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					 Don’t Read in
  the Closet
An M/M Romance Collection




     special edition
GayRomLit Retreat 2011
Introduction


Don’t Read in the Closet
An M/M Romance Collection
GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition
M/M Romance Group Publication ©2011
Edited by Diane W.


Introduction
   The stories you are about to read celebrate love, sex and romance
between men. They are the product of the Hot Summer Days
promotion sponsored by the Goodreads M/M Romance group and are
published as a free gift to you.

What is the Hot Summer Days promotion?
    The M/M Romance group invited members to choose a photo and
pen a letter asking for a short M/M romance story inspired by the
image; authors from the group were encouraged to select a letter and
write an original tale. The result was an outpouring of creativity that
shined a spotlight on the special bond between M/M romance writers
and the people who love what they do.
    Over 100 stories were submitted and published as a four volume
set titled Don’t Read in the Closet. A written description of the
images that inspired each story is provided. If you‘d like to view the
real deal, please feel free to join the Goodreads M/M Romance group
(www.goodreads.com) and visit the discussion section: Hot Summer
Days Letters.
   Whether you are an avid M/M romance reader or new to the
genre, you are in for a delicious treat.

GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition
   GayRomLit is a retreat for readers and writers of GLBT romance.
The stories included in this special edition of Don’t Read in the
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition    2


Closet feature authors attending the 2011 event in New Orleans on
October 13-16. For more information on the GRL Retreat, please visit
www.gayromlit.com.
    The stories in this special edition can also be found peppered
through the volumes of the complete Don’t Read in the Closet set.

Words of caution and credit …
    The stories in this collection are sexually explicit and intended for
adult readers. The ebook is distributed free by the M/M Romance
Group and should not be offered for sale. Each story appears courtesy
of its respective author and should not be reproduced without express
written consent from the author.
    This ebook is published by the M/M Romance Group and is not
directly endorsed by or affiliated with Goodreads Inc.

Dedication
   As you can imagine, coordinating over 100 authors, proofing their
work and publishing it both online and in eprint for free involved
hundreds of hours of (volunteer) work.
    First and foremost, this project never would have happened
without the tireless dedication and leadership of M/M Romance
Group moderator Jen McJ. Jen managed every stage of an
unmanageable project and spun order out of chaos. That level of focus
and organization is unnatural and we should fear her.
    A good leader starts with a good team. Jen‘s team of co-
moderators Moderatrix Lori, Jason and Juniper had to endure
reading and proofing nearly two thousand pages of hot, steamy man-
on-man action, those poor lucky bastards! And group member, Diane
who fed over one million words of text into her alchemy machine and
pulled out volume after volume of mobi/Kindle, ePub, PDF and Html
ebooks.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   3


    Finally, this book is dedicated to all the authors who put pen to
paper (or more accurately fingers to keys) and created the wonderful
original stories you are about to read. Thank you.

ebook navigation
     This ebook can be navigated through the Table of Contents which
lists the authors, their story title and its overall genre or theme. Any
time you see the words ―Dear Author‖ or ―THE END‖, you can click
on the link and be transported back to the TOC.
     Enjoy.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition                                                     4



Table of Contents
Introduction ............................................................................................................. 1
J. P. Barnaby – END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT (First Love) ............. 5
L.C. Chase – OPEN TACKLE (Friends to Lovers).............................................. 20
Jaya Christopher – CODY AND THE HERMIT (BDSM/Cowboys) .................. 40
Poppy Dennison – BLINDSIDED (Hurt/Comfort) .............................................. 58
Taylor V. Donovan – HEATSTROKE (Angst) .................................................... 70
Rachel Haimowitz – JUNGLE HEAT (Military) ............................................... 168
Jambrea Jo Jones – WILD BLUE YONDER (Military) .................................... 182
Lissa Kasey and Xara X. Xanakas – SINK OR SWIM (Established Couple) ... 194
K Lee Klein – OUTFOXED (Rock Stars) .......................................................... 236
Marguerite Labbe – TEARS OF THE SEA (Paranormal/Fairytales) ................. 268
Clare London – SAY A LITTLE PRAYER (Paranormal/Angels) ..................... 316
Belinda McBride – FREE TO FLY (BDSM) ..................................................... 357
Michele L. Montgomery – TEARS FROM ABOVE (Paranormal/Angels) ....... 378
Cherie Noel – KISS AND TELL (Mild Kink).................................................... 436
Lydia Nyx – MOON OVER MONTANA (Shifter/Cowboys) ........................... 483
M.J. O'Shea – BRIDGES (First Love) ................................................................ 540
SJD Peterson - INNOCENCE TO THE MAX (Paranormal/BDSM) ................. 583
Devon Rhodes – HIS LAST RESORT (Coming Out)........................................ 602
Jaime Samms – MOURNING (Hurt/Comfort) ................................................... 617
PD Singer – THE BOY NEXT DOOR (Friends to Lovers) ............................... 638
Andrea Speed – MY BLOODY VALENTINE (Paranormal/Sorcerer) ............. 652
Damon Suede – SEEDY BUSINESS (Sci-Fi) .................................................... 660
VJ Summers – LIAR, LIAR (Friends to Lovers) ............................................... 704
Bryl R. Tyne – ALIPIO (Fantasy) ...................................................................... 714
Piper Vaughn – WANTING (First Love) ........................................................... 723
Missy Welsh – YOU AND BILLION BLUE TILES (First Love) ..................... 789
Eden Winters – SWEET DREAMS (Coming Out) ............................................ 821
Want more? ......................................................................................................... 840
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition                  5


J. P. Barnaby – END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT (First Love)
Genre: contemporary
Tags: virgin, May/December, apocalyptic,                            Dear Author,
impact event, tragedy, sex with a minor                             I found this picture and I
Words: 5,177                                                        think the two young guys
                                                                    could have been through
IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD                                           any number of things to get
                                                                    the point where we see
AS WE KNOW IT                                                       them.
by J. P. Barnaby                                                    [PHOTO: Two young men
                                                                    share a quiet moment on a
    ―The collision will occur at 10:38 Eastern                      bed. One, dark haired and
Standard Time this evening near the Indiana-                        wearing a tank top, lies on
                                                                    his back on the pillow. The
Ohio border just west of Fort Wayne. NASA
                                                                    other, shirtless and toned,
has deemed the asteroid a planet-killer and the                     braces over him. Their
devastation will be absolute. All attempts at                       foreheads touch, eyes
rerouting or destroying it have failed. President                   closed, faces still, nose
                                                                    brushing nose. The supine
Burns has declared a Federal State of                               man's hands close gently on
Emergency and authorities advise citizens to                        his lover's arms.]
stay in their homes for these last few hours of                     Sincerely,
civilization. WNIV will be going off the air to                     DH Starr
allow employees time to spend with their
families. Indeed, God help us all.‖
    The radio went dead as Will Southerland
lay on the floor staring at it, his heart racing as
he tried to come to terms with the
announcement. The impact had been a
possibility since astronomers first spotted the
asteroid three months before, but to hear the
finality in the disc jockey‘s voice terrified Will.
His mother and sister cried softly on the couch
somewhere above him while footsteps padded
on his other side as his father paced the length
of the living room in their small Chicago
condominium.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition     6


    ―I need to go get my mom,‖ Will‘s father said quickly. ―She is all
alone in the nursing home, and I want her here with us when…when
the end comes.‖
    ―Albert, you heard what they said,‖ his mother reasoned. ―I want
her here too, but what if something happens to you?‖ After a moment,
the absurdity of her statement apparently struck her. Of course, there
was a chance that he could die in his attempt to reach the nursing
home, but in the grander picture, he would be dead inside of twelve
hours anyway. With a resigned nod, she lifted her face to receive his
kiss. After grabbing his wallet, keys and the handgun he kept in a
locked drawer near their bed, former Marine Sergeant Albert
Southerland walked out the front door and locked it securely behind
him.
    The thunderous sound of his father‘s boots in the narrow hall
faded as his father reached the elevator. It took about twenty minutes
under normal circumstances to reach where Grandma Pat lived, but
these circumstances were anything but normal. Traffic was generally
light on their short monthly visits. If his father returned, it could take
hours. Will‘s stomach rolled and he looked around the room for
something to focus on. His mother and eleven-year-old sister Ella still
sat huddled together in a futile attempt to find comfort.
    ―Mama, will it hurt?‖ Ella asked in a small voice, her head resting
on their mother‘s shoulder.
    ―No, baby, I don‘t think it will,‖ Sarah Southerland told her sweet
daughter while rhythmically pushing the girl‘s short brown hair back
from her face and letting it fall again. Will thought the gesture
comforted his mother as much as it did his sister. Ella hadn‘t reached
the stage of teenage rebellion where her brother seemed to be
entrenched, and leaned into her mother‘s affection. For the first five
years of his life, Will had been the only child, the sole target of his
mother‘s love. His sister‘s birth had forced him to share the most
important person in his young life, but his relationship with his mother
deteriorated even further when he reached his teens and his sister
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition    7


grew into a miniature image of his mother. They had the same long,
shiny chocolate colored hair and almost waifish build. Ella had
inherited her mother‘s crystal blue eyes, which shone bright when she
laughed, while Will‘s were a dull, muddy brown. He‘d also been stuck
with his father‘s reddish-brown hair, and an infinite number of
freckles, making him feel perpetually stuck at the age of six. However
right then, he couldn‘t muster the normal resentment that he felt for
his family.
     The whole world had changed in the span of a heartbeat.
    Suddenly, the tiny living room with its fine antique furniture and
carefully selected décor seemed incredibly confining. The weight of
his mother‘s grief and his sister‘s fear made it hard for him to breathe.
His heart pounded at the idea that he would be dead before the world
could see another sunrise.
    ―I‘ll be in my room,‖ Will choked and stood up quickly, lurching
slightly as he staggered to his room. Once he closed the door, the
feeling of panic didn‘t diminish as he‘d hoped it would. Closing his
eyes, he began to pace from one side of the small room to the other.
As he passed the dock for his mp3 player, he considered turning on
some music, but didn‘t think he had anything in his playlists that
would help his mood. Each song would just remind him of all the
things he would never get to do. At sixteen-years-old, Will‘s life had
really just started, and in a few hours, it would end without giving him
the opportunity to experience anything on his own. He‘d spent his
entire life living in the shadow of his father‘s expectations. There
were so many things that he wanted to do—go to a concert, go to New
York, fall in love, and have sex with someone other than himself.
     Christ, he‘d never even kissed a guy.
    Will understood that he was gay, he‘d known for about a year
because that‘s when 4D moved into the building. He‘d had more wet
dreams about 4D than any underwear model or movie star he‘d ever
seen. The guy could have been a model, but judging by some of the
equipment Will had seen him bring up the elevator, he was an artist of
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   8


some kind. Probably in his late twenties or early thirties, the guy just
screamed sex. When his long brown hair wasn‘t tied back, he kept it
pulled behind delicate ears. Will loved when it was loose and spent a
great deal of time wondering what it would feel like between his
fingers while he gazed into the man‘s perfect face.
    One night after swimming practice, Will had been in the elevator
alone with 4D. The man had been on his cell phone for the entire four
floors they were together, talking in a melodious accent that sounded
Spanish. Will wondered what it might be like for him to cry out Will‘s
name, or beg in broken English for Will to suck him.
    As he rubbed himself lightly through baggy jeans, Will‘s reckless
fear of his own impending death suffused him with desperate courage.
He walked over to his overflowing closet and picked out the tightest
T-shirt and jeans he owned. Stripping completely, he put on the
clothes and added a large button down shirt to hide how snug they
were. He slid his small bottle of cologne into his pocket and walked
down the hall into the living room.
    ―Mom, I‘m going to go check on Mrs. Fitzsimmons and maybe sit
with her for a while. She shouldn‘t have to be alone tonight,‖ he lied,
trying to sound earnest and convincing. If 4D wasn‘t home, or didn‘t
want to let him in, maybe he would go see old lady Fitzsimmons. But
he was going to take his shot at 4D.
    ―That‘s sweet of you, Will. Why don‘t you ask her to come up
here with you?‖ his mother asked and continued to hold his sister on
the couch.
   ―I‘ll try, but you know how she is,‖ he chuckled. He could see his
mother was trying to decide if she wanted to let him out of her sight.
   ―I promise I won‘t leave the building,‖ he said, rolling his eyes
and faking exasperation.
    ―Okay, be back in a few hours,‖ she warned. Not wanting to give
his mother any reason to be suspicious, Will forced himself to walk
slowly out the door and down the hall to the elevator. Once inside, he
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   9


hit the button for the fourth floor and began to take off the huge shirt
as the doors started to close. Lifting the T-shirt, Will sprayed one
good dose of cologne on his chest and abs before he rubbed a little up
to his neck. The smell overpowered the small confines of the elevator,
but when he stepped off onto the fourth floor, it dissipated and he
walked down the hall towards 4D.
    As he stood in front of the door, Will wiped his sweaty palms on
his jeans and stared at the wood. It looked remarkably like his door,
and like the dozens of other doors on every other floor. He wanted to
raise his hand and knock, but he just couldn‘t make it move. For all of
the bravado he‘d felt in his room, it seemed to have failed him at the
crucial moment.
    Just when he‘d decided to head downstairs and visit the old lady
after all, the elevator opened and 4D stepped off. Nearly a head taller
than Will with a lightly muscled athletic body, he intimidated and
excited Will. As 4D approached his apartment, the man looked up and
Will saw a wild look on his face framed by long, loose waves of hair.
He stopped and shifted a small backpack higher onto his back.
   ―What are you doing in front of my door?‖ the older man barked.
Will jumped back immediately even as he wished to stand at the door
and listen to that beautiful accent. ―Were you looking to steal from
me?‖
    ―No!‖ Will replied desperately. The constant stutter of his heart
racing made him feel light-headed, and he couldn‘t understand how
things had gone so wrong in an instant.
     ―Then get away from there.‖
    Will took another step back and froze. The perfect opportunity to
talk to the object of all his fantasies was about to pass him by. He
would die without ever having known the feel of another man‘s touch.
   ―I came down here to see you,‖ Will whispered. The man stopped
and ran a hand through his shoulder-length hair. It looked as if he
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   10


were trying to decide if that explanation was true, his brow furrowed
and he rubbed his forehead lightly with one delicate hand.
    ―Why would you want to see me? You do not know me,‖ he
replied after a moment as he moved closer to the door in an obvious
gesture to shut Will out. The key scraped in the lock and Will knew it
would be his last chance.
    ―Because I think about you all the time,‖ Will said softly and felt
the blood rush to his face. The hallway suddenly heated ten degrees as
he stared at his feet. Silence hung heavy in the air while both of them
stood perfectly still. Will‘s embarrassment stopped his voice in his
throat, and it took a moment for the other shocked man to speak.
     ―Come inside, I think we should talk.‖
   Will followed him inside the apartment and looked around as the
man walked over to a nearby table and put his backpack on it.
Hovering nervously near the door, Will shifted his weight, almost
bouncing a little on balls of his feet. After focusing so much of his
energy and attention on getting into the apartment, Will had no idea
what to do. The small side table sitting next to the door rattled as he
bumped it. He looked down to see the table held keys, a cell phone
and mail.
     Stefan Chavez
    ―You can sit down,‖ Stefan said with a gesture toward a battered
futon on the far side of what looked like an artistic battle zone. The
space was so different from the one Will shared with his parents that it
could have been in a different building. Where his own living room
looked like a museum for antique furniture, Stefan‘s had been cleared
of almost every piece of furniture to make space for his work. Pieces
of clay, pencils and sketchbooks were scattered throughout the room
like casualties of war. Half-empty bottles of liquor littered the
breakfast bar around a closed pizza box. The kitchen appeared barren,
but the garbage can teemed. Will passed the kitchen door and noticed
takeout bags and containers sitting idly on the top of the heap,
threatening to spill their greasy contents onto the faded tile floor.
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Navigating the dust and debris, he walked gingerly to the futon where
Stefan sat. Will tucked a leg beneath him and sat down. The wooden
frame of the futon was nicked in some places and gouged in others,
and Will wondered if maybe the guy had pulled it from a dump
somewhere.
    Sitting in the artistic ground zero, Will was better able to see the
supplies and projects that sat placed randomly throughout the space.
He noticed a larger sculpture sitting off to the side and his breath
caught. The figure only consisted of a torso, no head or legs, but it
was that of a nude man. The smooth muscle and detailed lines made
Will wonder what it would feel like to have the hands that created it
on his body.
    ―Tell me why you are here, today of all days,‖ Stefan prompted as
he turned, pulling a leg up into the space between them, and looked at
Will intently. He rested one strong arm on the back of the futon and
waited for an answer. Rather than looking at Stefan, Will stared at the
futon cover and slowly fingered a hole in the frayed cover beneath
him.
    When Will did not speak, Stefan tried again as he started to lose
patience.
     ―Look, we don‘t have a lot of time here…‖
    ―I‘ve never… I want…,‖ Will stammered and closed his eyes as
he tried to calm his racing heart. ―I‘ve never been with anyone, and I
don‘t want to die without knowing what that‘s like.‖ His face flamed,
and he felt his whole body go warm in the following silence. Picking
at the futon cover seemed far easier than looking up into the face of
the man next to him. After what seemed like hours, Stefan spoke.
    ―I‘m flattered, honestly, but you are a child,‖ he said gently. That
was probably the only thing that Stefan could have said to make Will
look up.
    ―I am not a child. I‘m nearly seventeen,‖ he said, the sting evident
in his voice.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   12


   ―And I am thirty, nearly twice your age. Do you have no friends
your own age that you could…‖ Stefan trailed off, but Will
understood.
    ―None of my friends know I‘m gay. I guess that doesn‘t matter
now, but I don‘t…I don‘t want them,‖ he finished in a whisper.
―And…and I don‘t want you to be alone when it comes.‖ That
stopped Stefan from whatever he had planned to say. He closed his
mouth and looked at Will, a soft speculative look gracing his fine
features.
     ―Do you even know my name? I do not know yours.‖
  ―Stefan,‖ Will said looking up with real hope shining in his eyes.
―My name is William, everyone calls me Will.‖
     ―Come here, Will,‖
    Stefan‘s voice sounded quiet above the muted chaos from the
street. Will hesitated only a moment before sliding to his left and into
the center of the futon. He could feel the heat of Stefan‘s body
growing as the older man moved closer to the center, closer to Will.
     ―Have you ever kissed another man?‖ Stefan‘s breath caused
goose bumps as he asked the question against the skin of Will‘s
throat. He shook his head because he didn‘t trust his voice and found
it hard to breathe with Stefan so close.
    ―Let us start there,‖ he murmured against Will‘s cheek as he
moved closer. The boy nodded, turning his head slightly, and was
rewarded when strong, confident lips closed over his own. Nothing
could have prepared him for the overwhelming sensations that raced
through him. As the kiss deepened, and Will felt a warm tongue enter
his mouth, he started to get hard. A deep moan reverberated through
his chest, caught by Stefan‘s waiting mouth as it escaped.
    With a boldness he didn‘t know he possessed, Will lifted a hand
and stroked Stefan‘s face with his fingers. The skin was soft and
smooth was inviting under Will‘s fingers, so he pushed his limits
farther and caressed Stefan‘s tangle of brown curls. In his dreams,
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   13


he‘d never been able to appreciate the silken texture as the tendrils
wrapped around his fingers. To his delight, Stefan rewarded him with
a quiet sound of pleasure.
    Instead of merely moving closer to Stefan, Will swung a thin leg
over Stefan‘s lap while never breaking their kiss. Stefan responded by
sliding his hands down Will‘s back and cupping his ass through the
thin jeans. The man‘s hands were hot against Will‘s skin and he
ground his hips down, rubbing their groins together with a long moan.
Skilled hands slid under the back of Will‘s T-shirt and pulled it up
until he had no choice but to break the kiss and allow Stefan to
remove it.
    ―I had thought to send you away with a kiss, But, I do not think I
have the strength,‖ Stefan murmured quietly into his ear and trapped
Stefan‘s mouth in another kiss.
    ―I don‘t want you to send me away,‖ Will replied between long,
heated kisses. He wanted to crawl inside Stefan and never leave.
    ―I want to take you to bed,‖ the older man whispered. Even as
Stefan said it, Will nodded into the kiss.
    It had been so long since Stefan felt someone want him as that boy
did. Looking down into Will‘s nervous eyes, Stefan seemed to lose
himself. Their warm caramel color drew him in, as did the boy‘s
sweet untouched skin. Stefan had to admit that Will‘s attraction made
the most potent aphrodisiac. To take an innocent kid and show him all
the carnal pleasures men could find in each other had to be the perfect
way to spend his remaining hours of life. In a sixteen-year-old boy,
Stefan would find solace.
    Stefan felt a shiver run through Will as the boy‘s mouth closed
again over his own.
    ―Let‘s go into my bedroom,‖ Stefan murmured against Will‘s lips
as he broke the kiss long enough to speak. Neither of them was
willing to lose contact even for the time it took to move to the
bedroom. Stefan followed the kid‘s lips, and arched against Will as
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   14


they rose off the futon. Every moment wasted brought them one more
minute closer to death.
    As they stood kissing in front of the futon, Stefan hunched to meet
Will as he stood on his toes. Finally, Stefan pulled away and took
Will‘s hand, leading the way down the short hall to the only bedroom
in his small condo. Clothes lay scattered on the floor and his bed was
unmade, but he didn‘t care and it appeared that Will didn‘t either. In a
shy desperation, the boy pushed Stefan back gently and he sat on the
edge of the bed. Pulling Will to stand between his wide-spread knees,
Stefan moved his tender kisses over the boy‘s chest and down to his
navel. Given a few more years, Will would have grown into a strong,
well-defined man, but right then he was thin and soft under Stefan‘s
lips. Stefan was used to hard muscled abs, and the contrast excited
Stefan, reminding him of Will‘s youth and inexperience.
    ―Are you sure?‖ Stefan asked as he looked up through long black
lashes. at his young companion. Will swallowed once, nodded and ran
his trembling fingers through Stefan‘s curls. The older man popped
the button on Will‘s jeans and closed his eyes, touched by the
affectionate stroking of his hair. When he pulled the pants open and
found nothing beneath, it surprised him, but he didn‘t hesitate. He ran
his lips over the boy‘s hip, and down over his groin to the untamed
course hair peeking above the zipper.
    ―That is sexy,‖ he moaned against the tender skin beneath his lips
and felt Will‘s breath catch. Stefan carefully pulled down the boy‘s
jeans, unwrapping his long, thin cock like a gift. He helped Will step
out of the pants and pulled off his socks, leaving him naked and
vulnerable.
    ―Lay down, baby,‖ Stefan whispered and pulled the shaking boy
into his bed as he stood up. With his eyes never leaving Will‘s, he
unbuttoned his shirt and watched the boy‘s eyes grow wide with each
successive button. When he removed his jeans and boxers, the boy
swallowed hard at the sight of Stefan‘s erection jutting from his lean,
toned body. He‘d had his share of admirers over the years, but, no one
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition     15


had ever looked at him with such raw emotion, such unguarded desire.
It gave him chills.
   He crawled in bed with Will, but rather than taking the boy in his
arms, he lay next to him with his feet pressed against the pillow next
to Will‘s head. Propped up on one arm, he wasted no time taking
Will‘s straining cock into his mouth. Licking the bit of liquid that had
accumulated on the tip, Stefan swirled his coarse tongue around the
head and heard the boy whimper. The sound, an almost high-pitched
whine suffused with need, made his cock ache.
     ―Touch me,‖ Stefan pleaded in a low voice before feeling a
hesitant hand rest on his bare thigh. When it moved no further, he
reached down, took the hand in his own and wrapped it around his
cock. Taking Will‘s erection further into his mouth, Stefan stroked his
own cock with the boy‘s hand for several long minutes before finally
letting go. Will continued with clumsy, unsure motions that made
Stefan‘s heart race. He could hear the boy‘s labored breathing and the
sounds he failed to suppress, but he wanted to hear the boy scream.
    Rubbing his lips up and down the length of Will‘s dick as he
bobbed his head, Stefan pushed the boy‘s legs wider apart, baring
everything to his gaze. Will‘s back arched and his slow, awkward
stroking stuttered, but he started again in an instant. With light, gentle
fingers, he caressed the boy‘s sensitive balls—weighing them,
massaging them, and soon he wanted to taste them.
    ―Oh my God,‖ Will cried in a breathless whisper as Stefan stroked
his wet dick with one deft hand while dragging a hot tongue over the
sensitive skin of his balls. Will‘s hand stopped moving on his cock as
the boy tensed all over, and for a moment, Stefan thought maybe the
kid would come, but he didn‘t. Instead he panted as if he‘d just run for
miles, the muscles in his legs remaining taut. Stefan smiled to himself
and pulled back long enough to lubricate a finger with saliva before
taking Will‘s cock back into his mouth. The boy‘s entire body stilled
again as Stefan slid gentle fingers into the cleft of Will‘s ass and
spread him open. Yelping quietly when the slick finger entered him,
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   16


Will clenched around it as he was penetrated for the first time. Stefan
sucked Will‘s cock deep into his throat attempting to get the boy to
relax. After several minutes, Stefan‘s finger was all the way inside,
and he moved it around gently… searching.
     The boy whined suddenly and grabbed fistfuls of the sheet
beneath him as Stefan smiled around his cock. Will had let go of
Stefan‘s cock to grab the sheet, but his reaction to having his prostate
rubbed was even hotter than the feeling of his hand. Unable to keep
still, the boy squirmed against the bed and spread his legs farther
apart. Planting his feet on the bed, he pushed up into Stefan‘s mouth,
chasing that all encompassing pleasure, losing all control.
    Stefan took Will‘s thrusts and rubbed the small pleasure spot
inside Will as he bucked against the bed. The boy‘s cries grew louder,
inarticulate and unfocused while his body locked in a sharp jerk.
Stefan tasted the warm, salty release on his tongue as he swallowed
around Will‘s pulsing cock. His own cock swelled and threatened to
spill just from the sounds the beautiful boy made, but he kept himself
in control.
   When Will finally started to relax and fell back against the
mattress, Stefan released Will‘s cock go with a slight pop and the kid
groaned.
    ―That was… I‘ve never… Oh my God,‖ he said weakly and then
laid an arm over his flushed face. ―But I wanted for us to, you
know…‖
    ―We will, do not worry. That will make it easier,‖ Stefan
explained as he turned and lay down next to Will. When the older man
opened his arms, the boy scrambled into them and rested his damp
face on Stefan‘s chest. He held Will, relishing the feeling of the nude
boy against him before pressing his lips against Will‘s ear.
    ―I want to be so deep inside you,‖ Stefan whispered before turning
Will onto his stomach. ―I want you to be able to feel me there every
minute we have left.‖ Will moaned at the words and wrapped his arms
around the pillow beneath his head. Stefan rolled off the bed and
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   17


grabbed a bottle from his bedside table. They wouldn‘t need condoms,
not when they would be dead in a few hours anyway. He wanted to
feel every bit of the boy‘s ass as he fucked it.
    Pouring a generous amount of lube onto his fingers, he capped the
bottle in his hand and set it next to him on the bed. Settling between
the boys‘s outstretched legs, he felt the soft rounded ass before him,
watching it open beneath his touch. Stefan noticed a tremble in Will‘s
legs, and slid one finger into Will as he‘d done before while rubbing
the boy‘s hip to reassure him.
     ―Relax, I just want to make you feel good,‖ Stefan told Will and
felt the boy‘s posture relax slightly until he added a second finger. As
he stretched the impossibly tight muscle, Stefan could hear Will‘s
mewling whimpers muffled by the pillow. The sounds gradually
turned into deep surrendering moans when Stefan found his prostate
once again and stroked it with a slow agonizing rhythm.
    ―Are you ready?‖ he asked Will and the boy nodded. Carefully, he
pulled his fingers out and replaced them with the blunt head of his
dick. Reaching forward, he grabbed the boy‘s hips and lifted him
halfway onto his knees. Will‘s back curved beautifully in a wanton
posture. Stefan held the boy‘s hips, pushed forward and felt his cock
breach the tiny entrance. Will gave a wail of pain and tried to move
away from the intrusion.
    ―Shhhhh… It‘s okay, baby, it only hurts for a minute,‖ Stefan
reassured him, and the boy stopped trying to pull away. The heat
around his cock made Stefan‘s legs weak as he fought not to pound
the kid into the mattress.
    ―I‘m going to go a little deeper, just breathe.‖ Stefan heard Will
take a deep breath and saw his back expand slightly. He gripped the
boy‘s hips and moved forward, deeper into Will‘s body.
    ―I don‘t know if I can… if I can do this,‖ Will whimpered,
sounding close to tears. Stefan pulled back and made several very
shallow thrusts, not willing to go deeper until Will was ready. After
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   18


about half a dozen pumps, he heard Will‘s sounds start to change
again. Instead of a tearful whine, he heard a low agonized groan.
   ―Is it getting better?‖ he asked the boy, still not penetrating him
any deeper.
    ―Yeah… Feels… feels good,‖ Will moaned. Stefan took the
opportunity to fuck him in earnest. Releasing the boy‘s hips, he
covered Will‘s body, propping himself on his hands, and lost himself.
With his lips next to Will‘s ear, he spoke to him in a low breathless
voice.
   ―You feel so good, like you were made for my cock.‖ Stefan
punctuated his statement with a deep thrust, forcing a deep moan from
Will.
   ―Reach down and stroke yourself for me. I want to feel you come
when I fill you up,‖ Stefan murmured and felt Will shift beneath him.
The chaos of the streets below, the impending disaster, none of it
mattered in that moment. For them, all that mattered were Stefan and
Will. He could still taste the boy‘s last orgasm in his mouth as he
drove his hips harder into Will.
    ―Later, I want to have you lie back in my bed and make yourself
come for me so I can watch. You are beautiful,‖ he whispered as he
kissed the back of the boy‘s neck. Will began to tense, and Stefan
knew that Will was close to coming.
    ―That‘s… it… feel how… deep I…‖ he managed between labored
breaths just before Will groaned beneath him and his firm young body
locked, his ass clamped around Stefan. Sweat trickled down the boy‘s
back and Stefan bit the back of Will‘s shoulder as he abandoned
himself to the animalistic coupling. Wrapping his arms around the
boy, Stefan drove relentlessly into him, taking his orgasm from the
depths of Will‘s soul.
    A molten wave of pleasure washed through Stefan and out
through his cock, buried deep in Will‘s clenching ass. Tears rolled
down his face as he sobbed in his release. The stress of the day, the
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition      19


fear of their impending deaths, and the sadness that filled his heart
erupted from him and he pressed his face between Will‘s shoulder
blades looking for comfort.
    They made love for hours under the setting sun, each new delight
taught young Will what it was to feel another man‘s touch. Whether
he rode Stefan or kissed him deeply as he drove his eager cock into
the older man, he thanked God for the privilege.
    Stefan woke with his arms around the boy, clutching Will to his
chest. A fiery light burned with the intensity of the sun as it streaked
through the sky.
   A moment later, a terrifying shudder ripped through the ground,
and the world went black.
THE END
     Author bio: Erotic fiction is more than just moans, grunts and
physical pleasure. To J.P. Barnaby, erotic fiction consists not only of
the mechanics of physical love, but the complex characters and
relationships that lead to those all-encompassing feelings of need and
longing. Sex without context is merely sex—but sex coupled with
attraction, with explosive repercussions—that is good erotic fiction.
J.P. authors all different kinds of erotic fiction including gay, straight,
male, female, BDSM, sweet, romantic and dark.
    As a bisexual woman, J.P. is a proud member of the GLBT
community both online and in her small town on the outskirts of
Chicago. A member of Mensa, she is described as brilliant but
troubled, sweet but introverted, and talented but deviant. She spends
her days writing software and her nights writing erotica, which is, of
course, far more interesting. The spare time that she carves out
between her career and her novels is spent reading about the concept
of love, which, like some of her characters, she has never quite
figured out for herself.
     Website: http://www.jpbarnaby.com
     Twitter: @JPBarnaby
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition                   20


L.C. Chase – OPEN TACKLE (Friends to Lovers)
Genre: contemporary
Tags: friends-to-lovers, college, football,                         Dear Author,
athletes, first-time                                                I can't tell you how long I've
Words: 6,410                                                        wanted a story to go along
                                                                    with this picture. I love the
OPEN TACKLE                                                         thought that they have been
                                                                    friends forever and just
by L.C. Chase                                                       couldn't resist each other
                                                                    anymore.
    I love you.
                                                                    [PHOTO: Two shirtless
    The words bounced around inside Rory‘s                          young men lay on top of
skull like ping-pong balls in a wind tunnel.                        each other, the one on top
                                                                    with his pants pushed down
     I love you.
                                                                    to expose his butt, kissing on
    Did Owen really say that? Like he meant it                      a grassy field. A football
                                                                    rests in the grass next to
in a non-brotherly, non-best-friend, I-want-to-
                                                                    them.]
get-naked-with-you way?
                                                                    I would be forever grateful
    Rory kicked off the covers, threw his legs                      if you could help me out!!
over the edge of the bed and groaned when he                        Sincerely,
glanced at the clock radio on his night table.                      Nic
Such an innocuous, inanimate object, yet it
begged for his fist as it tauntingly displayed
4:47am in obnoxious digital green. He‘d hardly
slept more than an hour in fits and starts since
Owen had dropped the L-bomb on him and then
run for the hills.
     He rolled out of bed, pulled on a pair of
cotton briefs that were lying on the floor and
wandered across the small room. From the
bedroom window of his third-story apartment,
he could see Folsom Stadium, painted with the
first blush of a sunrise kiss. Beyond the main
CU-Boulder campus the infamous Flatirons
reached for the heavens in all their glory. It was
five miles from his apartment to the university,
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   21


but in the clear mile-high Colorado air it appeared as close as crossing
the block.
  He could even see the campus dorms. Where he used to live with
Owen.
    He exhaled a heavy sigh. The gust of hot, moist breath collided
with the cool glass surface and created a thin fog that clouded his
view. He drew an O in the center with his fingertip and watched it
vanish. A secret message left behind for discovery.
    Last night, seven sleepless hours ago, Owen Harris, his very best
friend, told Rory he loved him. To say Rory had been stunned was an
understatement. He‘d fought saying those very words himself for so
long now, dreamed of hearing them tumble off Owen‘s enticing
tongue to lick the shell of his ear. When he finally did hear them his
brain short-circuited, throat closed, heart stopped. That the dream had
manifested into reality was beyond surreal.
     Especially considering Owen wasn‘t even gay.
     Or so Rory had believed.
    Rory‘s mental engine had stuttered and coughed as the ignition
fought to fire. Coherent thought and speech danced just beyond his
reach and left him sitting there, staring at Owen like he was from
another planet, speaking a foreign language. Frozen with the
overwhelming desire that what he was hearing was true, and
paralyzed with the fear that he‘d had a few too many tequila shots and
imagined his friend‘s declaration.
     But Owen, always quick to conclusion, took his silence as
rejection. I‘m sorry, he said as his beautiful brown eyes began to
glitter with moisture. I am so sorry, he repeated before he turned and
ran from the sports bar.
    When Rory‘s motor finally kicked in and spurred him into action,
he raced through the front doors and spilled out onto a near-deserted
Pearl Street. Owen was gone.
     I love you.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition      22


    Rory braced his hands on either side of the window frame and
leaned his forehead against the glass. Almost twenty years they‘d
known each other. Almost twenty years they‘d been inseparable. Ever
since the cute little brunet with the big puppy-dog eyes moved in two
doors down and they became instant best friends. They did everything
and went everywhere together. They finished each other‘s sentences,
and had learned that innate ability of silent communication generally
reserved for old married couples.
    Then puberty hit Rory like a semi-truck, and he started to notice
things about Owen he was pretty sure most boys didn‘t notice about
other boys. Things like how long and thick his best friend‘s eyelashes
were, or the high cheekbones they fanned. The guileless brown eyes
flecked with gold, and the burning red that shimmered in fine threads
through rich tawny hair when the summer sun fingered the shaggy
locks. Long fingers that graced strong hands -- hands he‘d spent far
too much time imagining what they would feel like caressing his bare
skin. And for the next four years, Rory walked around in a constant
state of arousal.
    He‘d so badly wanted to tell Owen what was going on with him,
the feelings raging inside, but he was terrified of losing his best friend.
Owen was his other half. The thought of losing him, losing the
friendship they shared, that effortless connection, was unbearable.
That they both played offense on the high school football team -- a
team racked with testosterone-overdosed he-men, where Rory Ballard
was the star quarterback and Owen the star wide receiver -- also had
the potential to put both their scholarships at risk.
   There was no way he could come out to the one person in the
world he should have been able to. So he mastered the art of denial.
Almost believed it himself.
     Until college.
    Sharing a dorm room like they‘d always planned had quickly
become a living hell. Owen had added another four inches to his
height and filled out, putting him just an inch taller than Rory‘s six
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   23


feet three, and twenty pounds of solid muscle heavier. He was the
most beautiful man Rory had ever seen. That long, lithe body was a
sculptor‘s dream. And because Rory wasn‘t the sculptor, and never
would be, he began to pull away.
    Sensing something wasn‘t right, Owen tried to understand, tried to
help, but every time he asked what was wrong, Rory said he was just
tired. College life, studies and the football team were a lot to keep up
with. Every concerned touch that followed -- a hand on his back, an
arm over his shoulder, a smack on the ass at practice -- became a stick
poking a hornet‘s nest. Until finally, Owen sitting beside him on his
bed, rubbing slow circles on Rory‘s back with that big strong hand,
the two of them wearing nothing more than workout shorts, bare
thighs touching, had snapped the bounds of Rory‘s rapidly thinning
resolve.
    He saw himself pushing his best friend back on the bed, straddling
his hips and sinking into that hard, pliant body. And right on the heels
of that image, the deafening rattle of walls when the door slammed
behind Owen‘s retreating back, leaving Rory in the dust with a hole in
his chest that would never heal.
    He‘d shot off the bed like he‘d been stuck with a cattle prod, and
made the most heartbreaking decision of his entire life -- he moved
out of the dorm he shared with his best friend, and pushed the only
person who meant anything in his whole life further away.
     I love you.
     Sudden anger welled up inside Rory with frightening intensity.
Owen knew him better than that. Should have known no matter what
he said, Rory wouldn‘t judge, wouldn‘t turn away from him. Rory
promptly shut down the little voice in the back of his mind that tried
point out the obvious. He didn‘t want to hear it. Didn‘t want to face
the fact that while Owen should have known better, he should have
too.
     It was a bitter dish. He wasn‘t hungry.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   24


    ―Fuck this,‖ Rory said in a muted voice. He grabbed his black and
gold Colorado Buffaloes jersey with Ballard and the number fifteen
on the back in white stenciled letters, off the back of his desk chair.
He punched his legs into a pair of jeans he‘d retrieved from the floor,
slipped his feet into a pair of running shoes, grabbed his wallet and
keys, and stormed out of the apartment.
     THE TEMPERATURE WAS still comfortable in the early
morning light, the world still in peaceful repose when he started
walking. When walking quickly proved not enough to ebb his anger
he started to jog, accelerated into run, and kicked it up another gear
into a full-out sprint. Breath wheezed harsh and loud through his
throat, lungs heaved in desperation to meet the demands for increased
oxygen. Thighs burned and threatened to give out with every bone-
jarring strike against the unforgiving pavement. Sweat flooded from
his pores, drying into salty crystals on his skin as the arid climate
sucked the fluids from his body almost as fast as he expelled it. His
gritty eyes watered and vision doubled.
     But he was not crying. Rory Ballard did not cry.
    He passed through the gates of Folsom Field and collapsed on his
back on the twenty-yard line. He hadn‘t intended to go to the field,
didn‘t want to. But his feet led him there regardless, just as the sun
had begun to stretch out over the horizon. Cool, dew-tipped grass
molded to his frame and cradled him, while his chest heaved and
strained muscles twitched from the intense morning exertion. He
kicked off his shoes and socks so his sweaty feet could breathe, but
didn‘t have the energy to sit up and take his jersey off.
     If Owen had only stayed at the bar, if only he‘d answered his
phone the million times Rory had called last night, this could all be
settled in one sentence.
    Rory lost track of how long he laid there on the field, distantly
aware that the sun had risen higher and the surface temperature of his
skin increased. Familiar sounds of the world waking around him
danced on the edge of his eardrums -- morning birds chatted their
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition    25


merry tune, insects buzzed, the oscillating hum of vehicles moving to
and fro. His gaze followed an arcing contrail as it faded into a
gossamer brush stroke across a canvas of fathomless deep blue.
    Something hard struck his elbow, giving his heart a start. He
turned his head to find a football rocking to a halt by his side. He
reached for the ball and turned it in his hands, then cradled it to his
chest and let a long breath whistle through his teeth. He raised his
gaze in the direction the ball had come from, and collided with a pair
of sorrel-colored eyes. The same eyes that looked at him with love
and desire in every single dream that had featured the only man he
ever longed for.
    Owen stood near the benches wearing a Buffs team T-shirt,
stretched tight across a chiseled, broad chest and solid biceps. Dark
blue sweatpants hung low on a narrow waist. Red diamond highlights
sparkled in spiky dark hair. Rory‘s heart stuttered for a whole
different reason.
   Gaze unwavering, Owen moved silently into position thirty yards
away. He planted his feet shoulder-width apart on the fifty-yard line,
arms deceivingly relaxed at his side, and waited.
    It had been their private ritual, started after their first home game
when they played for the Rocky Mountain Lobos in high school. The
morning after every game since, they‘d meet on the field to toss the
ball before the daily demands of life came calling -- reliving the
previous night‘s game, shooting the shit, talking about anything and
everything that came to mind. Just the two of them cocooned in an
empty, 50,000-seat stadium -- the world beyond its concrete walls
non-existent.
    ―I‘m an idiot,‖ Rory mumbled to himself. He looked back to the
cerulean heavens for contradiction. The sky returned a mocking stare
at him, as if to say, Like that's a news flash?
    Suddenly, it all became crystal clear, like he‘d been wandering
around having forgotten to take the protective plastic off the lens of
his vision. All the times Owen had reached out for Rory, all the subtle
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   26


ways he‘d tried to say through touch what he couldn‘t say with words.
But Rory was so dead set on denial he‘d missed every single signal.
He mistook the caress of a hopeful lover as nothing more than the
kindness of a good friend. How many years had they danced around
each other? How many times had he misread Owen‘s friendship and
pushed him further and further way, afraid he couldn‘t control his
desires -- not realizing Owen had wanted the same thing all along?
   You‘re an idiot and a chickenshit, Rory Ballard. No disagreement
from above.
    With a self-depreciating huff, Rory heaved his complaining body
off the ground and shook the grass from the back of his jersey. He
cradled the ball in his hands a moment, watching Owen, the tension
radiating off his tall body a tangible thing. Rory cupped the pointed
end of the ball in his right hand, angled his shoulder back, and let the
ball fly. Owen deftly caught it. His honed, naturally athletic form
moved with the effortless, enviable grace that made him a highlight
reel darling, and returned the toss.
    For the next half hour, the only sound was that of a leather ball
whistling through the air as it volleyed back and forth, and the steady
beat of a sunlit heart.
    They‘d paused only once by unspoken mutual agreement, to pull
their shirts overhead and toss them aside as the morning temperature
continued its relentless march toward the century mark.
    Finally, Rory tucked the ball under an arm instead of returning the
toss, and wiped the heel of his hand across his forehead. ―You‘re my
best friend, Owen.‖
    Owen looked down, seemingly finding something intriguing about
his running shoes. ―I‘m so sorry, Ror.‖ He glanced up briefly, afraid
to hold contact. ―You‘re my best friend too, and I-- I miss you.‖
     Rory took a step forward. ―You got nothing to be sorry for.‖
   ―No. I was drunk and feeling sorry for myself and didn‘t know
what I was saying,‖ his best friend pleaded, eyes downcast, shoulders
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   27


rolled forward. ―You know I-- I do…love you. But you know, like
brothers.‖
    Rory‘s next step faltered. A hairline crack zigzagged over the
surface of his heart and threatened to split it open. ―Brothers?‖
   Owen nodded and flashed a quick, anxious glance over Rory‘s
shoulder; hands shoved deep into the pockets of his sweatpants. He
was lying. Rory knew it to the core of his soul. Owen meant it.
    ―You‘re such a dumb-ass,‖ Rory yelled across the open space
between them, making sure the smile in his voice was clear. Owen
twitched but didn‘t raise his gaze. ―Don‘t you think I know when
you‘re lying? Did you ever think I might feel the same?‖
    Owen‘s head shot up, and a comet of hope streaked across his
dark eyes. ―You aren‘t gay.‖
    ―Neither are you.‖ Rory started walking again when Owen snorted
in response, determined and confident as he crossed the thirty-yard
line. ―What if I told you that I loved you? What if I told you that I
wanted you?‖
    ―Do you?‖ Owen‘s voice cut and shook like he‘d veered off the
side of the highway and hit a rumble strip. His gaze dropped back to
the ground.
    ―I do,‖ Rory said, willing Owen to hear his heart in his voice. He
stepped over the forty-yard line. ―More than anything in this world.‖
  Two more strides, the distance closed rapidly. ―What do you want,
Owen?‖
    Owen‘s chest rose and fell with quick, shallow breaths. Skin
glistened burnished gold in the late morning sun. Around his neck, a
carved greenstone pendant in the shape of a triple twisted figure eight
hung by a thin strip of black suede, reflected brightly. The pendant
rested just below the hollow of his neck, and matched the one Rory
wore. They‘d gotten the necklaces when they‘d taken a trip to New
Zealand after high school, to celebrate their football scholarships. The
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   28


path of life, it was called, the Maori symbol meaning two people
bonded for life by friendship and loyalty.
     Distance closed. Rory stood on one side of the fifty-yard line,
Owen on the other. The narrow chalk-white line separated their bodies
by mere inches. Tension sizzled in the heavy air between them, and
still Owen didn‘t raise his gaze when he began, ―I want…‖
     ―What?‖
     Owen mumbled; his words lost on a rising breeze.
     ―O…‖
    ―You.‖ Owen raised his gaze and locked onto Rory‘s. Brown eyes
dark and intense, the way Rory had always dreamed Owen would look
at him. Owen squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, voice low,
strong and sure when he said, ―You, Rory. I want you.‖
    RORY DIDN‘T KNOW who reached for whom first, only knew
that Owen‘s strong arms wrapped tight around his waist, and his arms
wrapped around Owen. Their bodies clapped together with enough
force to push the air from their lungs, and just before their lips met,
Owen froze.
    Breaths rapid and harsh mingled in the sliver that separated them
from complete head-to-toe contact. The sharp scent of mint and
arousing scent of male, of Owen, gusted over Rory‘s cheek and teased
his senses. The heated press of Owen‘s bare chest against his, seared
through skin and tissue and muscle and bone, setting fire to the
marrow within. Electric tingles raced the length of Rory‘s tall frame
and blood began its instinctive descent south. Rory moved a hand to
cradle the back of Owen‘s head, tunneled his fingers into the silky
locks, damp with sweat, and tentatively pressed his mouth to Owen‘s.
He waited for Owen to respond, and barely a heartbeat later, Owen
leaned into the kiss.
   The first kiss. The kiss he‘d dreamed of since he was thirteen
years old. Owen‘s lips were soft as satin, hot as caramel on apple pie,
and tasted just as mouth-wateringly sweet. They moved gently across
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition    29


his own -- tasting, testing, teasing -- and when they parted Rory didn‘t
hesitate to accept the invitation. He swept his tongue inside and slid it
against Owen‘s. He reveled in the subtle, rough texture on the surface
and smooth underside as they twined around one another. A ragged
moan rose up between them. Rory wasn‘t sure which of them it had
emanated from, but it didn‘t matter. The only thing that mattered was
Owen in his arms. That lean muscular body pressed to his, every angle
and ridge of bone and muscle fit into place as though it were made for
only him.
    Owen‘s large hands burned a path up and down the expanse of
Rory‘s back from the base of his neck to the rise of his ass. Scissoring
hands in either direction, Owen held the back of Rory‘s head, slanting
their angle to deepen the kiss that had yet to break -- breathing be
damned -- and cupped one butt cheek with the other, squeezing hard
as he rocked his hips into Rory. The rigid, unyielding length of
Owen‘s erection rode against Rory‘s and a guttural growl that seemed
to come from the very ground beneath them, vibrated against Rory‘s
skin as it surged up through Owen‘s chest.
    And then Owen forced his hands between them. The heel of one
hand followed the outline of Rory‘s cock through the thin denim,
while the other frantically worked at releasing the button. Rory rolled
his pelvis back only far enough to give Owen the room he needed to
complete the task. He wanted the material that separated the last of
their bodies gone. He wanted Owen to take him in hand and wrench
every day of the last seven longing years from his body.
    Owen tucked his hands beneath the waistband of Rory‘s briefs,
and pushed them and his jeans down together. Hot sun attacked his
bare ass and he shivered. His cock sprang free of its constrictive
confines and reached for Owen instinctively. The rough heat of
Owen‘s hand wrapped around his shaft and Rory jerked forward, a
heartbeat away from coming right then and there.
    Rory broke the kiss for the first time and between gasping pants,
said on a hoarse voice, ―Holy. Fuck. Owen.‖ He clamped his hands
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   30


around Owen‘s wrists, hooked a heel behind Owen‘s knee, and with a
quick push-pull, tackled his dazed best friend to the ground before he
had a chance to register what was happening.
    Owen‘s big body hit the forgiving turf with a startled grunt as
Rory landed on top of him, still gripping tightly to Owen‘s wrists.
Rory pushed Owen‘s legs apart with his knees and settled into the
welcoming space between them. Owen looked up at Rory, his eyes
dark and heavy-lidded with lust, his breath coming in shallow puffs,
his heart pounding powerfully against Rory‘s chest. ―I‘ve wanted this
so long,‖ Owen whispered, his deep reedy voice dripping with desire.
He clenched his hands into fists against Rory‘s unyielding hold. ―Kiss
me, Ror.‖
    And Rory did. This time it wasn‘t a gentle exploration. This was a
frantic, mindless, desperate claiming. This was the release of too
many years being denied; too many years of swallowing back what he
craved most. Rory devoured Owen‘s mouth, sucked and swirled the
length of his tongue, scraped and ground their teeth together. Lips
swollen and hypersensitive pulsed with the rapid bass drum beat of his
heart. Rory felt like he was trying to climb inside and still it wasn‘t
close enough.
    He rocked his hips into Owen, who bucked to meet each thrust in
equal measure. Owen tried again to free his hands from Rory‘s hold,
but Rory kept him pinned tight to the ground while he had his way
with that beautiful mouth. Too long he‘d wanted. Too long he‘d
needed. Now that he had Owen right where he wanted him, there was
no way in hell he was letting go.
    With a rumbling growl, Owen arched his body up off the ground
and forcibly flipped them over, but instead of straddling Rory, he
yanked him by the hands and hauled him to his feet. Rory swayed for
a brief second while his equilibrium balanced itself, and then Owen
was dragging him toward the locker rooms.
    ―What the hell, O?‖ Rory squawked as he held his pants up with
his free hand and stumbled behind, trying not to trip over his own feet.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   31


