didn’t have to worry so much about being the resident recovering addict when he was at Jude’s. So the last-minute invitation had been happily accepted. And now here he was, feeling more relaxed than he had since before Christmas.
Some folky guitar music was playing from hidden speakers somewhere in the sleek kitchen and Jude had refused to let him help with the cooking. He felt a little bad for not contributing, so he was keeping an eye out for any minor repairs that maybe he could make. He was pretty sure Jude wasn’t particularly handy, but the place was meticulously cared for, so that plan might not go as Noah hoped.
“Why did Sarabeth end up canceling?” he asked.
Jude shrugged. “I’m not sure exactly,” he said, and for the first time, there was a touch of tension in his easy tone. “I didn’t ask. I didn’t want her to think I was getting clingy or something.”
Was this the first time Noah had seen Jude anything but in complete control of himself? Interesting. He took a sip of his coffee and waited for Jude to continue.
Jude turned back to the stove. “It’s no big deal,” he said. “We were just going to do, well, this. Not that I’m not thrilled to have you here. That is, if you’re fine with me using you for sex as long as I feed you?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Noah said. “I’m a simple man.”
Jude laughed as he turned the stove off. “Then give me three minutes to plate these.”
It took even less time than that. A moment later, they were sitting across from each other at the breakfast bar Noah had been leaning on. “So tell me about the shop,” Jude said as they started eating.
Noah swallowed a bite of perfectly cooked salmon. “It needs work,” he said. “Nothing foundational, but enough that I want to do as much as possible myself. But it’s solid, and the sale comes with a lot of equipment that would probably cost us a fortune to get on our own.”
“And you bought the building outright?”
Noah shook his head. “No, Andrew bought the building outright. Which is…”
He still didn’t have the words for that. Based on what Olivia had said, this was clearly Andrew’s entire savings. The idea that the amount for a twenty percent down payment in Boston was enough to buy a whole building here nearly made Noah’s heart stop just to think about it. But Andrew. Of all people. The man who had hated New Winslow so much that he’d torched their friendship. Or, whatever they’d had.
Noah would never understand him.
Jude looked at him, eyes narrowed. “What?” Noah asked.
“You have a lawyer?”
“Why would I do something reasonable like that?”
Jude just looked at him, and Noah rolled his eyes. “Of course I have a lawyer,” he said. “I called the same guy that did my house a few years ago.”
“I do have a lawyer question for you though.”
Jude glanced at the clock above the stove. “Ready… go.”
He was smirking as he did so, and Noah was tempted to end the conversation and dinner right now. But instead, he reeled his libido back in temporarily. “Fuck off,” he said. “No, it’s my friend Cleo. She’s looking for a lawyer to help her look through some licensing contracts for her music.”
“Oh, I can do that.”
“She’s a little tight on money.”
“And I’d be happy to help,” Jude said. “I’m free tomorrow night if she is. After that, I’m booked for the rest of the week, but I could probably rearrange some things.”
Noah liked Jude. He was attracted to him, obviously. Jude was gorgeous in that elegant way that Noah would never be able to pull off himself, but always liked in others. But it was actually a bit of a relief that he wasn’t falling for him. The sex was great, the company was great. And maybe he could see them together, but not in a long-term way. And judging from the genuine regret Jude seemed to feel at Sarabeth’s changed plans, Noah had a feeling that Jude wasn’t about to accidentally fall in love with him either.
“So, what are your hopes for the new year?” Jude asked, taking a long sip of sparkling water.
God, he didn’t even know how to answer that. “Survive?” Noah said after a long second.
Jude’s face softened and Noah felt far too vulnerable suddenly. He took a bite of salad, hoping he didn’t look too obvious. There was a radish hidden within the leaves and he tried not to let his disgust show. “How about you?” he asked after swallowing the bitter bite.
Jude shrugged. “Lots of things, I guess,” he said, the smooth California tone a little more prominent as he thought. “I’d like to do some traveling. Maybe overseas.”
That sounded thoroughly unappealing to Noah right now. He just wanted to stay at home. Even now, all of twenty minutes from home, he suddenly felt a ridiculous pang of homesickness. Like he was seven years old at his first sleepover, not a grown man. Something must have shown on his face, because Jude paused and looked at him.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Noah shook his head slightly, then nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m fine. Um, is there any more of this fish?”