Paper Hearts

Title: Paper Hearts
Series: Veterans Affairs #3
Pages: 275

You never forget your first love. No matter how hard you try.

The day of his high school graduation after getting caught making out with a boy in his parent’s kitchen, Benny Quintaña left his best friend (and unrequited crush) Mikey behind when he stormed off in a righteous teenage rage and joined the Marines.

One dishonorable discharge and a few alcohol-soaked years later, things are looking up. He’s almost a year sober. He has a new job in a new town where no one knows his history of failure. He’s totally got this.

When the smoking hot masked man he hooks up with in the bathroom of a club turns out to be his ex-best friend Mikey, Benny's world explodes. When he meets Mikey's four-year-old daughter and realizes he loves her as much as he still loves Mikey, Benny realizes he’s screwed in more ways than one.

The gold-plated dome of the Denver Capitol building gleamed against a cloudless blue sky. The Rocky Mountains, still snow-covered at the end of June thanks to late spring storms, rolled off into the west in ever-deepening shades of blue. Benito Quintaña pushed his sunglasses against his face, pulled his straw cowboy hat lower over his eyes, and checked out the parade of humanity passing by his booth at the Denver Pride celebration. His t-shirt lay draped across the bust of some Greek goddess, a black flag of surrender to the heat. His friend and coworker Chris Dobbs, a scrawny platinum blond who at twenty-two had artistic talent and a body of work Benny could only envy, twirled a fake fox tail between his fingers as he continued his quest to get Benny laid.

One late night when they’d been working non-stop trying to get Jay-Cee’s bronzes ready for a show, Benny had confessed that ever since he’d gotten clean and sober, casual sex had become orders of magnitude harder. Despite his horror of relationships, Chris had made it his mission to get Benny a boyfriend. It hadn’t worked out too well. This weekend, he’d switched tactics.

“If you don’t find someone to screw by Sunday, I’m going to jump you myself,” he’d said. “A pity fuck, and it’s me I’m taking pity on. I can’t take all this celibacy any more. You’re giving gays a good name. What’s wrong with you? Think of the baby gays who look to you for guidance. You might as well be straight with that kind of attitude.”

Benny had promised he would do his best. It’s not like he didn’t want to have sex again sometime before he died. And actually, hooking up with Chris wouldn’t suck. They’d done it once before, and it had been fun, but neither one was really each other’s type.

“What about him?” Chris asked, blatantly pointing at a barrel-chested, bearded white guy wearing a leather harness and bright red hot pants roller-skating slowly down the path through the park.
The guy saw them looking, smiled and did a little jump that had him skating backward past their booth. Chris clapped his appreciation and then blew the skater a kiss. The guy mimed catching it and slipping it down the front of his minuscule shorts.
“Too athletic,” Benny answered. “He probably jogs before work. I like my sleep.”
“More for me, then. You good here?”

Benny gave an exaggerated sweep of the completely empty booth. Expensive bronze statues weren’t exactly a huge draw, and the hundred-degree heat wasn’t helping business any. “I think I can hold down the crowds.”

Chris clipped the foxtail to the back of his Daisy Duke jean shorts, tucked in his skin-tight white tank top, and grabbed Benny’s hat off his head. “Later then. Besos!” He hurried after the man on roller skates.

Benny backed deeper into the shadows of the canvas-sided booth. Dry heat or not, the sun burned through the thin mountain air, and even Benny’s olive skin would burn in no time. He checked his watch. Jay-Cee had said he’d be back after the parade to give Benny a break. Judging by the upsurge in sweaty, rainbow-drenched people wandering through the Civic Center Park, the parade had ended.

The music had started again. The ever-present bass thumping was so much a part of the day that Benny felt it in his veins more than heard it.

He people-watched idly from the shadows. The event drew all types, from crowds of young women with smiley-face pasties in lieu of shirts, to grey-haired couples holding hands, to presumably straight families with kids out being allies and enjoying the day.

One such family caught Benny’s eye as they stopped where every single other family had stopped the entire two days of the festival: at the air-conditioned kitten adoption booth. Okay, to be completely honest, it was mostly the dad who’d caught Benny’s eye.

A tall African-American man with long black dreadlocks pulled back into a low ponytail, wearing fitted dark blue jeans and a white-t-shirt, he was exactly the kind of man Benny liked. Not that he had anything against the hot pants and roller skate crowd. He’d been with many a guy who looked like that, and if you couldn’t get your freak on at Pride, where could you? But if asked with a gun to his head if he had a type, Benny would have to say yes. And Mr. Tall, Dark, and Straight over there was definitely it.

Even with a gun to his head, Benny would never admit that he had always wanted children of his own. Something about knowing that this guy was a dad made him extra sexy. He couldn’t tell if the kid was a boy or a girl. You never could be sure with small children and especially at a Pride event. Let’s go with a girl; not like he’d ever have to worry about insulting her to her face. Her dreads were left loose around her face, and rainbow wings and a rainbow tutu embellished her tiny dark jeans and white t-shirts.

The kid and her stylish-looking mom walked into the Plexiglas-fronted booth. Mr. Unobtainable stayed outside for a second. He raised his arms up, giving Benny front row seats to the gun show, and lifted the heavy hair off his neck with a sigh Benny heard from across the path. The way he blew the air out of his pursed lips gave Benny a funny feeling in his bathing suit area. It also reminded him of something or someone. Someone he couldn’t place, but damn it felt familiar.

Maybe he should let Chris try to find him a hook up for tonight. Bad enough he would be the only sober queer in the village, he didn’t have to be celibate as well. It would be nice to celebrate night 287 of sobriety with someone. (He always counted nights. Days were easy. Facing the nights sober was the hard part.)

The crowd blocked his view for a moment. The parade was definitely over, and the people needed overpriced drinks and honey-lavender artisan ice cream. Benny wasn’t judging; that ice cream was the bomb.

The hottie with the body across the way met Benny’s eyes through a break in the crowd.
Damn, but the guy looked familiar. Could Benny have slept with a guy that hot and forgotten it? Now that would be a shame. But he hadn’t been black-out drunk since moving to Colorado, so he was pretty sure he would have remembered.

Before he could get a handle on the memory, the guy’s family came out of the booth - without a kitten - and dragged him down the path. Benny watched them until they got lost in the crowd.

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