     ―Can‘t wait, Ror.‖ Owen sounded nearly panicked. ―Can‘t wait.‖
     Rory laughed. He couldn‘t wait either.
    The slap of Rory‘s bare feet and softer pound of Owen‘s rubber-
soled ones, echoed off the tunnel walls as they ran from the field and
into the empty locker room. Owen released Rory‘s hand as soon as
they were inside the door and dove for a garbage can along the wall.
    ―Doorbell,‖ he said as he rolled the large can in front of the door.
―Just in case.‖
    Rory opened his mouth to tell Owen that was a good idea, but
before he could get a word out, Owen was on him. His mouth fused to
Rory‘s in an aggressive, demanding kiss. More hands than seemed
possible dug into bare skin, tunneled through hair and tugged; shoved
at his jeans until they shackled his ankles and threatened to topple him
as Owen back-walked him. His calves hit one of three leather couches
at the far end of the room, where the team gathered to study practice
and game videos with their coaches.
    The second Rory‘s butt sank into the plush leather Owen began
tugging his jeans over his feet. Owen stood there, staring down at
Rory, his desire palpable; jeans still in clutched his hand all but
forgotten. ―Heaven above…‖
     Rory held a hand out. ―Come here.‖
    Owen took the proffered hand and knelt between Rory‘s bare legs.
Rory pulled him in and once again claimed those swollen, caramel
apple lips. Owen settled his body into Rory‘s and pressed his
abdomen against Rory‘s cock. Rory slowly slid his hands down
Owen‘s strong back, tracing every angle and curve of muscle, over
each bump of his spine, under the band of his sweatpants and down
into the two dimpled valleys that hovered above a perfectly defined
ass. He pushed the pants down with open palms, covering as much
skin as possible as he went. And God, if that wasn‘t the softest skin
he‘d ever felt.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   32


    Owen leaned back, breaking their kiss. His lips, full and flush,
glistened with moisture. He sat back on his heels and looked up at
Rory with the expression of a child on Christmas morning. ―Can I?‖
he whispered in a graveled voice.
     ―Please. Yes.‖
    With hands firmly holding Rory‘s hips, Owen kissed him one
more time on the lips before his tongue led his mouth on a journey
from Rory‘s jaw, down the side of his neck where Owen nipped at the
thick, corded muscle teasingly with his teeth. He followed the line of
Rory‘s clavicle into the hollow of his throat, then down the center of
his chest and over to a hardened nipple. He teased it with his tongue
and teeth and Rory‘s head fell back against the couch, eyes closed to
increase the sensation of touch that swept through his body under
Owen‘s devoted worship.
   Owen continued his southbound journey until his chin bumped the
head of Rory‘s cock, and a spike of electricity charged through Rory‘s
every vein. ―God, Owen. Suck me. Please.‖
    Rory caught his breath when Owen‘s strong tongue, hot and wet,
twirled around the head of his straining shaft, and then down the
underside to the base, before returning to the tip. And then he was
engulfed in the most incredible heat he‘d ever felt. All he‘d known to
this point was his own hand. Rory had never wanted another living
soul as badly as he wanted Owen Harris. It was because he was so
completely in love with his best friend, that he‘d been unable to
experience any other man. He‘d tried once. Tried to get over Owen by
having sex with another, but he couldn‘t do it. Guilt rose fast and
furious and nearly drowned him with its suffocating force. He wanted
Owen to be his first everything.
   Owen released his hips and wrapped one hand around the base of
Rory‘s cock, while he moved the other down to cup and gently
squeeze his balls.
    ―Damn, Owen. That feels amazing.‖ Rory lifted his head to watch
as he carefully rocked his hips upward, pushing himself deeper into
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition    33


that glorious mouth. Owen looked up and met his gaze with an
intensity Rory felt like a punch to the gut. His heart smashed against
his ribcage with brutal force, perspiration broke out on his forehead
and the telltale tingling began at the base of his spine.
     ―O…‖ Rory warned. He grabbed Owen‘s head and tried to push
him off his dick. But Owen wasn‘t having any of that. He gave one
shake and clamped down with his lips, then sucked back up so hard
his cheeks hollowed. The crawling tingles exploded into blinding
bolts of lightning, shocking Rory with its force, and threw him into
the eye of the storm. He roared Owen‘s name as his body ripped apart
and scattered throughout the stratosphere. Owen didn‘t let go, didn‘t
let him lose himself in that moment of pure, mindless bliss. He stayed
with him, strong and protective, and carried him gently back to earth -
- spent, sated and speechless.
    Owen wrapped his arms around Rory‘s waist and rested his head
on Rory‘s stomach. Rory had yet to detangle his fingers from Owen‘s
hair, not yet able to command any part of his body to move.
    ―I can‘t believe how fucking good you taste,‖ Owen said, the awe
in his voice nearly tangible.
     ―Share,‖ Rory said.
     Owen crawled up Rory‘s torso and kissed him open mouthed. His
abdomen clenched when he tasted himself on Owen‘s tongue. Need
fluttered through his insides and Rory wanted more. Wanted
everything. He pulled back, looked into those beautiful brown eyes
and said, ―I want you to fuck me.‖ His dick pulsed in agreement,
sluggish but damned determined to stand up for the occasion.
    Owen‘s eyes widened, desire and trepidation danced a slow waltz
in their depths, his lips parted and his mouth worked silently. ―I-- ‖ He
lowered and raised his gaze. ―I don‘t know…what to do.‖
    Rory smiled and caressed Owen‘s face, smooth skin and rough
stubble under his palm a pleasant contrast. ―Don‘t worry. I know.‖
     Owen‘s brows furrowed. ―How do you know?‖
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   34


     ―Gay porn, dude.‖
     Owen laughed, leaning into Rory‘s hand. ―Figures.‖
     ―Don‘t suppose you have a condom, eh?‖
    Owen shook his head and Rory didn‘t miss the fleeting shadow of
disappointment that crossed over his features. He ruffled Owen‘s
spiky locks. ―Let me up.‖
    He laughed when Owen smacked his ass as he crawled across the
floor on hands and knees to grab his jeans.
   ―What are you doing?‖ Owen asked, pulling himself up onto the
couch and stretching out on his side to watch, head rested on his hand.
    ―Lucky for us we just happen to be attending the number one
party college in the States. And what does every responsible school‘s
locker room for horny athletes have?‖
     Owen cracked a sly smile. ―A condom dispenser.‖
     ―Bingo, baby!‖
    Rory dug into his jeans pockets, pulling out coins and tossing
them onto the coffee table until he counted out enough to buy a
condom and a pillow packet of lube. He gathered the money and raced
to the showers, where there were dispensers for soap and shampoo,
Band-Aids and ointments, lotions to cool or heat strained muscles --
and most important of all, condoms. Rory‘s hands shook as he shoved
the coins into the slot, pressed the correct buttons and ran back to
where Owen waited.
    He came up short when he saw Owen stretched out on the black
leather couch. Golden skin glistened with a light sheen of sweat,
defined lean muscle wrapped artistically around dense bone, sun-
bleached hair dusted long legs that were made for running, a thick
cock rose straight and proud from a course thatch of hair. Lips
swollen from kissing, and dark eyes heavy-lidded with lust and desire,
just about fell Rory to his knees to beg his worthiness.
     Owen Harris was his. Finally.
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  ―Good God, you‘re beautiful,‖ he said. A pink flush colored
Owen‘s cheeks at the praise.
    Rory dropped the two small packets on the table and knelt down at
the end of the couch, before Owen‘s feet. He clasped his hands over
Owen‘s ankles and leaned over to kiss the top of one foot and then the
other. He worked his way up strong legs, mouth and tongue following
hands and fingers as they traced every dip and groove and line of skin
and muscle and bone that created the priceless work of art spread out
before him. He continued his journey until he reached the sharp line
where hip and thigh met groin and slid one hand under Owen‘s ass,
while the other lightly rode the ridge of his rock solid erection. Owen
moaned and pushed into Rory‘s palm, looking for more.
    Rory licked at Owen‘s balls with the flat of his tongue, and
breathed in the musky male scent that sent a spike of desire shooting
up his center. He sucked one into his mouth and rolled it while Owen
writhed beneath him, mumbling incoherently. He released it to give
the other ball equal treatment, and then licked up the length of Owen‘s
shaft to the leaking tip. The bittersweet taste that was all Owen filled
his mouth and washed down his throat, and Rory knew at that moment
he would forever be addicted to that unique flavor. He would need it
every day for the rest of his life. And twice on Sundays.
    Rory opened up and swallowed down that thick, velvet-covered
cock until it bumped up at the back of his throat and he had to make a
hasty retreat. Obviously deep-throating was a practiced skill, and
damn if he wasn‘t looking forward to practicing as often and long as
possible to perfect it. He smiled and chuckled with his mouth full of
Owen, which caused Owen to clench his hands into Rory‘s hair and
thrust up into his mouth.
     ―Yeah, Rory,‖ he panted. ―Yeah.‖
    Rory hummed a response that drew a full-bodied shudder from
Owen and gave Rory a sense of power, knowing it was he giving this
pleasure to his best friend. He was the one able to reduce Owen to a
babbling bowl of jell-O. Reveling in this new-found discovery, Rory
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   36


continued to work Owen with his mouth and tongue and slight graze
of teeth until Owen began to tense.
     ―Ror…‖ he groaned.
    Rory released him with a pop and crawled on top of Owen to
claim his lips in a bruising kiss. Owen immediately opened to him and
their tongues fought for control. The need for each other once again
escalated to panic level.
   Rory broke the battling kiss and reached over for their supplies.
He rolled back to Owen and gruffly commanded, ―Get me ready.‖
   Owen took the packets with a shaky hand as they readjusted
themselves -- Rory on his back and Owen resting on bent knees with
Rory‘s legs over his thighs. Owen looked up at Rory with questioning
eyes.
    ―Cover your fingers with the lube, then slowly work around and
into my hole. Start with just one and add more as the muscle relaxes.
Then lube yourself up and take me.‖
    ―You learned this from watching porn?‖ Owen‘s expression
shifted from uncertainty to amusement. ―That‘s so not romantic.‖
     ―Shut up.‖
    Owen‘s teasing smile faded. He worried his lower lip and with
single-minded focus, tentatively pressed one finger against Rory‘s
nerve-riddled opening. The unfamiliar sensation sent a shockwave of
goose bumps over his skin and drew a throat-searing moan of pleasure
from his throat. Owen worked him with a reverence and gentleness
that flooded every corner of Rory‘s body with an overwhelming sense
of belonging and adoration.
     ―Now, Owen,‖ he said, his voice ragged with need. ―Now.‖
    Owen fumbled with the condom wrapper for a moment, then with
a frustrated huff gave up and tossed onto Rory‘s chest. ―Fingers are
too slippery.‖
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   37


    Rory opened the packet, slowly rolled the latex down Owen‘s
straining length, and then held him in his hands. Burning into his
memory what would soon be burning inside him. Owen closed a hand
over Rory‘s and their gazes locked for a silent speaking moment. Rory
nodded his head once and let his hands fall away to rest on Owen‘s
thighs and Owen shifted to line himself up. ―Here we go, baby.‖
    Owen looked down and watched as he pressed the blunt head of
his cock to Rory‘s entrance, then held still. Anticipation built into
narrowed, biting focus. There was only he and Owen and the
matching beat of their racing hearts, and the harsh rapid breaths that
echoed in a room that had closed and wrapped around them with the
weight of a heavy blanket. Nothing beyond existed.
   ―I don‘t know if I‘ll fit, Ror.‖ Owen‘s whole body trembled. ―I
don‘t want to hurt you.‖
    ―You will and you won‘t, O. I promise. Just…just go. God, I need
to feel you.‖
    Owen squeezed his eyes shut and groaned, a long growl rising
from deep within his chest, and pressed inside one slow inch by one
slow inch. Rory felt the stretch of tight muscles, the slight burn and
discomfort of invasion, and then a flooding wave of sweet, eye-
watering pleasure as his body opened and Owen filled him
completely. Their bodies merged together and two became one.
    ―Oh. My. God. Ror.‖ Owen‘s voice a jagged whisper. ―You feel
incredible. So fucking tight and hot and…oh…God. I think I‘m going
to come right now.‖
    ―Don‘t you dare.‖ Rory reached up for Owen‘s neck and tugged
him down. The second their lips met, he rocked his hips up and
gasped into Owen‘s mouth as the angle shifted and Owen rode over
Rory‘s prostate. Every single nerve ending in his body ignited. Owen
slid almost all the way out, and slowly pushed back. Rory matched
Owen‘s movements and they settled into a steady, pounding rhythm
that gained speed and force with each thrust until Rory‘s whole body
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   38


sang with the exhilarating rush of Owen‘s taking, claiming -- loving.
It was sheer perfection.
    Owen broke their kiss and took Rory in hand as they raced to
crescendo together. He pulled and twisted Rory‘s cock in time with
every hard, deep plunge into his body. ―Come with me.‖ His rhythm
faltered and body jerked and he shouted Rory‘s name so loud Rory
knew his ears would still be ringing the next morning. Before the last
echo of Owen‘s roar faded in the team locker room, Rory‘s orgasm
caught him by surprise and charged through his body with lightning
speed, exploding in hot, wet strikes across his stomach.
    Owen carefully pulled out and collapsed on top of Rory in a
boneless sweaty heaving heap, and Rory cherished the weight of his
best friend, his lover, covering him. He tunneled his fingers through
Owen‘s hair as their breathing and pulses steadily throttled back.
   ―I can‘t believe we just did that,‖ Owen mumbled against Rory‘s
cheek.
     ―I can‘t believe it took us so long.‖
     ―We‘re both total idiots, you know.‖
     ―Yeah.‖ Rory agreed. ―And we totally deserve each other.‖
     Owen chuckled and then said, ―Will you move back in now?‖
     ―No.‖
   Owen fell silent and Rory felt the smile slip from his face. He
gave Owen a playful shove. ―You‘re moving in with me because
you‘re too damn loud for us to share the dorm. We‘d be kicked out in
a week.‖
   This time the silence that swirled around them was laced with pure
contentment and a sense that all was right in the world.
     ―I did mean it,‖ Owen said. ―I love you.‖
   Rory hugged him tighter to his chest and nuzzled his nose into
Owen‘s hair. Into his ear he whispered, ―I love you too, Owen Harris.
Always have, always will.‖
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   39



     ~ Touchdown ~
THE END
    Author bio: Artist by day, author by night, L.C. Chase is a
hopeless romantic and adventure seeker. Many of those adventures
are fodder for her stories. The first time she left home, she traveled
1200 miles to California -- to be a rock star -- with two hundred
dollars in her pocket. A four-year walkabout took her on a coast-to-
coast back roads tour of the USA, across both of New Zealand's
islands by bicycle, and a short road trip in Australia. Now that L.C.
has two of the coolest nephews on the planet, she calls the Canadian
West Coast home. When not writing, L.C. can be found reading,
drawing, horseback riding, or running the trails with her goofy
Australian Shepherd, who, if he were human, would be a stand-up
comedian.
     Website: http://www.lcchase.com
     Blog: http://lcchase.blogspot.com
     Twitter: http://twitter.com/lc_chase
     Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/39906...
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition                    40


Jaya Christopher – CODY AND THE HERMIT (BDSM/Cowboys)
Genres: western, BDSM
Tags: cowboys, BDSM, contemporary, fluff                            Dear Author,
Words: 5,687                                                        So, I totally have a thing for
                                                                    Cowboys... and I found this
CODY AND THE HERMIT                                                 picture:
by Jaya Christopher                                                 [PHOTO: In sunlit black
                                                                    and white, two dark-haired
    Cody Coltrane stuffed his hands in his                          men play out a scene of
pockets and rested one dusty boot against the                       restraint. One, naked and
                                                                    lightly muscled, lies face-
weathered exterior of Coltrane Feed & Seed, his                     down on a wooden frame,
well-worn stetson blocking the glare of the                         hands roped high, ankles
afternoon sun. It was a few minutes after twelve                    spread and bound. At his
pm and Cody was standing where he always did                        left ankle, the other man
                                                                    kneels, tightening ropes. He
on a Wednesday afternoon, right outside the                         wears cuffed jeans, boots,
entrance of his family's business, waiting for                      holster and Stetson but his
Kenny Tyler to pull up in his gleaming farm                         muscled upper body is
                                                                    bare.]
truck.
    Kenny didn't come into town much and                            How does one get tied up
                                                                    like this by a hunky
when he did, Cody liked to be front and center.                     cowboy?
He'd been trying to catch Kenny's attention
                                                                    Sincerely,
since they were toddling around and he'd never
                                                                    Jess
really succeeded, outside of a few scant years of
friendship when they were school. Kenny had
always been a loner, keeping his thoughts to
himself and hanging solo when others moved in
groups. As hard as Cody had tried to press in,
Kenny had pulled away.
     The thing was, Cody was pretty sure that he
was in love with Kenny by the time they were
fifteen. It was hard enough falling in love with
another guy in their small town without falling
for someone like Kenny...someone completely
unattainable. He'd chased around after Kenny
like an eager puppy for far too long. Then,
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition    41


Kenny had hightailed it right out of town the moment they'd finished
high school, throwing off the family pressure and leaving his younger
brother with the monumental responsibility of running the Double T
Ranch when their father retired.
    Cody had gone around in a haze of depression when Kenny had
skipped town. Even though, Kenny hadn't ever given him the time of
day, Cody couldn't imagine living happily in their small town without
seeing Kenny...and Cody wasn't like the other man, he couldn't shake
off his responsibilities to the family business. He was his father's only
son and he loved running the town's feed store. He couldn't envision
living anywhere else. So, he'd figured that he'd have to live with the
feelings he had for Kenny and just deal with the fact that they'd never
be reciprocated.
     Then, Kenny's brother had skipped town and their father had taken
ill. With their booming, bustling ranch on the brink of the auction
block, Kenny had come back into town about a year before, taller and
broader, his face more weathered, just as handsome as ever. He'd
taken over the reigns of the Double T and got the place right back on
track.
    Still, his interactions with Cody had been slim to none, mostly
limited to placing and picking up feed orders, despite Cody's fervent
interest. He wasn't any more interested in striking something up with
Cody than he had been when they were in their teens and Cody found
that fact even more depressing than he had when he'd had the
optimism of youth to cloud his thinking.
     At 12:08 pm like clockwork, Kenny's black truck came bouncing
along the rough town road, his broad shoulders moving with every
bump and shake. Cody cleared his throat and his shoulders tightened.
The wayward battle of hope and desolation that warred in his chest
whenever he got within seeing distance of Kenny kicked in and Cody
let out a stiff sigh.
    The fact of the matter was, Cody didn't really think he could go on
as he had been, pining away after someone who didn't give him a
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   42


thought. It was just that sometimes, on rare, precious occasions, he'd
catch Kenny's eyes on him, dark and gleaming with something that
looked like a lot more than a passing glance...and the fact that Cody
didn't have the slightest bit of control over the way his heart went
bonkers the moment Kenny came into view.
    Cody thumped his foot nervously against the wall, watching from
under his hat as Kenny parked the truck and climbed out, muscled and
rangy as ever. His eyes flicked once to Cody, swift and assessing. The
intensity of his glare stripped Cody bare with just one glance, leaving
Cody standing there, shaking. A stiff nod was the only greeting that
Cody got as Kenny swept past him and into the store. Cody stood
there for a few moments, catching his breath and waiting for his heart
to slow down.
    When he'd gained his equilibrium, he followed Kenny into the
feed store, quickly taking refuge behind the security of the counter
and flipping through the clipboard that held the days orders. He easily
found the Double T's order and waited for Kenny to mosey along the
aisles, glancing at the day's specials and tucking a thing or two under
his arm.
    Kenny met him at the counter after a bit, sliding some PVC piping
and a bunch of twine onto the counter in front of him. Cody rang up
his order by rote, proffering the clipboard and handing Kenny the pen
he had tucked behind his ear.
    ―You're picking up your big order today, right?‖ Cody asked and
Kenny nodded, grunting his acquiescence. Kenny was always a man
of few words. He signed where he was supposed to sign and initialed
where he was supposed to initial before handing the clipboard back.
Cody took it and entered a bit of data in the computer on the counter
before hanging the clipboard back in place and tucking the pen back
behind his ear.
   ―You'll pull the truck around back?‖ Cody asked, knowing that
Kenny would.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   43


    ―Yep,‖ was Kenny's response and Cody nodded quickly, taking a
moment to watch as Kenny walked back out of the store. Cody shook
his head at the sight of those glutes moving beneath Kenny's well-
worn jeans, hissing out a breath. Cody went through the door behind
the counter, through the back rooms and out onto the loading dock
where the day's orders were separated into neat piles. The Double T's
was the biggest order of them all, which made sense as the ranch was
the largest piece of property and the biggest slice of the local
economy. Normally, Cody's teenaged cousin Everett was around to
help with the loading and unloading, but he'd gone out of town with
his dad for stock and Cody was on his own.
    Kenny pulled the truck around and backed it up to the dock. Cody
waited for him to pull the trailer down before he started hefting fifty
pound bags of feed over his shoulder and loading them up. Kenny
stood by and watched for a moment before he stepped up onto the
dock and helped.
    ―You don't have to -‖ Cody protested, but Kenny shook his head
and Cody shut his mouth. Working together, they had the truck loaded
up in no time and Cody pulled his stetson off to wipe the sweat off of
his brow. He bit his lip indecisively and then turned to Kenny before
he could walk away.
    ―Thanks for the help, man,‖ Cody said quickly, his voice a bit
gravelly with nerves.
    ―No problem,‖ Kenny replied and moved as if to climb off of the
dock. Cody stepped in his path. When was he ever going to get a
chance like this one again? Alone with Kenny Tyler. It hadn't
happened in over a decade and it probably wouldn't again. Cody
cleared his throat.
   ―Are you going to the town fair on Friday?‖ Cody piped up at
Kenny's carefully masked look and Kenny shook his head.
   ―Have you ever known me to go to the town shindigs?‖ Kenny
asked and Cody's face colored the slightest bit. He knew that Kenny
had gone off to California when he'd left town, living a big city life.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition    44


He was pretty sure that meant that their little town paled in
comparison. Still, it was better than nothing.
   ―Well, a band's coming from Nashville,‖ Cody told him, grinning.
―Kind of a well known one, too. The Tennessee Rumblers.‖
    ―Kind of not my thing,‖ Kenny said, lightly and moved to step
around Cody. Cody blocked his path again.
    ―And I'm gonna make my barbecue ribs,‖ Cody announced. ―You
can't get better than that. You haven't tried them since high school.‖
    Kenny stared at him for long, ticking seconds and Cody felt his
insides quiver. So, he wasn't very good at approaching another guy.
He hadn't had much experience at it...not with somebody like Kenny,
somebody he had feelings for. There had been quick rub-offs and
wordless exchanges with a few guys drifting through town and at the
bar he went to a couple of towns over, but he wouldn't exactly call
that real experience.
    ―Look, Cody,‖ Kenny said and Cody's stomach dropped at the
coldness in his tone. ―I appreciate the effort and all, but whatever
you're offering, I'm not interested, okay?‖
    Cody stood for a few moments, hot and cold flashing through him
as he soaked in Kenny's rejection. It was the closest he had ever come
to really putting everything on the line with Kenny and the fact that he
was being turned away stung quite a bit. Cody swallowed hard and
stepped out of Kenny's path. He tried for a tremulous smile.
    ―Well, you have a nice day, Kenny,‖ Cody called out good-
naturedly, hiding the burning in his chest behind his usual happy
facade. Kenny nodded once at him and climbed off of the dock. Cody
couldn't even watch as Kenny closed up his trailer and drove away.
    He stood there on the dock for some time after Kenny was long
gone, peeling back layer after layer of hurt. It didn't feel good, but he
told himself that it was better to know. It was better to recognize the
fact that he didn't stand a chance rather than dream of what would
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   45


never be. So, Kenny didn't want anything to do with him. Now, he
could move on.
     ****
    Kenny peeled out of the parking lot of Coltrane Feed & Seed like
the hounds of hell were at his wheels. His fists clenched the steering
wheel tightly and his breathing was off. Damn, that Cody Coltrane.
Kenny forced himself to slow down on the bumpy town road. He
didn't want the sheriff ticketing him again. It was bad enough that he
was back in this backwater, godforsaken place.
     And to have sweet, innocent little Cody making puppy dog eyes at
him like they were still in high school only made matters worse. He'd
done everything he could to avoid the other man since they were
fifteen and nothing ever seemed to work. Kenny knew his words were
harsh and the look on Cody's face had just about killed him, but he
was getting pretty close to the end of his rope.
    He flexed his stiff fingers on the wheel, trying to force himself to
calm down. What he'd said had obviously hurt Cody and that made
him sick and angry. Cody was the happiest goofball the town had ever
seen, a fixture in their small community...and he'd been batting his
eyes at Kenny for as long as he could remember, but Kenny knew he
couldn't lay a finger on the other man. Cody was hearts and roses. He
was the kind of guy you wined and dined and took home to your
family. He was the kind of guy you could stake your life on and
Kenny knew he didn't deserve that.
    What Kenny wanted, the thoughts that ran through his head,
would drive a man like Cody right away from him. The last time he'd
even dared risk letting himself get close to Cody, they had been
freshmen in high school and the rambunctious play they hadn't quite
outgrown had led to something that had fueled Kenny's fantasies for
years to come. They'd been roughhousing on the edge of the Tyler
property and Cody had gotten the fabric of his shirt caught up tight in
a frayed bit of fence. Kenny watched as Cody struggled and strained
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   46


trying to get loose from the the fence and something dark and heavy
had unfurled inside of him.
    Kenny liked it. He liked watching the expression on Cody's face
as he tried to free himself. He liked the way Cody's body moved. He
liked the thought of Cody being stuck there, helpless and defenseless.
He liked the thought of doing anything he wanted to do to the other
boy...and it scared him. He'd spent the next two days in a stupor,
alternately nursing an eager hard-on, jacking off until his eyes rolled
back in his head, and feeling guilty as hell about everything.
    It was hard enough accepting the fact that he was gay and had the
mother of all crushes on his childhood friend, but he also had to deal
with the fact that he was some kind of deviant, too. His only thought
at that point had been self-preservation and he'd decided then and
there that he would avoid Cody as much as possible. In high school, it
meant that he just didn't associate much with anybody because
everyone knew and loved Cody. After high school, he moved as far
away from Cody Coltrane as fast as he could.
    He was pretty sure that everyone thought he hated the ranch and
everything about their small town life, but it wasn't entirely true.
Kenny had known that he would never find acceptance where they
lived. No one had even liked to mention the fact that gay men existed
until Cody had come out a few years after high school. Cody, the
town's beloved son, had somehow managed to bridge the gap between
tolerance and intolerance just by virtue of being the good-natured guy
that he was. He'd found acceptance in their town by just being who he
was and not making any waves about it. Kenny knew that
his...proclivities would never past muster.
    It was with a mixture of dread and euphoria that he had come back
to town after his brother crapped out on his promise to run the ranch.
On the one hand, Kenny loved that damn ranch. He loved everything
about it from the clucking in the hen-house to the snoring in the
bunks. The land was engraved in him and he wanted nothing more
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   47


than to be back. But seeing Cody again, facing his fantasies head on
again, it was just asking too much of him.
    As Kenny made his way back onto the ranch, the guilt overtook
him. Cody's face had gone splotchy with color and that trademark grin
of his had fallen as Kenny's words penetrated him. He'd gone stiff and
tense, those deep brown eyes flashing hurt at him. Kenny parked the
truck and sat for a long while, replaying Cody's expression in his
head.
    Damn, damn and double damn. He just couldn't do with hurting
the other man that way.
     ****
    Cody slicked back his hair and plopped his stetson atop his head
and forced himself to grin. He was over Kenny Tyler. He was. Okay,
so, maybe he wasn't, but if he told himself it enough, maybe he would
actually get over the other man. It had been two days since their
interlude on the loading dock and Cody was still nursing a stabbing
pain in his chest whenever he took a moment to let himself think
about it.
     Still, he was determined to move on. He'd tried with Kenny and
he'd failed. So be it. It was the annual town fair, he had ribs on the
grill and all of his friends and family were pitched out under the big
canopy where the stage had been set up. The Tennessee Rumblers
were in full swing, the music drifting out of the loudspeakers and
spilling all over the town center, making little kids bounce on their
feet and those who'd had more than a few sips of beer sway to the
rhythm. Cody went over to the tent and grabbed one of his teenaged
cousins and swung her out onto the dance floor, beaming at her as she
squealed. He twirled her around and then two-stepped with her until
she was red in the face.
    It was when she was back in her usual group of gangly-legged
teens that Cody noticed the lead singer's eyes on him.
     ****
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    Kenny shrugged under the uncomfortable heat, nodding for the
umpteenth time to one of the townsfolk, completely out of his
element. He knew that he was drawing more than his fair share of
attention. Everyone knew that the last time he'd been to a town fair
had been when he'd slunk in behind his parents at fifteen, sullen and
standoffish. Still, he needed to make this gesture for Cody's sake, to
do whatever he could to wipe the hurt out of Cody's eyes.
    He set the concillatory pie he'd been carrying down on a table by
the Coltrane barbecue stand. He'd dug out his mother's old recipes and
made the pie himself, aware of the fact that Cody had loved his mom's
apple pie whenever he came over for a visit. Since she'd been gone for
well on six years, Kenny thought it would make a good impression on
Cody.
    Kenny's eyes ran swiftly over the crowd, searching out that
familiar mop of dark hair. He sighed. Cody was nowhere to be found,
which was pretty much unlike him. Cody was the life of the party, the
center of attention and Kenny had been sure he'd be in the middle of
the dance floor, two-stepping with the best of them. Kenny had
always liked to stand on the outskirts of a crowd and watch Cody go
for it. The guy was truly fearless in a way that Kenny had never been
himself. Even when Kenny had escaped the confines of their small
town for freer pastures, he hadn't been able to shake off his
debilliatating shyness, the cloak of aloneness that clung to him.
    The realization that he'd never be the kind of carefree and open
guy that Cody was didn't bother him as much as it had when he was a
kid. When he was kid, everything about Cody had captivated him and
before he'd known any better, he'd thought that Cody was just the kind
of guy he wanted to emulate. His teenage years had shown him that
the free-spiritedness and openness that he loved so much in Cody was
definitely something he wanted, but not to emulate. No, Cody and
everything that came along with him was something that Kenny
wanted to possess...in the ownership kind of way. Kenny's breath
hitched at the thought.
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    He made his way through the crowds of people and off to the
outskirts of the dance floor. The band had taken a break and some of
the more musically-inclined townsfolk had taken up the stage. Kenny
allowed himself to be pushed and prodded off to the sidelines and it
was then that he caught the wisp of a familiar laugh on the breeze.
Kenny looked off to the right and saw a flash of a dark chambray shirt
behind the stage. Curious, he stepped further back and his breath froze
when he saw Cody, tangled up in a stranger's arms.
   They were dancing behind the stage and the stranger was getting
awfully gropey and feely with Cody. When one large hand squeezed
Cody's backside, Kenny saw red. He stalked back behind the stage
and interrupted the pair.
    Cody jumped about a mile when he caught sight of Kenny,
flushing bright red and jerking out of the man's arms. Kenny just
stood there and blinked at them for awhile, at a loss as to how to deal
with the rage surging through his veins.
    "H-hey, Kenny," Cody stammered, then squared his shoulders. "I
thought you said this wasn't your kind of thing."
   "Who is this?" the stranger was tall, taller than both Kenny and
Cody but skinnier, too. His voice was deep and his drawl was thick.
West Texas, probably.
    "Leave," Kenny told him, ignoring Cody for a moment. The
stranger blinked at him uncertainly for a few seconds, then looked
down at Cody.
    "Who is this guy?" he repeated and Cody shifted nervously on his
feet.
    "Cody, tell him to go before I do something I'll regret," Kenny
said and Cody stared at Kenny long and hard for a moment before he
turned to the stranger and shrugged a little helplessly.
    "This here's my friend Kenny," Cody said lightly. "Look, maybe
he's right and you should go. You've got another set to sing anyway."
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The stranger's eyes softened as he looked down at Cody and Kenny
wanted to go for his jugular.
    "Well, pretty, it's your rodeo," the stranger said, touching a finger
to Cody's cheek. Kenny stepped between the two, pushing the stranger
away.
    "Keep your hands off of him," Kenny gritted out and the stranger
stared Kenny down in the tense silence that followed before he caught
sight of Cody's troubled face. Then, he lifted both his hands in a
gesture of surrender and backed away from them.
   "Alright, alright," he conceded. Kenny watched him carefully until
he was out of sight. Then, he turned back to Cody.
   "You want to tell me what's wrong with you?" Cody asked, his
cheeks tinged a little red and his eyes flashing hurt and anger. Kenny
heaved a deep sigh.
     "You've got no business -" Kenny started but Cody cut him off.
    "Wrong," Cody said, sharply. "I think you've got that twisted.
You're the one whose got no business traipsing out here after me and
scaring off the first halfway decent guy that shows an interest in me.
You got a problem with me, Kenny?"
     Kenny opened his mouth to speak, but Cody was on a tangent.
   "Because I came out of the closet here years ago and this
community's behind me," Cody told him, triumphantly. "And I don't
have to answer to ignorant, homophobic-"
     "You think I'm homophobic?" Kenny broke in, incredulously.
    "Well, what else would explain it?" Cody asked. "You've been
giving me a hard time since high school and what did I ever do to you
but try to be your friend? What did I ever do to you but be nice and
neighborly?"
   "Don't even pretend that you haven't been making googly eyes at
me since we were in grade school," Kenny told him. "You think I
haven't noticed you batting your eyes at me and shaking your behind
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every time I turn my head in your direction? That's what you call
friendship? Nice and neighborly?"
    "So, I might have had a little crush on you," Cody said on a quick
breath. "That doesn't mean you get to treat me like crap."
   "A little crush," Kenny repeated, derisively and Cody flushed,
poking a stiff finger into Kenny's chest.
    "Well, maybe more than a little crush, but I've never said a bad
word to you, have I?" Cody asked, hotly. "I've never stepped on your
toes, have I?"
    "Well, of course, you haven't, Mr. Goody Two Shoes," Kenny told
him. "How could you ever put a foot wrong in this godforsaken town?
Everything you do is perfect...and don't I know it. I'm not the guy to
go skipping off into the sunset, holding hands with you."
    "Which you've made absolutely clear," Cody pointed out. "Which
is why I'm trying to -"
    "But neither is that guy," Kenny said, jerking his thumb in the
direction that the singer had gone.
     "What makes you judge and jury?" Cody asked.
    "I'll be damned if I'm gonna sit by and let some sleezy guy like
that paw all over you," Kenny gasped, enraged. "He's not worth your
spit."
     Cody stilled suddenly. "He's not?"
   "Hell, no," Kenny went on. "You deserve somebody good and
decent. You deserve somebody whose gonna build a life with you.
You deserve everything."
     Cody's breath rushed out.
   "Well, why can't you be that guy?" Cody dared to ask. Kenny's
eyes fell.
     "I'm not that guy," Kenny said, after a moment.
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   "Well, why the hell not?" Cody asked. "You say you're not
homophobic. I've seen you looking at me."
    "Because there's nothing good and decent about me," Kenny
informed him, quick and clipped. Cody's eyes widened in shock.
    "You're the most decent guy I know," Cody contested. "You're the
one who came back to run the Double T after your brother traipsed
off. You're meticulous about caring for your loved ones and your
family's legacy. What's bad about that?"
     "You don't know me," Kenny told him.
   "The hell I don't," Cody protested. "I know you like the back of
my hand. You wouldn't hurt a fly."
     "That's where you're wrong," Kenny said.
     "Yeah, right," Cody exclaimed. "Like you would ever -"
     "I'm no saint, Cody," Kenny hissed.
   "What would you ever do to hurt me?" Cody pressed and Kenny's
control splintered and he clutched the other man by the arms, holding
him tightly, forcefully.
   "I would tie you up," Kenny breathed, a bare, fervent whisper. "I'd
have you in knots so tight, you wouldn't have any hope of getting free,
Cody. And then, I'd have my way with you."
    Cody stared at him for so long that Kenny thought he would pass
out. Cody relaxed in his grip, staring up at him, open-mouthed...and
then, something flashed in his eyes. Desire. Kenny could barely
breathe around the lump of hope that lodged in his throat. Cody lips
quirked into the tiniest semblance of a smile.
    "That sounds fun," Cody said, finally and Kenny stood there,
barely breathing, gutted. He had done it, lain his deepest darkest secret
bare and instead of turning away from him, Cody was still in his arms,
pressing nearer.
     "What?" Kenny asked.
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    "It sounds like fun," Cody said quietly. "I've never done anything
like that before but I've thought about it."
     "You've what?" Kenny exclaimed.
   "I've thought about it," Cody said, ducking his head shyly.
"Like...you know, fantasized about it. It...turns me on."
    Kenny's knees went weak. If he hadn't been holding on to Cody so
tightly, he was sure that he'd fall flat on his butt in the dirt beneath
them. Cody's dark eyes flashed up at him, a delicate mixture of fire
and bashfulness. Kenny felt the first tendrils of happiness unfurl in his
belly, but he still didn't allow himself to really believe what Cody was
saying.
   "Is that why you've...is that why you're so hornery?" Cody asked.
Kenny's eyes met Cody's.
     "I like to be in control," Kenny told him, softly.
     "I know," Cody grinned. "You always have."
    "I've always thought...I've wanted to do things to you," Kenny
began slowly. "I've been thinking about what I'd like to do for far too
long."
    "Me too," Cody admitted and he was the first to move, to slide his
arms around Kenny's waist and move in closer. Kenny held him there
for a long time, staring down into his face.
    "You're incredible," Kenny whispered and Cody was blushing
again. Kenny smiled.
     "I wonder if you blush all over," Kenny mused and Cody laughed.
    "You'll just have to find out," Cody told him and leaned in for a
kiss.
   It was tentative at first, fragile, Cody's lips pressing lightly against
Kenny's but when Kenny got a taste, one quick lick of Cody's
sweetness and his tongue was delving inside, searching for more.
Cody gave as good as he got, pressing in and opening his mouth more,
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   54


letting his tongue slide languidly along the length of Kenny's until
both of their knees were shaking.
     When Kenny came up for air, he caught sight of several of the
townsfolk, skirting the edges of the stage, smiling and peering avidly
at them. Kenny grinned.
     ****
     Five Weeks Later
    Cody's knees were shaking, pressing awkwardly against the
wooden slats beneath him as Kenny's fingers worked the rope at his
ankles. He looked over his shoulder to see Kenny kneeling there
beneath him, as steady as the land, hat tilted over his task. Cody
couldn't resist, he tested the knots that bound him, jerking and
straining against them, naked as the day he was born.
    When he looked over his shoulder again, he caught the fervent
gleam in Kenny's eye and he hissed at the pleasure that shot through
him.
   "You're beautiful," Kenny whispered and Cody fought hard to
keep his hips still. He wanted to move, to shake, to rut against
something, anything...but those wooden slats were full of splinters.
Cody panted.
     "Do you like it?" Kenny asked suddenly. "Is it okay?"
    Cody could only nod and then just barely. Nobody told him it
would be like this. Nobody had told him that just a few scraps of rope
at his wrists and ankles and his senses would be heightened to such a
degree. That he'd feel everything so much more.
   Kenny's fingers skated across the back of one of his thighs and
Cody could just about cry from the sensation.
    "Sweet Jesus," Cody whimpered and he could feel Kenny's grin
against his skin. Kenny was kissing him, pressing his lips against the
tender flesh on the inside of Cody's thigh and running those long,
perfect fingers over the globes of Cody's heart-shaped ass. Cody
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pressed his head against the wooden board in front of him, unable to
do anything about the hitching, breathy moans that were escaping his
throat.
    They'd worked up to this. A wrist handcuffed to the headboard
and Kenny pouring his fantasies out in filthy language in the dark of
night against Cody's ear. It had taken some coaxing and finessing but
Cody had convinced Kenny that he really did want this and that if
they were going to go for it, they might as well go big. It was
probably the best thing Cody had ever done in his life.
    Kenny's lips pressed against one of his ass cheeks and then the
other.
   "Kenny," Cody moaned, his breath skittering out. Kenny
chuckled, dark and deep and low.
    "Looks like I've got you right where I want you," Kenny said,
standing up flush against Cody. The heat from his body drew Cody
like a moth to flame. Cody did everything that he could to press back
against Kenny, straining against the ropes, seeking.
    "Looks like it," Cody agreed, on a shaky whimper. Kenny laughed
again and Cody could hear him, fumbling with the metal clasp on his
belt buckle, the sound of his zipper lowering and denim falling. Cody
was about dancing in anticipation.
    When Kenny pressed against him, rigid cock hot against Cody's
ass, Cody's dick pulsed like a drum, ready to explode. He was on his
tiptoes, gasping when he felt Kenny's hand reach around to grasp his
balls in a vice grip and the other went straight to his chest, tweaking a
nipple roughly.
   "Don't even think about it," Kenny warned him, pressing against
him more firmly.
   "Oh my God, Kenny, I swear," Cody panted, breathing hard to get
himself back under control.
   "You come when I say you do and not before, you hear me?"
Kenny's voice was low and guttural against his ear and Cody could
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only whimper his agreement. Yes, he agreed. Hell, yes, he did, but the
fact of it was, Kenny was going to have to slide into him and soon if
he stood any chance of holding out.
    "Please, Kenny, come on, please," Cody begged and he could feel
Kenny's lips stretch into a smile against his shoulder. Kenny loved
this. He loved being in control. He loved ordering Cody around in the
bedroom...and it was pretty clear by the press of hard flesh against
Cody's ass that Kenny just loved tying him up and having his way.
And judging by the fact that the other man had relaxed enough to
really smile, Cody was pretty sure that Kenny knew just how much
Cody loved it, too.
     Finally...finally, the other man was letting his inhibitions go
enough to share everything about his sexuality with Cody. As much as
that pleased Cody, he knew that it meant more than just that they
would be having awesome sex for the foreseeable future. It also meant
that Kenny was opening up to share himself with Cody and that was
all that Cody had ever dreamt of.
    With a twist of his hips, Kenny slid into Cody and Cody gasped.
They were both silent for several long seconds as Kenny buried the
length of his shaft inside of Cody's well-lubed ass. The pulsing of his
cock was more than enough to send Cody over the edge but Kenny
held him fast, slowly grinding in and out of him. Cody arched his
back and moved, trying to get as much of Kenny into him as fast as he
could, but Kenny was in charge and with one quick jerk of his hips, he
could pull back or shove further inside of that slick, hot warmth,
creating his own, unique rhythm. Cody hung on, moaning urgently,
sending up prayers that he didn't just burst to pieces in Kenny's fist.
    When Kenny squeezed him tighter and his hips hitched the
slightest bit, Cody whooshed out an unsteady breath.
     "Kenny?" he pleaded.
   "Yeah, okay," Kenny hissed, jerking inside of Cody. "Come on,
baby. Come."
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    And Cody did, letting loose with a muffled curse and quivering
like crazy in Kenny's arms. The ties at his ankles and wrists held him
steady and Kenny's hands at his hips just held them tighter, closer
together. Cody bent his head trying to catch his breath. He felt
Kenny's jaw against his shoulder, his lips moving on Cody's fevered
skin.
   "It was okay?" Kenny whispered and the barest hint of uncertainty
was still in the words. Cody grinned wide and nodded.
     "Hell, yes," he breathed. "And when can we do it again?"
     Kenny laughed.
THE END
   Author bio: Jaya Christopher lives in Michigan with her husband
and cat. She loves to read and watch reality TV in her spare time.
She's a librarian by trade and always a writer at heart. You can reach
her via email at jaya.christopher@yahoo.com, or on twitter
@jayachristopher.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition                   58


