Detective Milo Sturgis stood with the group of hikers, hands shoved in his pockets, daypack resting on the ground at his feet. He'd figured for a month or more that his captain hated him, and this gig, babysitting Kaisen Wilbur, the greenie, outspoken, brought-up-too-damned-rich kid of one of LA's most powerful businessmen, made that a certainty, far as Milo was concerned.
He thought savagely of the genial grin on Captain Jerome's face as he'd detailed Milo to the gig, and once Milo'd nodded, come up with the clincher. "Starting Monday, Kaisen's taking a holiday, and you get to go too."
Milo'd waited stolidly, expecting the logistical nightmare of a hotel in Vegas, maybe. And then Jerome, with an evil grin that bordered on a smirk, had broken the news. "Kaisen's a conservationist," he'd said maliciously. "He's signed on for a five-day hike in the State Park. Very educational, I believe. Just the kind of vacation we encourage our officers to take."
"I just got one question." Milo bit down savagely on his gum. He'd quit smoking again, but this gig was enough to make him reach for a fag. "What sort of asshole calls his kid Kaisen?"
A rich asshole, Milo told himself, now, not-listening to the guide drone on about some tree or other and its importance in the ecosystem. The kid he was watching was interested as hell, right up the front of the group, his tongue nearly hanging out as he hung on the guide's words. It hadn't taken Milo more than the first hour to figure out that what interested the kid wasn't the trees and the scenery. No, Kaisen was tramping through the California hills because, if Milo was any judge, the buff, tanned guide was balling him silly. If he hadn't been silly enough to begin with.
Milo sighed and chomped viciously on another piece of gum. No wonder Daddy Wilbur had been so coy about the danger he thought his son was in. So vague about the threats. The only danger Kaisen Wilbur was in was from his father if he was outed.
It had been a long damn day. Milo perched on a log at the campsite and pulled off his boots, surveying his blistered feet sadly. The guide was grilling sausage, Kaisen and a young girl with earnest, angry eyes helping out.
They'd walked and planted trees and walked again, and Milo thought longingly of the squadroom, the concrete parking garage, the city sidewalk. Places where nothing grew.
"Those look painful." Milo looked up to see a tall, broad-shouldered man surveying his feet with a thin-lipped smile.
Milo shrugged. "Boots weren't broken in," he muttered gruffly. The guy was good-looking, his hair lying perfectly, looking cool and together and as though he hadn't just finished a five mile hike in the mountains. Hell, he looked like he was about to walk in a country club.
"I've got a first aid kit in my pack," the man offered, raising his head and smiling full at Milo.
Milo froze, swallowing. The guy's gray eyes held warmth and humor and something more and Milo saw he'd been wrong about his lips being thin - they were merely defined. They made his mouth look inviting. Welcoming.
"Uh - sure," Milo said, falling back on his brusque, dealing-with-the-public voice, aware that he sounded abrasive but not sure what else to do. Inside, his brain was spinning.
He watched the guy cross the clearing with long easy strides, almost holding his breath. It was a long time since he'd looked at a guy like this, a long time since he'd considered being with someone - he called himself married to his job and pushed the rest away - but something in this stranger's cool, inviting eyes made him forget the risks, forget the fear.
"He's not gonna be interested in a slob like you," Milo told himself and looked back at the kid he was supposed to be watching. Kaisen had his hand on the guide's back, his head bent close to catch whatever he was saying, and Milo nodded angrily. This was why he'd been sent on watch, to save Papa Wilbur from the scandal of a gay son. Well, he was damned if he was gonna spoke this kid's wheel.
Carefully he averted his eyes.
"Here." The tall stranger reappeared at his side, dropping onto the log next to Milo and handing over a tube of antibiotic salve and a roll of plaster. "I like being prepared."
"Boy scout, are ya?" Milo grunted, taking the items with a nod of thanks. Awkwardly, he started out applying them. The tape tumbled from his hand to the ground.
"No, actually. I'm a doctor." The guy grinned, picked the tape up and took the salve out of Milo's hand, smiling warmly. "Let me."
Milo opened his mouth to reply, but as the man deftly applied the cool salve to his sore, hot feet and wrapped the tape over the blisters, he found he couldn't think of anything to say.
"Rick Silverman," the man said smoothly as he sat up. He wiped his hand on his knee and held it out to Milo.
"Milo Sturgis." Milo managed an awkward grin, and shook the guy's hand. His grip was firm and certain, a man who knew his own mind. "Thanks." He indicated his feet.
"Pleasure." Rick grinned and stuck the tape and ointment in his pocket. "Did you find the walk interesting today?"
"Uh - sure. Sure!" Milo lied, pasting on a cheerful smile.
Rick's own grin was sudden and blinding, and Milo knew he hadn't fooled him for a second. "This guide's the worst I've ever struck," he said, lowering his voice. "But still, I love to get out of the city... out here in the hills." He raised his arms, stretching, and Milo watched, awestruck, as his muscles rippled under his t-shirt. Unconsciously he licked his lips.
Rick grinned again and rested a hand on Milo's knee. "Looks to me like the sausages are nearly ready, big guy. You feel like having dinner with me?"
Milo swallowed hard, his throat working, eyes fixed on Rick's face. "I - I guess I'd love that," he blurted out, and flushed suddenly as he realized how he'd sounded. "Uh - I mean - "
"I hope you mean just that." Rick held his eyes.
Milo nodded, his blush deepening, and Rick's smile was blinding. "Good," he said. "Good."