“You bought me a date?” Stan Reynolds stared at his twin nieces, unable to believe what they had just told him. They couldn’t be serious…
“Yep. For tomorrow night. And he’s cute, too.” Fifteen-year-old Randi tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder and giggled.
Visions of hustlers, con men, and all of them being arrested danced through Stan’s head. Even Randi and Sandi couldn’t be naïve enough to get into that kind of trouble, could they? He rubbed his temple. “Last time I checked, it wasn’t legal to buy dates. At least not outside of Nevada.”
Now Sandi giggled. “Oh, Uncle Stan! You’re being silly. We didn’t get you a rent boy or anything.”
Rent boy? What on earth had they been watching lately? Stan took a deep breath and counted to ten before he attempted a reply. “Okay. So where did you buy this date, then?”
“The charity bachelor auction Mom dragged us to. Duh.” Randi beamed. Grudgingly, she added, “Mom kicked in some of the money.”
Sandi pulled out a lipstick and a mirror and began to reapply her makeup. “Aren’t we geniuses?”
The charity auction had been two weeks ago. It would have been nice to be told about his “date” a bit more than a day in advance. Stan sighed. He would have tried to get out of it if he’d had advance warning. His family knew him too well.
He must be getting pathetic if his teenage nieces were purchasing dates for him. “That was really nice of you, girls, but you forgot to consider one thing.”
They turned to him and spoke in unison. “What?”
“That wasn’t a gay bachelor auction. The poor man’s probably straight.”
“Damn,” Sandi muttered.
Stan didn’t bother to correct her language.
By the next evening, Stan was more nervous than he had any right to be, considering he would no doubt be on this date just long enough to inform the man of the mix-up.
When he called her to complain, his sister, mother to the evil twins, was not sympathetic. “If you could get a date on your own I wouldn’t have to buy one for you. Besides, what’s the worst than can happen?”
“He could punch me in the face when he finds out I’m gay,” Stan retorted, not sure if he was irritated more by her belief that he couldn’t get a man on his own, or her lack of concern for his welfare.
“Whatever,” she said breezily. “I hope you’re wearing something nice. The restaurant won’t let you in if you look like a slob.”
“Gee, thanks, Sis.”
Despite the sarcasm dripping from his voice, she answered, “You’re welcome. Now get going. You don’t want to be late.” Then she hung up on him.
Scowling, Stan checked his appearance in the full-length mirror the previous owner of his house had installed on the back of the bedroom door. For once he was grateful he’d never gotten around to taking it down. His reflection glared back at him, dressed in charcoal slacks and a white dress shirt with gray pinstripes. His hair was getting long—he pretended not to see the silver hairs at his temples—and his wire-rimmed glasses weren’t exactly hip, but overall he thought he looked okay.
At any rate, he didn’t have time to agonize over his clothing choices. He gathered his wallet, cell phone, and keys, and hurried out to his car. Being late would only make this evening more awkward, if that was possible.
He spent the short drive to the restaurant practicing what he would say. Once he explained what his nieces had tried to do, the mystery bachelor might find the whole thing funny. If not, maybe he would at least not be angry. He must be a pretty easygoing man to be willing to go on a date with a complete stranger in order to help a charity.
To his surprise, Stan found a parking spot nearby without having to drive around for ten minutes. A quick glance at the clock on the dash revealed he was ten minutes early. Pleased, he parked the car and headed for the entrance.
Giovanni’s was the nicest Italian restaurant in town. Stan had only been there once, but had found the food and atmosphere quite nice. Under better circumstances, he would be glad to be eating here. As it was, he doubted he’d be here long enough for a glass of wine and a breadstick.
At the door, the pretty brunette hostess smiled at him. “One?”
“Uh, no. I’m supposed to be meeting someone here. My sister made the arrangements?” Stan trailed off, mortified. He had no idea who he was supposed to be meeting. No one had bothered to pass that information on to him, and he hadn’t thought to ask.
The hostess consulted her list. “Ah, here we are. Is the reservation under Adrianne Reynolds-Bennett?”
Stan nodded, grateful that someone seemed to know what was going on.
The brunette’s smile widened. “Your party is waiting at your table. Follow me.”
The hostess led Stan to a secluded table at the rear of the restaurant, nestled in a corner. As they approached, he could see only a pair of wide shoulders, encased in a perfectly fitted black suit jacket, and short, blond hair. For a couple of seconds, Stan admired the view. If the man was anywhere near as handsome as his jacket and shoulders promised, he must be stunning.
Stan shook his head at his own foolish thoughts. He shouldn’t be ogling the poor man. He needed to think about how to extricate them both from this situation as quickly and painlessly as possible.