Poppy Dennison – BLINDSIDED (Hurt/Comfort)
Genre: contemporary
Tags: boxing, tattoos, athletes, mafia, hurt-                       Dear Author,
comfort                                                             Ever since he lost
Words: 3,600                                                        everything he's been
                                                                    wasting away in
BLINDSIDED                                                          underground fighting rings,
                                                                    selling his meat in an
by Poppy Dennison                                                   attempt to pay back a debt
                                                                    greater than his own life.
    Noah held his fist in front of his face, the                    When events lead to his
bloody knuckles wrapped up in an old t-shirt                        fighting days abruptly
                                                                    ending, what is a broken
after last night‘s fight. He moved his fist slowly                  man to do with nothing left
to the side and after an inch or so, it                             to give? Perhaps a familiar
disappeared. Fuck. The peripheral vision in his                     looking someone can save
                                                                    his lost soul.
right eye was gone.
                                                                    [PHOTO: Two tattooed,
    A crowd‘s muffled roar came from above                          muscular fighters hold each
and he looked up as he undid the make-shift                         other tightly while kissing.
bandages from his hands. One fight down, two                        The shorter, in a white tank-
                                                                    top, has his right arm
to go. His fight was the last of the night. It                      behind his lover's lower
would probably be his last period. The boss had                     back, the left hand, wrapped
brought in some monster of a Russian for the                        in white fabric, across his
                                                                    lover's shoulders. The taller
bout. His nickname was the Terminator and
                                                                    is naked, his left hand
Noah‘d heard stories as to why. His opponents                       holding the back of his
didn‘t always walk away.                                            lover's neck, the right
                                                                    playing with his own rear.]
    The boss told Noah it would be the best
                                                                    Please give these sweeties a
fight of the night. Huge bets on the match
                                                                    happy, smexy ending~
guaranteed that he‘d make plenty of money,
                                                                    Thank you muchly!
even though he wouldn‘t see a penny of it. No,
                                                                    ~ Min
the boss got it all. Would keep getting it all until
he no longer owned Noah‘s ass.
    But with one eye barely working, he wasn‘t
sure how much longer he could fight. One solid
punch from the Russian‘s ham-sized fist and
Noah was pretty sure he‘d be totally blinded in
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition    59


his right eye. He considered dropping the left and giving the other
fighter an opening on his good side. He just didn‘t know how much
damage that would cause. Still fifty grand in the hole, Noah couldn‘t
risk losing sight in his other eye.
     He heard footsteps coming toward the locker room and cleared his
expression. It wouldn‘t do for anyone else to know he was scared
shitless to face this fighter. Noah stood up and started his dance, his
fists up in front of his face and his feet moving from side to side as he
dodged imaginary punches.
    One of the other fighters, known as The Jackal, sauntered into the
room, his face slightly battered after his time in the ring. A relative
newcomer to the scene, Jason Jackson was rapidly becoming the
fighter to beat. His quick fists and quicker feet made him hard to take
down. His nickname fit, Noah thought, because he stalked his
opponents and wore them down until he went in for the kill.
    Something about him had drawn Noah in from their first meeting.
Maybe he recognized a little of himself in him? They were a bit
similar in appearance, both with cropped dark hair and lean frames.
Jax also had a number of tattoos, and they‘d compared ink and stories
that first time they‘d met while working out.
    Noah remembered that night with mixed feelings. Jax was brand
new to the scene, hadn‘t even had his first fight for the boss yet. Mr.
Salvatore kept a run-down warehouse that they used as a gym. He
wanted his fighters in tip-top shape, which was laughable really, since
the equipment he provided was so worn out and beat up that it was
barely usable.
   That night Jax had made the rounds, introducing himself to the
few other guys there before making his way over to the bag Noah was
punching. He‘d grabbed it and kept it from swinging while Noah kept
up his hooks and jabs. After a few minutes, Noah had stopped to
shake the stiffness out of his arms and Jax had stuck out a hand.
     ―Jason Jackson, but you can call me Jax.‖
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    Noah had raised a brow, but returned the handshake. ―Noah.‖ He
didn‘t really have much to say to anyone and wasn‘t looking to make
friends, so he‘d turned and gone over to the corner where a few jump
ropes hung from a peg on the wall. He‘d grabbed the least dilapidated
one and continued his workout. Jax took a second one from the wall
and tested the handles. He huffed out a frustrated breath at the shabby
state of the rope but started to use it anyway.
   Noah had tried to ignore him, but Jax moved so fast that Noah
found himself wanting to compete. He picked up his pace, and they
found a rhythm together, the slap-slapping of the ropes hitting the
concrete floor matched by the slight squeaks from their shoes as they
found purchase.
    After several minutes, Noah was a sweaty mess. His breath came
in harsh pants and his feet began to miss their steps. He stumbled over
the rope and stopped, resting his hands on his knees. Jax stopped also,
and Noah was relieved to see that he was struggling to breathe as well.
When Jax looked like he was going to speak, Noah hung his rope back
up and went over to the weights.
     The guy was unshakable. He followed Noah to the bench and
spotted while Noah pressed the heavy barbell up and down. He leaned
over and Noah couldn‘t help but stare at his crotch in his loose, black
boxing shorts. There was a nice size bulge in them and Noah felt a
stirring of his own that he tried to ignore. He looked away and
concentrated on counting his reps, but his eyes kept drifting back to
that one spot where he shouldn‘t be fixated.
    When he finished his first set of presses, Noah sat up and rested
his arms. Jax came around and Noah did the polite thing and gave up
his seat to him. Jax laid back and got ready to do his exercise then
watched Noah expectantly. Noah held back a sigh and took his turn at
spotting. Of course, the position put his groin in the same position and
Jax definitely noticed. He licked his lips a bit and Noah pretended that
the gesture didn‘t mean anything.
     ―We going bigger?‖ Jax asked when he‘d finished.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition    61


    ―Yeah.‖ Noah grabbed another large weight off the stand and
brought it over to the equipment. After loading it on and tightening
the bolts to secure it, he returned to his spot and started his next set.
Jax again stood at his head, but this time he seemed to be just a little
closer. Noah couldn‘t tear his gaze away and when that bulge jerked
and grew bigger, he fumbled the bar and nearly crushed himself. Jax
grabbed it and helped Noah guide it back to the rest.
   Noah covered his slip by wiping his hands on his shorts. ―Sorry.
My hands were sweaty.‖
     ―You should be more careful,‖ Jax said with a wink.
    Noah could feel a blush forming and tried to fight it. Jax came
around to his side and ran a finger down Noah‘s arm. ―Nice ink,‖ he
whispered as he touched the lines of Noah‘s tattoo.
   ―Thanks.‖ Noah searched the room and realized that the other
guys had left. He felt more exposed than he had just moments before
knowing they were alone.
  Jax traced the lines of the woman on Noah‘s arm before asking,
―Who is she?‖
    No one had asked him before and Noah didn‘t want to answer.
The tattoo looked like a woman in old-fashioned clothes. She wore a
big brimmed hat and resembled a southern belle. ―My sister,‖ Noah
finally replied.
     ―She‘s beautiful.‖
    ―Yeah, she was.‖ Every time Noah remembered Natalie, he got
this big lump in his throat. The tattoo honored her in the only way he
knew how, especially since he couldn‘t really talk about her to
anyone. She was the only family he had, and now she was gone. The
medical treatments she‘d needed were so expensive that he‘d taken a
loan from Mr. Salvatore to pay for what she had to have, but they
didn‘t work and he‘d lost her anyway. And now he was trapped here,
paying off a seemingly endless debt with his fists.
     ―I‘m sorry.‖
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    Everyone always said that, Noah thought, but the words didn‘t
help. ―I‘m going to go shower. I‘ll see you around.‖ This time, Jax
didn‘t follow.
    Noah pushed the memory aside and forced his attention back to
the empty locker room where they now stood. Again that spark
between them burned brightly. Jax looked Noah up and down and
Noah felt a surge of something in his belly that he hadn‘t felt in a long
time. Noah gave him a little nod and looked away, uncomfortable
with the intensity of his stare.
    ―You ready to fight?‖ Jax asked, stepping back into Noah‘s field
of vision.
     ―Yeah,‖ Noah answered. ―Gonna be a good one.‖
    Jax snorted. ―Not if you don‘t get that right arm up. The
Terminator has a wicked left hook and you‘re dropping that side.‖ He
took a practice swing at Noah, who jerked back and nearly tripped.
―What the hell?‖ Jax jumped forward and grabbed Noah by the arms
to steady him.
    Noah shook out of his hold. ―Back off, man‖ He hated showing
his weakness in front of anyone, but he hadn‘t been expecting that
swing. His mind was focused a little further south. Jax pulled him in
closer and when Noah tried to look away, he pulled his head up so
their eyes met.
     ―Fuck. What‘s wrong with your eye?‖
     Noah flinched and tried to pull away. ―Nothing. I‘m fine.‖
     Jax ran his thumb over Noah‘s cheek. ―You aren‘t fine.‖
   Noah couldn‘t afford to let the other guys know about him. He
wasn‘t quite sure how Jax had figured it out so fast. Maybe that‘s
where his nickname came from. Weren‘t Jackals known for having
good instincts or something?
    Before Noah could think of a response, he heard more footsteps in
the hall. Heavy and slow, with a distinctive click, Noah realized the
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boss was on his way down. He jerked away from Jax and spun around
to face the hook that served as his locker.
    Mr. Salvatore‘s slick black boots appeared at Noah‘s side. One
meaty mitt clapped down on Noah‘s left shoulder and he tried not to
flinch as the boss gave his muscle a tight squeeze. His guard went
over to Jax and crossed his arms. ―Out,‖ he demanded.
     Jax nodded and left. No one questioned the boss or his goons, not
if they knew what was good for them. The guard followed him to the
door and left Noah and the boss alone. ―Big fight tonight, boy.‖
     ―Yes, sir. I‘m ready.‖
   ―You better be. I‘ve got a lot riding on this one. In fact, that‘s
what I‘m here for. Got a job for you.‖
   Noah lowered his head and held back a sigh. He knew what was
coming. ―Yes, sir.‖
   ―Third round, you go down and don‘t get back up. Make it look
good.‖
    It wasn‘t the first time he‘d been asked to throw a fight. Mr.
Salvatore liked to know where he was going to make his money for
each of the events he hosted.
     ―You got it, boss.‖ Noah knew it was pointless to argue.
    ―That‘s my boy.‖ Mr. Salvatore patted his face and smirked. ―You
do it right and it‘ll be 5 g‘s off what you owe me.‖
   Damn. Five grand for one fight would be his best payout yet.
Problem was, he wasn‘t sure he could last three rounds against his
opponent. He‘d planned on getting in and getting out fast, using his
speed to his advantage in the first round or two. The Terminator was
known for his stamina, taking fights low and slow and wearing his
opponent down.
    As Mr. Salvatore left, Noah realized just how badly he was
screwed. To go three rounds and make it look good, he was going to
have to take some early hits. He‘d have to go down once by round two
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or a knockout by three just wouldn‘t sell. That meant taking a lot more
hits early than he normally did.
    The crowd went wild and Noah knew the end of the fight was
getting closer. His was next. He checked the wrappings on his hands
one last time and left the locker room. The hallway was dimly lit and
getting hotter by the minute. The air conditioning didn‘t work very
well in the basement and it was starting to bake from all the heat
upstairs.
    He heard movement in front of him and realized Jax had slipped
out from behind a support pillar. Their eyes locked on each other and
Noah took a step closer before he realized what he was doing. Jax
reached out to him, more slowly this time so he didn‘t surprise Noah
again. His fingers trailed over Noah‘s right cheek, tracing a lingering
bruise from his last fight.
    Noah‘s eyes closed and he rolled his head into the touch. It had
been so long, too long, since he‘d let anyone comfort him. He didn‘t
want to admit he was worried about this fight, but Jax knew without
him having to say anything. He could be weak for a few moments
then he‘d put his fighting face back on and become The Rainmaker
once again.
    Jax‘s hands drifted down, over Noah‘s tense, muscled shoulders
and further. Noah dropped his head back and let out a gasping breath.
―Yes, please.‖ Jax dragged him back into a shadowed corner and
leaned against the wall.
    Noah leaned into him, pressing their bodies closer together. He
wanted skin, more of that incredible heat he could feel pouring from
Jax‘s body. He ripped at the thin, white tank top Jax wore and it
practically shredded in his hands. He left the sides hanging on Jax‘s
shoulders and looked his fill of the muscled torso he‘d revealed.
   With a groan, Jax grabbed Noah‘s head and pulled him closer.
Their lips met and Noah‘s heart began to thud. This was what he‘d
been missing. Passion, loving touches. Jax devoured him, but it was
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more than raw lust. Noah could feel the longing in his kiss and poured
every ounce of pent up emotion in return.
    Their chests slipped against each other, the heat of the hallway
and their bodies causing both of them to be wet with sweat. It still
wasn‘t enough, so Noah released his hold on Jax long enough to jerk
his own shorts down. Jax seemed to like the idea and pulled his own
until they fell to his feet then he grabbed Noah and jerked his jock
down. Noah kicked them both off and stood there gasping for breath
as Jax looked him over.
    Before he could regain his thoughts, Jax had them together again.
The rough cotton of Jax jock rubbed against the sensitive tip of
Noah‘s dick. He whimpered and Jax wrapped his arms around Noah,
one muscled arm around his shoulders and the other at his waist. Noah
held onto Jack‘s head, his hand gripping the side. With his other hand,
he reached around to rub his own ass, needed to feel something there,
even if it was just his own fingers.
    He‘d never wanted like this before. His mind left everything
behind and all he could focus on was this moment, the man who held
him so tightly. Noah dipped his fingers into his own crease, and
groaned when the tips brushed his hole. It clenched and relaxed
against him, his body responding to his need without a thought from
him.
    Jax‘s mouth on his continued to claim ownership, branding Noah
in a way no one ever had before. Noah slipped a finger inside himself
and arched further into Jax. His cock leaked, leaving streaks of
wetness against Jax‘s stomach. Jax pushed back against him, their
thick lengths both hard and aching for more.
    His breath quickened and before Noah knew it he was exploding,
his cock shooting stream after stream against Jax. ―Fuck,‖ he cried
softly against Jax‘s lips.
     Jax moaned and jerked against him and Noah could feel the jock
against him grow wetter. Noah brushed his own still hard dick against
it, feeling Jax‘s come through the soaked material. Jax kept holding
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him and leaned their foreheads together as they fought to get their
breathing under control.
    Before Noah could gather his thoughts, he heard shouts from
above. He thought for a moment that the match was over then realized
that the sounds weren‘t right. Something else was going on. He
looked up, trying to puzzle out the noises.
    Jax tightened his arms around him. ―Stay here,‖ he commanded in
a tone Noah had never heard in use before. Jax jerked up his shorts
and ran into the locker room. Noah righted his own clothing while
trying to figure out what was going on.
    When Jax came back, he had his duffle bag in his hand and a dark
t-shirt on. He tossed another toward Noah. ―Put it on. Hurry.‖
    Noah‘s brain still wasn‘t functioning at full speed, but he
complied, jerking the shirt over his head. Jax dropped his duffle on the
floor and pulled out a wallet. And a gun. Noah took several quick
steps back before he realized what he could see on the back of Jax‘s
shirt. Three big white letters. F.B.I.
     ―What the hell?‖
     ―It‘s a raid,‖ Jax responded. ―Just stay here and you‘ll be fine.‖
     ―You‘re a...‖
     ―Yeah, I‘m a fed. Just relax, okay. I‘ve got you covered.‖
     ―What...was this...‖
   Jax turned to him and rested a hand against Noah‘s cheek. ―This
was just us. Me and you. I swear.‖
    Noah felt like his universe was imploding around him. He
couldn‘t seem to function and leaned against the wall before sinking
down onto the floor. Jax knelt beside him and rubbed his hands over
his arms. ―Come on, Noah. Get ahold of yourself.‖
     ―I don‘t know what‘s going on.‖
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   ―You don‘t have to worry about that. Just know that I‘m going to
keep you safe, okay?‖
     Noah could only nod, hoping that Jax would keep his word.
     ****
     3 months later
     ―Hey, Joe! Someone‘s here to see you.‖
    Noah looked up from the stack of produce boxes he was
unloading from a delivery truck. He still wasn‘t used to answering to
‗Joe‘, but it was starting to get easier.
    ―On my way, boss.‖ He figured his contact with the U.S.
Marshal‘s was here to check up on him again. The guy stopped by
periodically to make sure Noah was toeing the line. He hopped from
the back of the truck onto the loading dock and went to the back
office. He had to stop and stare when he saw Jax standing there
waiting on him.
     ―Hi, Joe.‖
    Noah couldn‘t speak. He just kept looking at Jax. Hell, he didn‘t
even know if Jax was really his name. Jax walked forward the few
steps that separated them and held out his hand. Noah took it
automatically. Jax gave it a squeeze then rubbed his thumb across
Noah‘s.
     ―Hey,‖ Noah finally managed to force out.
     ―Did you miss me?‖ Jax asked with a smirk.
   ―Not really.‖ Only every minute for the first few terrifying weeks.
But he wouldn‘t tell Jax that.
    ―That‘s a shame. I couldn‘t wait to see you again. Your contact
finally caved and let me come visit. I‘ll be going with you to testify.‖
   Oh, yeah. The trial. Noah managed to keep it out of his thoughts
most of the time. He‘d worked out a deal with the prosecutor so no
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charges would be brought against him as long as he did his part and
told the jury his story.
    ―That‘s cool.‖ It really wasn‘t. Noah didn‘t know if he could
handle Jax in such close proximity after what had happened the night
of the raid.
   ―And then I was thinking we could maybe go somewhere, get to
know each other a little more.‖
   Noah realized Jax was still holding his hand and he moved it
away. He wiped it down his black uniform pants and stuffed it into his
pocket. ―Why?‖
    Jax stepped in even closer and ran his now free hand over Noah‘s
cheek. ―Because I can‘t get you out of my mind. I‘ve never felt this
way before and I want to know what it means,‖ Jax paused and took a
breath. ―Tell me if you don‘t feel the same and I‘ll leave you alone.‖
   Noah took a deep breath and blew it out. In a way, he did feel the
same. He just wasn‘t sure he wanted to confess that. Wasn‘t sure he
was ready to say that out loud to anyone, much less someone he didn‘t
even really know. He took another breath and looked up into Jax‘s
eyes. ―What‘s your name?‖
     ―Jackson Michael Edwards.‖
     ―So I can still call you Jax?‖
     ―Yeah, you can.‖
    Noah couldn‘t help it. He smiled. It felt weird since he hadn‘t used
the expression in so long. ―Okay, Jax. If you‘ll take me somewhere
warm and sunny after all this is over, I‘ll go.‖
   Jax laughed and leaned their foreheads together. ―Tired of Indiana
winter already?‖
   ―So fucking tired you don‘t even know. And if I have to unload
another damn box of apples, I‘ll scream.‖
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    Jax pulled him closer and pressed a quick kiss to Noah‘s lips.
―Then let‘s get going. You have a family emergency and I‘m here to
take you home.‖
   Noah didn‘t miss the emphasis Jax put on the word. Home. That
sounded good.
THE END

   Author bio: Poppy Dennison is a new author to the m/m genre
and her first novel is in development. You can find more information
on Poppy and her writing at http://paranormalpoppy.blogspot.com/
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Taylor V. Donovan – HEATSTROKE (Angst)
Genre: contemporary
Tags: Family secrets, lies, angst, HEA,                             Dear Author,
intolerance, sacrifice, romance, emotional                          They met while vacationing
Words: 31,889                                                       on a tropical beach, can
                                                                    their summertime romance
HEATSTROKE                                                          last?

by Taylor V. Donovan                                                [PHOTO: Two very
                                                                    muscular, tanned men are
                                                                    naked on the beach. One is
     CHAPTER ONE                                                    lying down, his left knee
    Michael Spencer wiped his nose with the                         bent, his head (to the right)
                                                                    in the lap of his lover. The
back of his hand and waited a few seconds,                          dark-haired, kneeling lover
making sure the most recent sneeze attack was                       is leaning over him, hands
under control before he opened a box and                            to either side of his
                                                                    shoulders, about to kiss him
started going through its content. He wasn‘t
                                                                    upside-down.]
surprised when he found nothing but ties, belts,
                                                                    Sincerely,
shoes, some sports shirts with awfully wide
                                                                    Lily
lapels and a lot of dust. He put the box away
and grabbed another from what looked like a
pile of at least a hundred, neatly stacked against
the far wall of the attic. This time he found
ancient women‘s gowns and gloves under a
thick layer of dust.
    ―Are you okay?‖ His best friend‘s voice
reached him from the phone he was holding
between his cheek and shoulder.
     ―The dust is killing me.‖
     ―Did you find anything?‖
     ―Not yet, Charlie.‖
     ―Where are you looking now?‖
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   ―Some old dresser.‖ Michael closed one drawer and opened the
next, hoping he would find something he could use.
   ―Please, don‘t tell me you‘re touching your granny‘s vintage
unmentionables.‖
    Michael moved said unmentionables and other clothing articles to
the side to make sure nothing was underneath. ―Of course I am not.
Why would she keep old underwear up here?‖
     ―You are touching them.‖
    Michael chuckled at the mix of horror and disgust in his best
friend‘s voice. He could never fool Charlie. ―So what if I am?‖
     ―You‘re a freak.‖
    ―I‘m a freak?‖ Michael moved from the dresser to the box that
was on top of it. ―Should I remind you of that time you were making
out with a blowup doll in the middle of the school‘s football field at
three o‘clock in the morning?‖
    ―That was once, and I was highly intoxicated.‖ Michael chuckled
again. Intoxicated or not, totally straight, I-live- for-tits Charlie was
never going to live down getting caught fondling the male blowup
doll the rest of their friends had given Michael as a gag gift on his
sixteenth birthday. ―Find anything?‖
    ―Nope.‖ Michael closed the box and looked around the room,
trying to figure out where to look next.
   ―You looked in her bedroom, right? Under the mattress? Old
people like to hide their shit under the mattress.‖
   ―First place I checked.‖ And only for good measure, as somehow
Michael had known he wouldn‘t find anything there. He started
opening boxes randomly.
    ―You should have let me come over to the lake with you,‖ Charlie
said for the hundredth time. ―I could be helping you.‖
   He couldn‘t answer right away, as yet another sneeze attack left
him with itchy, teary eyes, a throbbing head and a running nose. The
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dust was killing him for real, but Michael refused to give up. He had
been waiting for an opportunity to search this house for almost two
years and wasn‘t about to let some dirt and snot stop him from doing
so now.
    ―You know I would have killed someone just to have you here
with me, but Mom is still in a snit after Paul‘s phone call. She says I‘ll
be grounded until I leave for college.‖ Michael wiped his face with his
T-shirt and looked around the attic, wishing everything was labeled
and he didn‘t have to sort through forty or fifty years of boxed junk.
He wasn‘t entirely sure what he was looking for, but hoped he would
find something that either confirmed or denied his suspicions within
the next two hours and well before his family came back home.
     He sneezed again.
     Michael disliked dust almost as much as he disliked visiting
Grandma Elizabeth. Her place, located on Lake Tahoe, was so far
from their house in California it took forever and three weeks to get to
it. And if that wasn‘t bad enough, they had to deal with her attitude to
boot. His grandma was a recluse and seemed to resent her own
family‘s sporadic visits. She didn‘t bother to hide the fact that she
preferred to be alone either. Bitterness surrounded her and it was
almost suffocating to be around her.
    For as long as he could remember, Grandma had never been a
happy person. None of his recollections from when he was a kid
included tender hugs or homemade chocolate chip cookies baked
especially for him. In fact, the older he got, the colder her demeanor
towards him was. There were never cute birthday cards or long talks
about happier times in her life, but Michael clearly remembered her
slapping him in his face for touching her things and then forbidding
him from going near this very same attic the one time he had gone
inside and opened a few trunks. To Michael, it had been nothing but
an innocent game of treasure hunt, but now that he was older, he
could see that Grandma had reacted as if he had uncovered the
family‘s darkest secret.
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    He was nine then and hadn‘t uncovered anything, but he was
determined to do so now.
   ―You‘ll be eighteen in like, a month, dude.‖ He heard Charlie say.
―She can‘t ground you.‖
    ―Like that would make a difference to my mother.‖ The dust was
so bad that all of a sudden Michael found himself needing a reminder
of why he was there, risking both the wrath of his grandmother and
losing his lungs.
     He wiped his face again and very carefully pulled the picture he‘d
been carrying with him for the past two years out of his jeans pocket.
It was black and white and not an original, as he had printed it out
from the Internet, but it was big and clear enough for him to notice the
striking resemblance between himself and the young man posing in
front of the 20th Century Fox Studios logo some forty-five years ago.
    The man in the picture was an actor named Richard Bancroft, and
had become an obsession to him the moment he started suspecting
who he could be. Since then Michael had printed out everything he
could find on the guy. He had also purchased his movies online and
watched episodes of the T.V. shows he‘d been on hundreds of times
on the Internet. And all the time Michael had been impatiently waiting
for the chance to get to his Grandma‘s house and take a look at the
things she guarded like a Doberman would his favorite bone.
    He folded the picture and put it back in his pocket before going
through a few more boxes, his impatience growing as quickly as the
minutes were passing. There didn‘t seem to be anything but old
clothes and shoes and he was running out of time. After another
sneeze attack, it occurred to Michael that heavier things such as
documents and photo albums would be under everything else, so he
moved the boxes from the top of the pile out of his way and opened a
few of the ones from the bottom at the same time. There had to be
something inside at least one of them that would answer his questions
once and for all.
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    ―But you‘re an adult now,‖ Charlie was saying. ―She doesn‘t have
a say anymore.‖
   ―I‘m not an adult just yet and she says she can do whatever she
wants, especially when I misbehave.‖
    ―That‘s so much BS,‖ Charlie complained. ―You weren‘t
misbehaving. You‘re a teenager and your hormones are all over the
place. She can‘t expect for you to not take care of that. I mean, what
are you supposed to do? Jerk off all the time?‖
     ―Maybe….‖
   ―And to not let us hang out for an entire month because you had
your hands all over some boy‘s bits is just plain wrong, dude. Your
mother is evil.‖
    ―You know what is evil? This damn attic!‖ Michael sneezed. ―I
will never be able to find anything.‖
    ―You gotta take it easy and concentrate, dude.‖ Charlie rushed to
say. ―You‘ve been waiting to get in there like, forever, right?‖
     More like forever and a day, but who was counting?
    The first time Michael suspected there could be some skeletons in
his Grandma‘s closet he was only fifteen years old and away at a very
exclusive boarding school in New Jersey. Academic elitists that they
were, his parents decided they would jumpstart his very well planned
Ivy League education the moment he turned twelve by sending him to
a school located literally down the road from Princeton University. It
was also about 3,000 miles away from their home in Silicon Valley,
California.
    Michael knew he had been sent to that particular school because it
had a rigorous academic reputation and the best science program in
the country, but luckily for him it also had supportive teachers, an
inclusive policy and a very rich arts program. He had loved it out
there.
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    It was during his third year at Worthington Academy that he got
involved in the drama club. He loved the stage, the lights and the
costumes, but more than the acting, it was all the aspects of the
production that really fascinated him. Helping things move along
backstage made him happy and he wished for nothing else.
     He got it anyway.
    During his fourth year at Worthington he landed one of the male
lead roles in the school‘s revival of Café Au Lait, a very popular
Broadway musical. The director of their drama club swore Michael
was a dead ringer for Richard Bancroft; the young actor that had made
the character of Bernard Collins famous in the early 1960s. He
demanded that Michael take on the role; no buts, no excuses.
    Truth was, Michael hadn‘t made a big deal out of looking like
some famous dude from years ago, but his flippant attitude changed a
few months later when he traveled home during the school‘s holiday
break.
    For reasons he couldn‘t remember, Grandma Elizabeth happened
to be staying with his parents at the time, and she lost her shit when
Michael mentioned his theater director thought he looked just like this
Richard guy. She had screamed that Michael didn‘t look anything like
that perverted actor and demanded from his father that he put a stop to
that theater nonsense. She also said his father shouldn‘t allow for him
to have anything to do with acting, because that world was one of pure
evil and sin. She had then looked at Michael again and forbidden him
from ever speaking that man‘s name again, just like she had forbidden
him from going into the attic all those years ago.
    Michael‘s curiosity had been so piqued by his grandma‘s extreme
reaction that he had started looking online for information on Richard
Bancroft the moment he got back to school. There had to be a reason
why his grandma had looked like she‘d seen a ghost the moment he
mentioned the actor‘s name.
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    He wiped his nose and looked around again. ―There‘s shit all over
the place!‖ He complained to Charlie again. ―I will never be able to
find a thing here!‖
    ―Dude, you gotta stop whining and just, concentrate, okay? This is
a very important thing we‘re doing here.‖
    ―We?‖ Michael kicked one of the boxes and winced when the old
carton didn‘t give. ―I don‘t see you eating dust and sweating your
balls off.‖
    ―But you know I am there in spirit.‖ Michael crouched next to the
box that didn‘t give in, opened it and gasped when he discovered a
small trunk under a musty blanket that was filled with pictures and old
documents. ―Yesssss! This is what I‘m talking about.‖ He peeked
inside and there was no containing his excitement at the sight of a face
that could have been his own looking at him from almost every
picture.
    ―What? What did you find?‖ Michael couldn‘t answer. He was
speechless. Torn between feeling happy over what could only be
classified as the most successful treasure hunt adventure of his life
and outrage over what his grandma had done. ―Dude?‖
    Michael kept taking things out of the box. He found old
notebooks, a few leather-bound journals, two Oscar statues, a Tony
Award and a bunch of old letters.
     ―Hey, Mike!‖ He heard his friend calling, but he didn‘t answer.
Some of the letters were from a Helen Bancroft. Some others were
from Richard Bancroft and the vast majority from a Helen Wallace,
all of them addressed to Grandma Elizabeth. ―Dude, are you there?‖
    ―Yeah… Yeah, I am here…‖ There were several letters from a
Manuel Guzman addressed to Richard Bancroft. He also found an old
baseball signed by the Guzman guy and some tickets to the 1966
World Series. There was nothing from Grandpa George Spencer. Not
a damn thing.
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   ―What‘s going on? Why are you so quiet? Did you find
anything?‖
     ―Hold on a second, Charlie.‖
     ―But….‖
    ―Hold on!‖ Michael put the house phone down on the attic‘s floor
and inspected the letters. Many were addressed to Mary Elizabeth
Bancroft and sent to some place in Malibu, California. The ones
addressed to Richard Bancroft had been sent to the same place. Next,
he found a black and white picture of two guys making out on the
beach. The leaner one was lying on the sand, his arms resting on his
sides; his head on the bigger guy‘s lap. That guy was leaning over the
smaller one, upside-down. Their eyes were closed, but Michael could
have sworn he could see the passion between them. Their lips weren‘t
quite touching, but the intention was obvious. They were about to kiss
when the picture was taken. ―Son of a bitch….‖
     ―Dude! What the hell is going on? I am waiting here!‖
    Michael ignored the screaming coming from the phone and turned
the picture around. ―Florida Keys, Summer of ‘64,‖ he whispered.
―Jesus….‖
    ―Mike! Get on the phone right now!‖ This time Michael grabbed
the phone.
     ―Yeah… I‘m here…‖ He could not stop staring at the picture.
    ―What the hell is wrong with you?‖ Charlie yelled. ―Why did you
leave me hanging like that? Did you find anything? Are you still in
the attic?‖ Michael wasn‘t surprised at his friend‘s spiel. Charlie
always talked a mile a minute when he was nervous or excited. ―You
need to get out, dude. You‘ve been there for like an hour. They‘re
bound to be back any minute now.‖
   ―I need for you to look up a few addresses for me on the Internet.
Service here sucks and I can‘t use my laptop.‖ Michael knew Charlie
wouldn‘t hesitate to do as asked. They had been best friends for years
and had each other's back. Not to mention, Charlie was the only
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person in the world with whom Michael had shared his suspicions,
and he knew the guy would do whatever he could to help Michael
discover the truth. ―Find out who‘s living in those houses as soon as
you can, okay?‖
     ―You found something. What is it?‖
    ―Letters to a Mary Elizabeth Bancroft from Helen and Richard
Bancroft. I‘m pretty sure Mary Elizabeth is my grandma. I have
something from a Helen Wallace, too. Maybe Helen Bancroft got
married. There are also some letters from a Manuel Guzman to
Richard. A signed baseball by Guzman and a picture… like a porn
picture… Well, not really porn but they‘re naked… I think it‘s them.
One of the guys is definitely Richard… and I‘m pretty sure the other
guy is Guzman. He looks Latino.‖
    ―You found a signed baseball by Manuel Guzman?‖ Charlie
shrieked. ―Gold Glove Award winner, three time MVP, hall of famer,
got his number retired because he‘s so fucking good Manuel Guzman?
That Manny Guzman? Do you have any idea how much that ball
would sell for?‖ Leave it to Charlie to not bat an eye at the news that
some ball player from the past who seemed to be famous had also
been gay. Lord, he loved his friend so much. ―Millions, Mike.
Millions! I can‘t believe your gran—‖
   ―Can we discuss this later?‖ Michael interrupted him. ―Grab a pen
and paper and write this information down.‖
    Michael disconnected the call the second he was done giving
Charlie some instructions. A quick look through some of the
documents told him he had all the proof he would ever need, so he
didn‘t waste time searching for anything else. Instead he put mostly
everything back where he had found it, then grabbed a bag and filled
it with tangible evidence of what he now knew were years of deceit on
Grandma Elizabeth‘s part.
    By the time his family returned home, the bag was safely hidden
in Michael‘s room and he was lounging on the relatively private
rooftop, making his way through page after page of what looked like
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the not so happy story of a man whose disappearance was one of
Hollywood‘s biggest mysteries of all time.


     CHAPTER TWO
    Mr. Thompson was Michael‘s drama club director, and such a
huge fan of Richard Bancroft that he didn‘t seem to be able to stop
talking about him. As a result, it had taken only one afternoon for
Michael to learn that the actor had done films, television and
Broadway shows; that every single one of his performances was
outstanding; that he had been nominated for three Oscars, winning
two of them, and that he would have been the world‘s biggest legend
had he not suddenly disappeared from the limelight after only six
successful years in the entertainment business.
    Nobody knew what had really happened to the guy, but even
though decades had passed, there was still speculation and plenty of
rumors. Some claimed facial disfigurement as a consequence of a car
accident had put an end to Bancroft‘s career; some others said it was a
torrid affair with the wife of a powerful Hollywood producer that
ultimately had forced him to retire. The craziest theory said a producer
paid someone to kill him and dispose of the body. But it was all
speculation as nothing had ever been documented, and that included
Richard‘s possible death.
    But now, Michael knew the guy had been bisexual at the very
least. He could not wait to find out if Bancroft‘s sexuality had played
a role in his disappearance and whether his grandma had been
involved in it.
    He decided to read the letters from Manuel to Richard first, and
did so in no particular order.
    There were twelve in total and postmarked from several cities all
over the country. And they were extremely brief, too, giving Michael
the impression the author wasn‘t into writing. There was a note
thanking Richard ―for coming to the game, too bad we lost‖; another
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one ―for the tickets, I really enjoyed the movie‖ and one for ―giving
me the best birthday cake ever. I never had frosting served to me in
such a way. Can‘t wait to have it again.‖
    Michael giggled when he read that. ―Oh, Richard, you naughty
boy. Where did you put that frosting, hmm?‖ And by Manuel‘s tone,
there was no doubt it had been a rather interesting place. Or should he
say pleasurable? Then he realized he was talking about a man that
most likely was related to him, and the ick factor put a halt to his
curiosity. ―Yuck.‖
    Another envelope contained a formal invitation to the final home
game of the 1966 World Series in Los Angeles. Michael assumed the
tickets he found in the attic had been included with the invitation. It
was pretty innocent stuff. Nothing one friend wouldn‘t send to
another.
     The next letter, though; that was a completely different story….


     June 11, 1965
     Dear Richard,
    The last time we were together, you said we needed to slow down.
That if we continued to see each other so much and so often, both our
careers would be in jeopardy. You said that my time away with the
team would help to put a stop to suspicions people might have had.
You said we couldn‘t really trust anyone outside our small group and
that it was in our best interest to not write or call one another for the
time being. You said, right before you left, that you needed to think
about all this and decide how to proceed. Stupid that I am, I believed
you meant you were going to try to find a way for us to be together
without having to worry about what other people think or say. I
thought we‘re going to find a way to make things right for us.
    I‘ve been back for a month now and haven‘t heard from you. No
calls, no letters, no messages of any type. You never replied to mine
either. I asked Benjamin every single day what‘s going on. I asked if
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you were busy with a new movie. I asked if you were sick, or maybe
out of town, but he never answered. I was so goddamn worried about
you that I couldn‘t see the meaning of it all. Truth is, you took the
cowards way out and left me high and dry. And then you made sure to
do everything you could to show me you have no desire of seeing me
again; to make it clear that you have moved on. And today I found out
why. But not through you, as you didn‘t have the cojones to be upfront
about this and tell me to my face.
     I know you won‘t be happy when you get home and find
correspondence from me. You were probably hoping I would be
gracious enough to accept all this without a fight. But I am not
gracious and I‘m not an asshole. I mean, what kind of candyass do
you think I am? I wish I could, don‘t get me wrong. I am so hacked at
you right now I really wish I could tell you to go fuck yourself for
what you‘ve done to me and be done with you. One second I want to
tell you that I‘ll be fine and I wish you the best, but then I close my
eyes and see that picture of you and her together on the newspaper
and want to slug you as hard as I can. To put a goddamn wedding
announcement on the news without saying anything to me first was
low. How could you do this to me? To us?
    Why the hell are you doing this? What is it going to take for you to
understand this is not the solution? How far are you willing to go in
order to hide who you are? Have you been with her? Gone all the way
with her? I hope not. You are mine and I told you, I am not sharing
you. Not with other men and definitely not with a woman. Marrying
Mary won‘t change a thing, and you barely know her, Richard. You
certainly don‘t love her. You love me! And I love you and you are
fucking killing me. Breaking my heart into so many pieces I doubt I
will ever be able to patch it up.
   I wish times were different and we were free to be together. I wish
people would understand that we are not the mental cases they make
our kind out to be, but they don‘t and that‘s something we have to
deal with. Maybe some day in the future men like us will be able to be
open about who we love, but I can‘t wait that long. I can‘t be without
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you for however long is going to take people to get their heads out of
their asses. I‘d rather hide with you than lose you forever. I need to
see you. This desire I feel for you is consuming me, and I can‘t
conceal my yearning for you any longer. I need you in my life and you
need me in yours and that‘s all that matters. People can take their
opinions and go to hell.
    Don‘t marry her, Richard. I am begging you. Please don‘t marry
her. Let‘s leave. Me and you, together. We can leave all this behind.
Pack some bags and burn rubber out of this town. We can find a
way… work things out… we will be discreet, but we‘ll be together. We
can drive until the road ends; get a pad among strangers that won‘t
recognize us and be happy forever. Just, don‘t marry her. Please,
please don‘t marry her. Let‘s talk about this. Will you meet me so that
we can talk about it? You‘ve got to. A week from today at my house
should work for you. I know you‘re in town. Please. I‘ll be waiting for
you, seven o‘clock. Please.
     Yours always,
     Manny
    ―Holy… shit…‖ Michael put the letter down and raked his fingers
through his blond hair. ―Holy… shit!‖ He got up from his chair and
started pacing around the roof, trying to wrap his mind around
everything he had just learned.
    Richard Bancroft had not only been gay, but also in a relationship
with Manuel Guzman before he‘d gone and married Grandma
Elizabeth; and there was no way that this Mary mentioned in the letter
was not his grandmother. No frigging way. ―Holy fucking shit.‖
     Manuel Guzman had been Latino, and going by what Charlie said,
a famous baseball player as well. It didn‘t get any more jock than that.
Still, he had begged Richard not to get married and just run away with
him instead. Michael could only imagine the kind of love he must
have felt for Richard, in order to be willing to give up everything for
him.
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     And Richard had gotten married anyway.
    Had he not loved Manuel? Had he been experimenting with the
guy? Did he ever make it to that game Manuel had invited him to?
Because, that had been after his wedding, right? And why did he
disappear after getting married? Had he changed his mind?
    Michael reached for his backpack and took out the plastic folder
he had brought with him from California. It contained everything he
had been able to find on Richard Bancroft. There were newspaper
articles of his movies, his accomplishments, his wedding and the birth
of his son, Richard Lewis Bancroft the Third. Michael even found
pictures of him and Manny together at the beach, what seemed to be a
concert and a baseball game, but everything was dated prior to 1968.
    Few news articles mentioned the wife Michael kept carefully
separated from everything else. There wasn‘t much information other
than her being from New Jersey and twenty years old when she
married Richard. But there were also a few pictures.
    Mary Bancroft had been a very pretty lady. She also happened to
look an awful lot like Grandma Elizabeth did in the few pictures
Michael had seen of her from when she was young.
    The first time Michael came across a picture of Mary Bancroft he
had been struck stupid, and now that he had found Richard‘s stuff in
her possession, Michael didn‘t have any doubts his grandma had some
explaining to do.


     CHAPTER THREE
     Michael claimed a stomach virus and skipped dinner that night.
Not only could he not face his grandma just yet, he was far too
anxious to just sit with the family and pretend everything was okay.
He had to figure out what had happened with Richard and was hoping
to find the answer in one of the journals the guy had kept. The sooner
he started reading, the better.
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     February 10, 1960
    Tonight I was sent to bed without dessert. I think I would have
been excused from the table without eating anything at all if I had not
waited until dinner was served before sharing my news with my
parents. I would have preferred to wait a little longer, but I was
running out of time. My parents needed to know that I am not
attending college after I graduate from high school in a few months. I
knew they would not be happy. They want for me to be a dentist, just
like Dad. I was expecting for them to be upset, but not so much.
Mother said it was all her fault for taking me and Helen to see Ages of
Man on Broadway. She cried so much she almost choked on her tears
and my old man pounded me so hard I will probably feel it for a
month. They finally sent me to my room. That‘s fine, though. I know
Helen will bring me a slice of Mom‘s delicious apple pie as soon as
my parents go to bed. She is the best sister in the world.
    It makes me sad that they feel disappointed, but this is my life. My
dream. Hopefully some day they will understand this is something I
have to do. I feel like I was born for it. It feels as if I would die if I
don‘t get to perform on a stage. And I won‘t give in if they insist on
sending me to college. I have been saving money. When I turn
eighteen, I will score a ride to New York City if I have to.
    My name is Richard Lewis Bancroft and some day I will be a
primo actor. Just like James Dean.


     June 9, 1960
    I have tried my best to get my parents to understand my passion
for film and theater, but they refuse to listen. Night after night, I tried
to explain it to them, but my unwavering resolve to get them to see
things my way got them more upset every day. I have now graduated
from high school and they are barely speaking to me. I do not blame
them, but I resent their attitude.
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     July 17, 1960
    I had promised myself I would not allow for my parents‘
disapproval to stop me from going after what I want, and I did not.
Only one week after graduation I packed a suitcase, collected my
savings and boarded a train to New York; determination my only
traveling companion from my hometown in New Jersey to the City of
Dreams. I wish it would have been different… I would have liked to
been able to count on them….


     October 23, 1960
    I thought it would be easier. I had convinced myself I just needed
to move to New York and everything else would work itself out. I
thought I would be able to start auditioning for roles at once. I was
very naïve. I am barely surviving.
    It would have been much harder had Helen not given me her own
savings. She insisted I take the money and keep it for an emergency.
Now I am grateful for her foresight. It has taken longer than I thought
to find work, and suitable accommodations are costly. I manage to
make a coin occasionally helping ladies carry their packages, but it is
not enough. It is my sister‘s money that has kept me fed now that my
own savings have run out.
   I am starting to get worried… Did I make a mistake by coming
here? Maybe I should have waited a little longer… at least until I had
saved more money…


     November 23, 1960
    I am cold. And hungry. I miss Mom‘s cooking. Helen says I should
come home for Thanksgiving, but I don‘t think that‘s a good idea. My
parents are still mad. They have not answered any of my letters. I am
just going to go to bed early. If I am not awake, I won‘t notice how
hungry I am.
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     December 2, 1960
    I finally found work. Steady work. I will be a waiter at a very nice
restaurant close to the theater district. The owner said Broadway
actors frequently eat at his place. I cannot wait to see them. Maybe I
will even get to serve them… and some day, I will have supper with
them.


