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He should likely make a decision here rather than help clog up the sidewalk.

A giant cart poured out of the warehouse, wheels rattling against the cobbled walk, horses snorting at their drivers. Dane blinked as the cart passed, then refocused on the man on the other side of the street. A tall man. A man with a generous smile and wide open features that only closed-up, mouth pinching, when he bent to help heft another load.

Dane could make a decision right now, in this very moment, that could conceivably change his life. Alter the emptiness, fill the void in his heart and bed that seemed ever-present, throttling him with its pervasiveness.

Go up to the cute guy at the fish market and say hello. Or slink away into oblivion. Neither of them ever knowing the other’s name.

That would be the same as every other day, now wouldn’t it? Just like last night when he’d almost walked up to the man at the bar, but didn’t. Last week, where he’d almost flirted with the adorable guard over by the emporium’s watcher booth, but hadn’t. Like last year when he’d allowed every opportunity, both small and large, to pass him by.

This was likely no different.

The man, wearing nothing but pants, forearms straining, biceps flexing with every barrel he tipped slightly onto its side before hefting to his shoulder. Powerful, muscular and oh, so godsdamned gorgeous, he was everything Dane had ever wanted.

Since a few moments ago at least.

Dane’s heart rate ramped up at the first step forward. Heart pounding like it wanted to escape, run back the way it’d come, all the way back to the office, back to the piles of packages that needed homes and letters that needed shipping information written in a neat hand that could allow him to forget all about how lonely his life had become. How much control fear had taken hold over his world.

With a soft groan under his breath, he hesitated for a moment longer, anger, sadness and a jaded bitterness all vying for control over his emotions. This was just like last time. He was no different than he’d been last night.

Or the week before. Or all of last year. And all the years before that.

How utterly demoralizing.

With a last, longing look at the man with the strong arms and hard lines to his face, Dane turned abruptly, clutching the package he needed to deliver just a little tighter. But he’d been far too worried about getting a last, mesmerizing look at the man outside the warehouse, for just as he turned his head, he ran smack into a hard body.

His neck cracked, his balance thrown off. His conflicted emotions and the abject fear of approaching the man on the other side of the street dispersed in a burst of embarrassment. The person he’d ran into barely moved, yet Dane staggered backward, the package slipping.

A firm hand gripped his elbow and a deep voice rumbled through the haze of Dane’s embarrassment. “Hold on there. You okay?”

Dane shifted the package up under his arm before answering or looking up. “Yeah, I’m good. Thank…you.” And just like that, his tongue forgot how to speak once more. His feet forgot how to walk. His brain forgot how to think.

The grip on his elbow didn’t change. And the man responsible for that grip? Thick and wide, with a vest covered in sawdust flecks and dark stain spatters. This man was even more attractive than the one across the street. Underneath the vest, the man wore a short-sleeved shirt, those sleeves tight, revealing muscled, pale arms.

His face had a closed-off quality, hooded eyes and lines about his lips that spoke of concentration that pinched his expression on a constant basis. His hand held callouses, but also a dexterity as he steadied Dane and pulled him just off the throng of people spilling down the warehouse streets.

“Good, glad to hear it,” said the man. He had a cheerful lilt to his voice despite the deepness of his tone and his lightly hooded eyes. As if only the work kept him tired, kept his concentration. The man patted Dane’s arm, squeezed once and then let go. “Watch yourself.” Then, with a friendly nod, the man stepped around Dane.

There was that moment again, except this time, it was fractions of a second. Not long minutes of pining away, of dreaming up scenarios, allowing rejection to feed all his fears.

In that fraction of a second, Dane had no time for fear to swallow him whole, no time to play out all the possible disgusted words he might hear in response. All he could do was make a decision, quickly, one way or another. Either walk on, as if nothing had occurred, or turn…turn and…

“My name’s Dane.”

He spun as he spoke, the words bursting free, yet remaining quiet, as if, even in his moment of courage, his throat took precautions, allowing the chance that he might not be heard over the busy street. That the moment could pass by without fanfare, disintegrating into the dust under his boots.

But the man did hear. For he stopped, looking back with surprise in his features. His lips parted, but he didn’t respond.

Dane cleared his throat. The decision had been made. He’d made it. Nothing for it but to fight through the flush that now crept up his neck and the mush his thoughts had become. Go for simple, he figured. Words he’d known his entire life. Could count on.

“Dane Ferwalsh.” Then he thrust out his hand.

The man remained silent for a moment longer, his gaze dropping to Dane’s outstretched hand before dragging upward once more. Then he turned about completely and took Dane’s hand, a strength in that grip. A confidence that Dane craved to have, not for his own character, but in a man who might possibly be his rock. A firm, protective partner.

“Seth. Seth Gerild. Nice to meet you.”

He’d done it! Passed the introductions.

Dane had scarcely ever gotten past this moment. In fact, that might have been a bit of an overstatement, considering he couldn’t remember a single time he’d actually overcome his fear enough to even start a conversation without some form of outside coercion. So he stood, still clutching Seth’s hand, long past what was likely appropriate, while he struggled to discover what he might say next.

Thankfully, an understanding crossed over Seth’s features and his other hand came up and covered the back of Dane’s, holding him twice over, fingers ever so slightly turning gentle.

“I’m at 38 Wolander Street, one of the woodworkers there. I’ve got a delivery to oversee, but I’ll be there this evening working late on a dining set. If you wanted to come by.” Then he extricated himself with a smoldering, lingering wink and walked on.

“I did it,” whispered Dane. “I fucking did it.”

He stared at Seth, at those thick arms, smooth stride and firm ass. Swallowed past the thumping of his heart in his throat. Wiped fingers through the ridiculously sweaty locks on his forehead. He’d done it. He’d put himself out there, used up every ounce of adrenaline, fought through the anxiety and illogical terror.

A giddiness overwhelmed him as Seth turned the corner. Dane hefted the package a little higher and turned with numb legs to continue onward.

Now he just had to remember what in hells the man had said.

* * *

Some people might relate. Others maybe not. But I’m sure there’s something each of us want badly, yet we are terrified to take those first steps because of the great risk involved.

This past year, I’ve learned to start small, to do tiny things that scare me until they don’t scare me any more. And every time I become comfortable, I find there are ten more things sitting in that terror zone, waiting for me to take those first steps all over again.

Here’s to a great 2018 to all of you and may you do lots of scary things this year :)