They reached the table, and the pretty brunette smiled again. “Here you are, sir. Your waiter will be here momentarily. Enjoy your meal.”
Stan nodded at her. “Thank you.”
A familiar voice startled Stan into glancing at the man slated to be his dinner companion. His mouth dropped open. The man seated at his table was not a stranger at all. He’d been in a couple of Stan’s advanced physics classes a few years ago. Despite his surfer boy looks and laid-back attitude, the young man had proven to be an excellent student—one of Stan’s best, in fact. Of course, Stan hadn’t seen him since he graduated…
It couldn’t be. “Cole? Cole Maxwell?” The pleased smile on the younger man’s face told him he’d been correct. It didn’t help clear up his confusion, though. “What are you doing here?”
“My older sister roped me into doing this charity bachelor auction thing. I’m supposed to meet a woman for dinner.” Cole laughed, the sound self-conscious, and ran a hand through his hair. Stan couldn’t help noticing his former student had grown even more handsome in the years since they’d last seen each other.
Oh, God. This was going to be embarrassing. Naturally his “date” would turn out to be someone he knew, and a very attractive, intelligent someone to boot. “There’s been a bit of a mix-up.”
Cole frowned. “What do you mean?” He picked up a small scrap of paper from the table, glancing at what was printed there. “I was supposed to meet a woman named Adrianne here at seven. Dinner’s already paid for and everything.”
Cole clearly had no idea what Adrianne had planned. Stan’s face heated. He’d always been a private person. So much so, in fact, that the vast majority of his students had no idea he was gay. He didn’t keep the information to himself because he was ashamed, he just didn’t like to talk about his personal life. What little there was of it. “Adrianne is my sister. She and my nieces set this date up. For me.” He cleared his throat. “They forgot to make sure they got a gay bachelor. I’m sorry. I won’t hold you to the date, of course. It was a silly idea on their part, and the charity still gets the money—”
Stan didn’t get to finish his thought, because Cole burst out laughing. His laughter wasn’t the polite, restrained sound Stan would have expected in this sort of situation. Stan hadn’t known Cole well when he was a student, but he would never have expected the man to find someone else’s embarrassment so amusing.
Stung, Stan took a step back from the table. Mortification made his voice sharp. “I’m glad to have been a source of amusement for you after all. Enjoy your dinner.” He turned to go, anger warring with the desire to hide under the nearest table.
“Dr. Reynolds, wait.”
A large, warm hand caught his forearm, halting his escape. Stan tensed, and the hand dropped away. He couldn’t resist shifting his gaze to Cole, who now stood close to him.
A tentative smile lifted the corners of Cole’s full lips. “I’m sorry I laughed. I wasn’t laughing at you, I swear.”
Stan faced the younger man and raised an eyebrow. His voice came out with a distinct tone of disbelief. “What were you laughing at, then?”
“Me. The situation. Everything, really.” Cole ducked his head, in that moment looking for all the world like a shy kid. “My sister roped me into this thing. I thought tonight was going to be a boring dinner with a nice, middle-aged lady. You being my date was, well, a surprise.”
A surprise was a diplomatic way to put it. “Yes, I was rather surprised myself. I had no idea I’d be meeting someone I knew. I didn’t know I was meeting anyone until last night.”
“At least I’m not the only one whose sister pulls this kind of stuff.” Cole laughed again, but this time Stan knew better than to take offense. He waved toward the table. “Will you join me for dinner?”
Stan smiled. “I’d be delighted.”
The waiter approached moments after they took their seats, bearing a bottle of wine that had apparently already been paid for, like their dinner. He poured them each a glass with a flourish and had them approve the wine. The next few minutes were taken up with his spiel on the specials of the house. They each selected one of the specials, and he left.
Unsure what to say, Stan looked across the table at Cole.
Cole must not have had any such difficulty, because he grinned and leaned forward. “I had the biggest crush on you when I was in your class, but I figured there was no way you could be gay.”
Wait, what? Cole couldn’t have said what Stan thought he had heard. Numbers and theories were Stan’s forte, not people. His sister had criticized him for that very trait often enough. While he could carry on a conversation if need be, he was not what anyone would consider charming, or sexy. A good-looking, outgoing man more than ten years his junior couldn’t have had a crush on him.
He must have looked skeptical, because Cole chuckled. “You don’t have any idea how hot you are, do you?” Cole shook his head, still smiling. “We can work on that.”
“We can, eh?” Stan tried for a stern expression but couldn’t hold it. “Let’s start with dinner.”
“I can live with that.” Cole lifted his glass of wine as if toasting Stan.
Stan smiled. He could live with that, too.