    ―Seriously, Richard? Seriously?‖ Michael turned a few pages on
the old notebook he was reading and rolled his eyes. ―If you liked
writing so much you should‘ve been an author instead of an actor
dude.‖ He glanced at the other notebooks and journals that were
hidden in the closet and groaned. ―There‘s gotta be hundreds of
journal entries there. This is going to take forever!‖ He put the
notebook down and groaned again. He was very tempted to skip a few
dozen entries. He already knew Richard had succeeded in becoming
an actor, but curiosity won over impatience. Even if it took him all
night, Michael would get as familiar as he could with Richard
Bancroft.


     December 31, 1960
     I miss my family so much….


     February 19, 1961
    I am exhausted. My job as a waiter is not glamorous. I work hard.
I work long hours and I don‘t get to sleep much. I am not going to
bemoan my situation, as working at the restaurant allows me to meet
many personalities from the entertainment business. I am also making
enough money to pay for my classes at The Actors Studio, and that is
exactly what I came all the way to New York for. There will be time to
rest soon enough.
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     May 3, 1961
   I got my first paying acting job today. It was through a talent
agent who is also a regular costumer at the restaurant that I learned
about the auditions for a soda pop commercial and I got it!


     September 13, 1961
    I have done four different commercials now. My face is known in
both television and gazettes. I have also auditioned for twenty
different plays and musicals, but I have not been called back. So
frustrating….
    Michael wiped the drool off his cheek and blinked several times,
trying to focus on the numbers displayed on his mp3 player dock.
     2:51 A.M.
    He left the journal he was still holding on the bed and headed to
the bathroom Last he read, Richard had been doing commercials and
getting impatient but there were no juicy details. Nothing as revealing
as Manny‘s letter had been. No wonder Michael had fallen asleep.
    It wasn‘t that the entries were boring. Unlike Manny, Richard had
obviously enjoyed writing in his journal. It was going to be awesome
to get to know the man through his most intimate thoughts, but at the
moment, Michael was more interested in what had happened between
him and Grandma Elizabeth than he was in his feelings.
     He went back to his room and kept on reading.


     October 29, 1961
     I landed a small part on an off-Broadway play. Finally!


     November 25, 1961
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    I still miss mom‘s cooking, but this year‘s Thanksgiving was
much, much better than last. I was signed by a very prestigious talent
agency and invited to a formal dinner party. I have now made some
friends… it is not so lonely anymore. No time to feel lonely, between
work and acting classes. The work at the restaurant is a thing of the
past.


     April 6, 1962
    Having an agent made all the difference in the world to me. I have
now appeared on several television shows and worked in two more
plays. I am making money and gaining recognition at what others say
is an outstanding speed. I could not disagree more.
    I wonder if my parents know… wonder if they still think I am a
failure for not becoming a dentist. More than anything, I would want
to know if they still love me.


     September 16, 1962
    I was offered a lead role in Café Au Lait, a Broadway musical
about a white man striking a friendship with a black man who was
born on the wrong side of the tracks. My agent does not think it is a
good idea for me to take it, but I think I will. I want to take this
opportunity and deliver a message of equality to the audience while at
the same time doing something I love. There seem to be so much
segregation out there… so much judgment….
     October 23, 1962
    Café Au Lait has been well received by the audiences. The show is
a hit, and there is some noise I might be getting nominated for a Tony.
     Richard Lewis Bancroft, best actor in a musical.


     November 29, 1962
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    Some people are born under a lucky star, and the thunderous
sound of applause coming from the audience when the cast of Café Au
Lait took its final bow on closing night made me realize I must be one
of them. How else could I explain my success and popularity after
only two years since leaving home?
    I am sad that Café Au Lait has closed, but excited about what is
coming next for me and my career. There were some Hollywood
producers in the audience tonight, and after the curtain fell on the last
act, they came to my dressing room. They were so impressed with my
performance that they have offered me a big part in their next film.
Tomorrow they will be meeting with my agent, and if the terms of the
contract are mutually agreeable, I will be moving to Los Angeles
soon.
     I wish I could share my exciting news with my family, but, they
still don‘t talk to me. Fortunately, Helen does. She writes me letters
often and even came to see my plays a few times with her friend Mary
Elizabeth. She is still the best sister in the world… my only family,
perhaps… I am going to miss her dearly when I leave New York.


    Michael almost jumped out of the bed when his phone went off in
his shorts pocket. Cell phone service so high in the mountains was
crappy at best. He had not been expecting to get any calls, and a quick
glance at the screen had him wishing he still didn‘t have a signal.
    He groaned when he saw it was 4:30 A.M. He had fallen asleep
again.
     Michael let the voicemail pick up the call and didn‘t bother to
listen to the message. He didn‘t feel like talking to Paul. The guy had
ignored his instructions to not call him on his house phone in
California and managed to get him in a whole lot of trouble with his
parents as a result. Now Michael was pissed at Paul both for acting
like a clingy bitch and for running his mouth about what they had
done. He needed to decide how he was going to deal with that
situation. School was over and so were things with Paul. He was
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going to college soon and he had to tell the guy again, in no uncertain
terms, that there was no future for them.
   But not right now. Michael didn‘t have the head or the time for
anything other than Richard Lewis Bancroft; the role he had played in
Grandma Elizabeth‘s life and ultimately his own.
    He grabbed a journal, shuffled through a few pages and continued
to read.


     February 17, 1963
    Upon my arrival in Los Angeles, the studio set me up in the
apartment that I now call home. Leighton Place is very nice. I
particularly like the explosion of color around me. The coral paint on
the walls provides warmth, and the climbing roses and bougainvillea
give me some privacy from my neighbors. It is nothing like my place
in New York. I have been here for a month and I love it, but that will
not stop me from moving to Beverly Hills when I can afford to buy one
of those mansions. It will be a while, though. Not making that much
money yet.


     May 5, 1963
    Filming movies is nothing like I thought it would be. The magic
only happens on screen. The effort it takes to create that magic can be
grueling at times. But I am fascinated with the process and being able
to learn new ways of bringing my characters to life is quite a rush.
Being in the presence of movie stars I have admired for years is a
dream come true: working with them, an honor. I treasure everything
I have learned from them so far. Still, I miss the theater, as no other
experience can compare to having direct interaction with the
audience and getting their reaction to your work at once. Can‘t wait
to do it again… Hopefully soon.
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     July 26, 1963
    I miss seeing Helen. The distance is so great between us it is not
easy for her to fly out to see me. We write letters all the time, but it is
not the same.
    I feel lonely here… Always surrounded by people, but somehow
apart from them all. The only person outside work I talk to is Francis.
He cleans the pool in my apartment complex and takes care of small
repairs around the place. We started a conversation once and I guess
we have become friends. I wish I had more time to spend with him,
though. He has many interesting stories, even though he is only three
years older than me. He makes me laugh. I feel good around him.


     ―Here we go…‖ Michael straightened up and squinted. His eyes
felt gritty and he was getting a headache from trying to stay awake,
but he was finally getting somewhere. ―Was Francis your first crush,
Richard?‖ He turned the page and skimmed through a few entries.
―Come on… I want to know….‖


     September 20, 1963
    There is so much to do I don‘t even have time to update my own
journal. From now on, I will only make new entries when something
significant happens… or if I feel overwhelmed by things.


     October 17, 1963
    I can now add Benjamin Newman to my short list of friends. He is
one of my producers in the movie I am currently filming and has taken
me under his wing. He says we are kindred spirits; that we are the
same. I don‘t understand how, as he is almost twenty years my senior.
I ask him what makes us so similar, but he doesn‘t answer. He only
insists we are. He even says there are many other kindred spirits, just
like us, and one day he will get a few together and introduce me. I am
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still confused by what he means, but Benjamin is an excellent man
that I will always defer to. It will be a good thing to meet others like
him.


    ―Kindred spirits, huh?‖ Michael chuckled and turned the page. ―Is
that what they called gays back then or was Benjamin trying to not
freak you out with revelations of your own sexuality? Dude, I really
hope you don‘t have any graphic details here or I‘m gonna puke….‖


     December 31, 1963
    It is almost the end of what has been the busiest year of my life. As
I believe that deserves a longer journal entry, I will write a brief
summary of what is happening in my life.
    I have been working day after day since the moment I landed in
Los Angeles. I take acting, singing and dance lessons. I meet new
people every day and do my best to not feel overwhelmed by
Hollywood‘s glamorous and oftentimes over the top lifestyle. Being a
boy from a small town in New Jersey, I am afraid it gets to me more
than I like to admit.
    I still feel lonely the vast majority of time. I still miss my Mom‘s
cooking, but not as much. I have learned to live without their
presence. My parents‘; not Helen‘s. Never Helen‘s. Right now, I need
a hug from my dear sister more than anything else. Instead, I will be
attending a New Year‘s Eve party with perhaps hundreds of strangers
and acquaintances. I will be surrounded by alcohol, smokes and
sexpots that I am told I can have whenever I want. I am not interested
in doing such a thing. Many think I am strange. I am only twenty.
They say any other man my age would be taking advantage of what‘s
so freely offered to me, but I can‘t. I find their strong perfume
nauseating… their shoulders too narrow… skin too pale… voices too
high pitched… I know the women attending the party will be some of
the most beautiful in the world, yet I find my body does not react to
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them. Maybe in the future, once I have established myself as an actor
in this town, I will start showing some interest. Right now, becoming
sexually active is the least of my worries. I need to concentrate on
people and events that will help advance my career. This is the only
reason why I will attend this party tonight.
    I wish I could bring Francis with me as my guest, but he is not
part of this world I live in. Not to mention, I was expected to bring a
lady. I chose to go alone, of course. Fortunately for me, Benjamin will
be there. He is hosting this soiree, after all. I hope he can spare some
time to be with me.
    Am I happy here? Absolutely. Do I wish I could just come home
after work without having to interact with half the people I do? Every
single day. It is a gossip mill here. Everyone knows everybody else‘s
affairs, and I am a private sort. I don‘t want to know what they are up
to, and most certainly don‘t want them knowing everything I do. I
keep to myself as much as I can.


     February 14, 1964
    Something is happening to me. Whereas before I did not have
much interest in sex, now I find that I can‘t think of anything else. My
body has the most embarrassing, untimely reactions, and I don‘t know
what to think… what to do. I can‘t put a name to this disturbing thing
that is happening to me, but I need to learn to control it.


     March 21, 1964
    My friendship with Francis is over. I invited him over for dinner
tonight, as I always do when I can manage the time. It soothes me to
be around him. He is different. Not part of the Hollywood world. I
never could have imagined how different he really is.
    He took some… liberties with me tonight. He approached me from
behind while I was serving some wine and touched me in a most
inappropriate way. And when I pushed him away and demanded an
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explanation from him, he said he was tired of waiting and it was time
we did what we had wanted to do all this time. And he tried to kiss me.
Me! Another man! Men do not kiss other men, do they?
    I have no words to describe how furious I am. How angry at his
actions. To insinuate I have wanted to touch him that way… or to
have him touch me… That is not only absurd, but immoral.
   I asked him to leave. He would not, but I insisted. He is not
welcome here anymore.
     I need to look for a new place to live….


     March 25, 1964
   I am losing my mind. Ever since Francis ruined our friendship I
have been thinking about the things he suggested… about the way in
which he touched me. I know it is immoral, but it does not feel
immoral when I close my eyes at night….
     What is happening to me?
    Michael closed the journal carefully and took a deep breath. He
needed a moment after reading that last entry. It had been written
forty-eight years ago by a man he never knew, yet he could identify
with pretty much every single word. Being away from home, doing
whatever was needed in order to achieve certain goals, the lack of
interest in girls… not knowing what it meant….
    He pulled Richard Bancroft‘s picture out of his jeans pocket and
took a good look at it. The man had been a sharp dresser. He was
wearing a dark tux that had been perfectly tailored to fit his tall and
lean body. His dark blond hair was slicked back with the help of some
pomade, his blue eyes had a mischievous twinkle and his face was
flawless. Nothing in his appearance gave the true nature of his
sexuality away. At most, he would have been called a metrosexual,
Then again, Michael wasn‘t sure if that word was used back in the
sixties.
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    Michael understood having to hide one‘s sexual orientation. It was
a very difficult thing being gay in the twenty-first century, so he
imagined it must have been hell when Richard was young. After
reading Manny‘s letter to Richard, Michael knew something had
scared the actor enough to push him into getting married. He had
wanted to hide his sexuality and sacrificed Manny‘s love in the
process.
     That‘s how it looked so far, anyway.
   Obviously, the wife had been a beard. Did she know that she was
when she married one of the most handsome and popular actors of all
time, or did she come to the realization later on? That would certainly
explain the bitterness... but not making up an entirely new life.


     CHAPTER FOUR
    ―Dad, do you think you can drop me off by the lake on your way
to the doctor‘s office?‖ Michael yawned at the same time he poured
some syrup over his waffles. He was exhausted after staying awake
half the night reading and trying to figure out how he was going to
approach this subject with his family when the time came. And he
knew it would be soon. No way could he sit on something so big. No
frigging way.
    ―We are on a tight schedule, Michael,‖ his father said, not looking
up from the book he was reading. ―I don‘t think we can spare the extra
time.‖
    ―But it‘s on your way to town,‖ Michael persisted. He had stopped
reading the journal entries after the one about Richard trying to
control the demands of his body. That was intimate stuff and it felt
wrong to be reading them in his grandma‘s house, even though she
had probably read all the journals at some point.
    ―He already said no, Michael,‖ his mother said from the kitchen
area, where she was preparing more tea. ―Besides, must I remind you
this is not a vacation? We are here to take your grandmother to her
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yearly physical appointments and after what transpired right before
we left our house, the last thing you deserve is to be entertained.‖
    ―What happened before you came here?‖ Grandma Elizabeth shot
him a cautious look. She had been staying away from him since they
got to her house the previous day. Michael figured that now that he
was all grown and looked so much like Richard, it must be freaking
her out to look at him.
    ―Just… kid‘s stuff… you know how they are. Nothing you need to
concern yourself with, Elizabeth.‖ It didn‘t surprise Michael that his
mother chose to keep the events a secret, as she was still trying to deal
with the potential embarrassment and humiliation that Michael‘s
behavior could have caused her. It didn‘t make a difference to her that
she had found out about said behavior through a very inappropriate
phone message to her son from his partner in crime, nor that they were
never caught. She still behaved as if he had committed a capital sin
and the entire world blamed her for it.
     ―It wasn‘t as big a deal as we first thought, Susan,‖ his father said,
still not looking up. ―I understand it would have been embarrassing
had the boys been discovered, but they weren‘t.‖ Michael put his fork
down and looked at his father. When he first listened to Paul‘s
message on their answering machine and got an earful about all the
naughty things they had done with each other, his dad had been as
upset as his mom. But apparently, he‘d had a change of heart at some
point during their road trip from Silicon Valley to Lake Tahoe, and
that was perfectly fine with Michael. ―Just remember to be more
careful in the future, son. I understand the urge to… play… but there
are better places than the school‘s library to do so. Are we clear?‖
    ―Yes, sir.‖ Michael didn‘t know what else to say, as this sudden
display of support had taken him completely by surprise. The last
thing he had expected was for his parents to be cool with his choice of
games, especially his choice of partners. Although he had never
officially come out to them, he hadn‘t bothered to hide anything
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either. Michael wasn‘t flamboyant, but he was obviously gay. To have
his parents not make a big deal out of it was totally awesome.
    ―I think you should drop the boy off by the lake, Richard. I told
you this yesterday.‖ He heard Grandma Elizabeth say. ―He was
probably bored out of his mind in this house. There‘s nothing to do.‖
Michael took a sip of his orange juice and tried not to snicker at his
grandma‘s words. She didn‘t want him alone in her house. Was
probably afraid he‘d go treasure hunting again, just like when he was
nine. Well, too late to be worrying about that.
   ―He‘ll be fine,‖ his mother said, joining them at the table. ―He‘s
grounded, you understand.‖
    ―Can‘t he be grounded at the lake?‖ Grandma Elizabeth insisted.
If her efforts weren‘t so pathetic, Michael would have laughed.
    ―Don‘t worry about me, Grandma. I‘m just going to grab a book
and go into the woods. Find a nice place to rest and read, you know?‖
He ate some of his waffles and chewed on it slowly, as if he didn‘t
have a care in the world, then asked something that made Grandma
Elizabeth choke on her coffee. ―Dad, how come you never talk about
Grandpa George? Being here made me realize I don‘t know anything
about him.‖
    ―I don‘t know anything about him either,‖ his father said,
reluctantly looking up from his book. Michael wasn‘t surprised to see
he was reading R.B. Lewis again. His father taught English Lit at
Stanford and could be a snob when it came to reading material, but he
was also a huge fan of Lewis‘ psychological thrillers. Michael‘s
mother teased him all the time and said his dad was R.B. Lewis‘
biggest groupie. He‘d met the author in person when he was about to
start college, and somehow had become friends with the older man.
They had kept in touch throughout the years, visiting whenever
possible and writing and e-mailing one another when it was not.
    His dad had gotten him into Lewis‘ books too, and now the guy
was a family friend. His mom adored him; his father did too, and even
he‘d jumped on the bandwagon at some point. R.B. was smart and
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funny and pretty rad for an older dude. Not to mention, he always
gave him awesome presents. Plus, he wrote the best books like, ever.
    Michael always had a great time when they brought him along for
dinner or golf. Going to the movies with him and his dad whenever
one of Lewis‘ books was made into a film had become sort of a
tradition and one of Michael‘s favorite things to do.
    ―You need to read this one,‖ his dad said to him. ―It has to be one
of his best. I‘ll pass it on to you when I‘m done.‖
   ―Thanks, Dad,‖ Michael said. ―But can we talk about Grandpa
George now?‖
     ―He passed away when I was a toddler. I don‘t remember him at
all,‖ he glanced at his mother and drank some of his coffee.
―Whenever I asked about him, Mom refused to give me any details.
She said it was too painful to talk about him.‖
   ―But that was years ago,‖ his mother said. ―Aren‘t you over it by
now, Elizabeth?‖
   ―I‘ll never be over it,‖ Grandma Elizabeth grunted, then buried her
nose in her cup of tea.
    ―Dad should know about his father,‖ Michael persisted, secretly
enjoying his grandma‘s obvious discomfort. ―Was he a scholar too?‖
    ―I don‘t know.‖ Richard wiped his mouth with a napkin and
turned to look at Grandma Elizabeth. ―Was he a scholar, Mom? What
did he do for a living? At least you can tell us that much.‖
   ―No, he was not,‖ she said, not looking at anyone in particular. He
was… a doctor. A family doctor. Small practice. Nothing important.‖
    ―A doctor?‖ Repeated his mother. ―I think that‘s a commendable
profession, Elizabeth.‖
     ―I agree,‖ Richard said. ―Why didn‘t you ever say anything?‖
    ―He was not around,‖ Grandma Elizabeth snapped. ―What
difference would it have made to anyone?‖
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   ―It makes a difference to me,‖ Michael said. ―I‘ve been working
on my genealogical tree, and it would be awesome if—‖
   ―You are working on what?‖ Grandma almost yelled. ―Why
would you do that? What do you care about dead people?‖
   ―I think it‘s very important to know where we come from,
Grandma,‖ Michael swallowed his waffle and smiled at the old lady.
―Don‘t you?‖
    ―That‘s fantastic that you‘re working on your genealogical tree,
Michael. I am proud of you for taking that initiative,‖ his mother said,
apparently forgetting she was still upset at him for making out with a
fellow student in the school library. To say he didn‘t come from a
warm and loving family would be the understatement of the year.
Richard and Susan Spencer were both professors at Stanford
University and completely dedicated to their work. As their only
child, Michael grew up surrounded by books and adults, and the
library had been the only playground he knew for a long time. They
weren‘t touchy feely but they were loving and supporting and never
failed to praise his academic achievements. Michael knew he‘d gained
about a thousand points with them just by mentioning the genealogy
thing.
     ―I think it is all nonsense,‖ Grandma Elizabeth grumbled.
    ―I don‘t,‖ his father said. ―You‘ll have to show me what you have
so far, son. I‘m interested in learning about our ancestors.‖
    ―I‘m still working on one of the branches, but I‘ll show you as
soon as it is complete.‖ He smiled at his dad, genuinely pleased that
his old man approved, and then turned to his grandma again. ―Do you
happen to have any pictures of Grandpa George?‖
   ―Not a single one,‖ she said, getting up from her chair. ―They
were lost in a fire.‖
     ―A fire?‖ Richard asked with a frown. ―When did we have a fire?‖
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    ―Many years ago,‖ she snapped again. ―Can we go now? Let‘s just
take care of my appointments so that you all can be on your way to
California.‖
    ―I‘m sorry, Grandma. I didn‘t mean to upset you…‖ Michael got
up and kissed her wrinkled cheek, and what do you know, she almost
pushed him away. ―You‘re right. Better get to the doctor so that we
can make sure your heart is strong enough to deal with whatever
comes your way for a few more years, okay?‖ He stepped away from
her and opened the fridge to get some mayo and cold cuts out. ―I‘m
just going to make a few sandwiches to take with me, if that‘s okay
with you?‖ She didn‘t answer. Not that he was expecting her to.
     ―You know, if you really want to go to the lake….‖
     Michael smiled at his mother. ―That‘d be great, mom.‖
     ―Go get ready,‖ she said. ―I‘ll put a few snacks together for you.‖
   ―Thanks!‖ He smiled again. Who would have thought genealogy
would be the road to forgiveness? ―I‘ll be good to go in five minutes.‖
     April 2, 1964
    I asked Benjamin to help me find a new apartment. He wanted to
know why. I could not tell him, so I said Francis has been taking some
liberties and has become an annoyance. It is unbearable to be around
him, and that was the honest truth. Benjamin asked the strangest
question. He wanted to know if Francis is a kindred spirit. I did not
answer. I did not think I had to, as Benjamin had this look in his
eyes… it was a knowing look… He did not explain. He just smiled and
hugged me. He also touched my face in a rather… tender way… It felt
good. I needed a friend, and it felt good to lean on him, even though
he is a smaller man than me. I did not let it last long, though. I have
come to realize I can‘t trust my body these days.
    I still do not understand about the kindred spirits he keeps talking
about and I told Benjamin as much. He smiled again. Said one thing
is not knowing and the other ignoring it. Then he said he will help me
find new suitable accommodations, and invited me to his vacation
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home in Florida. He says it is time I take some time off and face
certain things.
     I accepted. I need to know.


     April 15, 1964
     I think I know, what kindred spirits means… I think I know….
     April 28, 1964
    Fourteen months after moving to Los Angeles, I am back in New
York. As predicted by many, I was nominated for a Tony Award. I feel
honored by the recognition, but also extremely nervous. Not only
because the ceremony is taking place tonight, but because for the first
time in almost four years I will be seeing my parents. I have mixed
feelings about this reunion.
    A long time ago, Helen promised me she would work on changing
their position. She said it was only a matter of time until they realized
I have a right to follow my own dreams. Considering they will be my
guests for tonight‘s ceremony, I have to assume my nomination for a
Tony was more effective than anything Helen could have said.
    Is it terrible of me to admit that I wish I didn‘t have to see them
tonight? That having a normal conversation with them is something I
prayed for many a night, but I now dread? Four years ago, I was a
boy. I had no experience in life nor had I been exposed to the different
ways of the world. I am not the same man I was when I left home, and
I am not entirely sure I want to risk them noticing the changes. For
this reason alone I wish they would have stayed away.
    Even more than my parents, I am afraid of seeing Helen. As close
as I am with her, there are things about me that not even she knows.
They are new things… complicated things… aspects of my personality
I do not fully understand yet but at the same time are undeniable… I
doubt I will ever be able to tell her about it, but fear she will see it
regardless of how well I can hide it. As much as I have missed her, I
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must confess I would rather not see her again; not hug her again, if
my sacrifice would guarantee me a lifetime of letters from her.
   But they are coming tonight and I must prepare myself for all
possibilities. I just have to remember that, no matter what, the show
must go on.


     April 29, 1964
    I won! I won a Tony for Best Actor in a musical! Tonight
Benjamin is taking us out to celebrate. Helen is coming back to New
York and she‘s bringing her best friend Mary Elizabeth with her, and
we are all going to a nightclub to dance the night away. My parents
are not coming, even though we have left our differences in the past
since last night.
    I have never met this friend of Helen‘s. I‘m not particularly
interested in meeting her either, but I am happy she is making the trip
with my sister. That way she won‘t have to be by herself on the train.


     June 20, 1964
    I can hardly contain my excitement today. For the first time since
moving to Los Angeles, Helen is coming for a visit. Things are fine
between us, as I have been able to conceal my inner thoughts and
desires from her and everybody else, but Benjamin suggested I
included Mary Elizabeth in the invitation. He says it is good for men
like us to be seen with women as often as possible.
   As Benjamin is a great friend that never misleads me, I took his
advice. I do hope he is available to provide some entertainment for
Helen‘s friend. I just want to spend time with my sister.




     August 12, 1964
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    I am officially on vacation for the next two weeks. Benjamin has a
place in the Florida Keys. The house is beautiful and the surroundings
a tropical paradise. It can only be accessed by boat, which makes it
completely private. I have only been here for two hours and already
love it.
    I must ask Benjamin how much does a personal island cost. I
would spend every cent I ever made just to have the luxury of total
privacy.


     August 14, 1964
   In total, Benjamin invited twenty people to the island. The
majority has arrived, but I am told there are some others that will be
here by the end of the week.
     All the guests are men.
   I was not expecting this, and I am livid at Benjamin for not letting
me know what the purpose of this vacation was. I understand he only
wants to show me there are many like us, but he did not have to
ambush me this way.
   I really was looking forward to some rest and relaxation… I really
was….


     August 17, 1964
    I cannot deal with this. There are too many men around wanting
to show me how kindred our spirits can be, and I‘m not interested.
    The communal loving is not for me. My affairs will be conducted
in private and that only if I ever decide to conduct them. It is going to
take more than physical need to get me to indulge in things I have
only experienced in my dreams so far. It won‘t happen in a room full
of men, no matter how similar we are.
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     August 19, 1964
    I found a perfect spot where I can bathe in the sun and enjoy the
serenity of the ocean. It is located on the east side of the island; fifteen
minute walk away from the main house. Not too bad, but far enough
to discourage the others from venturing this way. I finally get to be by
myself.


    Michael put the journal down and reached for his cell phone.
Service by the lake was way better than it was at his grandma‘s house,
and he needed to talk to his best friend immediately. It was imperative
he knew whether Charlie had been able to locate Richard‘s sister or
not. Michael knew she‘d have the answers he needed, and if in order
to locate her he had to hire a detective, he would. He was sure his
friend would be able to lend him some money to pay for one.
   ―Where the hell have you been?‖ Charlie asked the second he
answered his phone. ―I tried to call you last night like a thousand
times, dude.‖
     ―I told you the service is crappy up there. I never got any calls.‖
     ―I tried the house phone too. Nobody ever answered.‖
    ―Grandma doesn‘t accept phone calls after six,‖ Michael
explained. ―She turns the handset‘s volume down so that it doesn‘t
disrupt her in case someone calls.‖
     ―That‘s some weird senior citizen peeve, man.‖
    ―It‘s what it is,‖ he said with a shrug. Were you able to find out
anything on those addresses I gave you? Do you know who lives in
the houses?‖
     ―Of course I did! Don‘t I always have your back?‖
    ―Hit me with it,‖ Michael said, managing to sound a lot calmer
than he really was.
    ―Right… Okay... The house in Malibu belongs to some famous
plastic surgeon,‖ Charlie said. ―He gives rich women fake noses and
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titties. I wouldn‘t be surprised to find out my own mother is one of his
patients cause, she probably is. I mean, did you notice her chest on
graduation day? Way bigger than it was when—‖
   ―Why would I notice your mother‘s chest?‖ Michael snapped. He
was too tense to be able to deal with Charlie‘s rambling humor.
    ―Because it is ginormous?‖ The guy went on. ―How could you not
notice? I mean, unless you‘re blind—‖
   ―Or gay?‖ Michael rubbed his forehead. ―Dude, you‘re talking
about the size of your mom‘s chest. There‘s something definitely
wrong with you.‖
    ―There are many things wrong with me, but you already knew
that.‖ Charlie admitted with a laugh. ―Hope mom doesn‘t decide to
get a new ass, too. Looks like I‘m going to need some of her doctor‘s
money for therapy in the near future.‖
    ―Whatever.‖ He took a deep breath, annoyed with his friend but
incapable of getting mad at him.
    ―Richard Bancroft owned the house for a few years, then sold it to
a guy named Benjamin Newman in 1971. Newman then sold it to
somebody else in the late eighties, and that somebody sold it to the
surgeon. I wasn‘t able to find any other properties under Bancroft‘s
name in California.‖
   ―What about the other address in New Jersey?‖ Michael
whispered.
    ―Mr. and Mrs. Wallace still own the house.‖ His friend sounded as
excited as Michael felt by the news. ―I Googled the place, dude. It‘s
located about three hundred miles north of Worthington Academy.
How‘s that for a coincidence? We could have visited her two years
ago.‖
    ―That‘s fantastic news, Charlie!‖ Michael got up from his beach
chair and started pacing around. If the Wallaces owned the house, that
had to mean Helen was still alive.
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     ―It gets better.‖
     ―How so?‖
     ―I have a phone number for you. Got pen and paper?‖
    Michael called Helen Bancroft-Wallace two seconds after he
finished talking to his best friend.


     August 20, 1964
    If I could skip dinner I would, but I can‘t be rude to my host.
Every night I show up and make sure I do not encourage those that
find it difficult to take no for an answer. I look around the table
without making eye contact with any of the men. The ones who have
tried to get inside my bedroom I don‘t address at all. I can‘t have
them misinterpreting my courtesy for interest on my part.
    Being the youngest and most inexperienced among Benjamin‘s
guests, I am always more of a listener to the conversations taking
place than I am an active participant. The others are between thirty
and sixty years old, and have no qualms talking about their
adventures with other men. I find myself both in awe and appalled by
the way in which they live.
    They should not be married. I know they need to deflect the
attention from what they are, and that their wives are none the wiser,
but they should not be married and lying to their loved ones in such a
way. We should not have to lie about who we are.
     I do not want to lie.
    Michael shook his head and closed the journal carefully after
reading its last entry. ―Looks like you didn‘t want to be in the closet,
man,‖ he whispered, taking another journal out of his backpack. He
had sorted them out the previous night so that they were in order. ―So
what happened? Why did you marry her?‖
     August 21, 1964
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     One more guest arrived today; just in time for supper. That he is
not an actor, producer or businessman is obvious from his manners
and physique. He is taller than the rest of us. Stronger. His shoulders
are wide enough to carry the weight of the world. His legs are long;
his arms powerful. He looks like he can either squeeze the breath out
of a person from one hug alone or make them feel protected. His hair
is the color of midnight, and so are his eyes. I never saw darker eyes
than his… or more luscious lips. He reminds me of my favorite treat.
His lips are plump as an apple, and his skin the color of the caramel I
very much love to lick. I have met Latinos before, but none that can
compare, or even come close to him in looks and charm.
    When I first saw him my body temperature elevated so much I felt
feverish. In a matter of seconds I went from feeling cool and collected
to dizzy and weak. He said hello and the muscles in my stomach
cramped… and lower… down there… I ached….
   That was not normal, and because I had been out on the sun so
much, I thought I was suffering from heat stroke.
    His midnight eyes sought out mine and I could not breathe. I was
not sweating, but I could feel my skin was flushed… probably red. He
looked away and I felt confused… lost... He talked to some of the
other men and I felt agitated. Then he got closer and my pulse got
faster. He smiled at me and I felt disoriented… I could not remember
where I was. By the time he shook my hand I was hallucinating…
images of him picking me up and carrying me up the staircase would
not leave me alone. And when he released my hand and turned to
greet the next man all I wanted was to drag him out of the dining
room and hide him somewhere safe… somewhere those sexual
vultures could not get to him.
     It was the strangest behavior I have exhibited in my entire life.
    I thought about excusing myself, but I did not. Even though I had
just met him, something inside me balked at the idea of being away
from him, so I stayed. I dealt with my drumming heartbeat and
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pretended it did not skip a beat every time he glanced my way, and
somehow I worked up enough nerve to ask him to sit next to me.
     He did. He talked to me; smiled at me… He asked if he could keep
me company tomorrow and I said yes. Absolutely. A thousand times
yes.
    A timid smile passed between us. A veiled but intense look… A
brush of his fingers against mine under the table… That‘s when I
realized it was not the Florida sun that had so unexpectedly hit me,
but a marvelous Cuban man who now has me under his spell.
   His name is Manuel Guzman and I cannot wait to see him
tomorrow.


     ―So it was love at first sight for you, wasn‘t it, Richard?‖ Michael
blinked a few times. ―One look at the hot Latino and you were a
goner.‖ Michael turned the page, and quickly turned it again when he
realized what he was reading. The next several entries were all about
Richard and Manuel and their time in Benjamin‘s private island. He
didn‘t read them. Even though he was dying to know, that shit was
private. It belonged to Richard and Manny and it was bad enough that
his grandma had most likely read it. Michael refused to do the same. It
felt as if he‘d be violating something sacred, and he promised to skip
everything that had sexual content.
    He put the journal down and reached for his cell phone one more
time. Getting in touch with Richard‘s sister was turning out to be as
difficult as getting into his grandma‘s damn attic. For starters, Helen
didn‘t live in the New Jersey house anymore, and although her son
did, he didn‘t believe Michael was who he said he was when he first
identified himself. The guy had hung up on Michael and ignored him
every single time he‘d called after that.
   His lousy disposition didn‘t stop Michael from continuing to try.
He dialed again and again. He left his name and phone number. He
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explained who his grandmother was and why it was so important he
spoke with Helen. Why couldn‘t that asshole understand that?
    He sighed when the phone kept on ringing, and was ready to leave
yet another message when Helen‘s son answered. Apparently, he was
done doubting Michael‘s words.
    The conversation went fine, and one hour and five phone calls
later, Michael finally started getting answers to the questions that had
bothered him for way too long.


     August 23, 1964
    After five incredible days and nights together the time came for
Manny to return home. He is a baseball player with a very rigid
schedule, and although he wanted to, it was impossible for him to stay
longer than the five days he had originally planned for. It was hard to
watch him go, but knowing we‘ll be seeing each other soon makes the
distance tolerable. Fortunately for us, he plays for a team in Los
Angeles; very close to my home.
    There are no words that can properly express what I‘m feeling
right now. All I can say is that my mind has been captivated; my heart
claimed and my body awakened by a man that is strong, handsome
and has a soul as pure as snow.
    Benjamin assures this happens all the time. Two strangers will
meet while vacationing in some tropical beach, have a torrid affair
and believe they want more, but eventually sanity will return and the
strangers will move on. I hope he‘s wrong. This doesn‘t feel like a
fling to me, and I certainly want to be more than a summer vacation
affair to Manny.
     I hope Benjamin is wrong… Tonight I‘ll pray that he is….


     CHAPTER FIVE
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    By the time Michael got picked up from the lake he was so furious
at his grandmother he couldn‘t even talk. Sitting next to her in the
back seat of his father‘s car was torture, and it had taken a good
amount of control he didn‘t even know he had to keep his mouth shut.
    Looking out the window helped, but he was aware of the
suspicious looks she kept throwing his way. It was as if she knew he
knew. As if, somehow, she had managed to figure out what he‘d been
up to. Then again, maybe she was just being paranoid. Hard for
someone not to read too much into everything when they were
keeping so many secrets, right?
    She would not be wondering for long, though. Michael didn‘t feel
like saying anything just yet, but he damn well was working on a hell
of a surprise for her.
     Dinnertime couldn‘t come soon enough.


     October 7, 1964
    I went to see Manny play today. As usual, his performance was
outstanding. They say he is one of the greatest players to ever grace
the right field. That the way in which he hits the ball is unique, and to
see him run at full speed around the bases is the thrill of a lifetime. I
do not know much about baseball, but most definitely agree with the
fans. And it thrills me to no end to hear the crowd cheer for him while
he moves so gracefully on the field.
    I saw him look my way several times. It is not always possible for
me to come say Hello every time I get to go watch a game, but he
always knows I am there. He always looks for me. I know because we
have a secret code: a quick brush of his shoulder against his left
cheek and a twirl of his hair around his finger. That is the signal he
uses to let me know he has seen me.
    How I wish things were different for us. How I wish we did not
have to hide; to plan days in advance just so that we can be together
for a few hours. To come up with excuses to be together or to have to
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explain our friendship to the world, as they do not understand how an
actor and a Latino baseball player can be friends. We have nothing in
common, they say. We are as different as the sun and the moon.
        They could not be more wrong.
    Manny and I have everything in common, as we have discovered
through the numerous letters and phone calls we have exchanged
since we parted ways in Florida. We both like to read. We both like
the theater. He likes to cook and I love to eat new things… the list
goes on and on. We both want to travel the world and eventually settle
down somewhere private. We want to be together forever.
    I shared my feelings with Benjamin. I had to tell someone or I
would have exploded. He called me a fool. Said only someone as
inexperienced as I am would think lust is the same as love and that it
will pass in a few weeks. I let him laugh. I know how I feel. I don‘t
need to be as versed as he is in sexuality and relationships to know it
is not lust that keeps me awake every night wishing I could be in
Manny‘s arms. It is not lust that makes me feel like I have lost a limb
only because we are apart. And this pain in my heart whenever I think
about the hundred different things that could tear us apart? That‘s not
lust… That is something else… something bigger and powerful and
very much lasting.
    Our jobs are demanding and we travel all over the place, yet we
have managed to keep in touch and be together ten times. Ten
wonderful, breathtaking, delightful and satisfying times. Sadly, it was
not possible tonight. Perhaps next week… Please, lord… let it be next
week…
        November 20, 1964
        Three days at my parents' house and I‘m ready to take my own
life.
    Things in Los Angeles have been out of control for a while. I am
famous now. My face is on television and the big screen, and my name
on the marquees of every city. The audience recognizes and praises
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my hard work. They identify with the characters I have played and
constantly demand more. I receive so many scripts and offers from
directors and producers that I cannot keep up with them anymore. I
now have an assistant and a small group of people to help take care of
every detail of my career… and life. As a result, I have no privacy.
    Helen insisted I came home. She is now engaged and wanted me
to meet her fiancé. Although I‘m happy for her and it has been years
since I had a holiday with my family, I almost declined. I miss them all
very much, especially Helen, but I fear they will be able to discover
the truth behind my close friendship with Manuel Guzman. The entire
world knows about it. For some reason, the press does not stop
commenting on it.
    But Manny is visiting what he calls his big rambunctious family in
Miami. He loves them and they love him and I am happy they are very
supportive of him, but I worry out of my mind when he is with his
mother. Manny is twenty-four years old. At that age, Cuban men are
already married and raising kids. So far he has been able to use his
work as an excuse not to make that kind of commitment, but that does
not stop his mother from introducing him to every Carmen, Teresa
and Maria living in their neighborhood when Manny goes home. Her
goal is to see him married by the time he turns twenty-five, and I
cannot deal with that. I despair thinking she might be able to convince
him.
    At the end I decided to get over my irrational fears and come
home. I am an actor. I can pretend everything is normal for as long as
I have to. Have I not been doing the same in Los Angeles for months?
I needed to escape for a few days and visiting my family was the
perfect solution. They would be able to distract me from thoughts of
Manny surrounded by women I did not know but hated all the same.
    Mom and dad still live in the same small town where I grew up, so
I expected peace and solitude. A total change from the hectic and
superficial climate that is so characteristic of Los Angeles. Instead I
got the entire town stopping by to say hello and ask for an autograph.
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My parents did not stop them. Guess they are not upset I did not
become a dentist anymore.
    I also got questioned about my friendship with Manny. The family
reads the magazines and newspapers. They are worried about the
rumors. They say it is not good for me if people start believing I am
like some of those other actors that secretly crave men. I told them
Manny is a good friend and refused to discuss the matter. I cannot
deal with their scrutiny of my private affairs.
     And there is Mary Elizabeth.
    She is still my little sister‘s best friend and I am almost sure she
lives in this house as well, because for three days I have not been able
to go to the restroom without bumping into her. She follows me
around. She wants to talk. She tried to kiss me! Twice! She flirts and
my parents encourage her. Apparently, they want for me to start
dating her because she is an excellent girl from a good family and
would take care of me.
   Mary Elizabeth Spencer is the reason why I am hiding in my old
bedroom at three o‘clock in the afternoon.
     God, I want to go back home. I want to see my Manny.


     ―Mary Elizabeth Spencer,‖ Michael whispered. ―That explains our
last name. It was Grandma‘s maiden name. I‘m going to have to look
into that. See if there‘s any of her family around.‖ He took a deep
breath. ―Shit, Richard. How could this be? You‘re all jealous and shit
of the women wanting to get with Manny… worried about him getting
with any of them, and at the end it was you who bailed on the poor
guy and married a woman you didn‘t even like.‖ Michael turned a few
pages and sighed. It was already four o‘clock. He wanted to have as
many facts as possible before dinner, but he couldn‘t take the time to
read every single word Richard had written.
    He skimmed through a few journal entries and smiled when he
read Richard had finally purchased his dream house in Malibu and
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how much he liked to look at the ocean because it reminded him of his
Manny. They‘d had an honest to God relationship. Somehow they
managed to go to the movies together. They went out to dinner a few
times and visited museums. They even went to see Elvis and The
Beatles together. Richard had seen The Beatles in concert. Live.
Lucky bastard.
    Life had been good to the man. He was young and all kinds of
handsome. He had money, fame and love. He should‘ve been happy,
but Michael could tell, even when Richard didn‘t write about it, that
he wasn‘t. Hiding was getting to him. He went back and forth between
wanting to be out as a gay man and wanting to hide who he was;
between wanting Manny to be out with him and resenting his man
whenever Manny suggested they left everything behind and became
hippies.
    There was pressure on both of them, too. From their families,
producers, coaches and friends. They all kept asking when they were
planning on marrying nice girls and starting families. At times
Richard thought he never would, but some other times he wrote it
would be a good idea.
    Michael wondered if Manny had been aware of Richard‘s doubts
before he got news of his man‘s impending wedding.
     Probably not.


     March 7, 1965
    After three weeks apart, I am finally on my way to see Manny.
Thanks to Benjamin‘s generosity we will get to be together for quite
some time, as my good friend is letting us stay at his Florida house.
Ten days in a private paradise; surrounded by the same bright sun,
white sand and blue ocean that months ago witnessed the beginning of
what I hope will be the rest of my life. No maids; no cooks; no help in
any way. We will have to fend for ourselves, but we will be completely
alone. I cannot wait to get there.
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    Although Manny is flying out of Los Angeles it was impossible for
us to be on the same plane. Benjamin said it would be a fool‘s move to
let others know of our intentions. I had to agree. Manny was not as
easily convinced. He wants to scream at the top of his lungs that I am
his and he is mine. He wants for the entire world to know we are
together and is ready to bat a few heads off if anyone dare say to his
face that this is wrong. It took me hours but he finally agreed to say he
is going to see some of his family in Miami and I just told a few people
I am going to New Jersey.
    I loathe the secrets and the lies, but understand there are no other
options for men like us. When I first realized the true nature of my
sexuality I decided I wanted to be open about it. I really thought I
could be. I did not want to pretend to be in a relationship with some
random woman just to keep people from gossiping. I thought I could
just be with the one person I love more than anything in the world,
society be damned. I was utterly naïve.
    Benjamin might call us kindred spirits, but we are gay. It scares
me a little, to write down what I am. I have been in a clandestine
relationship with another man for months. I have done things many
consider perverted or degrading and could get us either committed or
arrested. I have risked being discovered many times, just so that I can
have one kiss from the man I love… I know who I am and what I want
and do not regret anything I have done so far, still it scares me to
write it down. It makes the reality of people in our position all too
real.
    There are some courageous souls that have gotten together with
the same purpose. They have formed organizations to fight for civil
rights and against the homophobia that is rampant in this world, but
they are not making much progress. Not only is homosexuality still
taboo, but classified as a psychiatric disorder as well. There is no
tolerance for people like us.
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    And so I rather hide and patiently wait for the rare opportunities
when Manny and I can be together for more than a few hours at a
time.


     April 24, 1965
    I had dinner with Benjamin tonight. The director was not present,
but we discussed my new movie that I just started filming. Benjamin is
the producer and he likes to have his hand in everything. We also
discussed a story I have been writing in my spare time. He says it is
very good, and maybe we can do something with it. I never considered
writing until a few months ago. My dream was to be an actor, but now
that I have accomplished that goal I find that I need a new challenge.
An idea crossed my mind and before I knew it I was bringing it to life.
Turns out I enjoy writing immensely. Benjamin says it could be an
excellent project for television. I wouldn‘t be opposed to that.
    The second part of our conversation I didn‘t enjoy. It was my
close friendship with Benjamin that stopped me from leaving the
restaurant the moment he started on my relationship with Manny yet
again. As much of a kindred spirit as Benjamin is; as much as he
indulges in his desires and carnal pleasure, the truth is he will never
be honest about it. He‘s terrified of being found out, which is why he
has as many women as he has men, and that in addition to his
marriage. Now he‘s terrified on my behalf.
    He said that gossip is spreading and rumors are getting louder.
He told me I‘m being careless. That I am letting the world see my
affections are not normal by not dating women and spending too
much time with Manny. He said people are wondering why I have
been parading all over Hollywood with him instead of some pretty
girl.
    I was furious. I let him know, in no uncertain terms, that there is
nothing abnormal about the way I feel for Manny. That our
relationship is as good as any other couple‘s in this town. Better,
even, because our love is real. Benjamin said he has no doubts of that.
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He knows we are the real thing, but reminded me the world is not
ready to see men together; to accept that I want a husband instead of
a wife. He says my days in Hollywood will be over if people find out. I
said I don‘t really care. I‘ll take Manny over acting any day.
    That‘s when Benjamin asked if I care about Manny‘s career and
what will happen to him if the men he is in such close quarters with
ever find out what he is. He asked me whether or not I care if Manny
gets beaten to a pulp. He says, being an actor, I would probably get
more kindness and compassion from the people in my life, but the men
Manny is surrounded by will never show him any kindness. He‘ll get
thrown off his team and he‘ll have to face hundreds of enraged fans.
He told me Manny could get killed by a mob like that.
    Benjamin says both Manny and I are the best at what we do and
have brilliant careers ahead of us. He said I need to think about that
the next time I decide to be out in public with Manny. He says I should
seriously consider dating a girl.
     I could not date a girl. I belong to Manny… I belong to him…
    ―Michael?‖ The soft knock on his bedroom door had him hiding
the journal under the pillow and scrambling out of bed within two
seconds of hearing it.
  ―Yeah, Dad,‖ he opened the door and looked at his father.
―What‘s up?‖
     ―Charlie‘s on the phone.‖
   ―Thanks,‖ he took the handset from his father and shifted from
one foot to the other. ―Dad, listen… there‘s something I have to do.‖
     ―What is it?‖
   ―I know I‘m grounded but… See, I have to leave here sooner than
we thought.‖
    ―Leave to go where?‖ his father asked. ―You know we have two
more days of medical appointments before we can go back to
California.‖
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    ―I wasn‘t planning on leaving with you guys,‖ Michael chewed on
his lower lip and held his father‘s gaze. ―It‘s important, Dad.‖
     ―What is this about?‖
   ―I‘ll tell you later. For now, I just need for you to promise you‘ll
back me up if Mom refuses to let me do this.‖
    His father took a deep breath. ―I don‘t know, Michael. I can‘t
agree to let you do something I don‘t know the first thing about.
Where are you going? With who?‖
   ―Dad, please,‖ Michael begged. ―I can assure you, this is the most
important thing I‘ve done in my life. I need you to stand up to Mom
and let me leave the house if she says I can‘t.‖
     ―You need to explain to me what‘s going on.‖
     ―Tonight,‖ Michael promised. ―I‘ll explain it all tonight, okay?‖
     ―Okay,‖ his father shook his head, patted him on the shoulder and
left the room.
   ―Charlie?‖ Michael said on the phone, closing the door and going
back to bed. ―Did you find me a flight?‖


     May 19, 1965
    I knew something was wrong the moment I saw Manny tonight.
His usually sparkling midnight eyes were serious and dull, and his
luscious lips were pinched. He did not answer when I asked if
something had happened. He just kissed me out of words and air and
took me to his bed.
    Things there were different too. Manny has always been a very
passionate lover, but tonight his embrace was more intense, his kisses
hungrier; and when he took me I felt him deeper than ever before. I
felt consumed by him in the most wonderful way. But I knew
something was wrong.
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    Between the two of us, Manny is the quiet one. He talks through
his actions, often leaving the words for me to express. For the most
part I do not have a problem with that. I have gotten to know him so
well I have but to look at him in the eyes in order to find out what he
wants. What he is thinking. And he never had a problem letting me
look to my heart‘s content. Tonight he was hiding from me, so I had to
ask. He was stubborn, but I kept asking until he had no choice to
either answer me or throw me out, as I almost drove him crazy.
    I listened carefully while he told me about a conversation he had
with another player a few days ago. I made sure the consternation
that took a hold of my heart when he told me this player was not
inviting him to his wedding reception was not reflected on my face. I
took a deep breath and rubbed his shoulders while he told me the
reason why he was not invited. I swallowed the fear that felt like a
lump in my throat when Manny said that this player did not want any
friends of a queer tainting the occasion. I smiled and kissed him in
gratitude when he said he would gladly kill that pendejo for daring to
insult me. Such a knight in shining armor, my Manny is. And while he
ranted in Spanish I stopped being his Richard and got ready to give
the best performance of my life.
    I told him everything will be fine. I told him to let it go; that being
called queer did not offend me. I said I‘m sorry that he was left out,
but I did not tell him I am scared for him and that I fear he can be
physically harmed. I did not tell him about my conversation with
Benjamin and how real his words had just become for me. I just kissed
him until he forgot about everything and made love to me again. And
at the end of the night, when it was time to part ways, I managed to
convince him that it was a good idea to put some distance between us
right now. I told him I do not want to put my career in jeopardy or see
him do the same. He did not want to, but he agreed to give me some
time while he is away with his team. I don‘t know how I‘m going to
survive without hearing from him, but I‘m happy he will be safe.
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     May 27, 1965
    My little sister has always been my best friend. She is two years
younger, but she assures me she‘s thirty years wiser than me.
Apparently being a woman gives her the advantage. I tend to
disagree. I‘ve been out in the world. Seen and done things she
probably does not have the first idea about, but now that I need to
make a decision that will change both mine and Manny‘s lives, I
realize I need her advice.
    I am flying home today. I‘m talking to my sister and confessing
everything to her. I‘m going to tell her what I want and what I need.
I‘m going to tell her I am in love with a wonderful man and that I
hope to spend the rest of my life with him.
     Helen loves me. She‘s always been supportive of me. I know what
I‘m about to tell her won‘t be easy to understand or accept, but I‘m
hoping her love for me is stronger than any prejudice she might have.
Men like Manny and I are different, but we deserve to be loved and
accepted at least by our families, right? If they don‘t, then what hope
is there for us?


     May 28, 1965
    There was a brawl between several baseball players after a game
a few days ago, but we only saw it in the newscast tonight. The
newsmen couldn‘t tell what started it. Apparently the individuals
involved refused to tell
   Manny was involved. He‘s never been involved in a brawl before.
He is a very nice man, loved and admired by the entire country.
Hispanics think of him as a hero… He could have been hurt.
   I got so scared for him… I cried. Helen held me. She still loves
me. She says she will always love her big brother, no matter what.
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Now she‘s scared for me, too… but not as scared as I am for my
Manny….


     June 1, 1965
     I‘m taking Mary Elizabeth out to dinner tonight.


     June 5, 1965
    I read there was another brawl between some players. Manny was
involved in that one too. God, please, let him be fine… Let him be
fine….


     June 22, 1965
    I received a letter from Manny. I must have read it at least a
thousand times.
    I did not go to Manny‘s house tonight. He asked me to, but I didn‘t
go. He probably hates me now…
     He called me a coward. He‘s probably right…
     This is the hardest thing I have in my life.
     It hurts so fucking much….


     CHAPTER SIX
    Michael divided what he now referred to as his treasure into two
different groups. In the first group, he put some of the letters that
Grandma Elizabeth had received from Richard and Helen, several
pictures of Richard and Mary Elizabeth with their baby, a few legal
documents and the notebooks and journals that Richard wrote
immediately after leaving home. The journals containing entries from
the moment he had met Manny to the day he disappeared, Michael put
in his duffel bag along with some letters, pictures, the two Oscars and
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the Tony Award. He secured everything and added a few teachers to
make sure nothing would get damaged.
    Next he grabbed his folder with all the research he had done on
Bancroft prior to coming to his grandma‘s house, the DVD from the
school‘s revival of Café Au Lait, his laptop and headed out to the
dining room.
     It was showtime.
     ****
   ―Michael, can you please stop playing with the computer and
come to the table?‖ his mother put the casserole down and took a seat
next to her husband.
    ―One second, Mom,‖ Michael inserted the DVD and waited for it
to load. ―I just need to set this up really quick.‖
    ―What is it?‖ Grandma Elizabeth asked, frowning at the laptop
screen when the first image came up.
    ―What are you doing?‖ his father asked. ―You know we don‘t
watch television while we‘re having dinner.‖ That comment almost
made Michael smile. He wasn‘t allowed to watch T.V. while eating
but it was perfectly fine if he wanted to bury his nose in some book.
    ―I know T.V. is not allowed, but I thought we could make an
exception tonight,‖ he said, turning his laptop a little so that his
grandma had a perfect view of the screen. ―This is a musical I was in,
Grandma. I wanted for you to see it before we go back home. It came
out pretty good, considering we‘re all amateurs.‖
     ―A musical?‖ she whispered, her eyes fixed on the screen.
    ―Yeah,‖ Michael took a seat next to his father and smiled at his
grandma, even though she wasn‘t looking at him. ―I mentioned it to
you last time you were in Cali, remember? I got the lead. I nailed it,
too, if I say so myself.‖
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    ―I have to agree Michael was excellent in it,‖ his mother said.
―And his drama club director was right: he looked exactly like that
actor from years ago.‖
   ―But… I thought we all agreed on not letting you be in that thing,‖
Grandma Elizabeth put her fork down and turned to look at her son.
―Didn‘t we agree, Richard? I told you it wasn‘t a good idea.‖
   ―I remember you being against Michael participating in the
musical, yes, but I never agreed to anything,‖ his father said, and it
was clear he was taken aback by Grandma Elizabeth‘s reaction.
Obviously he had forgotten her actions from the previous time they
had discussed this.
     ―But theater is evil,‖ she said. ―And all actors are perverted.‖
     ―Come on, Elizabeth,‖ his mother said. ―Don‘t you think that‘s a
little extreme? Besides, Michael is not an actor. It was something he
did for fun. Granted musicals can be a little trivial, but he was keeping
excellent grades. We didn‘t see anything wrong with letting him be
part of the drama club if that‘s what he wanted.‖ She put some of the
casserole on her plate and frowned when she noticed how pale
Grandma Elizabeth was.
    ―Come on, grandma,‖ Michael said, proud of himself for being
able to keep his cool. ―The musical was great and I was very good as
Bernard Collins.‖ He pulled his laptop closer to his grandmother.
―Why don‘t you look at it?‖
   ―I don‘t think your grandmother is interested in watching a
musical, Michael,‖ his father said.
    ―But why not?‖ Michael asked. ―It‘s not like she hasn‘t seen it
before.‖
    ―I don‘t understand your reluctance,‖ his mother said. ―There are
far worse things than musicals, Elizabeth.‖
   ―I agree,‖ Michael said. ―Far worse… like … getting caught
making out with my boyfriend in the school‘s library. That could‘ve
been way worse.‖
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    ―What makes you think your grandma has seen Café Au Lait
before?‖ his father asked at the same time his mother put her glass
down on the table hard enough to spill water all over the place.
    ―Michael Richard Spencer, shut your mouth right now!‖ she
yelled at him. ―I can‘t believe you just said that! I am so mortified.‖
    ―Grandma went to see Café Au Lait when it first opened on
Broadway,‖ Michael answered his father‘s question and completely
ignored his mother. ―Is it true, Grandma? Do I really look that much
like Richard Bancroft?‖
   ―What… what do you mean you got caught making out with your
boyfriend?‖ His grandma‘s eyes had opened to the size of saucers.
―What do you mean?‖
    ―He did not get caught,‖ his mother said. ―I would‘ve killed him if
he had.‖
   ―How do you know Mom went to see that musical?‖ his father
asked.
    ―You meant to say with your girlfriend, right?‖ Grandma
Elizabeth said, his eyes darting from Michael to his father to the
laptop screen where the opening musical number of Café Au Lait was
playing and back to Michael again.
    ―I meant boyfriend,‖ Michael confirmed, a crooked smile forming
on his lips. ―I‘d never make out with a girl. They have cooties.‖
    ―Michael, what is wrong with you?‖ his mother glared at him.
―You‘ve been acting so out of character for the past two days. You‘ve
been hiding in your room, and you were awfully quiet on our way
home this afternoon,‖ she said. Then to his utter surprise put her hand
on his forearm and squeezed it lightly. ―Does this have anything to do
with… you know… that school situation?‖
     ―Not at all,‖ Michael said.
     ―Do you miss the boy?‖
     ―What? Mom, no! Seriously!
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    ―You are still grounded, you know, but if you need to talk to him
or something….‖
   ―That was just me playing around Mom. I don‘t miss him or
anything. I‘m fine,‖ Michael smiled at his mother. She sounded
genuinely concerned. ―I just have some shit on my mind, you know?‖
    ―I thought you were born and raised in Seattle, Mom,‖ his father
said. ―When did you go to New York?‖
     ―Language, Michael!‖ his mother said.
   ―Are you saying what I think you‘re saying?‖ Grandma Elizabeth
asked Michael, not paying attention to her own son.
    ―If you think I‘m saying I like boys, then yes, you are,‖ Michael
rushed to say, more than happy to bug the shit out of his grandma.
    ―That‘s it!‖ His mother slapped him on the shoulder. Hard. ―What
has gotten into you?‖
   ―What?‖ he asked all innocent.‖ What did I do? It isn‘t as if my
gayness is a secret.‖
    ―There were better ways to let your grandmother know,‖ his mom
said.
     ―You can‘t like boys,‖ his grandma said.
    ―But I do. A lot,‖ he said with a smile that he was sure didn‘t
reach his eyes. ―Must be genetic, right?‖
   ―Genetic?‖ his father said. ―What in the world are you talking
about?‖
   ―And you never answered my question, Grandma,‖ Michael
continued. ―Do I really look like Richard or not?‖
    ―You didn‘t answer me either,‖ his dad said. ―When did you go to
New York City?‖ He turned to look at Michael. ―Why do you think
she went there anyway?‖
   ―I know she went to see the musical with her best friend at the
time. Her name was Helen,‖ Michael said, a slow smile spreading
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across his face when his grandmother covered her mouth with one
trembling hand. ―She‘s Richard‘s sister.‖
    ―Who is Richard?‖ his mother asked. ―Are you still talking about
that actor? And why did you mention homosexuality being genetic?
Does this have anything to do with that genealogy project you‘ve been
working on? Was someone else in the family gay?‖
   ―I don‘t want to talk about this,‖ Grandma Elizabeth said. ―And I
don‘t want to watch your stupid video either.‖
     ―Way to be supportive, grandma.‖
   ―Don‘t be disrespectful, Michael,‖ his mother slapped him on the
shoulder again.
     ―Turn that thing off right now,‖ his grandma ordered.
   ―There are other gays in our family?‖ his father asked. ―I didn‘t
even know we had more family!‖
    ―We don‘t!‖ his grandma snapped, then got up from her chair and
slammed the laptop closed.
   ―Please, Elizabeth,‖ his mother said. ―There‘s no reason to get so
upset.‖
    ―We don‘t have any other family,‖ his grandma repeated. ―And
George was not a homosexual.‖ She shot a dirty look in Michael‘s
direction.
     ―Was it on my side of the family then?‖ his mother asked.
    ―Who is Richard? And who is Helen?‖ his father asked the second
his mother got quiet. ―How does Michael know about her?‖ He looked
around the table, trying to figure out what was going on.
    ―He has no idea what‘s he talking about,‖ his grandma said. ―I‘m
going to my room.‖
    ―Come on, Elizabeth,‖ his mother said. ―We don‘t have to watch
the video. Just sit down and eat, please.‖
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    ―Mom is right, we don‘t have to,‖ Michael reached under his chair
and grabbed the folder he had hid in there when he first walked in to
the dining room. ―We can we talk about my genealogy project
instead.‖
   ―I‘m not hungry anymore,‖ his grandma said. ―I‘m going to my
room, and you better stop talking about things that don‘t concern
you,‖ she growled at him.
     ―Fat chance,‖ he growled right back at her.
     ―Michael!‖ His mother admonished yet again.
    ―Sit down, Mom,‖ he heard his father say, and one look at him
told Michael he had finally realized something important was going
on.
     ―I want to go to my room.‖
    ―And I want answers,‖ Michael said. ―I want to know what
happened to Grandpa. I want to know what you said to him every time
he contacted you, and if you ever replied to any of the letters he sent
asking you to let him see his son. I want to know why he disappeared
and how come nobody has ever seen him again. Did he die? Where is
he buried? What did you do with his body? I mean, I kinda understand
you being hurt because he was in love with somebody else, but he
never betrayed you, Grandma. And Dad didn‘t have anything to do
with that; did he? And you‘re the last person who ever saw Richard.
You gotta know what happened to him! You‘re his wife!‖
    ―I don‘t know what you‘re talking about,‖ Grandma Elizabeth
said, her wrinkled face hard as a stone and her eyes impenetrable.
   ―Michael, sweetie…‖ His mother caressed his arm in an effort to
calm him down. ―What is going on?‖
    ―We know what happened to my father,‖ his father said. ―He
suffered a heart attack. He—―
   ―That‘s a lie!‖ Michael interrupted his father, not once looking
away from his grandmother. ―George Spencer didn‘t die when you
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were a toddler. He didn‘t even exist! Spencer is Grandma‘s maiden
name. Mary Elizabeth Spencer. Did you know that‘s her full name?‖
he knew he was getting louder by the second, but he didn‘t care. ―She
changed it when she left her husband. She changed her name and
made up a fake husband and a story to tell you and the rest of the
world and never let your real father or your aunt see you again.‖
   ―Aunt..?‖ his father repeated. ―Real father… We have more
family?‖
    ―Helen is your aunt,‖ Michael said. ―She‘s married to Robert
Wallace and they have five children whom, in turn, have thirteen kids
between them, so yeah, we have more family. I didn‘t get to look into
Grandma‘s side yet but I won‘t be surprised if we have plenty of
relatives living in New Jersey. That‘s where‘s she‘s from. Not
Seattle.‖
    ―Oh, boy,‖ his mother whispered right before getting up from her
chair and running to her husband‘s side. She took his hand in hers,
then grabbed Michael‘s arm with her other. That gesture of support
coming from his mother almost made him weep. It was good to know
both him and his father could count on her.
     ―Shut your mouth right now,‖ his grandma ordered.
     ―No,‖ his dad said. ―I want to hear this… I need to hear this….‖
     ―You were born Richard Lewis Bancroft the Third, Dad.‖
     ―Bancroft,‖ his mother repeated. ―Like the actor?‖
    ―Just like the actor, which explains why I look exactly like him
and Grandma here almost swallowed her dentures when I mentioned
other people had noticed the resemblance as well,‖ Michael didn‘t
care that he was being disrespectful and the fact that his mother didn‘t
call him out on it proved she thought Grandma Elizabeth deserved his
fury and scorn. Regardless of the reasons she might‘ve had, it was
despicable what she‘d done.
   Michael watched his father rub his face with his hands and take a
deep, shaky breath. He was pale, and his blue eyes were full of barely
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contained tears, but he was trying to remain calm. His blue eyes were
identical to Michael‘s… Richard Spencer looked a little like his
father, too.
    ―Why?‖ his father finally asked to no one specific. Michael could
only imagine how he must be feeling at the moment. He‘d had time to
prepare for this, but it was all new to his dad. He waited for a few
seconds, but wasn‘t surprised when his grandma didn‘t answer. She
just kept looking in the kitchen‘s direction; her face hard and her eyes
dry. Not a single sign of regret for what she had done to her own son.
    ―As far as I can tell, because he was gay,‖ Michael said. ―He was
in love with a guy before he married Grandma. I don‘t have all the
facts yet, but it looks like he changed his mind about living a lie. He
talked to Grandma about it. And I know he tried to talk to Manny.
That‘s the name of the guy he was in love with… but then he
disappeared. Nobody‘s seen him since 1968.
     ―Sweetie,‖ his mother said, ―are you absolutely sure about this?‖
    ―He kept journals, Mom. I‘m positive Richard Bancroft was my
grandfather,‖ he said directly to his dad. ―I spoke with Aunt Helen
earlier today, Dad. She lives with her husband in Florida. They retired
there a few years ago.‖ He took his research folder and handed it over
to his father. ―This is everything I was able to find on him on the
Internet, but I have lots more I found in Grandma‘s attic.‖ He ignored
his grandmother‘s gasp. ―It wasn‘t easy to get in touch with Aunt
Helen. Lots of people have called her throughout the years asking for
Richard, so she‘s a little skittish. But I was able to prove I‘m the real
thing, and she believed me. She wants to see me… see us….‖
   ―Is this what you were talking about earlier today?‖ his father
asked. ―Are you going to see her?‖
    ―Yes. She invited me… well, all of us. Me, you and Mom.
They‘re having some sort of celebration this coming Saturday. I think
she said it‘s an anniversary or something like that, and she‘d love for
the entire family to be together for the first time,‖ Michael glanced at
his mother, but spoke directly to his father. ―I need to go, Dad. I knew
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you‘d want to go, too, once I told you about it, but you need time to
sort things out here and I can‘t wait. I know I‘m grounded, but I can‘t
wait.‖
   ―Is he going to be there? My… you know, my father?‖ Michael
swallowed the lump in his throat. He was almost eighteen years old
and not once had seen his father look as fragile as he did now.
    ―I don‘t know… I don‘t know what‘s happened to him. Aunt
Helen wouldn‘t tell me. She just said certain things are best discussed
in person.‖ Michael closed his eyes and refused to cry. That was the
part he was dreading the most: to be told his grandfather was dead
now that he had just found him.
    ―Never mind being grounded,‖ his mother said. ―How are you
planning on getting to Miami?‖
   ―Charlie booked a flight for me. Seven A.M. tomorrow. I‘m gonna
need a ride to the airport, though… and I owe him six hundred
bucks.‖
    ―You should have come to us as soon as you found out about
this,‖ his mother admonished in a very low voice. ―But I can
understand why you didn‘t. I‘ll make sure Charlie gets the money
back.‖
     ―Thanks, Mom.‖
   ―Show it to me,‖ his father said, getting up from his chair. ―Show
me what you found in the attic.‖
   ―Come on,‖ Michael got up, and so did his mother. ―I have it in
my room.‖
    ―Don‘t even think about going to your room,‖ his father warned
his own mother, who was yet to show any emotions after what had
just transpired. ―You and I are going to have a long talk.‖
     CHAPTER SEVEN
     July 6, 1965
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    For years I have listened to what Benjamin has to say. For years I
have solicited and often taken his advice. He is a close friend; older
and wiser than me. He‘s managed to build a successful career and
survive in this town. He has different tastes and needs that he‘s kept
satisfied for years without ever having any eyebrows raised at him,
and his reputation has never been fodder for gossip in a place that
seems to live for it.
   I always thought he had all the answers and not once did I stop to
consider that maybe we want different things out of life. I should have.
    For the first time since meeting Benjamin I find myself wishing
that I had not paid attention to the ideas he put in my mind. By taking
a wife and pretending that I am not a homosexual man I have
surrendered to the kind of false life that disgusted me so much in the
past.
    I have also relinquished my dreams of a future with the person I
love and the biggest joy I‘ve ever known.
    In return, I get to watch Manny play his game and live his life in a
safe way.
    I know I should be outside in the garden; standing next to my
bride and greeting everyone that came to celebrate this day with us.
But here I am instead: hiding in my studio and trying to come to terms
with the enormity of what I‘ve done.


     July 25, 1965
   I saw Manny outside the studio today. I came out there he was; his
midnight eyes watching me from across the street. He looked so tired.
He wasn‘t too close, but I could tell he‘s lost weight. He was
unshaven, too. Manny never goes unshaven. He says a face as
handsome as his needs to be shown. I totally agree. But he was
unshaven and his clothes were disheveled… Lord, he looked
wretched.
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    He took a few steps forward but stopped right before crossing the
street. There he waited and waited… I didn‘t go to him. I didn‘t dare.
I‘ve missed him too much… wanted him too much… I knew I wouldn‘t
be able to refrain from touching him. People would‘ve seen, and my
sacrifice would have been in vain.
   He was still waiting when I got in my car and drove away from
him.


     August 30, 1965
     Mary Elizabeth has had no problems adapting to Hollywood‘s
lifestyle. She loves the parties and the glamour; being catered to and
receiving special treatment. She gloats about our luxurious house and
cars, and clothes and jewelry means more than anything else to her in
the entire world. She lives to dress up and constantly tries to out stage
the most popular actresses in the business.
    She has made friends with who she spends all her time. They go
out every day. I don‘t know where to, nor do I care. I‘m just grateful
her presence has put to rest all those rumors that a few months ago
could have cost Manny his life.


     September 9, 1965
    I went to see Manny play today. He‘s had an excellent year and I
wanted to be there for him, even if I am not. I‘m not sure if that makes
sense.
    I miss him so damn much. Every single hour of every day I think
about him. I read his letters and I look at his pictures. I pray that he‘s
at least content, and that some day he understands why I had to do
things this way. Then perhaps he‘ll be able to forgive me… Perhaps
he won‘t hate me so much anymore….
    I took the exact same seat I did when I went to his games in the
past. It was a risk I knew I shouldn‘t have taken, as it could get people
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talking once again, but I couldn‘t sit anywhere else. I needed for
Manny to see me. I needed for him to look my way and do his special
secret signal he did to let me know he‘d seen me. I hadn‘t realized, not
until I got to the stadium, how desperate I was for something…
anything… that would connect us again. And when I got it… God, he
looked up, brushed his cheek against his shoulder and smiled at me! It
was the biggest, brightest smile I‘ve seen on that gorgeous face of his.
I smiled back at him, and it got bigger yet. Everything faded away.
The crowd, the other players, the noise… Manny was smiling at me,
and I felt alive again.
    During the fifth inning my elation came to an end. I was
approached by a young guy who usually sat near me during the
games. He had a message to give me. ―Stay away from him‖. That‘s
what the wrinkled note said. I don‘t know if he wrote it or somebody
else asked him to give it to me. I didn‘t try to find out either. All that
mattered was that I had exposed Manny again.
     I couldn‘t leave the stadium fast enough.


    ―Would you like some juice or soda?‖ Michael looked at the flight
attendant and shook his head. ―How about some coffee?‖
    Now, that was something he could definitely use. ―I‘ll take a cup,
thanks.‖
    ―We have sandwiches, salads and cheese and fruit trays. Would
you like to purchase anything?‖ the lady asked, all smiles and shit.
Michael couldn‘t reciprocate. He was too nervous to be pleasant. His
stomach tied up in one too many knots for him to even smell food
right now.
    ―Just coffee, thanks.‖ He took the plastic cup from her and set it
on his tray to let it cool off a bit. A quick glance at his watch told him
it hadn‘t been even an hour since take off and he almost groaned out
loud.
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    The minutes seemed to be dragging since the big confrontation
with his grandma the previous night. One look at his original birth
certificate and a few of the letters Richard and Helen had sent to
Grandma Elizabeth pleading with her to let them see the boy was all
that had taken for his dad to break down and start crying like a little
kid. Michael and his mother were not far behind.
    The night had been an emotional roller coaster, with his dad
alternately screaming at or refusing to talk to his own mother.
Grandma Elizabeth told them why she‘d kept quiet. She was
convinced that ―Richard was a spawn of the devil‖, that ―Divorced
men are never good parents‖, said that ―If Richard didn‘t want me
then he couldn‘t have you either‖, and explained that she ―made up a
story about a dead husband because being a widow was much better
than having people know I‘m divorced‖.
    His father had lost his shit and screamed at the top of his lungs
that those weren‘t acceptable reasons for her to decide to deprive him
from having his father.
    There was what felt like hours of relentless interrogation from all
of them. At first she‘d refused to answer, but just when Michael
started getting worried about his father suffering a heart attack or
something from so much yelling, Grandma Elizabeth decided to
grumble a few answers. Apparently the Spencers were a force to be
reckoned with when they decided to gang up on someone.
    No, there was never a George Spencer. No, there wasn‘t any life
insurance money from him either. No; she never told anyone where
she was going once she moved out of the Bancroft mansion in Malibu.
She really didn‘t know what Richard had done once he left. Yes, she‘d
thrown him out and threatened to hurt herself if Richard dared to
come back. Then she‘d said she‘d give the boy to someone. No, she
was never crazy nor did she think she needed psychological help.
   She said Benjamin Newman bought the Malibu house and all the
money from the sale came to her. She said she didn‘t use the money to
send Richard Jr. to college. She had received a letter from someone
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notifying her that her son was the recipient of some kind of
scholarship. No, Richard never knew where she lived but Benjamin
always tried to get the information from her the few times they met so
that he could give her money. Yes, she thought the money came from
Richard. It was a lot of money. Yes, as far as she knew Richard had
been alive back then, but she didn‘t know anymore. Benjamin passed
away in the early 1980s and that was the only connection she had with
Richard.
    Michael‘s head had been spinning by the time she shut up. There
were so many things he wanted to say to her, but nothing came out of
his mouth. He was outraged at her actions. For some reason he kept
thinking they wouldn‘t have been as extreme had his grandfather been
in love with another woman instead of a man. Maybe his opinion was
biased, but hey, he was gay, so whatever.
     Michael took a sip of his coffee, buried his nose in the journal and
settled back in his seat. Once the worst of the storm had passed, he‘d
locked himself in his room to read the last entries Richard ever made
in his journal. He knew he was reaching, but he was hoping to find
clues as to where had his grandpa had disappeared to all those years
ago. He hadn‘t found anything so far, but now it was time to just go
back to the entries he had skipped. He was determined to know
everything there was to know by the time he met his long lost aunt.
     September 21, 1965
    Being married isn‘t as easy as I thought I would be. Feigning
happiness is complicated, even for an actor like me. When I proposed
to Mary Elizabeth we both knew there was no love between us, but she
assured me it would come with time.
     She was wrong.
    I might have chosen to stay away from Manny, but I still belong to
him. Determination to keep him safe has helped me fulfill my spousal
duties, but I know my body would never perform with anybody else.
     I will forever be his.
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     September 27, 1965
    We went to a party at Benjamin‘s house today. As usual it was
lively and gay. Only the best music, drinks, food and guests. I amused
myself trying to guess how many of those guests would have stayed if
they knew how very gay the party really was.
    I saw several of the men Benjamin introduced me to while at his
house over a year ago. I didn‘t say hello to any of them. Their
presence made me feel exposed and more uncomfortable than ever
around Mary Elizabeth. This time around I wasn‘t as quick to judge
them or the decisions they‘ve made, probably because I am now one
of them. I understand that hiding behind a wife is sometimes the only
plausible option for men like us, but I refuse to copy their actions in
every way. I might not love my wife the way I should, but I won‘t
disrespect her either by being unfaithful.
    Truth is I just wanted to come home, and had almost convinced
Mary Elizabeth it was time to leave when I saw him across the room. I
couldn‘t talk. I couldn‘t breathe. I couldn‘t focus on anything other
than this tall, strong, fantastic looking man that until recently had
been mine.
    I couldn‘t stop my reaction to him. My heart was beating its way
up my throat and my lower body hardening to a painful state of
arousal, and I couldn‘t stop it. I wanted to go to him. I wanted to
touch him and kiss him and beg him to take me away. I needed to feel
him. Have his lips consume me and his skin touch mine. Lose myself
in his heady scent. I wanted to take him in my mouth and not let him
go until I‘d made him spill. I wanted to drink every drop and then
start all over again. And I know that wouldn‘t have been the end of it.
My Manny, he‘s passionate and has the stamina of a purebred
stallion. I know he would‘ve had me on my back and spread open for
him fifteen minutes after I‘d finished swallowing the last drop of him.
I wanted this so bad I almost went to him. I didn‘t have to. He came to
me instead.
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    I was paralyzed. He shook my hand, even though I don‘t
remember taking his, and from behind the white noise in my head I
heard him introduce himself to Mary Elizabeth. She was smiling and
he was a perfect gentleman, telling my wife how he and I used to be
close friends but not anymore. She asked why. He said he wasn‘t
entirely sure but hoped to find out some day. They talked some more…
I can‘t be sure about what, as it was impossible for me to pay
attention and conceal my physical and emotional reaction to his
presence at the same time. I tried to leave. I remember pushing Mary
Elizabeth toward the door, but she stood her ground, smiling up at my
handsome Latino and asking if he was an actor, just like Ricky
Ricardo. I remember laughing at that. That my wife didn‘t know the
actor‘s real name and had referred to him by the name of the
character he played on television struck me as the funniest thing in the
world. I laughed and laughed. I could feel tears coming down my
face, I laughed so much. I couldn‘t stop. At least not until I heard
Mary Elizabeth tell him she would love to go to one of his baseball
games. And Manny said she was welcome to come… that I knew
where the best seats in the house were.
   He left soon after. I don‘t remember much of what I did, but at
some point I must have left the party and drive us home because here I
am, hiding in my studio trying not to cry.


    Michael groaned for real this time. Up to that point he‘d managed
to stay away from anything related to his grandpa‘s sexual life, but by
the time he realized what he was reading it was already too late.
Yikes. Grandpa got a hard on for his man while standing next to his
wife and Manny could go ten rounds in one night. T.M.I. Overload.
He was going to need therapy for the next twenty years in order to get
that image out of his frigging head.
     He shuddered and kept on reading.


     October 5, 1965
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   We went to the game. Mary Elizabeth insisted. She likes to be seen
around town with me. We took my usual seats. Manny didn‘t look in
my direction once. I felt like throwing up the entire time.
   His team won. There were congratulations and victory dances
among the players down on the field before they headed to the dugout.
Right before getting there Manny turned around.
     He brushed his cheek against his shoulder.
     And he flipped me the bird.


     October 14, 1965
    Not only did Manny‘s team win the World Series today, but he
was also named MVP of the game. I am so proud of him. I wish I
could tell him how proud I am. How happy for him. I‘m so happy I
can‘t contain my tears. He‘s the MVP. He‘s a champion… I think I‘m
going to drink to that….


     November 20, 1965
    Found out today Benjamin is going to his house in Florida for a
few days. I know why. I know what happens there. So I asked with
whom. I needed to know. He told me and I swung at him. For the first
time in my life I hit another human being.
    He told me to calm down; to get over it and just go with them.
That it would be the perfect opportunity to work things out with
Manny and come to an agreement. He said marriage was supposed to
give me the freedom I needed to be with the man I decided to be with;
not make me miserable. He said I‘m doing everything wrong and if I
don‘t get my head out of my ass it won‘t be long before Manny finds a
replacement.
     I swung at him again and left.
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     November 21, 1965
   I can‘t sleep. I keep thinking about Manny going to Florida with
Benjamin and his group of uninhibited friends and I want to die. I
can‘t take this. I can‘t think about him with someone else.
    I know I am being irrational. I cannot expect for him to be alone
for the rest of his life when I have made it more than clear that I am
not going back to him, but I do. Doesn‘t he understand what I‘m
doing for him? He needs to understand… I‘ve got to make him
understand….


     November 30, 1965
    I was a fool to accept Benjamin‘s invitation. I should have known
there was a possibility I would encounter things I didn‘t want to deal
with, but I had to talk to him. I had to talk to Manny.
    I found him with a man. They were out on the patio, talking and
smiling and feeding each other fruit! Well, the other man was feeding
fruit to Manny, and Manny was letting him. He shouldn‘t have let
him! I remember that man from last year. He was a lecherous pig
incapable of thinking about anything other than sex. Manny knows
how the man is, too. But there he was, talking to him like they‘re best
friends.
    I told that pig to leave us alone. He didn‘t want to, but he must
have realized I was ready to commit murder, because he finally got up
and left. And Manny had the… the… balls to tell me I had no right to
ask the man to leave. And he asked me what I was doing on the island.
It made me so angry to hear him ask such a thing. Didn‘t he really
know? He should have, and because he didn‘t I yelled it to him.
    I yelled that he wasn‘t being fair. That I had given up my sanity
and my happiness and more importantly, I‘d given him up just to
make sure he was safe. I gave him up! I told him I was dying from the
pain caused by not having him in my life, and that it‘s unfair for him
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to take my sacrifice and throw it out the window. He wasn‘t supposed
to be with other men. He wasn‘t supposed to be with anybody else!
    I demanded that he gathered his things and came back to Los
Angeles with me. I yelled at him until my throat started to bleed, and
he yelled right back at me.
    He was more furious than I was. He kept going from Spanish to
English, making me miss half of what he was saying. He called me a
coward. He said I‘d betrayed him. He said I was the worst person
ever for taking my wife to see him play. He told me to go back home.
To leave him alone.
    I kissed him. I grabbed his face, pulled him against me and kissed
him with all the love and desire I‘d been smothering for months. I
rubbed myself against his hard body; begging without words for
something I craved so much, I thought I‘d die if he didn‘t give me it to
me. Then I took his hand and covered myself with it. I could feel its
heat and strength through the fabric of my trousers. And for one
glorious moment he squeezed me. Hard enough to hurt, but I felt no
pain. He didn‘t open my fly. He didn‘t take me in his hand and stroke
me up and down the way I like… yet I exploded all the same.
     I was still trying to recover from the blinding pleasure I‘d just
experienced when he pushed me away from him. He looked at me for
a long time and right before my eyes I saw him turn into stone. His
midnight eyes became dull; his lips a hard line. And when he spoke, I
felt the ice in his voice running through my veins.
    He said he wasn‘t a cheap thrill. That whenever we had touched
in the past had been with love. He said I lost the right to touch him the
moment I decided to betray his faith in me. I argued that I did it to
keep him safe, because I was scared for him. He said it wasn‘t my
decision to make. He said he doesn‘t want to see me ever again. He
looked at me in the eye and told me to go home to my wife, because
that‘s whom I belong to now.
     I just knew he meant it with all his heart.
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     December 20, 1965
    I drove by Manny‘s house today. He visits his family every year
for the holidays and I knew he wouldn‘t be around.
     There‘s a For Sale sign in the front yard.
    At first I couldn‘t understand why he would want to sell his place.
Manny loves his house. He bought it when he first started making
money as a baseball player and he‘s proud that he owns it in full.
Many times he said he would never get rid of it because it was also
our special place and everything inside now reminded him of me.
    It took me a few minutes, but I finally realized that I am the reason
why he doesn‘t want to be in his own house anymore. He‘s disposing
of his memories of me. He wants to leave me behind.
     He is leaving me behind….


    ―Shit, Richard…‖ Michael whispered, quickly wiping his eyes
with the back of his hand before anybody noticed he was crying like a
baby. Reading his grandpa‘s journals it was easy to forget that the guy
had been only twenty-one when he met the love of his life and twenty-
two when he lost him. He always sounded so formal; so proper.
    Michael hoped things had turned around for the guy. That at some
point in his life he‘d been able to recover from that terrible breakup
with Manny and the story with his wife. He wanted to think that
eventually Richard had found himself a good guy to love and be
happy with.
   On the other hand, he kind of preferred to think the guy was long
gone. It was easier to believe his grandpa was dead than to wonder
why he‘d never tried to find his son. Yes, Grandma Elizabeth had
been pretty selfish, but forty-three years was a damn long time. He
could‘ve done something had he wanted to. Hire a detective, Google
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them, whatever. Then again, maybe he‘d moved on. From Manny,
from his marriage and from his son.
   He wiped his eyes again. He was trying to be fair and
understanding, but it hurt. It fucking hurt that his grandpa never knew
about him. It really did.


     CHAPTER EIGHT
     January 14, 1966
    I don‘t want to leave the house anymore. I don‘t want to have to
go to work. People annoy me so much with their constant gossip and
questions… I don‘t want to hear them and I don‘t want to look at
them. Their attitude and behavior are nothing but a reminder of why I
did what I did.
   I don‘t want to be constantly reminded of how much of an idiot I
was.


     February 23, 1966
    I had lunch with Benjamin today. He‘s worried about me and my
emotional health. I never even knew Benjamin would notice anyone‘s
emotional anything. He‘s a good man, but self-centered for the most
part.
    He was offended when I told him that. Apparently he can be very
sensitive as well.
    I asked if he‘d seen Manny. I couldn‘t help myself. Benjamin said
last he heard, Manny was trying to get transferred to a different team.
     Selling his house wasn‘t enough for him. It seems he can‘t stand
to live in the same state as me.
     March 30, 1966
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    Mary Elizabeth is pregnant. We‘re going to have a kid. I… this is
a miracle. We haven‘t had sex in months. I never thought I‘d be a
father….
     I‘m going to be a little person‘s Daddy!
     I‘m terrified.


     April 23, 1966
     I was nominated for an Academy Award this year.
   I have been dreaming of this moment my entire life. I studied,
rehearsed and worked for it until I was exhausted.
     I won. That coveted gold statue is mine.
     It means absolutely nothing to me.


     July 6, 1966
    I received a telephone call from Helen today. She‘s worried about
me after a conversation she had with Mary Elizabeth. My pregnant
wife is upset because I have become a hermit. She told Helen I don‘t
go to parties, I don‘t host any parties, we don‘t go out often enough
and we don‘t invite people over.
    I said we should be getting ready for the baby‘s arrival. We need
to be responsible about money, as there are no guarantees I will be
making movies for years to come. Hollywood is the kingdom of whims.
The same people that love you today could hate you tomorrow. I need
to make sure my family is provided for.
    Also, I am not in the mood for parties. These days I only manage
to smile when there‘s a paycheck involved.
    Helen wanted to know if I have recovered from my ill-fated affair
and wonders if she didn‘t make a mistake by agreeing with Benjamin
in that I could never let the world know about Manny and I.
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     I did not answer. It was never ill fated between me and Manny. I
killed it myself. But that is something I don‘t discuss with anyone. The
events are still too recent… too tender. I fear I might crumble and
never be able to get up again if I so much as mention his name. And
what does it matter if she made a mistake or not?
     I know I did… but it‘s too late to rectify.


     August 12, 1966
     I went to see Manny play today. I know he doesn‘t want to see me,
but he can‘t stop me if he doesn‘t know I‘m around. I wore casual
attire and made sure to stay away from my usual seat. Nobody noticed
me.
    He looked fantastic. I couldn‘t see his face from where I was, but I
didn‘t need to. I know by memory the shape of his eyes; the slight
bump on his nose; the tilt of his mouth. I know every expression line
that forms around his eyes and mouth when he laughs… and when he
hurts.
    To be able to sit amongst strangers and look at him without
raising any brows was exactly what I needed to feel alive again. For
nine months I restrained myself. I managed to respect his decision of
not wanting to see me again, but I can only be so strong… I just
needed to see him….


     August 23, 1966
    Benjamin is out of town. He didn‘t tell me where he‘s going and I
did not need to ask. At this time of the year, there‘s only one place
where he would go. I‘m doing everything I can not to think about the
possible guest list.
    Mary Elizabeth hates me. She‘s gained weight with the pregnancy
and can‘t go out with her friends anymore. I don‘t understand why
she complains so much. I can see how uncomfortable she is in such a
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late stage of her pregnancy, but shouldn‘t she be enjoying this? God
knows that watching my child grown inside her belly is the only good
thing in my life. She should be happy too.


     September 8, 1966
    I am a father! Richard Lewis Bancroft, the Third, was born today.
He is perfect. He has all his little toes and fingers and the cutest
button nose. His hair is dark, like his mother‘s, but I think his eyes are
blue like mine. I love him so much already. There‘s nothing I wouldn‘t
do for him.


     December 24, 1966
    I drove by Manny‘s house tonight. He moved out a long time ago,
but it‘s the only connection still have with him. I parked across the
street and took my bottle of gin out so that I could have a drink with
him. We ended up having five.
    I wished him a Merry Christmas. He probably didn‘t hear me. He
is with his family at this time, and Manny always said they can be
really loud, but I wished him a Merry Christmas and a Happy New
Year and all the happiness in the world. One of us deserves to be
happy. I doubt it will ever be me.


    The plane was shaking like crazy. Michael put the journal down
and shut his eyes, praying the turbulence didn‘t last long. ―Damn,‖ he
whispered. ―I hate this shit.‖ He gripped the armrests of his seat and
ignored his travel companion, some businessman who was shooting
dirty looks his way, as if he wasn‘t scared shitless himself. Michael
hated people like that.
   Once the turbulence was finally over he took the credit card he
was only supposed to use for emergencies and called home. Michael
knew his dad had been very tempted to get himself a ticket and board
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the plane to Florida with him, but ultimately decided he needed more
answers from his own mother and take care of her medical
appointments before he could leave Lake Tahoe. His dad had always
been a very responsible man.
    ―Hello? Honey, is that you?‖ Michael smiled and let out a deep
breath. Although his parents had never been touchy feely with one
another, they had always been very loving and supportive of him.
Michael never had a reason to doubt they wouldn‘t give their own
lives for their son‘s, but he never saw anything that‘d indicate they‘d
do the same for each other. Last night‘s events had changed that.
―Michael?‖
     ―Yeah, Mom,‖ he said. ―It‘s me.‖
   ―Is everything alright? You didn‘t land yet, did you?‖ She
sounded exhausted and worried out of her mind. Michael knew she
probably hadn‘t even been to bed yet. She had been in protective
mode for hours now.
   ―Halfway across the country, but wanted the check on you guys...
Find out how‘s everything with Grandma and Dad.‖
    ―Well, your father finally went to bed, thank goodness. He‘s
exhausted after… you know…‖ Michael waited for a few seconds. He
was sure his mother was trying not to cry again. ―He called Aunt
Helen and spoke with her for a while. You have no idea, she was so
happy to hear from him. They made arrangements. Dad and I will be
flying to Florida tomorrow night.‖
    ―What about Grandpa?‖ Michael asked. ―Did she say anything
about him? She wouldn‘t tell me anything.‖ He was thrilled to talk to
the woman he‘d gotten to know through his grandpa‘s journals, but
she had totally pissed him off. ―She could‘ve told me whether
Grandpa is alive or not, couldn‘t she? I don‘t get what the big fucking
deal is.‖
   ―Michael, language!‖ He rolled his eyes. ―For you and Dad‘s sake
I‘m hoping he is alive, but honey, you have to be prepared that he
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might not be. Maybe that‘s why Aunt Helen hasn‘t said anything. She
doesn‘t want to tell you over the phone… And maybe she‘s afraid you
wouldn‘t have gone to see her if you knew Grandpa Richard isn‘t
around anymore.‖
      ―Well, that‘s bullshit!‖
      ―Michael, do not be disrespectful to your aunt, do you hear me?‖
      ―Come on, Mom; I won‘t. I‘m just… you know….‖
    ―I know… Believe me, I know,‖ she repeated softly. ―Listen, I
need to let you go. I‘m going to take Grandma to her doctor's
appointment and let Dad sleep for a while. He needs it very much.
And so do you. Put those journals away for a bit and make sure you
get some sleep, okay?‖
      ―Okay, Mom,‖ he agreed, even though he knew he wasn‘t going
to.
   ―And call me as soon as you get to Sarasota,‖ she demanded. ―We
need to know that everything‘s okay.‖
      ―I will.‖
      ―Love you, honey.‖
      ―Love you too, Mom.‖
      Michael ended the call and continued to read.


      February 4, 1967
    We fought again today. It seems like Mary Elizabeth and I can‘t
be in the same room together without having an argument over one
thing or another. A party I don‘t want to go to, a party I refuse to
show up to even when we are the hosts, my newly found appreciation
for gin, my lack of appreciation for her beauty, my obsession with
being a good dad, the time I spend writing my stories, the possible
reasons why I leave our marital bed every night to go out to the patio
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to watch the ocean until the sun comes up and it‘s time to go back to
work….
   She seems to have a problem with everything. I do my best to
make her happy, but it doesn‘t seem to be enough.
     I need to get more gin….


     April 23, 1967
     I won another Academy Award. I‘ll drink to that.


     May 30, 1967
   I dreamt of him tonight. We were together again, making love
under the stars; the sound of the waves crashing around us….
    I need to see him… God, what wouldn‘t I do to be able to see him
for a little while.


     July 4, 1967
   Richie is such a smart little boy. He‘s the joy of my life and I
missed him so much the past four weeks.
     Going to different locations to work on new films is not something
I like to do anymore. I prefer to be home, with my son. That‘s why I‘m
considering working on television from now on. I don‘t want to be
away from him.
    We christened him today. Benjamin will be a wonderful godfather.
I know he will.


     July 25, 1967
    Actors slip into somebody else‘s life every day we go to work. We
talk different; behave different from how we normally do. Every role
is a challenge that requires attention to details and dedication.
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   As an actor I have learned the ways of bankers, doctors,
construction workers, cowboys, policemen and priests. I can laugh
and cry at will. I am so good at pretending to be someone else that I
have been recognized for my good work in more than one occasion.
    Yet, I cannot pretend that I am not dead inside… that the only
thing in the world that matters anymore is my son. He gives me the
strength I need to keep working and make it through the day…
through another day….


     August 12, 1967
    It could have been a perfect visit. My parents met their grandson
for the first time. Helen and her husband joined us as well. She is
pregnant and happy.
     But Mary Elizabeth is not.
     She ruined the one weekend I was looking forward to. August is a
difficult time of the year for me. Going home to New Jersey, a place
where nothing reminds me of what could have been but was not, was
supposed to keep me occupied and entertained. I was hoping that
being around my family would make me feel happy. That maybe the
excitement of seeing them again would stop me from trying to drown
my sorrows in gin, which is something I seem to be doing every day.
     I don‘t want to turn into a drunk. I don‘t.
    Mary Elizabeth decided it was a good time to discuss my flaws
and how much of an inadequate husband I turned out to be. She
claims I mislead her. That by marrying an actor she had expected to
lead a glamorous life. Instead she is home changing diapers. She
whined and nagged so much I wanted to kill myself.
    She also complained about my decision of not making any movies
that will take me away from home and the amount of time I spend
writing stupid stories that no one cares about. She begged my mother
to talk to me and convince me to be reasonable; to make me see that
giving up my fame and fortune would be insane.
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    I had to laugh. I hadn‘t realized until that moment how little she
knew me. By God, if she wanted for someone to convince me of
something, she should have asked Helen. It is because of my sister
that I ended up married to Mary Elizabeth, after all.
     September 8, 1967
    It is my son‘s first birthday. I willingly hosted a party today. I
celebrated having him in my life.
     Mary Elizabeth was happy again. She even wanted to have sex.
     This is the reason why I‘m hiding in my studio.
     I can‘t be with her… I just… I can‘t….


     November 22, 1967
    I saw Manny today. I stood close enough to smell his scent… to
feel the heat of his skin on mine.
    It happened at Benjamin‘s house. I received excellent news in the
mail from Benjamin‘s attorney and I had to thank my friend for
helping me decide what to do with the stories I‘ve been writing. I
drove to his house unannounced.
    Manny was visiting with Benjamin when I got to his place. They
have remained friends and I‘m grateful for it. Even though I don‘t put
Benjamin in a difficult position by asking him to give me any details, it
is comforting to know I talk to someone who, in turn, talks to Manny.
    I took a look at him and froze, but at the same time I was
consumed by the heat that covers my entire body whenever I‘m near
him. I was paralyzed and incapable of saying anything. I just kept
looking at him; praying that he‘d stay long enough so that I could at
least breathe him in.
     He didn‘t talk to me and excused himself far too soon, but I could
tell he wanted to come to me. He almost did. He took a step towards
me and extended his hand… perhaps to touch me? Maybe he wanted
to take me in his arms and never let me go… God, I wish he had. I
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wish he had told me how stupid I was for giving him up, then finally
forgive me and take me away. I wish I could become a hippie or a
beach bum or whatever he decides we have to be in order to be
together. I wish I knew how he feels.
   He never touched me. He didn‘t even talk to me. He just excused
himself and left. He left.


     December 5, 1967
    Mary Elizabeth thinks I am being unfaithful to her. I assured her I
am not, but she demanded I told her who my mistress is. I asked what
makes her think I have one. She said we don‘t have sex. That is the
truth. I have no desire for her, but that doesn‘t mean I have a
mistress.
    I told her I am preoccupied about work and changes in the movie
industry. She screamed at me so much she woke up the baby. I told
her to settle down. She said I only care about my son. Of course I do. I
told her that, and also that she should care about him too. It isn‘t
good for the baby to get scared like that. She yelled some more and
threw me out of our room.
     I don‘t think I‘m ever going back.


     December 24, 1967
   I drove by Manny‘s house today. I parked across the street and
had a few drinks with him. I talked to him. I told him how much I miss
him… how much I hurt….
    I asked if he still hates me or if he even thinks about me anymore.
I asked him if he‘s happy and if he found somebody else to love.
   I‘m glad he didn‘t answer. I‘m not entirely sure what would have
happened had I been able to confirm my Manny loves somebody else.
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     December 31, 1967
    We hosted a party tonight. Mary Elizabeth had a marvelous time.
I just went upstairs and played with my son.


     January 25, 1968
    We fought again, and it was louder than ever before. Mary
Elizabeth was livid. In order to discover who my mistress is she‘s
been looking through my things. This afternoon she found my
journals.
    I did not deny any of it. And it felt so good to be able to be honest
with her. About what I am and who I have loved for years. I told her
the marriage is not working for me. That it isn‘t fair for her to live
with a man who will always belong to another man. She wanted to
call the doctors and have them treat my condition. Said they will be
able to cure me.
    She asked if I am with Manny. I was honest with her. I said that I
broke his heart and he hasn‘t talked to me for many years. I don‘t
have any illusions he ever will. But that doesn‘t change the fact that I
will never love her the way she deserves to be loved.
     I told her I want a divorce.
   She hasn‘t talked to me in the past hour. I‘ll wait a little longer
and give her some time to calm down, then I‘ll try to reason with her
again. We need to be able to come to some kind of understanding. We
owe it to our son. I don‘t want to do anything that might hurt him.


     CHAPTER NINE
   Everything was a blur from the time Michael‘s plane landed at
Sarasota Bradenton International Airport to the time they made their
way to his aunt‘s car. There where hugs and tears and more hugs.
From his aunt, his Uncle Robert and the two grandchildren who came
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along with them. He couldn‘t remember their names, but he‘d take
care of that once he‘d settled down.
    He liked Aunt Helen a lot. She was tall and beautiful; old and
ageless at the same time. Her voice was soft; her eyes even softer.
Uncle Robert was obviously crazy in love with her still, and her
grandchildren didn‘t hide how much they adored her.
    Aunt Helen sat with him on the third seat of their mini-van. She
patted his hand while he talked to his parents then took the phone to
assure them she would take good care of him. Then she grabbed his
face between her hands and cried again. She said he looked exactly
like her brother had when he was a boy and told him she couldn‘t
believe how much he‘d grown since the last time she‘d seen him.
    Michael was baffled by that comment; totally confused. He had
just found out they existed. Why would she say she‘d seen him
before? He didn‘t say anything to her, though. She might have looked
ageless, but she was old. Late sixties, going by what he‘d read in the
journals. She must‘ve been confused.
    She hugged him again. It was a weird feeling, to be so close to a
person that was a stranger but didn‘t feel like one. He was anxious and
relaxed at the same time: feeling comfortable but completely out of
place.
   He looked out the window and wondered if the rest of the family
would be as welcoming as Aunt Helen and Uncle Robert were. God
knew the cousin in New Jersey had been a total pain in the ass when
Michael first called his house.
    His aunt rubbed his head and he relaxed against her shoulder,
totally enjoying her attentions and the scenery outside the car. He
wanted to ask about his grandpa, but he didn‘t dare. If he was going to
get bad news, he didn‘t want to hear it just yet.
   ―Is your house far from the airport?‖ Michael asked, watching the
palm trees and the ocean that was so close he could smell it.
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    ―A few hours away,‖ she said. ―But don‘t worry. We‘ll be home in
no time.‖
     ―How many is a few?‖
     ―About three hours.‖
    ―Right,‖ Michael sighed. He‘d just spent what felt like ten hours
on a plane. The last thing he wanted was more traveling time. ―Hold
on a second,‖ he said turning to look at her. ―If you live so far, why
did you have me fly to this airport?‖
    ―Because we‘re going to the island, of course,‖ she patted his
hand. ―That‘s where we‘re having the celebration on Saturday. Half
the family is already there, but the rest will be flying in tomorrow. Not
everybody was able to take time off from work.‖
    ―The island?‖ Michael whispered, an idea forming in his head but
he was afraid to run with it. He asked anyway. ―As in Benjamin‘s
private island?‖
    Aunt Helen chuckled and patted his hand one more time. She did
that patting thing a lot. ―It hasn‘t been Benjamin‘s in… lord… forty-
two years? Richard bought it from him as soon as he had enough
money.‖
     ―Is that where he went when Grandma Elizabeth threw him out?‖
    ―Eventually, yes. He needed to get away. A private island that not
many people knew about and could only be accessed by boat was the
ideal place for him.‖
    ―Of course…‖ Michael felt like the biggest idiot ever. He should
have known. Benjamin Newman had been Richard‘s closest friend.
He‘d opened Richard‘s eyes to what he was, introduced him to other
gay guys, advised him to get himself a wife and tried to help when
Richard got all depressed. He even was his father‘s godfather! Of
course he would‘ve helped Richard when the shit hit the fan. ―Is he
gonna…‖ Michael chewed on his lip for a few seconds and started
again. ―Can you tell me what happened all those years ago? The last
journal was right after he told Grandma he wanted a divorce, you
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know?‖ He almost asked if his grandpa was going to be on the island,
but changed his mind at the last moment. So what if they were going
to Richard‘s island? That didn‘t mean anything. He could‘ve left the
place to his sister for all Michael knew.
    ―Richard went to Benjamin‘s house,‖ his aunt said, and the soft
look in her eyes told him she knew he was stalling. That he didn‘t
want to ask. ―He tried to contact Mary Elizabeth, but she wouldn‘t
take his calls. Robert and I flew to Los Angeles as soon as we heard of
what has happening… I figured she would listen to me. We had been
friends, you understand? But she wouldn‘t. She felt betrayed and was
furious at Richard for taking the lifestyle she was accustomed to away
from her. He never intended to do such a thing.‖
    ―You gave up pretty soon, didn‘t you?‖ There was no mistaking
the accusation in his voice. He was furious on his dad‘s behalf. They
could‘ve tried harder.
    ―She… threatened us with doing certain things if we didn‘t stay
away,‖ she said, careful not to mention Grandma Elizabeth‘s crazy
suicide talk. He could see why she didn‘t, but it was unnecessary, as
he already knew about that. ―Richard didn‘t want to take any risks.
We continued to write letters to her, though. We were convinced that
was safe. I think, between your grandfather and I, we must‘ve sent her
twenty letters every week. She never answered… not once.‖
   ―Then she disappeared and started a new life as some other man‘s
widow,‖ Michael concluded.
    ―First in Utah, then Seattle, New Mexico and even Vancouver for
a few months before buying the house in Lake Tahoe,‖ she said,
looking out the window. ―She was good at disappearing, and back
then we didn‘t have as many resources to locate people as we do
nowadays.‖
   ―We‘ve had those resources for at least twenty years,‖ Michael
muttered. He was happy to have found his aunt, but still couldn‘t
understand why his grandpa hadn‘t looked for them the moment he
could.
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    Aunt Helen patted his hand again. Was she trying to get him to
calm down? ―I know,‖ she said. ―Benjamin was the intermediary, but
Elizabeth was very careful the three or four times she met with him.
Richard hired a few detectives, but I‘m afraid that didn‘t help. Mary
Elizabeth was good at covering her steps… she was too smart for her
own good... She was able to get away with what she‘d done. Had it
not been for that scholarship that Richard was smart enough to set up,
he would‘ve never been able to find his son,‖ she said, a huge smile
spread across her face. ―Here we are, dear", she announced,
completely unaware of Michael‘s confused look. ―You‘re going to
love this place!‖
    Michael‘s mind was reeling. What did she mean, Richard
would‘ve never been able to find his own son? He never did find him!
He opened his mouth to ask Aunt Helen what in the world was she
talking about, but he caught a glimpse of the small island ahead of
them and all thoughts escaped his mind.
    At some point in the past forty years an access bridge had been
built from the mainland, but gigantic iron gates kept the island private.
As the mini-van entered through them, Michael‘s jaw hit the floor.
The place was magnificent. The bluest water ever, broke at the
shoreline on bright waves that kissed white sand. There were palm
trees and all kinds of other colorful trees and flowers in full bloom.
    The landscape was unbelievable. He could see yards, gardens and
outdoor living space. The house was located about ten minutes away
from the main gate. It was big. Like, palatial big. The kind of big
Michael had only seen on shows like America‘s Richest Homes or
MTV Cribs. In the backyard there was a tennis court and an awesome
pool with lots of teenagers and kids splashing in it. The adults were on
the chairs and around the bar and grill. To the left of the house
Michael spotted a private dock with some jet-skis, a speedboat and a
damn yacht.
    His grandfather, or whoever owned the place, was definitely
holding.
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   But Aunt Helen said she didn‘t live in the island. Could that mean
Richard did?
    Uncle Robert pulled up in front of the house. Michael took a deep
breath and got out of the mini-van. The nameless cousins ran off to
the pool area and Michael followed the adults inside… which was
exquisite. He could tell everything was expensive, but it didn‘t look
like a showroom. It was homey and well lived in. Some of the pillows
on the couch were askew. There were some cups on a coffee table and
toys all over the place. The sight made him smile.
    Michael knew the place from Richard‘s description of it in his
journal. He knew where the bedrooms were and how many
bathrooms. He knew where to find the kitchen, the dining room and
the studio. He even knew in which direction to go in order to find that
secluded stretch of beach his grandpa had loved so much and
ultimately been made loved to by the man he had lost.
   If he closed his eyes, he could feel Richard‘s presence in the
house. How crazy was that.
    ―This way, dear,‖ Aunt Helen said. ―Let me show you to your
room.‖ She turned around to follow Uncle Robert, who was already
half way up the stairs carrying Michael‘s small suitcase. The duffel
bag containing the journals, the Tony Award and the Oscars he kept
with him.
    Michael blinked a few times and took several steps back. ―Would
it be okay if I look around a bit?‖ he asked. ―I promise I won‘t touch
anything. I just wanna—-‖
     ―Don‘t be silly,‖ his aunt interrupted, coming back down the stairs
and touching him lightly on the arm. ―You can touch whatever you
want.‖ She cupped his cheek. ―I know the past couple of days have
been quite emotional for you, so we‘re going to leave you alone for a
bit, okay?‖
   ―Thanks,‖ Michael said with a smile. ―I just need to… you
know…‖ Take everything in? Pinch himself to make sure he really
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was in this house? He didn‘t know how to explain it to her, and
luckily he didn‘t have to.
   She patted his cheek again and headed towards the door. ―Make
yourself at home. We‘ll be out on the patio, whenever you‘re ready.‖
     The moment he was left alone Michael began exploring the first
floor. Several of the bay windows were open, letting the tropical
breeze in. Everything was modern. The house might be the same, but
it had undergone some serious renovations.
    He walked through the living room, the formal dining room and
the kitchen. He opened pantry closets and storage closets. He found a
game room and a huge home theater. The library was located in the
back of the house and so well stocked Michael just knew it was going
to make his parents weep. The last room he walked into was an office.
   It had almost as many books as the library did and he just knew it
had been his grandfather‘s. Or was… ―God, please,‖ he whispered.
―Let it be his office….‖
    Michael broke into a huge grin when he noticed an entire
bookcase against a wall contained the work of R.B. Lewis. Man, his
dad was going to die when he found out his own father was as big a
fan of the famous author as he was. This was something good. They
could bond over it or something. At the very least it‘d be an
icebreaker.
    Grandpa was definitely a fan. Only the real hardcore fans made
sure they got special editions, hardbacks and paperbacks of every
installment and goodies related to the books. There were bookmarks
and mugs and even tote bags on a chair in the corner. ―Jesus,‖ he
chuckled. ―He‘s worse than Dad.‖
    Michael put his duffel bag on the floor and walked over to the
desk. The chuckle turned into a laugh when he spied the screensaver
on the computer. The R.B. Lewis logo he‘d seen on the every book
the author had ever written was slowly swirling around on the screen.
―And here Mom thought Dad was R.B.‘s oldest groupie.‖ Michael
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knew there was a chance he might be wrong about his grandfather, but
he refused to think about it. ―I gotta make sure I have Dad take a look
at this,‖ he grabbed a book from the desk. ―Maybe we can take a
picture of it. Dad can show it to R.B. next time they have dinner
together.‖ Michael opened the book and looked through it. ―Oh,
Dad…‖ he read the title of the book and laughed. ―You‘re gonna be so
jealous. Someone‘s got an advanced copy of the new book before
you!‖
    He laughed again and put the book down next to a huge stack of
papers and a few notebooks. He looked around the office again, trying
to find the best spot to display what he‘d brought with him. He‘d just
decided the Tony Award would look best on the desk when it hit him.
A dead person wouldn‘t have a computer with his favorite author‘s
name as a screensaver, right? He wouldn‘t receive advanced copies of
books that readers didn‘t have any details about either. And that title
he‘d just read? Never heard it mentioned before. Not once. His father
would have said something. Michael hadn‘t been able to see much of
the author since he went away to Worthington School, but his dad
always kept him in the loop of whatever R.B. was up to next on his
writing material.
    Michael set the Oscars next to the Tony and went around the desk.
A crazy idea was taking form on his head, and he needed to either
confirm it or discard it. Immediately. He moved the notebooks to the
side. If he found at least one piece or correspondence he‘d be able
to… His hand slowed down and finally froze on top of the new book;
the name of the author jumping at him. R.B. Lewis… R.B… Lewis…
R… Lewis… B… ―No…‖ he whispered. ―It can‘t be…‖ He traced the
name with his index finger then squeezed his eyes shut for a few
seconds before looking at the name again. He couldn‘t focus on it.
The tears wouldn‘t let him. ―It can‘t be….‖
   ―Welcome home, Michael.‖ The deep, shaky voice that reached
him from the door was one he knew. He first remembered hearing it
when he was four years old, but he knew by talking to his dad that he
had been a baby the first time he met its owner. And that voice might
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not have been a regular, but it had most definitely been a constant in
his life. He knew it from dinner at his house with his parents, from
going to the movies, from trips to Disneyland and even museums. It‘d
been present at a few of his birthday parties. It had given him advice
and wished him the best of luck when he was sent to Worthington.
He‘d heard it on the phone congratulating him for his performance in
Café Au Lait and asking for a copy of the DVD if the school made on.
   It belonged to a man that for years Michael had thought of as the
coolest surrogate grandpa a guy could‘ve had.
    He didn‘t remember moving, but he‘d never forget the bear hug he
received from arms that were still firm and strong even though they
belonged to a sixty-eight year old man. The tears didn‘t let him see his
face, but he didn‘t need to right now. He already knew what the man
looked like, so he buried his face on his grandpa‘s neck instead and
wrapped his arms around the broad shoulders.
    He felt so solid. Michael knew he was in good health… that with
luck he‘d have his grandpa for many years to come.
     They hugged tighter.
    ―It‘s you…‖ Michael managed to say. ―You were there all
along....‖
     ―Oh, Michael…‖ his grandpa was sobbing.
    ―I brought your journals and your awards,‖ he whispered. ―She
didn‘t have a right to keep them….‖
     ―Thank you for that….‖
    ―You should‘ve told us!‖ He hugged the older man tighter. ―Why
didn‘t you?‖ His grandpa caressed his blond hair and kissed him
repeatedly on the cheek. Michael broke down and cried like a baby.
―You should‘ve told us.‖
    ―I wanted to. I swear I did,‖ Grandpa pulled back, but only a little,
because Michael wouldn‘t let go of him. He blinked a few times,
trying to focus on the older man‘s face. His grandpa wiped out his
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tears and kissed his forehead. Michael broke down all over again. ―I
didn‘t think it was right for me to tarnish you and your father‘s image
of Mary Elizabeth,‖ he explained. ―I decided to wait. I had you and
your father in my life. And even Susan, who happens to be a
wonderful lady, you see… I decided that I could wait to tell you….
    ―That‘s what he says,‖ the teasing voice came from the door. ―But
I know better. The moment you started to look like him is the moment
he started hoping Mary Elizabeth would grow a conscience and admit
to what she‘d done. And I‘ve got to tell you, he‘s been on pins and
needles since he found out you‘re playing his character in Café Au
Lait. We knew the time had come.‖
    Michael‘s head snapped to look at the newcomer, and his day all
of a sudden got a hundred times better. ―Oh my God!‖ Only one thing
could‘ve made him let go of his grandpa right now, and it was staring
at him from the door. His hair wasn‘t midnight black anymore. It was
now sprinkled with gray. But the eyes were the same. He‘d
recognized those twinkling, soulful eyes anywhere from description
alone. ―Oh my God!
   Michael sobbed and laughed at the same time, and he hugged this
man as tightly as he had Grandpa Richard; with the same joy and love.
―Oh, Manny,‖ Michael hugged him again. ―I‘m so damn happy to see
you here!‖
    ―There‘s no other place I could ever be,‖ he said. ―We belong
together, your grandpa and I, and we‘re damn happy to see you, too!‖
He hugged Michael with one arm and used the other to pull his
partner against them. It was the best group hug ever.
   Michael savored it for all of one minute before he started with the
questions.
    ―You gotta tell me what happened after you disappeared. How did
you two get back together? I thought you didn‘t want to see Grandpa
again!‖ He told Manny, and then turned to look at his grandpa. ―I
need answers.‖
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    ―And you shall get them,‖ his grandpa said, steering him towards
the door.
   ―Did you plan it?‖ Michael continued to ask. ―Was that the reason
why you wanted a divorce, Grandpa?‖
    ―I didn‘t plan a thing,‖ Grandpa Richard said with a chuckle. ―He
hated me, you see.‖
   ―But you‘re here together,‖ Michael pointed out. ―He couldn‘t
have hated you that much!‖
     ―Let‘s just say I loved him more than I hated him,‖ Manny said.
    ―And yet he played hard to get,‖ his grandpa said, rolling his eyes
in the cutest way. ―For three years, he told me I couldn‘t have him.
How cruel was that?‖
    ―Oh, stop complaining,‖ Manny lead them upstairs into what
looked like a family room. ―I have made it up to you, haven‘t I?‖
    ―You most certainly have,‖ Grandpa said, leaning in to share a
quick kiss with his partner. Michael‘s heart melted all over the deep
burgundy carpet. He looked around the room, trying to give the
couple some privacy and recover from the cuteness overload, but
completely forgetting about it when he spotted the pictures.
    There were several. Of Grandpa Richard and Manny, of them with
another guy and a huge blue marlin, of people Michael assumed were
family members on both their parts… and of him and his father and
his mother. He took a framed picture of himself with his dad and
grandpa. It had been taken during a trip to Disneyland when he was
ten. Michael remembered his dad wasn‘t crazy about going, but
Richard, or R.B., which was what they‘d called him all that time,
insisted they went.
     It was a perfect day.
    ―God…‖ Michael whispered, sitting on one of the couches. ―I
can‘t even imagine what Dad‘s reaction is going to be when he finds
out.‖
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     ―I want to be the one to tell him, Michael,‖ his grandpa said,
sitting next to him. ―Please don‘t mention anything before they get
here tomorrow.‖
    ―I promise I won‘t.‖ He placed the framed picture on the coffee
table and took a deep breath. ―For a price, of course,‖ he added with a
huge grin. ―Did you come to the island to see Grandpa?‖ He asked
Manny. ―Did Benjamin help you?
    ―Oh boy,‖ Manny laughed, turning towards the door.‖ Not only he
looks like you, but he is just like you. ―I‘m going to get some
refreshments for us.‖
    ―Thank you, love.‖ Michael‘s eyes got all misty again. He just
couldn‘t handle the cuteness overload between those two. ―Michael,‖
his grandpa said, covering his hands his own. ―I know you have many
questions and I‘m more than willing to answer every single one of
them, but we have time for that. Can‘t we just enjoy the moment for
now? I‘ve been waiting my entire life for this, you know?‖
   ―Can I stay with you for a while?‖ Michael asked. ―I have a few
weeks before I gotta go to college, and it‘d be awesome if I could…
you know… be with you?‖
   ―You don‘t even have to ask,‖ his grandpa said with a smile.
―You‘re welcome to stay for as long as you want and visit whenever
you feel like it.‖
    ―Thank you, Grandpa,‖ Michael smiled and hugged the man
briefly. It was amazing, how easy the transition from calling him R.B.
to calling him Grandpa had been.
   ―I want to take you to the patio and introduce you to the rest of the
family. They‘ve been waiting to meet you. Not too patiently, I might
add.‖
   ―I‘d like that very much. Aunt Helen, I gotta say, she‘s awesome,‖
Michael looked into his grandpa‘s blue eyes, so similar to his own.
R.B. had always worn glasses, which was probably the reason why he
hadn‘t noticed before, but truth was both him and his dad had blue
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eyes that were identical to Richard‘s. ―I‘m glad she was supportive of
you.‖
    ―I am too. My parents… let‘s just say they weren‘t as accepting as
Helen was when I told them Manny and I were a couple.‖ He looked
sad for a moment, but shook himself out of whatever memory he was
visiting and smiled. ―But that‘s neither here nor there. This weekend
we celebrate.‖
    ―Aunt Helen mentioned there‘s an anniversary or something going
on,‖ Michael said with a shrug. ―Is there gonna be a party?‖
    ―Why, yes. Of course there‘s going to be a party.‖ Michael
giggled when his grandpa swatted his arm. It was the gayest gesture
he‘d made so far and it just tickled him to no end. ―Forty years of
wedded bliss, my sweets. That‘s not to be taken lightly.‖
     ―Oh my God… is it your anniversary?‖
   ―Indeed… and someday I‘ll give you details, but for now, I just
want to enjoy your presence and get ready for my son‘s arrival. It‘s
about damn time.‖
     ****
     The family was huge and loud and happy and Michael loved them
all instantly. They‘d talked to him like they did every other member of
the family. He was teased and ragged on and embarrassed the same as
the other teenagers in the family did. He was included in every
conversation and treated as if he belonged.
     And the most amazing part was he actually did.
    Michael rubbed his hair with a towel and walked to the window in
the room he‘d been assigned. It was almost midnight and with the
exception of the crashing waves and the occasional seagull,
everything was quiet outside. The bright moon as well as the garden
lights made it possible for him to see everything, and he took a
moment to take the surroundings in. The island was magnificent and
he couldn‘t wait to explore it in the morning. His cousin Steven, who
was one year older than Michael, had offered to give him the grand
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tour, and later on he was scheduled to go snorkeling with his cousin
Melissa and her girlfriend Tonya.
     Yup. He definitely loved his family.
    He was about to turn around when he noticed the two figures
walking towards the beach. They were holding hands but didn‘t seem
to be talking. After almost forty-five years together, Michael figured
they didn‘t have to in order to communicate.
    He‘d watched them all day. He‘d seen them share subtle and not
so subtle touches; feed each other and hug lovingly when they went in
the pool. That there was still passion between them was obvious, and
looking at them now had Michael thinking that that was exactly what
he wanted for himself. He wanted the real deal. He wanted the true
love story and a happily ever after.
   After watching Richard and Manny together, he didn‘t think he‘d
ever be able to settle for less.


     CHAPTER TEN


     July 15, 2011
    I have spent four hours visiting my past through journal entries I
wrote an eternity ago. Journals that I believed were lost but have now
been returned to me by a smart, talented and loving young man that I
finally get to call grandson.
     I find myself analyzing my feelings and thoughts at the time, and
wonder what could I have done differently in order to at least
decrease the amount of pain I caused some people. Stay single; don‘t
listen to Benjamin; don‘t listen to Helen; grab your man and runaway
with him… the answers are a dime a dozen.
    But like Manny always says; hindsight was always smarter than
foresight, and sometimes we just have to live and learn.
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   Our journey was anything but easy for a long time. If I ever need
any reminders, I have the journals to attest to that.
     Together we survived police departments that harassed our
community and a legal system that persecuted it. We witnessed the
first establishments that catered to homosexuals and the riots with the
police as a result. We witnessed the beginning of the gay liberation
and attended the first Gay Pride march. People were starting to see
we were not sociopaths after all. But soon after we thought that we
were safe, many of our friends began to die, victims of a merciless
murderer that targeted men like us.
   Manny and I lived through all that. It was never easy, but it was
worth it.
    On a personal level the journey was even more difficult. Many
years were dedicated to the search for an ex-wife who didn‘t believe I
deserved to see my son, and many others praying to God for guidance,
as we didn‘t know how was best to proceed once I found my son.
     It all paid out at the end.
     Today I feel blessed. Today I celebrate my union with the man I
fell in love with the moment I saw him. A man that even after all this
time has but to look at me in order to set me ablaze. Today I celebrate
surrounded by friends, family, my daughter in law, my son and my
grandson. I never dared to entirely believe this day would some time
come.
    We met forty-seven years ago in this tropical paradise we now
call home. Our friends at the time thought the affair would only last as
long as the summer vacation, but Manny and I always knew ours was
the love of a lifetime.
     I‘ll drink to that.
THE END
    Author bio: Taylor V. Donovan is a professional reader and
author of m/m romantic suspense. She is optimistically cynical about
the world; lover of history, museums and all things 80s. She is crazy
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   167


about fashion and shamelessly indulges in mind-numbing reality
television. Passionate about civil rights and equality for all.
     When she is not making a living in the busiest city in the world or
telling the stories of gorgeous men hot for one another, Taylor can be
found raising her two daughters and two terribly misbehaved fur
babies in the mountains she calls home.
  Taylor's first novel, Six Degrees of Lust, is being published by
MLR Press. Release date coming soon.
     Website:
     http://sixdegreesandcounting.blogspot.co...
     twitter username
     taylorvdonovan
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Rachel Haimowitz – JUNGLE HEAT (Military)
Genre: contemporary
Tags: military, soldiers, capture, multicultural,                   Dear Author,
rescue, dub-con, drug use, dark, coming out                         He's been found deep in the
Warnings: forced drug use, dub-con, non-                            jungles and is now a
explicit violence                                                   prisoner among rebels
                                                                    whose handsome leader
Words: 4,357
                                                                    insists he can never leave.
                                                                    Could someone help tell his
JUNGLE HEAT                                                         story?
by Rachel Haimowitz                                                 [PHOTO: A dark-haired,
                                                                    fair-skinned man stands
    There were so many things to hate about the                     immobile, wrists bound at
jungle, Pete hardly knew where to begin. The                        head level on either side of
constant dampness, so pervasive even human                          him to a rough wooden
                                                                    frame. The position
skin grew mold. The heat, all the more                              showcases his lean
oppressive in the long pants and sleeves of his                     muscular build. He wears
BDUs. The insects that somehow found their                          only a pair of slipping,
                                                                    unbuttoned khaki pants.
bitey, stingy way to bare skin despite tight
                                                                    Only the tense spread of his
sleeve cuffs and pants tucked into socks. The                       legs keeps them from falling
snakes dropping out of trees and crawling into                      and exposing him. He looks
your bedroll (and once his boots—thank God                          ahead steadily, eyes wary.]

he‘d made a habit of checking). The damn birds                      Sincerely,
and monkeys chittering so loudly he couldn‘t                        C.M.
sleep. And the drug cartels, of course.
     They were the worst.
    They were also the reason he‘d been stuck
here for the last five weeks, roughing it like
Ranger School all over again. Him and his tiny
team—sniper, spotter, flanker—sent in to do the
jobs no one else could. Or maybe just the ones
no one else wanted.
     What else was new, eh?
    They‘d been watching the Morales cartel
three weeks now, tracking the flow of their
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suppliers and shipments and personnel in and out. The base seemed
quite small for the size of the operation: only fourteen men in their
jungle camp, guarding and packing and shipping enough cocaine to
feed a habit the size of the entire northwest United States. They‘d
gotten clever about it, too. They still used human mules, of course, but
the bulk of their wares were going out on drug subs now. Harder to
find, harder to stop.
    Not that any of that was Pete‘s concern. At least not officially. No,
they‘d been sent here to kill one man and one man only: Mateo
Morales Oritz, head of the whole Amazon Basin operation in
Colombia. Neat, stealthy, no firefights, thank you very much. In and
out without ever being seen or, God forbid, identified as American
soldiers.
    Morales only dropped by once a week, choppered in from God-
knows-where at noon on the dot to inspect the operation, choppered
out by eighteen hundred the two times they‘d watched him come and
go. Would‘ve been easier just to down the chopper, but invading
sovereign airspace wasn‘t exactly subtle, and a little more leeway than
the Colombian government was willing to grant their US pals right
now. So bullet to the chest it was. His team had located an ideal hide
site up in the canopy of a kapok tree some 70 meters off the ground,
high enough above its neighbors to draw a bead on their target. The
helo landing zone was 607 meters distant—an easy shot. Especially
since prior behavior indicated Morales wouldn‘t exit the chopper until
the rotors stopped spinning, and once he was out, he‘d stand there for
upwards of twenty seconds while the outpost commander came to
salute and escort him off. That wasn‘t exactly forever, given the
vertical drop and the variable wind speed and direction above and
below the canopy, but for his team it was long enough.
     Speaking of his team . . .
   Diego was checking his gear one last time, and Mitchell was
checking his calculations on his tablet. He‘d already been through
them a dozen times this morning alone—temperature, humidity, wind,
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angle of fire, ballistics—and Diego had checked his work more than
once, but you could never be too careful, he supposed. They‘d
endured five weeks of man-eating terrain to take this shot. No one was
willing to fuck it up.
    Pete checked his watch. 09:02. It took time to climb that monster
of a tree, more time to set up the rifle, settle their heart rates, dial in
last-minute adjustments. And be prepared, of course, in case the
chopper came early. None of them wanted to be stuck here another
week.
     Still . . . ―I think that‘s enough, Mitchell.‖
    Mitchell looked up at him and narrowed big green eyes to slits.
His face was far too baby-smooth, even after five weeks in the jungle,
to pull that off; all he did was make Pete laugh.
     ―Fuck you,‖ Mitchell said, perfectly amiable.
    Pete hid the uncomfortable little shiver those words sent through
him by laughing again, and hey, it made Mitchell smile back, all
straight white teeth and sunshine and a strange kind of kissability he
tried very hard not to admit even to himself. Besides, now wasn‘t
exactly the time to be letting his mind wander, was it?
   He turned around before he got any more stupid ideas and snagged
Mitchell‘s ghillie suit from his pack. ―Here, put this on. It‘s go time.‖
    Mitchell finally put his tablet away and pulled on his camo, a
mesh of leaves and twigs picked fresh from a kapok tree this morning.
His face and hands were already painted, and when he pulled the
ghillie hood over his dusty blond hair, he half-faded into the jungle,
even from five feet away. Good—from 600 meters, he‘d be a ghost.
Less than a ghost. The cartel wouldn‘t have the first idea of where to
look for them. Would hopefully be too busy trying to save their leader
to bother, anyway.
    He checked his watch again, then took a long look around for . . .
well, anything, the constant chirp and hum and rustle of the jungle a
strange comfort in the daytime for all the irritation they caused him at
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night. ―09:08 boys,‖ he said. Diego was pulling on his harness over
his ghillie suit. Mitchell was strapping on his spurs. The thought of
their upcoming climb made Pete almost glad he‘d drawn the short
straw, but only almost—no sniper worth his salt was happy playing
flanker. Everyone wanted to pull the trigger, especially now they had
shiny new XM2010s. He‘d never fired one in the field.
   ―Don‘t worry, Petey,‖ Diego said, tossing him a wink as he
shouldered his pack. ―You‘ll get your turn soon enough.‖
     ―I‘ll take a picture for you,‖ Mitchell said.
     ―You‘ll take a picture for high command.‖
     Mitchell shrugged and ducked his head to hook his flipline to his
carabineer, but not quickly enough to hide his blush or his goofy
smile. ―I may take orders from the brass,‖ he said, ―but in my heart
it‘s all for you, babe.‖
    Diego snorted. ―You two lovebirds want the nest? I‘ll wait down
here.‖
     Fuck, yes. But he settled for, ―I drew the short straw, remember?‖
    He tried not to look too disappointed as he watched his team
ascend the tree.
     ****
     At 09:22, Mitchell radioed down. ―We‘re in position.‖
    Pete peered up into the canopy, but of course he couldn‘t see a
thing. ―How‘s it looking up there?‖
     ―Five by five.‖
    He snorted at Mitchell‘s cheery misuse of the phrase. ―Thank you,
Faith.‖
     ―Any time, Giles. Now go be a good watcher and keep us clear.‖
     ―Roger that. Out.‖
   He patrolled the perimeter, a half-klick radius around the hide site.
The boys in the nest had the clearest view of the camp by far, but the
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canopy blocked their view of nearly everything directly below. That‘s
where he came in.
    All was quiet as expected. The cartel patrolled the area, but his
team had spent three weeks observing their habits and had chosen
their hide site accordingly; he had no reason to believe they‘d cross
paths now. Nor did the cartel have reason to be suspicious, though of
course they were particularly vigilant this morning, what with their
boss on the way.
    Fortunately, his own team was vigilant to match. Or so he thought,
at least, even after he slapped at the sudden sting in his neck, right
above the line of his throat mic. By the time he realized it wasn‘t a
bug, he was already falling. Tongue numb, throat locked, limbs gone
to water. He tried to bring his rifle up, but couldn‘t even raise his
hands enough to block his fall. Couldn‘t force his lips to form even
one simple word to warn his team. Fuck all, he was supposed to be
watching their backs.
     Shame no one had been watching his, eh?
     ****
    Drugged though he‘d been, he woke the way he always did, the
way the Rangers had trained him: like a switch flipping, pitch dark to
blazing bright. Except this time he was vertical, and also shirtless—
never a good sign—the familiar pressure of his tac vest and thigh
holster gone. His head hurt, but that pain was no match for the one in
his wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Familiar agony: he was tied to
something, bodyweight hanging from his hands. He could still feel his
fingers, though, so he hadn‘t been out long. Nevertheless, the urge to
stand up and take the load off them was powerful. But the enemy
didn‘t know he was awake yet, and the longer he stalled, the less time
he‘d need to survive before Morales‘s chopper landed and his team
took the shot.
   Modulate breathing. Don‘t let the pain show on your face. Don‘t
move.
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    But he must have done something to give it away, because a hand
tapped at his cheek, and the cool round barrel of a pistol pressed to his
shoulder. ―Despertarse, Americano.‖
    He very carefully didn‘t respond, but he wasn‘t fooling anyone.
The cheek tapping turned into a full-out slap. ―Sé que estás despierto.
I know you‘re awake. The drug does not last long.‖
    He thought about maintaining the fake, but his captor would just
end up shooting him or something to prove his point, which struck
him as a hell of a lot more trouble than it was worth for the few extra
seconds it‘d buy him. ―All right, you got me,‖ he said, getting his feet
beneath him—more or less, anyway; apparently his ankles were tied
to something too—and gratefully taking the weight off his shoulders
and wrists. ―I‘m awake.‖
    He opened his eyes to the smirking (and infuriatingly handsome)
face of the man they knew only as Teniente, the lieutenant Morales
had left in charge of the operation in his absence. In that same second,
he absorbed a mass of environmental information: He was tied spread-
eagle to the exposed wooden studs of a decaying storage shed on the
north-northeast edge of the encampment, thick lengths of rope around
his ankles and wrists, a splintered joist digging into the small of his
bare back. The sun was still fairly low in the sky, casting long
shadows his inner math-whiz sniper used to calculate the time—
somewhere between 10:00 and 10:30—with hardly a conscious
thought. Eight of the camp‘s fourteen inhabitants were within sight,
though only four within spitting distance. Had the rest gone out to
look for his team?
    Teniente grabbed a fistful of his hair, no easy feat with it cut so
short, and jerked his head up. ―I do not care who sent you, Americano.
I only care where your friends are. You will tell me.‖
    Pete shook his head free and laughed. It wasn‘t bravado, not
really. Just a genuine reaction to the enemy‘s swagger. Clearly he‘d
never dealt with a Ranger before.
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    He sure did know how to make a guy stop laughing, though: one
vicious punch to the solar plexus that emptied his lungs and hazed his
senses with overload and pain. But that was nothing new for Pete.
He‘d been there, done that, learned how to cope with it long ago.
   At last his chest unlocked and he sucked in one painful breath,
another, and then said, ―I don‘t have any friends.‖
   He was braced for the punch to the kidney that earned him. Didn‘t
even shout, though it took him a good ten seconds (more like ten
hours, or so it felt) to straighten up again.
   ―This isn‘t going to work, you know.‖ Again, not bravado. Just
simple truth. Followed, of course, by a lie: ―I can‘t tell you what I
don‘t know, no matter how many times you hit me. I‘m here alone.‖
    Teniente locked eyes with him and very deliberately slipped a set
of brass knuckles over his fingers. Internally, Pete flinched, but he
didn‘t let it show on his face. Or in his voice. He cocked an eyebrow
at Teniente‘s mean-looking fist. ―That won‘t change anything.‖
    Teniente shrugged, smiled a nasty swaggering smile as he drew
his fist back. ―We shall see.‖
    The next few minutes didn‘t go so well. But Pete didn‘t give an
inch. After all, he only had to last an hour or two.
   . . . Assuming Teniente doesn‘t call off Morales‘s visit in light of
your sudden appearance.
   Pete shoved ruthlessly at that treacherous voice of doubt before it
could wedge through the cracks Teniente‘s brass knuckles were
making in his armor.
    If Morales doesn‘t show, you‘re dead. The team won‘t jeopardize
the mission to rescue you and you know it.
     ―Shut up!‖
    Pete‘s command, barked to himself between clenched teeth, gave
Teniente pause. Maybe the guy thought he was crumbling under the
strain.
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    Teniente studied him a moment—what a mess he must have
seemed, chest heaving, fists clenched, streaked with dirt and sweat
and blood—then turned to a nearby goon. ―Esto no va a funcionar,‖
he said, and Pete wanted to shout I already told you it‘s not going to
work, so kindly stop trying, but of course he didn‘t. ―Dame la
cocaína.‖
     Shit. Not that. Anything but fucking that.
    Because, really, he‘d never even so much as smoked pot in
college, hadn‘t considered it worth the risk to his body or his career—
not to mention he‘d have had to quit school if he‘d lost his ROTC
scholarship. If they dosed him with fucking cocaine, it might kill him.
Or hook him.
     Or worse, pry his tongue loose.
    And shit again, but he must have let his fear show on his face
because Teniente leaned in close, and a cold, knowing smile curved
his lips. ―Ah,‖ he said—practically purred. ―Por lo que nos hablamos
Español.‖
     Well, never too late to play stupid, right? ―What?‖
    But Teniente only chuckled and patted him on the cheek. ―It does
not matter,‖ he said. ―You are never leaving here anyway.‖ The goon
he‘d sent to fetch cocaine returned, and shit but it was worse than he‘d
expected—a whole fucking bag of dicks, in fact—not powder but a
Goddamned needle.
     Probably a dirty one, at that.
    Teniente grabbed him by the hair again, wrenched his head to one
side. Given the position and the stress of the situation, he knew the
vein on the side of his neck would be huge right now. Impossible to
miss. He eyed the needle as Teniente lifted it toward him.
     ―I‘m no good to you dead,‖ he tried.
   Teniente shrugged. ―You‘re no good to me anyway.‖ Pete felt the
cool of the needle touch his neck and twitched away as best he
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could—which, really, was hardly at all what with the grip Teniente
had on his hair and the bindings on his wrists and ankles. But he felt
no prick. Just a scraping instead, starting near the jugular and running
down his neck, to his throat, across his chest. The fucker was dragging
the tip of the needle across his skin, leaving a narrow trail of itching
heat in its wake that set him struggling against his bindings with the
urge to scratch.
    Teniente dragged the needle over a nipple, then back, and Pete
couldn‘t help it, he gasped. Gasped again when the needle pressed just
hard enough into the sensitive flesh to draw a bead of blood. Jesus
Christ, was this crazy fucker gonna shoot him full of blow through his
Goddamned nipples?
     ―Such a . . . well-kept body you have. Perhaps I can use you, after
all.‖
     The needle scraped back up toward his neck, and he held stock
still, unwilling to show this lunatic the revulsion he was so clearly
expecting.
       ―We make the finest product in all South America. You will like
it.‖
       ―No,‖ he said—not begging, just stating a fact.
     ―What‘s that?‖ Teniente raised a mocking hand to his ear, cupping
it as if he couldn‘t quite hear. ―I‘m sorry, my English is very bad.‖
       Bullshit.
    The needle pressed against the skin over his jugular. Pierced it,
though Teniente didn‘t depress the plunger. The hand he‘d curled in
Pete‘s hair slid down his neck, his bare torso, his pants, cupped hard
against his groin. ―Tell me if you don‘t want it,‖ Teniente whispered.
    Pete tried to shift away—from the needle in his neck, from the
groping hand—but the bindings at his wrists and ankles and the joist
in the small of his back made that impossible. ―I don‘t want it.‖
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    The needle jabbed in ever so slightly deeper, and Teniente tut-
tutted. ―No hablo Inglés, remember?‖
    There seemed little point in indulging the fucker, but the language
game was already up, and if there was even the slightest chance at all
he could stop this, stop any of it . . . Through gritted teeth he growled,
―Fine. No lo quiero. Aleja esa mierda de mí.‖
    Teniente laughed, and Pete had just enough time to hear ―Too
bad!‖ before the fucker‘s laughter emptied into his veins and stopped
his heart.
    Fingers fumbled at the fly of his pants, yanked them down around
his hips, wrapped around his cock, and oh . . . oh!
     He‘d never felt this good in his life, never even imagined it was
possible to feel this good. One stroke and he was gonna burst. He
couldn‘t even begin to contain it, found himself floating right out of . .
. of . . .
     No, not floating but flying, flinging, launched right into fucking
space, looking down on earth from a million miles away and out at the
forever of planets and stars and nebulae and fuck if it wasn‘t the most
beautiful thing he‘d ever seen, if he wasn‘t whooping with the joy of
it, weeping with it, and if those fingers touched him one more time he
was gonna explode, splatter all over the whole fucking universe like
some glorious fucking God seeding planets—
     Oh. Cock in his ass, God yes!, hadn‘t felt that since college, since
the giant fucking closet that was the Army, and fuck but it had never
been this good—not just waves but whole oceans of pleasure rolling
right down to his curling toes, to the tips of his hair, and he was
babbling, begging, Yes and God and Please!, every inch of his flesh a
taut live wire humming joyecstasyeuphoria so loudly he could barely
hear the voice coming at him from across the ocean, asking something
. . . something about his team. He strained to hear it, to force the
words together through the blinding rush of yesGodyes! in a way that
made sense, certain if he could just give the voice what it wanted, it
would give him what he needed.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition    178


    And there it was again, his team, his team, and it sounded exactly
like . . .
     ―Mitchell?‖
    . . . felt exactly like he‘d imagined Mitchell‘s cock up his ass
would feel, like Mitchell‘s fist around his cock would feel, like
Mitchell‘s mouth on his throat, fingers on his skin, weight on his
thighs, all that times a thousand, a million, a thousand-million, and his
heart swelled and swelled until it blocked out the world, blocked out
everything but the high, the bliss, a pleasure so exquisite it hurt,
would kill him for sure if he—
   His orgasm slammed into him like a hollow-point against an
armored vest, a full-body breath-stealing whammy, and he couldn‘t, he
couldn‘t—
    He came to with strong arms locked around his waist, his knees
hooked over Mitchell‘s shoulders, Michell‘s cock plowing his ass like
it was some kind of Olympic sport. He tasted come on his lips. His
own? Yes, he thought so. God knew he‘d blown his load hard enough
to shoot him through the fucking stratosphere. That wild high was
gone now, but the glow of it remained: a residue in his quivering
flesh, a sleepy satiety, so heavy and thick he couldn‘t even open his
eyes.
    Laughter bubbled up his throat and curled his slack lips into a
grin. Mitchell hitched him higher, changing the angle but never
breaking rhythm.
    He reached down to stroke his cock—spent though he was, it was
trying its damndest to twitch back to life—but he couldn‘t. His hands
were bound. Kinky bastard had tied him to the bed. How had Mitchell
known his darkest fantasies? He‘d never told anyone.
    Fuck but he wished Mitchell would touch him. It seemed just
plain cruel to tie and fuck a man without giving him the relief he
couldn‘t give himself. But Mitchell just kept on pounding away, faster
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   179


and harder and harder and faster until he grunted, stilled, hands
clenching around Pete‘s waist, and then withdrew.
   Pete wasn‘t the type to fall asleep after sex, but right now, he
couldn‘t imagine a more perfect ending to a more perfect fuck.
     ****
     He woke to a headache and a hundred sharp pains along his torso,
heart galloping in his chest and limbs half-numb and rubbery. His ass
hurt. Jizz had crusted on his chin and down his crack. His pants were
still around his thighs.
    And he knew with a clarity that pained him more than any of his
bodily ills that the man—no, the men, who‘d fucked him had most
certainly not been Mitchell.
     God, please tell me I didn‘t give up my team.
     He couldn‘t remember. Couldn‘t fucking remember.
     And where was everyone?
    He tested his bonds. Couldn‘t budge. Whether it was the quality of
the knots or the lack of strength in his own body, he couldn‘t say. But
as long as the enemy was foolish enough to leave him unguarded, he
had to keep trying.
     Yet he kept coming back to the question: why would they do that?
     And why was everyone shouting?
    He‘d heard something, hadn‘t he. Something had woken him. He
closed his eyes, thought back as his wrists twisted bloody in their
restraints.
    . . . Chopper. He‘d heard a chopper. Which meant Morales had
landed after all, thank God.
   Had he heard a gunshot, too? Tough to say if he would have
anyway, given the suppressor and the distance and the hot humid air.
But it stood to reason, didn‘t it. Because otherwise, where was
everyone?
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    And yes, now he definitely heard shots. Sidearms. Diego‘s M4.
One of the baddies going shit stupid with an automatic rifle, emptying
his clip in seconds. Screaming. More weapons fire. The unmistakable
sound of an M67 blowing up a building.
    Silence then, save the ringing in his ears. Then the soft thump of a
man in combat boots running across a field. His name being called in
fear and relief, most definitely Mitchell‘s voice this time.
    Mitchell‘s hands, too, touching to his shoulder, cupping his neck,
unsheathing that gorgeous fucking $400 Benchmade he carried to cut
the bindings away.
    ―Shit, Pete, you all right?‖ Mitchell bent to cut Pete‘s ankles free,
eyes no doubt skimming across the pants hanging open at his thighs,
stained with his blood and the semen of God knew how many men.
    He didn‘t like the way Mitchell‘s voice was shaking. He wasn‘t
some delicate virginal flower, for fuck‘s sake. What was a beating and
a coked-up gangbang compared to 61 days of sleepless starvation at
Ranger School?
   Or at least that‘s what he damn well intended to keep telling
himself.
   ―I‘m fine,‖ he said, and okay, maybe he deserved that arching
eyebrow, what with him not being able to stand on his own just yet.
―Tell me you completed the mission.‖
    A huge, cheery grin broke out across Mitchell‘s face, and fuck all,
maybe it was the coke, maybe it was the endorphins, but there was
only one way to answer that smile: he grabbed Mitchell by the drag
strap on the front of his vest and crushed his lips to that gorgeous,
grinning mouth.
    It took Mitchell a second to get with the program. Pete was
expecting tolerance at best, a fist to the jaw at worst—and hey, he
could always blame the drugs later, no harm no foul—so he was more
than a little surprised when Mitchell‘s arms wrapped tight around his
waist and Mitchell‘s tongue slipped through his parted lips. Pleased—
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fuck pleased; fucking deliriously happy—but still surprised. He
couldn‘t help but mumble against Mitchell‘s lips, ―Sorry, I—‖
     ―It‘s all right.‖
     ―It‘s just I‘ve been wanting to do that for—‖
    Mitchell smiled against his lips, caught one between his teeth and
nipped. ―A year now, I know.‖
     ―And you‘re—?‖
  ―More than okay. Now shut up, Petey, you‘re ruining the
moment.‖
    An order gladly followed. After all, it was awfully hard to talk
with someone‘s tongue in your mouth.
THE END
     Author bio: Rachel is an M/M erotic romance author and a
freelance writer and editor. She's also a sadist with a pesky
conscience, shamelessly silly, and quite proudly pervish. Fortunately,
all those things make writing a lot more fun for her . . . if not so much
for her characters.
    When she's not writing about hot guys getting it on (or just plain
getting it; her characters rarely escape a story unscathed), she loves
to read, hike, camp, sing, perform in community theater, and glue
captions to cats. She also has a particular fondness for her very needy
dog, her even needier cat, and shouting at kids to get off her lawn.
   She's a twitter addict (@rachelhaimowitz), and she blogs every
M/W/F at Rachel-Haimowitz.blogspot.com. She also keeps a website
(RachelHaimowitz.com) with all her current and upcoming projects.
She loves to hear from folks, so feel free to drop her a line anytime at
metarachel (at) gmail (dot) com.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition                   182


Jambrea Jo Jones – WILD BLUE YONDER (Military)
Genre: contemporary
Tags: military, Air Force, DADT                                     Dear Author,
Words: 3,607                                                        I would love to hear the
                                                                    story about how these two
WILD BLUE YONDER                                                    beautiful men found their
by Jambrea Jo Jones                                                 way to this tender moment
                                                                    of love and lust. Were they
                                                                    friends? Or enemies? Or
    ―Damn it, Rick. I want more. A quick fuck
                                                                    was one captured by the
here and there isn‘t working for me anymore.‖                       other?
Bruce Weaver glared at his lover, Rick Croft.                       Or perhaps they are both in
Why did he stay with the asshole? Oh, that‘s                        the force and could no
right, he loved the prick.                                          longer deny their attraction
    ―Bruce, we can‘t—‖                                              to each other, finally finding
                                                                    a secluded area to be able to
    ―Don‘t give me that shit, Rick. We‘ve been                      indulge in each other?
together for four years. Count them.‖ Bruce                         [PHOTO: In brightly-lit
held up his fingers for emphasis.                                   black and white, two strong
                                                                    naked young men with dark
   ―It isn‘t like we can be out here. We were                       hair cut military short share
almost caught that time in the laundry room. Do                     a sensual embrace. One,
                                                                    seated in a wooden chair,
you want to be dishonorably discharged?‖
                                                                    licks his lover's nipple,
    ―That‘s because you like risky sex. Admit                       hands tight on his lover's
it. But I‘m getting out soon anyway and                             ass. The other man leans
                                                                    over him, hands braced on
besides, they can‘t kick us out just for being gay                  the chair, looking down at
anymore. This is the new Air Force. Hell, the                       that caressing tongue with
new military,‖ Bruce declared.                                      taut affection.]
                                                                    Sincerely,
    ―Do you really think no one would say
anything? Be honest. I don‘t know about you                         Koocie

but I don‘t want to get my ass kicked anytime
soon. It‘s too pretty to be bruised.‖ Rick
winked.
   ―Seriously? You‘re joking now?‖ Bruce
fumed.
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     Rick moved closer, but Bruce wasn‘t having it.
    They were in Bruce‘s room in the dorms at Offutt Air Force Base.
The nice thing about being a Senior Airman was that you got your
own room. Beat spending money on rent. His was on the first floor
while Rick had a room at the top of the complex. They usually
crashed in his because it was closer. Well, when they managed to get
on the same shift and Rick wasn‘t out bar hopping and pretending to
be straight.
     ―Come on, babe. I have to go in soon.‖
     ―Stop it with your sex voice.‖
     ―My what?‖ Rick laughed.
   ―That tone you get when you want some. Is that all we are? Fuck
buddies? Because if that‘s all you‘re interested in, I need to know.‖
Bruce put his desk between them.
    ―Babe, we won‘t see each other for weeks,‖ Rick wheedled, his
dark brown puppy eyes begging, plump red bottom lip trapped by
perfect white teeth.
    God, Bruce wanted to replace those teeth with his own. He held in
a groan.
   ―No. We won‘t. So answer my question.‖ He needed to stay the
course.
     ―Can‘t we do this later?‖ Rick looked away.
     ―I think you should leave.‖
     ―Bruce.‖
   ―I‘m sick of the bullshit, Rick. I don‘t need or want two more
months of ‗later‘.‖
   ―I still have a year left. What do you want me to do?‖ Rick ran his
hands through his hair, making it stand on end.
   ―I‘m not asking you to go marching in a gay pride parade with me.
I‘m asking for you to commit to me. To us. If you can‘t do that,
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then—‖ Bruce paused. ―Then it‘s time for us to go our separate
ways.‖ Fuck, he didn‘t want to do this now. His heart ached. But his
relationship with Rick—if he could even call it that—was unhealthy.
He wanted more. He was proud of who he was and he was ready to
live a normal life.
     ―Bruce—‖
    ―Good-bye Rick. You have some things to think about and I‘m
tired.‖ He couldn‘t let Rick talk him into forgetting where he stood on
this. He had to be strong.
    Bruce stalked to the door and didn‘t stop until Rick‘s back was
pushed up against it. He trapped Rick with his body, covering every
inch with his own. This could be the last kiss he shared with the man
he loved and he was going to make it a great one.
    He started with a slow brush of lips. Rick tried to wrap his arms
around Bruce, but he couldn‘t let the other man touch him or it would
be all over and he‘d be bent over something getting fucked. Not this
time. He had to take a stand or in a few months he‘d be alone. He had
to make Rick realize this was important. He clasped Rick‘s wrist and
held them to the wood. Bruce was in control.
    His tongue played with Rick‘s lips. He didn‘t let Rick take over.
He wanted this to last. Finally, Rick‘s breath hitched and Bruce
invaded. Rick‘s mouth became his playground and every ounce of
desperation he felt he let bleed into the lip lock. His cock throbbed in
his pants. Bruce rocked his lower body with Rick‘s. His lover groaned
and it broke the spell.
   Bruce released Rick and stumbled away. ―Have a good night at
work.‖
    No way could he watch as Rick walked out, maybe for the last
time. A hand brushed his back then he heard the snick of the door
opening and the thud when it closed. He didn‘t turn around for a few
minutes, but when he did he went back to the door and rested his
forehead against it.
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     What have I done?
     ****
     Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.
     Rick didn‘t know what he was going to do. That kiss had felt like
goodbye. Usually he could worm his way back into Bruce‘s good
graces, but this time it was different. His chest hurt at the thought that
it could be over. He clutched a hand over his heart like it would stop it
from breaking. He wasn‘t ready for this. A commitment. Coming out,
loud and proud. He could imagine the conversations with his father
now.
    ―Hey, pops, I know you‘re disappointed that I didn‘t follow in
your foot steps into the Marines, but—and I think you‘ll love this—I
like to suck cock. And by the way, this is my boyfriend. Let‘s shake
hands and grab a beer.‖
   That was so not happening. Rick trudged up the steps to his room.
He had to fix this. It couldn‘t be goodbye. Bruce was his best friend.
He couldn‘t imagine not having the man in his life. There had to be a
compromise. Something that wouldn‘t make Bruce leave him.
     Is that really fair?
    Should he just let Bruce go? Say goodbye? Rick stopped and
clutched the railing.
     ―Hey, Croft, you okay man?‖
   ―Yeah. Just winded. I‘ll be fine.‖ He waved the other Airman
away and continued on.
    He couldn‘t have a breakdown in the stairwell. Hell, he couldn‘t
break down anywhere. He‘d man up, let Bruce go so he could be
happy and open and—
    No way. Fuck that shit. He was a Croft. He didn‘t take no for an
answer. Rick stood tall and took the stairs two at a time. He had a man
to woo and needed to figure out a way to make this work. He loved
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   186


the dipshit and Bruce was crazy if he thought Rick would just let him
go without a fight.
    Rick grinned as a plan began to form in his mind. He had some
calls to make.
     ****
    Bruce looked down at the paper in his hands. This was the place.
Why Rick wanted him to meet him at a hotel was anyone‘s guess. But
Bruce was holding strong. If Rick wouldn‘t give them a chance, this
would be the last time they saw each other. As much as it hurt, Bruce
had to be firm. Of course, he knew in the next few months he‘d see
glimpses of Rick but it would be easier once he was discharged. He
could move back home to Indiana and forget all about Rick.
     Yeah, sure, I‘ll keep telling myself that.
    Not like it would make any difference to his fucking heart. He
grimaced and headed over to the reservation desk, determined to get
this over with. He gave the clerk his name and waited. Rick didn‘t say
if he should check in. Maybe he should have given them Rick‘s
name?
    ―Yes, sir. I have your name on the reservations list. You‘re in
room three-fifty-eight. Take that elevator to your left.‖ The clerk
pointed him in the right direction. ―Here‘s you‘re key.‖ He passed
over the envelope with the key. ―Is there anything else I can do for
you today?‖ the man asked with a smile.
    Bruce worked up a facsimile of a smile. He wasn‘t really in the
mood for pleasantries and there wasn‘t anything that could be done
for him. ―No. Thanks.‖
    He hit the button that would take him to what could possibly be
the worst encounter of his life. He poked the button again. He knew it
wouldn‘t make the elevator doors open any faster, but it made him
feel better. Like he was doing something. In control. Which was total
BS because he was spiraling so far out of control he was almost lost.
     God damn it.
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    The ping of the doors opening made him stand up, shoulders back,
chest out. Time to stop fucking whining and get on with his life. Next
stop, third floor.
    Bruce hesitated outside the room, unsure if he should knock or
just go in. Was Rick even there yet? Only one way to find out.
     A quick knock. ―Rick, you here?‖ Bruce opened the door. ―Rick?‖
    He stepped in then paused, letting the door slam shut behind him.
He couldn‘t move even if the room had been on fire. He was shocked
at what he saw. His cock, however, was not frozen.
    Rick sat in what had to be the desk chair. He‘d placed it front of
the window with the curtains open so only the gauzy white liner
protected them from the outside world. Sunlight poured over the room
lighting up Rick‘s body. He sat with his legs spread, his cock flaccid
and laying against his thigh. Under Bruce‘s stare it started to fill.
   Bruce jerked his gaze away, still stunned. Rick had always been
handsome and he never looked better. Bruce licked his lips and moved
one step forward before remembering himself.
   ―Sex won‘t fix it this time, Rick.‖ Bruce put his hands in his jeans
pocket because if he didn‘t he would rush the room and show Rick
what he‘d be missing.
   Rick cleared his throat. He made as if to stand but stayed seated.
They gazed at each other, the moment filled with tension. Neither one
was giving. Finally Rick broke and lowered his eyes.
     ―I know. That isn‘t what this is about.‖
   Bruce cocked a brow. Rick was naked in a hotel room. What else
could it be about? For the first time since Bruce met Rick, the other
man‘s body flushed red. He was blushing. Bruce smiled.
    ―Okay. It might be a little about sex. But not all about sex.
Listen—‖
   Bruce held up a hand. ―Stop. How am I supposed to listen or take
you seriously when you‘re naked?‖
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    ―I have things to say and when I‘m done, I‘m hoping you‘ll get as
naked as I am and we can spend the afternoon, here, together. I
figured,‖ Rick shrugged, ―it would make it easier if I was already
minus clothes. I mean—if you want, you can undress now too. Save
us some time?‖ Rick grinned and that wicked twinkle in his eye was
almost Bruce‘s undoing.
    Bruce took a breath. Then another. He wanted nothing more than
to undress and let Rick fuck his brains out. But that‘s what always
happened. Bruce would be upset and Rick would fix it with sex. Fuck
buddies to the core. He wasn‘t having it. He wanted a boyfriend. A
partner.
     ―No.‖
     ―No, what? No you won‘t listen or no you won‘t get naked first?‖
   ―I‘m not taking my clothes off, Rick.‖ Bruce crossed his arms
over his chest.
     Rick nodded. ―Okay then. Fine. Just listen.‖ Rick rocked back in
the chair, two of the legs coming off the floor. He seemed to be trying
to figure out what to say first.
    ―I‘m listening.‖ Bruce knew he sounded snarky but he was
nervous. He curled his fingers into fists and waited, preparing for the
worst.
     The legs of the chair came down with a thump.
     ―I need time—‖
     ―Time! Rick—‖
     ―My turn to talk. Hear me out before you start yelling.‖
    Bruce nodded and backed up against the door for support. He
didn‘t come here to hear that Rick needed time to figure out if they
should become more serious.
   ―Okay then. When I said I needed more time, it wasn‘t about you
and me. Well, not directly. Stop shaking your head and listen to me
damn it. I‘m not fucking losing you so pay attention.‖ Rick took a
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breath. ―We can‘t be public, fully public until my time is up. Don‘t—‖
Rick glared at him.
    Bruce wanted to talk. To disagree. Something, but he stayed
silent, his heart cracking, waiting to shatter.
    ―Thank you,‖ Rick whispered. ―Now, that isn‘t to say we can‘t be
a couple. We just need to keep it low key until I‘m discharged. I think
that‘s safer for both of us. That‘s the time I‘m talking about. I‘ll tell
my family too, but—I can‘t—I have to work up to that. You‘ve met
my dad. It‘s—not—well—it won‘t be pretty. But we can tell our
families. Um…probably yours first. I know you‘re asking yourself
how this is different than it‘s been for the past four years, but it will
be.‖ Rick leaned over, resting his elbows on his knees, his expression
intense until he held his face in his hands. As if he expected Bruce to
reject him.
    Bruce waited to see what else he was going to say. Hopeful, he
leaned away from the door and toward Rick. He stepped closer, one
foot in front of the other until he was a few paces away. Then he
stopped again. Rick looked up from the floor at Bruce‘s approach.
    ―No more pretending to be straight. But I‘m not going to come out
and declare I‘m gay and proud. I‘m not ready yet. No more hitting on
women. That isn‘t to say I won‘t go out with the guys, but I won‘t
fake that part anymore. We can do more things, just the two of us.
Dinner? A movie, maybe? Like real dates. You and me. Partners.
When I‘m out, we can move in together. Hell, we can do that before if
we find a place we like. But who knows, we might not stay here. We
can figure it out. What do you say?‖
   He couldn‘t move. Bruce nodded, afraid of what might come out.
He didn‘t want to start bawling like a frickin‘ baby. He moved closer.
     ―Wait.‖
    Now he was confused. He thought—didn‘t Rick just say they‘d be
a couple?
     ―What—I don‘t—‖
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    ―I want you naked when you get here and I have one last thing to
say.‖
    Bruce didn‘t wait for Rick to finish his sentence before he ripped
his clothes off.
    Rick chuckled. ―I love you, ya big idiot. And I‘m never going to
lose you. Do you understand me? Are you good with that?‖
   Bruce finally found his voice. Bare, he stood in front of Rick. He
controlled himself enough not to touch—yet.
    ―I love you too. These past few days were hell. I didn‘t want to
leave you, but I didn‘t think you‘d want more.‖
   ―You‘re okay with waiting?‖ Rick used a finger to trace a line
down Bruce‘s chest. Bruce couldn‘t stop the shudder from racking his
body.
     ―I was always okay with waiting,‖ Bruce admitted.
     ―Then why did you—‖ Rick looked confused.
   ―I wasn‘t okay with feeling like a casual fuck. A friend with
benefits. I thought that‘s all you wanted.‖ Bruce shrugged.
   ―Well, it‘s not.‖ Rick reached out and grabbed Bruce, his hands
cupping Bruce‘s ass.
    Bruce leaned in, bracing his hands on the back of the chair, his
muscles straining to prevent him from completely collapsing on Rick.
Rick wrapped his legs around Bruce‘s, his heels caressing Bruce‘s
calves. Rick grabbed his ass, pushing his cock against Rick‘s chest.
The skin beneath him was so warm. He wanted to rock, but Rick kept
him steady. Wet heat encased his nipple. He looked down to see Rick
circling the hard nub with his tongue. The sensation overloaded his
senses. Rick‘s eyes were closed allowing Bruce to really look at the
man he loved unobserved. Rick looked…relieved and maybe a little
tired and…happy. Bruce hadn‘t been the only one losing sleep.
    He shifted his arms and the chair slipped, causing him to fall
totally onto Rick. The chair wasn‘t going to work. Not for what he
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   191


wanted. He reluctantly moved back, struggling a little because Rick
didn‘t want to let him go. Finally he held out a hand and guided them
both to the bed. He pushed Rick over and waited for him to get to the
head of the bed before crawling up his body, pausing to kiss what
flesh he could. Nothing was safe.
    Bruce peppered tiny bites and licks up Rick‘s body until he
reached the other man‘s mouth. His full body resting on top of Rick,
he took what was his. Lips collided, tongues dueled.
    Rick took the opportunity to wrap his whole body around Bruce. It
was just the two of them in a cocoon of happiness, rocking against
each other. He wanted Rick‘s cock up his ass in the worst way. His
hole clenched at the thought, his dick leaking pre come.
     ―Lube? Condom?‖ Bruce looked down at Rick.
    Rick moved his hand under the pillow. It took a couple seconds
before he raised the items in triumph.
     ―Sure of yourself, huh?‖ Bruce teased.
   ―Not really. Hopeful. I was scared it would be too little too late,‖
Rick admitted and ran his fingers through Bruce‘s hair.
   ―I love you,‖ Bruce whispered against Rick‘s lips. ―Now fuck
me.‖ Rick clutched at Bruce‘s head, holding him close.
    Bruce reached for the lube, kissing Rick while opening the bottle
with one hand. He managed to get some on his fingers so he could
stretch his own ass. He groaned when he heard the wrapper tear. He
moaned when Rick added his thumb to Bruce‘s two fingers. He was
so full, but it still wasn‘t enough.
    He rocked against Rick, whimpering in need. Bruce pushed Rick‘s
hand away and sat up, breaking the kiss. He impaled himself on Rick
cock. They both froze. Bruce braced himself on Rick‘s chest and
began to move. Slowly. Up and down. He closed his eyes and threw
his head back. Rick‘s hand‘s rested on his hips, helping him as his
movements became more erratic.
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    Rick sat up and Bruce was wrapped completely in Rick‘s
embrace, every part of them touching. His pace slowed down. He
wanted to come so bad, but this was about more than sex. It was about
them, loving each other, becoming one. Bruce grabbed Rick‘s face,
his breath hitching over Rick‘s mouth, lips open against each other,
but not kissing, just breathing on each other. Although, Bruce‘s
couldn‘t quite catch his breath. His body shuddering, he panted. He
quivered in Rick‘s arms and hung on tight. Without a touch to his
cock, he exploded, the moment more intense than anything he had
ever experienced. His ass clenched on Rick‘s dick, milking his lover‘s
release.
   The two fell to the bed, trying to slow down their heart rates.
Bruce locked fingers with Rick, not wanting to be without his touch.
    Minutes ticked by, the silence nice, as Bruce came down from the
rush of making love for the first time with Rick. Sure, they‘d had sex
before, but what had just happened? That was special.
     ―We should do this more often.‖ Rick looked over at him.
   Bruce licked his lips, trying to get his voice to work. ―Yes. We
should.‖
    Things were going to be okay. They‘d figure out the future
together. But for now? Now they could rest up so they could have a
round two. And if Bruce was lucky? Maybe a round three. In the
shower.
    Real life might peek in and the next year wasn‘t going to be the
easiest, but knowing Rick wanted more from their relationship was all
he needed. He curled around Rick as his eyes drifted closed and he
smiled, thinking he really could go off into the wild blue yonder. With
his Air Force man by his side, nothing could go wrong.
THE END
   Author bio: Jambrea wanted to be the youngest romance author
published, but life impeded the dreams. She put her writing aside and
went to college briefly, then enlisted in the Air Force. After serving in
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   193


the military, she returned home to Indiana to start her family. A few
years later, she discovered yahoo groups and book reviews. There
was no turning back. She was bit by the writing bug.
   You can reach her at binojo2@yahoo.com or
Jambrea@jambrea.com
     Website: www.jambrea.com
    Blog: http://internationalheat.wordpress.com/ (Not just an m/m
blog)
    Yahoo Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Heat_Wave_...
(This is not just an m/m group.)
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition                     194


Lissa Kasey and Xara X. Xanakas – SINK OR SWIM (Established Couple)
Genre: Contemporary
Tags: Established Couples, Travel, New                                Dear Author,
Beginnings, Mile-High, First-Person, HEA                              I will leave the story up to
Words: 13,815                                                         you. What ever gets your
                                                                      creative juices going is fine
SINK OR SWIM                                                          with me. These men just
                                                                      need a story.
by Lissa Kasey and Xara X. Xanakas
                                                                      [PHOTO: A close-up photo
                                                                      of the faces of two dark-
     We were running late. Again.                                     haired, scruffy, shirtless
    Beau just couldn‘t tear himself away from                         young men in a field of red
                                                                      wildflowers. They are lying
the well-wishers. All his dive buddies had                            down in opposite directions.
shown up as we were getting ready to leave,                           One's head rests on the
wanting one last moment with him, throwing                            other's chest, the other's
                                                                      head pillowed on a bent arm
him an impromptu going-away party. I saw
                                                                      to look at the viewer.]
more than one person, male and female, tuck
                                                                      Thanks,
slips of paper into his pockets. Email addresses
                                                                      Lynn
and phone numbers, no doubt. Seeing how
many people were going to miss him made me
realize just how few real friends I had here. It
was probably just nerves about moving, but I
was starting to wonder if I would be enough for
him.
    We‘d nearly been too late to make it
through the International terminals, but we
made it with a few minutes to spare.
    ―Shipping our stuff was a good idea,‖ Beau
said.
     ―Well, it sure helped today.‖
     ―What do you mean?‖
   ―I mean we almost missed the flight with
your little bon voyage party. It‘s a good thing
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we didn‘t have any baggage to check and our carry-ons are light.‖
    ―I can‘t help it if the guys wanted to say good-bye. We are moving
out of the country, you know.‖
    I sighed, settling into the large leather seats. Yes, I knew very well
how popular Beau was. ―It was nice of Mr. Medina to pay for the
flight.‖
    ―Yeah, it‘s almost like having a sugar daddy taking care of us.
Wouldn‘t it suck to be in coach for this whole flight?‖ Beau stretched
his long legs out in front of him as he leaned back in the seat.
     ―He didn‘t have to pay for first class though.‖
    ―No, he didn‘t, but I‘m sure glad he did.‖ He turned toward me,
his eyes gleaming with mischief. He wiggled his eyebrows at me.
―Wonder what he‘ll want in return?‖
   ―Beau,‖ I said, the thought immediately taking root in my head.
―You don‘t think…‖
   ―You never know. Look at you and your pretty blue eyes. I bet
you‘re just the kind of boy he‘d like.‖
    My head spun. When I‘d talked to Mr. Medina on the phone, he
didn‘t seem to be the kind to trade expensive gifts for sexual favors. ―I
didn‘t think he was like that.‖
   He reached over to ruffle my hair, even though he knew how
much I hated it. ―I‘m just yanking your chain, kiddo. Besides, you‘re
my boy.‖ He leaned over to kiss my cheek.
     ―That‘s not funny, Beau.‖
    ―Don‘t worry. I‘ll protect you from the dirty old man.‖ He laced
his fingers through mine and ran his thumb over my knuckles.
―Besides, Abram. We‘re going to have our pick. You won‘t have to
do any of them you don‘t want.‖
     ―What?‖ I asked, wondering what the hell he was talking about.
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    ―Yeah. Those guys won‘t know what hit them. We‘ve got
something to offer them all. Choices. They can go with Option A,‖ he
pointed at me. ―Or, Option B.‖ He made a sweeping motion down his
body.
    ―What are you talking about?‖ Did he want to play the field? Was
I not enough for him anymore?
       ―Just listing what‘s on the menu.‖
    I stared at him as he closed his eyes, looking for any sign of
teasing on his face.
       He yawned and mumbled. ―I‘m beat. I think the Ambien‘s kicking
in.‖
       Within seconds, he was snoring.
       ****
    The silence after the plane took off was deafening. I could try to
pretend it was airsickness that made my stomach churn, but Beau‘s
flippant attitude didn‘t help any. Did he truly want to play around?
What did our last year together mean if he was just looking for the
next new toy?
    The flight attendant offered me a drink, but I refused, and plugged
in the headset to try to settle into whatever dumb chick-flick
premiered on the Qantas flight. Australia had seemed like a good idea.
Now looking at nearly a full day stuck on the plane, dread knotted my
nerves. A new life, new beginning, that‘s what this was supposed to
be. Just what kind of beginning was it that Beau wanted? And where
did I fit into it?
    He mumbled beside me in his seat as I shifted again. The unease
in my head made my body just as restless. Maybe I should have taken
an Ambien, too. His words kept replaying like a bad song stuck on
repeat.
   The movie jerked me out of a light sleep twice. I‘d be the one
needing a massage when we landed at this rate. Maybe I could
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convince Beau to work the kinks out of my shoulders. If he wasn‘t too
busy flirting with the pool boys.
     I tuned out the movie and just watched him breathe for a while.
    He was so beautiful. Thick broad shoulders, take charge attitude,
and those silly flower tattoos that made up most of his right sleeve. He
kept talking of getting it finished, but had become so devoted to his
diving job he couldn‘t bear to take the time out to heal. Salt water and
fresh ink didn‘t mix. How many times had I traced those tats with my
lips, fingers, or eyes? It was just one of those things that made Beau,
Beau.
    The dark stubble on his face tempted me much more than it should
have. I loved the way the scruff felt against my skin, and the way
those dark eyes of his always seemed to peer right to the core of me.
    Did others feel that pull? He had the confidence that age could
bring a man, even though he was only twenty-eight. Was that why so
many others were drawn to him? Or was it because he was just so
damned hot?
    Sleep overtook me with that thought. A dream pulled me down
onto a beach filled with beautiful men, sprawled out on towels and
lounge chairs. All the bared skin surrounding me seemed like a sea of
debauchery.
    My hands pressed into the flesh of a groaning tourist, kneading the
tension from his stiff muscles. The man subject to my skill was
attractive enough, but the open patio area overlooking the dock had
my attention.
    Beau stood on a boat in his dive-suit, top pealed to his waist, arms
gesturing with excitement and smile wide. A group of young twinks
hung on his every word, all crowded around, nearly close enough to
touch. The sun caught the honey color of his skin and illuminated him
like an angel. But there was nothing angelic about the drooling boys
closing in on him.
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    One blond haired boy grabbed the dive-suit, pulling the zip further
down. Instead of pushing him away, Beau laughed and rubbed the
kid‘s head just like he had mine so many times before. My hands
tensed, and the man I was working on groaned and reached for me. He
turned his face in my direction, and I realized it was Mr. Medina.
   He caressed my arm and said, ―You still owe me for the flight,
Abram.‖
    I bolted up in my seat, grateful to be free of that crazy dream.
Grabbing the thin black case stuffed in my carry-on, I pulled out my
iPad. When the flight attendant didn‘t come rushing to tell me to shut
it off, I browsed my list of stored books for something to distract my
wandering thoughts. But after searching for several minutes and
finding nothing appealing, I closed the app and stared at the bright
background. The picture was of the two of us lying in a field of wild
bright red poppies. It looked like something stolen from a fairytale.
But I remembered that day in vivid detail.
     ****
    Beau woke me up before dawn that morning, shoved a travel cup
of coffee at me, and practically dragged me to the car. He hadn‘t even
given me time to grab a shirt, which I guessed was okay since he
wasn‘t wearing one either. A cooler sat between our seats, a beach
towel draped across the backseat, and Beau wore a crazy grin.
    That smile of his had always been infectious. That day it hit me
hard, and I couldn‘t keep my heart from swelling. Obviously we were
going to the beach, that wasn‘t new. We went there often, and that
was where we met. But when he turned away from the highway that
would take us to the beach, I shifted to watch him and tried to
determine what he had planned.
     ―Where are we going?‖
     ―It‘s a surprise.‖
    ―It‘s not my birthday, or our anniversary.‖ It wasn‘t his birthday
either.
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     ―You want cake? We can go get cake.‖
   ―I don‘t want cake. At least not right now. I‘m just wondering
what has you grinning like a villain.‖
   ―Grinning like a villain? Does anyone still say that?‖ Beau‘s smile
was teasing.
     ―Did you win the lottery?‖
     ―Maybe.‖
   Okay, now I was really curious. He didn‘t buy lottery tickets.
Beau was a planner. He always knew where he was going, and he
never dove with filing a plan. ―What‘s that mean?‖
     He shook his head, happy expression remaining firm.
    I scratched my very prickly jaw. ―Are other people going to see
us? Couldn‘t you have let me shave first?‖
    He reached over and stroked my chin, the sensation shooting right
to my cock. ―I like you scruffy. And no, it‘s just us.‖
    ―In that case maybe you could take that hand a little further
south.‖ And he did, but only to rest his warm palm on my thigh. ―Not
exactly what I had in mind.‖
     ―Plenty of time for that later. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.‖
    We drove for almost an hour up to a hiking trail we hadn‘t used
since the summer we met. In fact, we‘d come here on our first date.
I‘d been so nervous that day. Beau had been so far out of my league,
I‘d nearly had a heart attack when he asked me out. We‘d hiked up to
the top, taking it slow because I had been still recovering from an
accident, and sat there, making out on the rocks overlooking the
ocean. Best first date ever.
    That morning the rich salty air brought strength and warmth to my
heart. Beau grabbed the cooler, towel and my hand before dragging
me up the path. I dug in my heels a little to get him to walk slower. He
only had three inches on me, but I swear he was all legs. I nearly had
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   200


to jog to keep up with his long strides. He pulled my hand up and
kissed the back of it, softly, that heavenly smile still on his face.
    We moved in silence, two parts of the whole, until we reached the
top. The view was the same. Beautiful blue-green water, white waves
crashing, and blue sky meeting water as far as the eye could see. I
knew what he saw in the water, why he loved it so much. I knew he
loved me, but sometimes I just wished he would look at me with that
same glint of joy in his gaze.
     He tugged me along with him. ―Little further, Abe.‖
     ―We‘re not hanging here?‖
     ―Nope. Got a better plan.‖
    I followed him over the rise of rocks and down a slight incline
until a little valley came into view. The ground was littered with red
pops of color. Flowers, much like the ones on his arm, decorated the
open area. And though I couldn‘t see the waves, I heard them crashing
nearby in that peaceful swoosh-shoo sound.
    Beau set the cooler and blanket down then pulled out a huge
breakfast: California rolls, fruit, cinnamon raisin bagels, and honey
nut cream cheese. He even had more coffee in a thermos.
    I spread out the blanket, trying not to squish too many flowers and
patted the seat beside me. ―That was a long drive for breakfast on the
beach.‖
   He plopped down and used a set of chopsticks to hold up a roll for
me to bite into then took the other half for himself. ―Anything for you,
baby.‖
    I fed him a strawberry, letting him lick the juice off my fingers.
We ate until I was ready to burst and lay down on the blanket. The
scent of the flowers mixed with the salty air was oddly soothing. He
rested his face on my shoulder, staring at me like he was trying to
memorize the moment. I watched his eyes close in peaceful calm, his
scruff tickling my shoulder.
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   After fishing my cell out of my pocket I tried to maneuver around
Beau to get a picture of him sleeping so sweetly. But since my arm
was half trapped under his head, the angle turned out a little weird. He
must have heard the click because he smiled at me.
     ―You faking it?‖ I nudged him.
     ―Never with you, baby.‖
   His loopy attitude was really starting to worry me. ―What‘s going
on?‖
     ―How do you feel about Australia?‖
     That was an odd question. ―Um…‖
    ―I‘ve been offered a job at an exclusive resort called Summer‘s
Pointe. They want a dive master and EMT. They‘ll give me room,
board and all the access to the ocean I could ever dream of.‖ Beau‘s
words came out in rushed excitement, but they made my heart sink.
―It‘s a place just for people like us. People who aren‘t afraid to live
the truth.‖
   And what was the truth? Was he leaving me behind? How many
times had I feared this happening? ―Exciting. Sounds great,‖ I
managed to say without my voice cracking.
    ―It will be awesome. There‘s a private cabin, and space always
available at the resort. Mr. Medina said he‘s got a room ready inside if
you prefer to work in the air conditioning since it gets pretty humid in
the summer.‖
   I blinked at him, trying to process the words flowing from his lips.
―Huh? Inside?‖
    ―Yeah. Mr. Medina said to let him know what kind of table you
prefer because he‘ll order it and have it shipped in rather than making
you drag everything along. Or if you want to bring your old one, we
can pay to send it over. It will probably cost more than just buying a
new one though.‖
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   I put my finger to his lips to stop the barrage of words. ―What are
you talking about?‖
   He pulled it away. ―Your job. When I was offered the dive job I
asked if they had a masseuse on site yet, he said no and asked if I
knew of one. And of course, I do.‖
    My heart pounded in my chest like it‘d suddenly come back to life
with a lightning bolt surge. ―You want me to come with you?‖
   ―Duh.‖ He leaned over and kissed me. ―I want to follow you to the
end of the earth.‖
   My cheeks burned. Sure he‘d been saying those things for a long
time, but Beau was Beau, and surely someday he‘d see that he was too
good for me.
    ―That is if you don‘t mind leaving the US behind to live with me
in a tropical paradise?‖
    My family was long gone; I‘d been taking care of myself since I
was fifteen. And though I had friends, Beau had really become the
apex of my life. Could I imagine staying here without him? No, that
was unthinkable. It was either sink or swim, and I chose to swim. ―I‘ll
go.‖
    The picture I‘d taken that day had turned out better than I thought,
though I‘d cut off more of Beau than I‘d hoped. When I said I‘d go
with him, we‘d made love among the flowers for hours, not heading
back toward the car until the sun began to sink in the sky. If our world
was going to change, I was going to enjoy every moment I had left of
it.
    Staring at that picture now made me wonder if that was still the
plan. What choice did I have? Revel in what he gave me until he
tossed me aside, or fight for what I wanted? I closed my eyes, not
wanting to think about possibly sharing him.
     ****
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   I noticed movement next to me, and turned to see Beau staring at
me. He looked at the computer screen, at the photo of us that day. He
smiled, his sweet, kind smile, and looked back at me.
     ―Hey, baby. Did you get any sleep?‖
     ―No.‖ I shook my head. ―Not really.‖
     He leaned over to stroke my cheek. ―What‘s wrong?‖
     ―Nothing.‖
     ―Something‘s up. Talk to me, kid.‖
    I stared back at him. Every time he called me kid, it reminded me
of how different we were. He was the big rescuer, the EMT, the dive
master, the one that people could count on. And I was just some
stupid kid he had to save. He rescued me the day we met, and now he
had gotten me the job at Summer‘s Pointe, taking me with him like
some pet he couldn‘t part with. ―Nothing‘s wrong. Excuse me.‖ I
headed up the aisle to the bathroom.
    Staring at the mirror, I wondered what exactly I was doing there.
I‘d given up everything at home to follow Beau to an island in the
middle of nowhere. It was too late to change my mind. Maybe I could
talk to Mr. Medina once we got settled. That is, if he wasn‘t really
expecting me to pay off our flights somehow. If Beau wanted his own
personal hunting grounds, I didn‘t want to be a part of it. It would hurt
like hell, but I would let him go before I played lovelorn puppy. I
splashed some water on my face and washed my hands. Then I wiped
the sink down, straightened out my shorts, and unlocked the door.
    The knob turned and it opened, but before I could move, Beau
pushed in, forcing me to take a step back. He closed the door behind
himself and locked it. He took my head in both hands and turned me
to face him. ―Look, I know something‘s wrong. Tell me.‖
    I could feel the tears burning my eyes, but I wouldn‘t let them fall.
I took a deep breath. ―I don‘t know if I can do this, Beau.‖
     He stroked my cheek with one thumb. ―Do what, baby?‖
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     ―Be your backup plan.‖
     ―Backup plan? What‘s that supposed to mean?‖
   ―Your backup guy, waiting at home. There just in case you can‘t
work yourself into someone‘s room.‖
    He shook his head. ―What are you talking about? I don‘t want to
get into anyone else‘s room.‖
    ―That‘s not what you said earlier. Remember Option A, Option
B?‖ It made me angry just to think about his words. I tried to turn
away, but the space was so small, I couldn‘t go anywhere. He‘d
trapped me, like he had so many instances before, but I didn‘t know if
all would turn out as well this time. ―You sounded pretty ready to play
the field. Like this is going to be some kind of all-you-can-fuck
buffet.‖
    He stared at me. I didn‘t cuss often, so he had to know how angry
I was. I didn‘t know what he was thinking, but I assumed he was
either angry or embarrassed for being caught.
    ―Thought you‘d have me there to suck your dick when all else
failed? Think again. I love you too much to ever be the last choice.‖ I
managed to rip myself away from those big, brown eyes that had been
pinning me in place. He stepped up behind me to wrap his arms
around me, and I had to closed my eyes and exhale. We always felt so
right together, just like this. ―Look, that‘s not what I want. If it‘s what
you want, then I‘m going to make some arrangements with Mr.
Medina when we get there.‖ I didn‘t tell him that I might just end up
back in California because the heartbreak of watching him with others
would probably kill me.
    ―Baby,‖ he whispered against my neck. I shivered. He knew that
spot always got me, and he used it. ―That‘s not what I want at all.‖
   ―No? What was that Option A or Option B crap supposed to
mean?‖
   He reached up to stroke my neck and leaned in to kiss me behind
my ear. ―It was a joke, baby. I was only kidding.‖
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     ―It wasn‘t funny.‖
    ―I‘m sorry, baby. I didn‘t mean to scare you.‖ He spun me back
around to face him. ―You are the one I want.‖ He kissed me lightly on
the lips. ―The only one.‖
    ―What about all the ‗options‘ you‘re going to meet on the dive
trips? Guys in Speedos slipping you their room keys? You going to be
able to resist them?‖
     He laughed. ―I resist them now.‖
     ―What?‖
   ―Oh, come on. You know how many people hit on me. I don‘t
even notice it anymore. They aren‘t you.‖ He ran a finger down my
cheek. ―Besides, you‘re the one I worry about.‖
     ―Me?‖
    He laughed again and pulled me in for a kiss. His passion began
gently, but the kiss quickly deepened, and he licked my bottom lip. I
opened my mouth, and he slipped his tongue in and swirled it around
mine. I reached around to cup his ass and pull him in closer. We were
both panting when he pulled back. He kissed me one more time and
turned me back around to face the mirror. Standing behind me, he
turned my face to the mirror. ―Look at you, baby. You,‖ he leaned
forward to kiss my neck again, ―are fucking gorgeous. Those huge
blue eyes. You level me every time you look at me.‖
   I looked at his reflection over my shoulder. He was staring at me,
completely serious. ―Beau…‖
    ―I mean it, baby. You own me. If you want to blow all this off and
go home, I‘ll go with you. If you want to move to Alaska, I‘d go with
you. I just have to be where you are. The rest of it doesn‘t matter.‖
     ―Beau, I didn‘t mean–‖
   ―I did. You are all I need. Everything else can be replaced. Jobs,
houses, things, it‘s all shit without you. It was all shit before you. I
don‘t want to do this without you.‖
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    I closed my eyes and leaned back against his chest. He put his
arms around me and ran his hands up under my shirt. He kept kissing
my neck as he pinched my nipples, rubbing them with his rough
fingers.
     ―Please forgive me, baby. It was a stupid joke.‖
    ―Beau, I can‘t think with you doing that.‖ I opened my eyes to
stare at him in the mirror, his brown eyes glistened with heavy
emotion.
    ―Good. I don‘t want you thinking. You‘ve done enough of that
this flight.‖ His hands wandered down to my waistband, and he
started unbuckling my belt.
   ―Beau, stop,‖ I moved to stop him, but he kept kissing my neck,
and he let one hand trail down to my cock. He squeezed it, and I
pumped my hips against his touch.
     ―Ever done it on a plane?‖
   ―No,‖ I whispered as I pushed my hips back against his, grinding
my ass against his erection.
    ―It‘s too small to do it in here,‖ he said, licking my neck. ―But
maybe we can improvise something.‖ He went back to work on my
belt. I arched my back and wound my arms around the back of his
neck. ―That‘s it, baby. Just hang on to me. I‘ll take care of you.‖
    He opened the button and unzipped my shorts, and let them drop
to my knees. Then he pushed my briefs down. I opened my legs to let
him hook the elastic under my balls. He cupped them in one hand as
he ran the other up the length of my cock. He pressed his thumb
against the slit, spreading my precum around the head. I moaned and
pumped my hips against him.
     ―You know what I worry about, baby?‖
    ―No,‖ I whispered, leaning back and turning my face against his
neck. My body was turning into jelly in his hands. He knew just how
to touch me.
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    He licked my neck and blew on it, making me shiver in his arms. I
closed my eyes and gave myself over to him. I felt his stubble as he
smiled against my skin. He nibbled along my neck, then sucked hard
at the base of it while he worked my cock. He rolled my balls in his
fingers, applying on the slightest bit of pressure and twisted his
fingers back and forth around the head of my cock.
     ―I worry about all the men coming on to you. Your hands, rubbing
oil into all that naked skin. Massaging up and down their bodies. You
worry about guys in Speedos surrounding me, but what about all the
guys getting naked around you. You can‘t tell me they don‘t get hard
with you touching them.‖ He kept stroking my cock and kissing my
neck while he talked to me. ―How many of them ask for happy
endings? Hmm? How many ask for you to touch their cocks like
this?‖
   ―I would never…‖ He bit the cords of my neck, cutting off any
possibility of talking.
    ―How many times are you tempted to just jerk a guy off? One guy,
tenting the sheet as you lean over, your hard chest rubbing against his
as you rub your hands down his torso?‖ He reached up under my shirt
again and tweaked my nipple before sliding that hand down my body,
across my hips, over my groin, to cup my balls again. I groaned and
melted against him. ―Do you ever think about doing it, babe‖
     ―No.‖
   ―Never?‖ He gripped my dick harder and stroked it faster, kissing
my neck in little sandpapery caresses, his three-day-old five o‘clock
shadow making my whole body twitch. I panted when he tugged on
my balls. He stroked upward, teasing the head of my cock. ―You
never think about stroking a long, fat cock while you‘re rubbing those
men?‖
    He pumped his hips against my ass as he squeezed, and ran a palm
up my body to cover my mouth as I started moaning and breathing
heavily. A groan rumbled through my chest as I came over his fist into
the sink. Holding me up, he kissed the side of my face as I slowly
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regained control of my body. When my breathing slowed, he reached
around me and started the water, washing his hands, and wiping my
cock down with a damp towel, before drying it and tucking me back
into my underwear, and helped me get my shorts back up. Then he
rinsed out the sink, toweling away any evidence.
   I turned around and kissed him, slow and tender. When I pulled
back, I looked up at him. ―I think about jerking you off every time that
happens, but I would never touch a client that way.‖
   He laughed and hugged me tight. ―That‘s the reason you come
home and attack me some nights.‖
     ―You figured me out.‖
    ―It‘s okay. I fucking love it when you get all aggressive. It‘s hot as
shit.‖ He squeezed me tight before pulling back and cupping my face
again. ―I really do love you, you know.‖
     ―I know. And I love you, too.‖
     ****
    We headed back to our seats. I was sure that my face was beet-red
and that everyone stared at us because somehow they knew that my
boyfriend had just inducted me into the mile high club. Most everyone
else in first class wore suits or designer clothing. Beau and I looked
like the beach bums we were in shorts and T-shirts. The flight
attendant pushed around a little alcohol cart as I plunked down into
Beau‘s window seat to stare out into the endless dark sky wondering
just how much this flight had cost.
   ―How much do you think it was for these seats?‖ I whispered to
Beau.
    He shrugged and passed me a blanket and a pillow. ―You should
get some sleep. We have hours to go yet.‖
     ―Really, I‘m curious. How much do you think it was?‖
   ―Probably a couple thousand dollars for each ticket at least. Don‘t
worry about it. Medina‘s a nice guy.‖
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    I sighed and huddled under the blanket resting my head on Beau‘s
shoulder. It would have been a couple thousand dollars for economy
class seats on this flight. But first class? Probably at least five
thousand dollars each. I‘d wished I had thought to check the pricing
before we left. The thought of having to repay Medina for the flight in
sexual favors made me nauseous. Did people really do that? I guess
we weren‘t under American laws anymore, so anything could happen,
and I‘d have little recourse. If I could keep Beau to myself by taking
on the responsibility, I would.
    ―You‘re more tired than you think. You can barely keep your eyes
open.‖ Beau‘s prickly face brushed against my forehead, his breath
hot on my cheek.
   ―Not sleepy,‖ I mumbled into this shoulder, refusing to let
unconsciousness steal him from me.
    ―Remember that day we first met?‖ His hand grasped mine. ―The
ocean was so blue that day, sky so clear, and then I saw your eyes
across the sand and water.‖
    I closed my eyes and let his voice lull me into the memory. That
morning I‘d had a client hit on me, only to be pissed when I wouldn‘t
reciprocate. He‘d even threatened to file a police report against me
claiming I‘d touched him inappropriately, even though he‘d been the
one doing the touching. My friends had taken me from the office
afterwards, promising to help me relax away the bad day with a trip to
the beach.
    Even after an hour in the water, floating and swimming in the
warm California sun, I hadn‘t been able to brush the dirty feeling I got
every time a client asked me to cross the line aside. The bright light
just couldn‘t seem to reach into my gloom. I found my footing again
and glanced at my friends splashing each other in playful banter. A
bunch of teenagers tried stunts on their boards some twenty feet away
from me, and I felt the weight of someone‘s stare.
    When my eyes searched the area fearing my client had followed,
the only one I found looking my direction was a hot lifeguard standing
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at the edge of the water. His eyes met mine in a moment of shared
heat. His skin glowed with that beautiful sun-kissed honey tone that
meant he spent a lot of time on the beach. Red and green ink
decorated his right arm, but I was too far away to make out the image.
He was obviously older, strong, and confident. I felt very young for
my twenty-one years while he directed that intense gaze my way. His
lips moved, arm flying up, but my world went black.
     The world came back to me in an embarrassing and painful
wallop. I vaguely remember being rolled onto my side and retching
salt water. My head pounded as the sun and every little sound chiseled
another opening into my skull.
    ―Relax, the ambulance is on its way,‖ a deep voice told me in a
soft tone.
     ―Head hurts,‖ I told the voice.
     ―It‘s okay. Just stay with me.‖
    The clink of metal and the sound of clothes rustling were the only
indication that the ambulance had arrived. When they began to lift me,
I passed out again from the pain streaking across my brain.
    The next time I‘d awoken, I‘d been in the hospital. Machines
beeping around me, room dark, but flowers decorated a little table by
the door. I was pretty loopy and recognized the feeling of Morphine
running through my system. My limbs were heavy and kind of
weightless all at once like they had that time I‘d flipped my
motorcycle years before.
    A gentle knock sounded on the door before it opened. A man
stepped inside and all I could think was that he must be an angel. If
angels wore shorts and tank tops, and who‘s to say they didn‘t. His
dark hair and broad shoulders reminded me of someone, but my head
ached with the strain to remember. The bright colors on his right arm
brought it all back, the lifeguard.
     ―Hey, you‘re awake!‖
     I blinked at him, not feeling ‗awake‘ enough to do anything else.
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   ―You scared the crap outta me out there. I‘ve never lost anyone on
my watch. Didn‘t want you to be the first.‖
     ―Sorry,‖ I grumbled.
    ―Ain‘t your fault. You didn‘t ask to get hit by a surf board.‖ He
shook his head and crossed the room to sit down in the chair beside
the bed. ―When I pulled you out of the water, you weren‘t breathing
and had blood leaking from your head. I thought I‘d never get the
chance to know your name.‖
     ―Abram,‖ I told him.
     He smiled. Yeah, he was an angel.
   ―Nice to meet you, Abram. I‘m Beau.‖ He reached out and shook
my hand. ―Maybe when you get out of this place I can take you out
properly. Thank you for not dying on my watch.‖
   I blinked at him again, positive the drugs kept me from
understanding what he said. ―Huh?‖
     ―Fuzzy, eh? Let me be blunt. Will you go out with me, Abram?‖
    Yeah, the angel had asked me out. It‘d taken me a couple days to
get out of the hospital, and even then I had to rest for another week
until the pain subsided. He‘d given me his number, but I hadn‘t called.
Not until I felt normal. And even then I was sure I seemed like an
idiot calling him up and saying, ―Hey, it‘s Abram.‖ I expected him to
be ―who?‖
     ―Hey, babe! How are you feeling? Ready for that date yet?‖
    And now more than a year later, here we were, on a plane bound
for paradise. Hoping that the rest of our lives together could be just as
amazing as the first year had been. Curled up against him, that thought
was all that mattered when sleep took me away.
     ****
    Beau‘s chin scraped against my head, and I opened my eyes. I
noticed everyone was looking out the windows and talking quietly. I
turned up into a blinding smile, complete with the dimples that still
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knocked me out. Beau leaned over to kiss my forehead. ―Morning,
babe.‖
    I rubbed my eyes with one hand and stretched. Stifling a yawn, I
glanced out the window and saw some islands in the faint morning
light. ―Where are we?‖
    ―About an hour out. I thought you might want to shake some of
the sleep off before we had to get moving. I know how you are when
you first wake up.‖
     ―Hey, I‘m not that bad,‖ I said, playfully punching his arm.
    He reached over and rubbed the back of my neck. I moaned and
bent my head forward. Closing my eyes, I rested my forehead on the
tray table. Beau‘s warm hands ran down my neck and across my
shoulders. I moaned again and relaxed into it. I may be the
professional, but I loved Beau‘s hands on me. By the time he worked
the kinks out of my neck and shoulders, I felt like that chocolate bar in
the bottom of my backpack. All melted and gooey.
    The flight attendant gave us a look when she came by offering hot
towels, but Beau gave her that smile and Southern charm, and she was
smiling back when she left. I looked around, and most of other
passengers avoided my gaze, but a couple smiled back. I leaned back
and covered my face with the towel and breathed in the faint
eucalyptus scent.
     ―You worry too much,‖ Beau said, patting my leg.
    ―I know,‖ I sighed. I put my hand over his and squeezed. He
turned his over to lace our fingers together.
   Beau lifted my hand to brush a kiss on the back of it. I tensed up
and started to pull away, but he held fast. ―You don‘t have to worry
anymore. No one is watching, and fuck them if they are.‖
    ―Easy for you to say.‖ I looked into his handsome face, his dark
eyes shining. Everybody loved him. He radiated confidence and
charisma. Smiling like he knew what I was thinking, he leaned over to
kiss me.
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    ―I love you Abram McGregor, and I can‘t wait for the next step in
our lives to begin.‖ He looked around, meeting the looks from the
other passengers. ―I don‘t care who knows it, because you make it all
worthwhile.‖
    I was blushing, but I pulled him in for another kiss. ―I love you,
too.‖
    I looked up to see a couple of businessmen turn away, but one
woman looked at me and nodded in their direction. ―Fuck them,‖ she
said before smiling and returning to her Kindle.
    Beau laughed and draped his arm around my shoulders. I couldn‘t
help but chuckle with him. The pilot turned on the fasten seat belts
sign and began our descent. Beau leaned over to stare at the city.
  ―We‘re going to have to come back here sometime. We‘ll get
Medina to give us a few days.‖
    ―That sounds great.‖ And it did, although I couldn‘t imagine how
visiting any city could top the idea of living in paradise with Beau.
    After we landed, Beau stood up and got his bag down, but he
didn‘t back off to let me out. Instead, he crowded in, putting one palm
on my hip. He pulled me close and ground his groin against my ass. I
could feel his erection through his board shorts.
     ―I can‘t wait to get you alone,‖ he whispered against my temple.
    ―We should have flown in yesterday. Gotten a room here in
Sydney for the night.‖ His response was a slow grind against me. I
closed my eyes and leaned into it. ―Beau…‖
    He pulled back and pushed me forward. ―Come on. You only have
to deal with it for five more hours.‖
    ―Five hours!‖ I knew I was whining, but the travel was already
getting to me, and five more hours before I could be alone with him
seemed daunting.
    ―Yep. We have a couple of hours to kill here, then a three-hour
flight to Cairns before we get to the boat. Then a relaxing overnight
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cruise to paradise for the rest of our lives.‖ I could hear the smile in
his voice. ―Now, get moving. You‘re holding up the line.‖
     ―Fine,‖ I said, pretending I wasn‘t getting excited about the idea.
     ****
    Getting through Customs was a lot easier than I expected, and we
made it to the domestic gates with plenty of time to grab some lunch.
My stomach was rumbling, and I realized I‘d been too upset to eat last
night while Beau slept. His little joke about options, and about
Medina, had taken away my appetite.
   My stomach let out a monstrous growl, and Beau laughed. ―I
guess we‘re feeding you now.‖
   ―Sorry,‖ I said, feeling like an idiot and cursing my noisy
stomach.
    ―I‘m starved too. We‘ve got time. There‘s got to be a decent
restaurant here.‖ He led us through the maze of terminals until we
broke into the main retail area of the airport. There were a half dozen
restaurants. Beau stopped to read the menu posted outside one before
moving on to the next. I didn‘t care where we ate, as long as I had
something soon. Finally he stopped at a place with a wide-open
terrace area for seating. It overlooked the inside of the terminal, but
had a soft romantic feel with dark tablecloths and lit candles. ―This
will work.‖
     I followed him inside.
    A bouncy young waiter showed us to a table at the edge of the
terrace. ―G‘Day. I‘m Midnight. I‘ll be your waiter today. Let me grab
you some water while you look over the menu.‖ The kid was cute
with shaggy dark hair, a pierced nose and brow and big smile. His
Aussie accent was light and sweet. But just like everyone else, his
eyes were all over Beau.
    ―Water would be great,‖ Beau told him dismissively. The kid
stood there a minute longer before disappearing.
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    I sucked in a deep breath and opened my menu. When had I gotten
so jealous that I couldn‘t even tolerate a waiter flirting? I knew Beau
wanted me. He‘d already kicked off a shoe and was rubbing my bare
lower leg with his toes. Maybe I could convince him to find a dark
corner somewhere so I could blow him properly and relieve the hard-
on he‘d been pressing against me all day.
    ―I think I‘m just going to have the fish and chips. What about
you?‖ Beau brought my mind back to the menu. I finally looked
through it and realized it was all either seafood or vegetarian fair.
Once again he‘d thought of me first, finding a place that catered to my
avoidance of red meat.
     ―The avocado shrimp salad looks great.‖
    Beau flagged the water down and ordered. I added a glass of white
wine to mine hoping it would ease my nerves. The waiter stood really
close to Beau, his body language solidly screaming ‗fuck me!‘
   Glaring into my glass of water didn‘t help. And I didn‘t realize a
growl had escaped my throat until Beau‘s caressing foot stopped.
―What‘s wrong, baby?‖
     ―Nothing,‖ I told him.
     ―Do I have to take you to the bathroom again?‖
    Heat burned up into my face, and my cock got hard so fast the
tingling nearly hurt. ―I just think that since we‘re doing this whole
move thing, maybe we should make it official. You know, like make
it forever. Get married or something.‖ The words spilled from my
mouth before I even knew what I was saying.
   Beau‘s smile widened. ―Why Abram, did you just propose to
me?‖
     ―I meant–ah–you know-‖
   He leaned over and kissed me soundly before dropping to his
knees at my feet. My heart pounded like a conga drum on steroids.
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This couldn‘t be happening could it? Did he really want to marry me?
Forever bound with laws and papers and vows?
    His hands wrapped around mine. The look in his eyes made me
want to throw myself at him and make love to him until the world
stopped. Everyone watched us. The terrace only had a handful of
patrons, but even from the open area below people stared. ―Yes, I will
marry you, Abram McGregor.‖
    There was a scattered applause. Beau sat back down, the angel
grin on his face. My heart was in my throat. The whole room seemed
to spin a little. I glanced around until I found the bathroom. ―I‘ll be
right back.‖ I got up and glanced at him again, the glint in his eye
meant he was planning something. I held up a finger to stop him from
getting up. ―I just need a minute.‖
     ―Anything you want, babe.‖
    In the bathroom, I did my business and spent a few extra minutes
washing my face. Beau wanted to marry me. Sure I loved him more
than life, but was he really willing to give up everyone else for me?
But what had I expected? I just threw it out there at him. We were
traveling across the world to live in a new place where neither of us
knew anyone but each other. Was he saying yes just because he knew
my heart would have broken if he said no? Or even ‗yes, but not
now?‘
    This whole trip made me feel so horribly insecure. What was
paradise really? A place? A state of mind? I thought about that for a
minute. For me it was Beau. I didn‘t need some stupid island or piece
of paper. I just needed him. And if he wanted us to just say the vows
to each other, I would tell him just that.
    Finally I pulled myself together and left the bathroom. As I got to
the table Beau was hanging up his cell phone. He gave me that
beautiful smile again and motioned to our food, which had arrived.
―Come eat, baby.‖
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    And I did, watching him watch me the whole time. Midnight came
to our table a lot. Even offered us a bottle of free champagne to
congratulate us on our engagement, but Beau turned it down.
    ―You guys going to Isla Enamorada? It‘s a place for people just
like us,‖ he said it quietly and the hushed tones of his voice spoke of
excitement. ―I hope to get a job there. I‘ve heard there are going to be
a few restaurants opening.‖
   ―It would be a long commute for you,‖ Beau pointed out. The kid
couldn‘t have been older than eighteen.
    Midnight smiled showing dimples that made me smile. He was
infectious. ―Not as far as you, Yanks. Maybe I‘ll find my own-‖ he
thumped his fists over his heart, ―will you marry me?‖
     ―You‘d be surprised when something like that hits you.
Sometimes it‘s like a surfboard to the back of the skull.‖ Beau pulled
out a stack of Australian bills and left a large wad of cash on the table.
―Thanks for the great service.‖ He got up and held out his hand to me.
I let myself be pulled into his embrace again, and his lips skimmed by
my ear where I still had a scar from the surfboard incident.
    ―Look us up if you ever get there,‖ I told the kid, feeling generous
with Beau so close to me, his erection burning into my thigh. ―We‘re
going to be staying.‖
   Midnight grinned and nodded gratefully to us. We waved him off
and made our way to the next flight. As long as Beau was next to me I
could travel for days, weeks even. I wondered then about the phone.
     ―Did someone call while I was in the bathroom?‖ I asked.
    ―Nope. I just called and checked in with Medina about our travel
plans. Want to make sure we‘re on time for the boat.‖ Beau‘s palm
rubbed a warm circle around my back. ―Let‘s get this short flight over
so we can get to the good part.‖
     ****
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    The three hours in the air passed quickly, and we even landed ten
minutes early. We made our way to the baggage claim area, and we
were met by a very handsome older gentleman. His white suit offset
his deep tan, and his white hair and beard gave him an air of
sophistication. A bright blue shirt brought out his eyes. He looked us
both over and smiled.
   Beau walked up to him and pulled him into one of his bear hugs.
―Thanks for the tickets, Mr. Medina. Don‘t know how we‘re going to
pay you back for them.‖
    ―Call me Havi,‖ Mr. Medina said when he pulled back from
Beau‘s hug. His eyes flicked over me, and he smiled. He looked more
rugged, lived, than he had in my imagination. ―Do not worry about
that. We will think of something, I am sure.‖
     I broke out in goose bumps. Maybe he did expect me to put out.
His rich Spanish accent made his words soothing, even as they
terrified me. He offered his hand, and I took it, not knowing what else
to do. His fingers were rough and not at all what I expected from a
billionaire businessman. I thought about Beau‘s, rough from all the
work he did outside, and how they felt on my skin. I imagined Mr.
Medina‘s would feel the same. I‘m sure I blushed, but luckily, Beau
stepped in to rescue me again.
     ―Havi, I‘d like you to meet my fiancé Abram. Abe, this is Havi.‖
    ―Hello, sir,‖ I managed to croak out. My cheeks burned again, and
I cleared my throat and tried to speak again. ―We spoke on the phone.
Thank you for this opportunity.‖
   ―Well, I know about Beau‘s work from a trip I took to California,
and he could not recommend you highly enough.‖ I looked at Beau,
who was practically beaming. Mr. Medina still held my hand, and he
covered our hands with the other one. ―I cannot wait to have your
hands on me, Abram. I believe our guests will love your touch as
well.‖
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    My hands on him? I pulled back and moved my backpack in front
of my crotch, holding it protectively with both fists. His eyes followed
the movement, and I shifted my weight nervously between my feet.
   ―Come, boys.‖ He turned to lead the way out. I grabbed Beau‘s
arm to pull him back.
     ―Beau, I don‘t know if I can….‖
     ―Can what, babe?‖
    I glanced at Medina as he walked ahead of me. ―You know. Pay
for the flight.‖
     Beau laughed and pulled me close. ―Don‘t worry. I‘ll talk to him,
all right?‖
    I was dubious, but I let it drop. Medina led us out to what looked
like an old VW convertible. It had six doors, a bikini-style top, and
was painted bright blue. The vinyl seats were blue and white. The
Summer‘s Pointe logo was painted on the front hood, and the driver
wore a bright blue polo shirt with white shorts. I guessed blue was the
resort‘s signature color.
    ―Cool!‖ Beau said as he plopped down in the back row. He patted
the seat next to him, and I sat like a good boy.
   ―We like our guests to feel like they are already starting their
vacation. We have a van that takes the luggage to a plane, so they
don‘t have to worry about anything but immersing themselves in the
experience,‖ Mr. Medina said, getting into the car.
    He pointed out sights along the drive and gave a brief history on
the way, but I couldn‘t keep track of what he was saying. His words
from the airport kept replaying in my mind. Do not worry. We will
think of something. Get your hands on me. A hand on my knee made
me jump.
     ―Relax, babe. We‘re here.‖
   I looked up to see a huge yacht docked at the pier. There were a
few crew members moving around on the deck, all dressed in the
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same blue and white that I assumed would be our uniforms. ―On A
Lark‖ was painted in blue along the bow.
     ―Wow, Havi,‖ Beau said next to me.
    ―We‘re going on that?‖ I was nervous. Since the accident when
Beau and I met, I‘d had a healthy respect of the water. I didn‘t go too
far into it, and it didn‘t try to kill me again. Going out on a boat gave
me the chills. Add being trapped on it with a man who may be
expecting sexual favors from me, and I was feeling lightheaded. Beau
held me steady when I tripped on a crack in the asphalt.
    ―We have room for ten couples at a time. We use the Lark for
ferrying guests to the island, and we hope to charter it out for some
overnight dive trips, with our new dive master.‖ He smiled at Beau.
―We can also use the plane for guests who want to arrive quicker, or
who get seasick. The view of the island from the air is spectacular.‖
     ―She is a beaut.‖
    ―She will be under your watch, Beau. I have a cabin set up for you
below. It has a double bunk, and private facilities, so you will not
have to share with the other crew members. It is all ready for you
now, so feel free to use the showers and freshen up. You will both be
introduced at tonight‘s dinner. Abram, there is already a waiting list
for your services.‖
     ―Mine?‖
   ―Oh, yes. We have needed a masseur for a while now. Of course,
everyone will have to line up behind me, no?‖ he said with a wink.
     ―O-okay.‖
    ―Well, permission to come aboard?‖ Beau asked, a coy smile on
his face.
    Mr. Medina looked at him, a faint smile playing on his lips. He
cleared his throat and nodded. ―Granted, of course.‖ He led us up the
gangplank, and I clung to Beau‘s arm like a lifeline. When we got on
deck, he pulled me close and kissed my temple.
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     ―Don‘t worry, baby. I‘ve got you.‖
    I know he thought I was scared because of the water, but truth be
told, I was more nervous about the possibility of having to pimp out
my ass. I didn‘t know what was going to be expected of me, and I sure
didn‘t want to bring it up. Nothing like giving the man any more
ideas. Beau steadied me as we headed down the ladder at the back of
the boat to a door marked ―Staff Only.‖ It opened to a narrow hallway
with doors on either side of it. The one on the left was a supply room.
Boxes of masks, snorkels, and fins, rows of tanks, and racks of
buoyancy compensators hung along the wall.
    ―Dude, you have three compressors. And Nitrox. Damn! You‘ve
almost got a whole dive shop in here.‖ Beau was so excited, he
practically bounced.
    ―And your quarters are over here.‖ Medina opened the other door,
revealing a small, but nice cabin. The bunk looked longer than
normal, and I realized he must have had it made for Beau‘s long legs.
Besides the bed, there was a built-in locker, and a bathroom. The
entire space was tiled, as opposed to the rich, polished wood of the
stateroom. A clear curtain separated the shower area from the rest of
the room, making the most of the small, but serviceable space. The
boat rocked, and I had to grab onto the sink. I shook my head and took
a deep breath. ―You do not like the water, Abram?‖
     ―Well, let‘s just say it doesn‘t like me much.‖
   ―Yet, you are partnered with a dive master. Interesting. I wonder,
how does that work?‖
     ―What do you mean?‖
    ―Well, with someone who loves the water as much as Beau does,
it must be troublesome for him to know you don‘t share his interest.‖
     ―I go to the beach with him,‖ I snapped at him.
   ―Oh, I do not mean anything by that. Besides, we are going to be
keeping you very busy.‖
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     I looked at him. ―Busy?‖
    ―I told you we have your schedule filled. I am really looking
forward to seeing what you can do.‖
     ―Well, I hope I can do a good job for you, sir.‖
   ―I am sure you will, Abram.‖ He smiled and looked me over. ―I
am sure you will.‖
    Beau came bounding in, talking excitedly. ―I can‘t wait to take her
out.‖ He looked at me, then to Mr. Medina. ―What‘s wrong?‖
     ―Nothing.‖ I shook my head.
     ―You sure, baby?‖
     ―Yeah. It‘s just the wake.‖
     He cupped my cheek, and I covered his hand with mine.
     ―I‘m fine,‖ I assured him.
   He pulled me in for a kiss. ―Okay. Just checking.‖ He turned to
Mr. Medina. ―Mind if I check out the bridge before we shove off?‖
    ―Go right ahead. And I really should make sure the rest of the
guests are settled.‖ They started to leave, but Mr. Medina turned back
at the doorway. ―Rest, Abram. And feel free to get cleaned up. I have
taken the liberty of getting some things sent here for you. We can talk
about those flights later, yes?‖ He nodded and left, closing the door.
    I collapsed onto the bed and started shaking, thinking I had to be
reading into his words. He couldn‘t really be expecting me to…. I
shook my head. No. Not possible. I stripped and went into the
bathroom. The door didn‘t have a lock on it, but I supposed that was
normal. We were in private quarters, so you wouldn‘t expect to need a
lock inside. Still, I would have been more comfortable if I could
sequester myself in there. It wasn‘t like I could lock the cabin door
with Beau still out there. He‘d need to come back to clean up, too. I
tried to put that thought out of my mind as I stepped under the shower
and started washing the long day off.
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     ****
    I‘d just finished washing the soap off and was rinsing my hair
when there was a knock on the bathroom door, and a deep, accented
voice called out. ―Abram. I am here to collect.‖
    I stood there, naked and frozen as the doorknob turned, and the
door slowly opened. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath,
expecting Medina to be standing there. Instead, it was Beau, wearing
nothing but his angel smile. The light hair on his torso highlighted his
six-pack abs before tapering to create a treasure trail to the pubes he
kept neatly trimmed for me.
     ―Beau, what are you doing?‖
    He stepped into the shower with me and cupped my ass to pull my
hips against his, rubbing our cocks together. The friction had me
moaning and hard in seconds.
    ―Bossman sent me to collect for those flights. Ready to pay up,
pretty boy?‖ He shoved me against the wall and bent down to kiss my
neck while he pumped his hips against mine. The building pleasure
raced up my spine. I grasped the back of his neck and pulled him in
for a kiss. Our tongues dueled, and I loved the salty-sweet flavor of
him. He broke the kiss and nipped my cheek. ―Come on, baby. You
know those flights weren‘t cheap.‖
    His hands ran up my back then down my sides, fingers pausing to
tweak my nipples into hard little buds. I shivered, swallowing another
moan and ground my hips harder into his. The sensation of his hot
length against mine and the hairs on his stomach and groin sent my
heart racing, mind struggling to keep up. Since it was Beau in my
arms, little else mattered.
    ―You‘re so not funny.‖ I licked and nibbled the tanned skin of his
neck and shoulders. Wrapping my arms around him, I reached up and
grabbed a handful of his hair, pulling his head back and bending his
neck to allow me a better angle. I bit the side of it, then licked it,
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breathing over the glistening skin. He moaned and pumped against me
again.
    His body arched and writhed against mine. Precum speckled both
of our stomachs and cocks as though screaming ―We‘re ready!‖ I
swung us around so he was under the spray then wedged a knee
between his legs, easing a small bit of pressure against his heavy sack.
I rocked against him, freed one hand from his hair and trailed a
feather-light touch down his body until I found that sensitive taint. He
gasped, head flying back, mouth falling open. The sound that fell from
his lips was a sweet cry that had me rubbing my thigh against his dick
to force free more of those tender cries.
    ―Yeah, baby. Just like that.‖ His heavy breathing blew against my
ear as I humped his leg, still pulling his head back. I started to stroke
his cock under the water. I let go of him, grabbed the soap, and rubbed
it over every inch of the front of his body, except his cock, which
arched and bobbed, begging to be touched. Then I nudged him to turn
around.
     He presented me with those beautifully sculpted shoulders,
muscled back, and firm ass. The sight of him always floored me. He
looked like a god made into a man, perfection. I sucked a small bit of
the tight skin at the base of his neck, letting my teeth sink in just a
little. He thrust himself against the wall, body straining for more while
I marked him.
    ―Jeez, Abe…‖ his voice sounded half broken with pleasure. ―I
love it when you get like this. I love that no one else ever gets to see
this side of you.‖
    I licked the spot I‘d marked, then blew a strong breath over it and
licked it again. He trembled and thrust his ass back to grind into my
erection. ―I‘m only getting started,‖ I whispered to him.
    I stepped away, pressing his body to the wall, and soaped up his
back, while he braced himself. My hands kneaded his flesh like clay,
easing all those stubborn muscles, just like it was second nature, and
worked their way down to that tempting crack. Patience, I had to
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remind myself. We had time. The boat would take overnight to reach
the island. A lot could happen in twelve hours, and boy did I look
forward to the possibilities.
    Kneeling, I let my fingers work their way down his legs and
calves massaging and enjoying the light hairs that tickled my palms,
before working back up to that gorgeous ass. With those round hard
cheeks right in front of my face, I paid them special attention, rubbing
and caressing the soft, fleshed ridges, then I slid a taunting finger
down the crack and between his legs to his balls.
    He moaned loudly, and arched his back, shoving his ass into my
face. I leaned back on my heels and spanked him, hard, on the right
cheek, enjoying the pink glow that appeared soon after. He always did
have such great color. ―Ow! What‘s that for?‖
    ―For being a jerk with your stupid jokes.‖ He looked over his
shoulder and smiled at me, his beautiful, angel smile. I stood up to
kiss him, but reared back at the last second, landing an even harder
blow to his left ass cheek. ―That one was because I can.‖
    He chuckled and turned sideways, wrapping an arm around my
waist and pulling me with him under the spray. He looked down his
body, watching the suds wash away. His cock jutted out, veins clearly
defined and white beads of desire leaking from his slit. ―I think you
missed a spot.‖
    I smiled back at him, gave him one long, hard pull before letting
go to rinse myself off, and step out of the shower. ―I‘ll be waiting on
your bunk.‖
    His laughter echoed from the bathroom as I stepped out and lay
down on the bed. I stretched out on my back and put one foot flat on
the bedspread and one arm behind my head. My erection was about
ready to bust, but I was determined to make this slow and sweet. No
matter how bad I wanted to fuck Beau into the soft mattress.
    The door opened, and Beau stood there holding a towel in front of
his crotch, his grin firmly in place. I reached down and began to
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stroke my cock. His look went from happy to lustful in less than a
second, eyes falling to trace the path my fist made on my own hard
flesh. He crossed the room to kneel between my legs, mouth wide like
he needed a taste.
    ―Fuck, you look good like that.‖ His looked from my hand to my
face and back again. I reached out to him and yanked him against me
for a kiss. His cock throbbed in time with mine, both of us grinding
and pumping in a crazed frenzy that had us both panting.
    I planted my other foot flat on the bed to get better leverage. Our
heated kisses felt like a branding fire, tongues stroking against each
other‘s, shared groans swallowed, air gulped down in lustful need. He
grasped my hips and pulled them tight against him. Then he sat back,
pulling me up to sit on his lap. His cock pressing against my taint,
teasing and warning that it too wanted entrance. But not tonight.
Tonight I‘d have him.
    I shoved against his chest until he laid flat on his back, head
hanging off the end of the bed, knees spread to allow room for me
between them. He reached down to rest his hot palm against both our
cocks and began stroking us together, silken hard flesh to silken hard
flesh. I threw my head back to groan, and squeezed my eyes shut for a
moment while the tingling in my spine nearly erupted from me. Not
yet, I told myself. Not till I was inside him. Proving that he was mine.
    He kissed my neck, sucking a mark of his own just above my
collarbone. Pride swelled in my chest when I realized it‘d be
impossible to hide the mark with any normal shirt. The one I‘d given
him had been just as clear.
    ―Mine,‖ I growled. I pumped against him a few more times as he
continued to stroke us, then I knelt back. Beau was gorgeous, his face
flush, lips swollen, eyes glazed with lust, and cock swollen and
twitching with need. Swinging my hips in small circles I rubbed the
length of my cock up and across his balls and taint, along his crack,
and teasing his hole. He licked his lips and nodded.
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   I reached for my backpack and rummaged through until I finally
found what I was looking for. I held up my prize and grinned. ―Last
one. Hope there‘s a drugstore on the island.‖
    ―Let‘s put it to good use.‖ Beau pushed up onto his knees to crawl
to the foot of the bed. He reached over and opened up the locker, and I
noticed a bottle of our favorite lube on the top shelf. Mr. Medina
probably knew more about us than I expected. Beau must have seen
the look on my face. ―I asked him if he could pick some up for us
when I called earlier.‖ He cocked a sly smile at me. ―Wanted to be
able to celebrate our engagement properly.‖
    ―I knew you had something up your sleeve.‖ I grabbed the lube
and stood next to the bed. He looked up at me, and I couldn‘t help but
lean down for a kiss. This time, it was sweet and gentle. He sighed,
encircled his arms around my waist, and rested his head against my
chest.
     ―Thank you,‖ he whispered.
    I dropped the supplies on the bed and ran my fingers through his
hair. ―For what, Beau?‖
    ―Everything.‖ His breath tickled as he placed light kisses along
my chest between my nipples. He sucked on one, and every pull went
straight to my cock, sending shockwaves through me. As he worked
his way to the other, his hands roamed my back, ass, sides, legs,
sliding over my skin in a sweet, feathered softness that made me melt
into his touch. I moaned as he took the other nipple in his mouth.
   I yanked on his hair to get him to look at me. ―Anything for you,
Beau.‖
     I kissed him again, lightly. He tried to deepen it, tried to thrust his
tongue in my mouth, but I jerked back. He smiled and tried again, but
I stayed just out of reach, teasing him. The third time he tried I pulled
harder on his hair and held him steady. I stared at him for a minute,
loving the look of desire on him and the feeling of control that he
allowed me to have.
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    ―Anything,‖ I repeated, then went in for a deep kiss. He moaned
against my mouth and opened his lips. I took the opening and pressed
my tongue inside, feeling the slickness of his brushing against mine.
He always tasted like chocolate pretzels, though I‘d never seen him
eat the things. I lapped at his lips, savoring the flavor.
   Beau gripped me by the waist, his cock tracing my abs leaving
drops of precum.
    He shifted backwards on his knees, dragging me with. We knelt
on the bed, just holding each other, kissing, bodies mashed together
for what felt like an eternity. And I would have been fine with that,
except every time my hands ran down Beau‘s back to his ass, he
arched against them, encouraging me to explore.
    I smiled into his lips and squeezed some lube on my fingers then I
reached behind him and slid a finger inside his hot hole. He groaned
and shoved against my hand, trying to drive me deeper. I toyed with
him a little, pulling my finger out to rub around the outside before
plunging back into his puckered heat. He dragged his mouth away
from mine and buried his face against my neck.
   ―Fuck me already, Abe,‖ he panted, his breath coming in moist
spurts against my shoulder.
     I squeezed him tight, loving the feel of him in my arms. ―You are
all I will ever need,‖ I whispered in his ear, leaning against him. He
sat down before laying back. Bracing against his hips, I bent forward
to take his cock in my mouth, swallowing it to the root. He cried out
as the head bumped the back of my throat, and bucked up against me.
I held him down, swallowing around his hard length, and humming to
send vibration to the very core of him.
    He groaned and writhed beneath me, hips slamming upward
almost choking me. I cupped his balls in one hand, gently rolling them
between my fingers before slipping two fingers back in to him and
curling them up, searching for that delicate batch of nerves that would
send him flying. His labored breath meant he was on the verge of
explosion.
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    I let his cock go, leaving it with one long lick up the shaft. His
breath flowed in waves, just like the ocean he loved so much,
expanding his chest and rippling down to his abs. The well-defined
muscles stood out in sharp relief as he exhaled. I slipped open the
condom, rolling it on with one hand then I pulled my fingers out and
smoothed on some lube before lining the head of my cock up at his
entrance, pressing his legs further apart.
    Beau opened his eyes, the beautiful brown staring glossily at me. I
held his gaze as I started pushing forward, gasping as the tight gloved
heat of him nearly overwhelmed me when I slid through the guardian
ring. It always amazed me how well we fit together.
    He hissed, and I stopped, waiting to make sure he was all right. He
watched me through long dark eyelashes, his lust-filled eyes almost
black in the low light. Nodding, he pushed his hips down, forcing me
deeper inside. I licked my lips and slowly pulled back out, pushing
back in just as slow.
    The engines kicked into a higher gear, and the boat rocked under
us. As the bed moved, I was forced back into Beau harder that I had
expected. He wrapped his legs around my hips and pulled me in.
   ―Yeah, harder. Just like that, baby,‖ he said, tilting his hips up to
meet each thrust.
    I rolled in deep and held still, feeling the motion of the waves
bouncing us around, timing myself to the rhythm. When I thought I
had it, I pulled out as the boat fell, and pushed back as it went over
each crest, forcing myself further into Beau. He arched his back and
rested his head on the bed, moaning loudly with each of my thrusts,
his hands rubbing my chest, pinching my nipples and clinging to me
any way he could. I worked one forearm under his knee and lifted it
over my shoulder.
     ―Oh! Fuck, yes!‖ he cried out.
   ―Is that what you wanted?‖ I pumped harder, thrust faster as the
boat settled into its cruising speed.
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    ―Yes. Yes. Yes!‖ he chanted, louder and louder as I kept fucking
him harder and harder I was getting close, so I reached down to grab
his cock, and he came almost immediately. ―Oh, fuck, Abe!‖ he yelled
as he came in spurts over my hand. All his muscles tensed up, and the
tightness squeezing my cock was nearly unbearable. I tried to move
inside him.
    ―Beau!‖ I shouted as I came, his leg slipping off my shoulder. I
managed to brace myself as I collapsed on top of him, just barely
keeping from crushing him. ―I love boats.‖ He chuckled and held me
tight to him.
     ―Beau,‖ I said again, my voice hoarse from the shouting.
    He ran his fingers through my hair and the other down my body.
―I‘m here, baby. Not going anywhere without you.‖ He kissed my
head as he stroked the scar behind my ear. ―Not letting anyone else
have you ever again.‖
    He shifted under me, and I slid out from inside him. He reached
down to pull the condom off and drop it on the towel he had left next
to the bed. Then he dragged the covers up and pushed me over, closer
to the wall, spooned me, and let the covers fall back over us. He
wrapped his arms around me, and I laced my fingers with his,
caressing his arm as I pulled his hand up to kiss his knuckles. ―I love
you, Beau.‖
   His stubble scratched my neck as he smiled. ―And you‘re going to
marry me,‖ was the last thing I heard as I drifted off to sleep.
     ****
    Sometime later Beau shook me awake. ―What?‖ I grumbled at him
groggily. We‘d been traveling for days, wasn‘t it okay to sleep
through the last of the trip?
    ―There‘s a party topside. And I want to dance with you.‖ He
tugged at my arm like a little kid.
     My stomach growled.
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     ―And there‘s that, too. Dinner‘s waiting.‖
    I finally opened an eye to stare at him and had to blink a few times
to be sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. Beau wore a crisp
white suit, silk tie included. The color contrasted nicely with his dark
hair and tanned complexion. In fact, he looked so hot my dick did a
heavy twitch-and-fill that had me more awake than I had a right to be.
―Holy…‖
     Beau did a little turn. ―Like it?‖
   ―Yeah. How about you come here and I help you take it off?‖ So I
could fuck his brains out again.
    He shook his head, angel smile taking over his face. ―Yours is in
the bag.‖ He pointed to a dry-cleaning bag that hung off the edge of
the bathroom door. ―Get dressed please. You have ten minutes.‖
     ―Ten minutes till what?‖
    But he bounded up the stairs like he hadn‘t heard me. I groaned
and pulled myself out of bed. Ten minutes, right. Shower first, then
clothes. He could wait a few more minutes for his dinner and dance. I
washed off again, dried my hair and combed it back before getting
into the suit. Unlike Beau‘s white suit, mine was a pale charcoal gray.
I guessed Mr. Medina had a dress code for dinner. It fit perfectly, and
the tie was bright blue, matching my eyes.
    Staring at myself in the bathroom mirror didn‘t change my
reflection, but it did help me feel more confident. We were going to
live on an island where love knew no gender. I couldn‘t imagine
asking for more. After adjusting the tie and cuffs one last time, I
headed up the stairs into a clear starry night on a cruise ship to
paradise.
    Lights were strung around the edges of the deck in a colorful
array. Several couples snuggled together under the star-filled sky
moving only from the sway of the boat. Everything felt so perfect.
Was this really happening to us? Could we really find paradise
together?
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    I turned to find Beau, but Medina stepped up and gently grasped
my arm. ―I hope you do not think I really wanted you to pay for the
flights. Beau mentioned you‘d become alarmed. However, I do not
run that kind of operation.‖
   Those things had only been in my head because Beau had
suggested them. ―No problem. It was just a little joke of Beau‘s. I
should be used to his pranks by now.‖
    ―That one will keep you on your toes.‖ Medina steered me toward
the bow of the ship. ―Perhaps you can tame his wild streak a little.‖
    ―I don‘t know. I kind of like…‖ My ability to speak disappeared
when I saw Beau standing in a lighted pergola looking very unsure of
himself. The couples that had been lounging before all moved around
us quietly, taking their places under the lights.
   ―Will you allow me to escort you?‖ Medina‘s soft accent voice
brought me back down to earth.
    I blinked at him several times, not sure if I was interpreting things
correctly. ―We‘re getting married right now?‖
    A gentle smile stretched across his face. ―Indeed. Unless you do
not wish too.‖
     Oh, I wished too all right. ―Okay.‖
    Medina led me down the makeshift aisle, strangers smiling at us
brightly. My heart thundered an Indy-car race pace until Medina put
Beau‘s hand in mine. Then the world just seemed to stop.
     ―Breathe, baby,‖ Beau whispered.
   I did, but all I could see was him. The suit a perfect fit, making
him stand out as the amazing catch he truly was. Dark eyes glistening
even in the low light, reading of warmth and joy. Palm sweaty in
mine, but gripping me like only I could hold him in place. He was so
beautiful.
     ―Beau?‖ Medina asked.
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    Beau nodded, free hand coming up to touch my face. ―Abram
McGregor you are the love of my life, the joy of my heart, and the
reason I‘m in this world. I didn‘t know life until you wound up on my
beach with a concussion. Every day I‘ve feared what would have
happened if we‘d never met, or if I‘d lost you that day. But that‘s all
over. From this day forward it‘s just you and me, unsinkable forever.‖
   Tears flooded my sight, making it hard to see him. He brushed
them away with a tender finger, eyes boring deeply into mine.
     ―Abram?‖
   ―Beau,‖ I began and had to clear my throat to keep the words from
coming out cracked. ―You are my paradise. Nothing and no one could
ever mean more to me than you do. I‘ve feared for a long time that
you‘d find someone better and move on, and that would have killed
me. Now all I want is to spend the rest of forever with you.‖
     He smiled, lips curving so sweetly I wanted to kiss him.
    ―Was that okay?‖ I whispered to him and Medina. It wasn‘t as if
they‘d given me any time to practice or think of lines.
     ―Wonderful,‖ Medina replied, then looked to Beau. ―Rings?‖
    Beau pulled a pair of small black silicon O-rings that he must have
taken from the SCUBA supplies out of his breast pocket and put one
on my finger. ―With this ring I make you mine forever. Until the
oceans dry up and the heavens cast us out, I promise to love you.‖ He
dropped the other ring in my hand and held up his own.
    I swallowed and followed his lead. ―With this ring I make you
mine forever. Until the oceans dry up and he heavens cast us out, I
promise to love you.‖ I slipped the ring on his finger, and he laced our
fingers together.
    ―You may now kiss. May I present to you all our happy new
couple: Abram McGregor and Beauregard Travers. May they know
peace, prosperity and love for all the rest of their lives.‖ Medina held
his arms out to us, gesturing for us to kiss. Everyone clapped, cheered
and laughed, offering congratulations.
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    Beau was the first to move. He slammed his body against mine,
enveloping me in his arms, and pressed his lips to mine. I let him stay
there a moment, savoring his breath, before opening to his questing
tongue. In that moment, I closed my eyes and let the feeling of
happiness take over me. I let my hands rub his back, one finally
finding a place on his neck, where the little mark I‘d given him earlier
stood out. He seemed to have no intention of releasing my mouth
from his, and that was okay.
    People patted us on the back, whispering well wishes as they
dissipated to other areas of the boat. Medina had even made a
comment about seeing to it that we got proper wedding bands and
documents. The words made me smile and pull away from Beau for a
moment, giving him small pecks on the lips and jaw.
     ―Forever, baby.‖
     That was for sure.
     He still gripped my hand, but now he pulled me toward the dining
hall. ―Dinner first then dancing. We have the first few days off to get
settled,‖ Beau said.
   The stars winked in the sky, and not even the swaying of the boat
could bother me now. ―I want you to stay up all night with me.
Tomorrow will be the first sunrise of the rest of our lives. I want to
watch it with you.‖
     ―Now and forever, babe.‖
THE END
    Author bio 1: Lissa Kasey lives in St. Paul, MN, has a Bachelor‘s
Degree in Creative Writing, and collects Asian Ball Joint Dolls who
look like her characters. She has two cats who enjoy waking her up an
hour before her alarm every morning, and sitting on her lap to help
her write. She can often be found at Anime Conventions
masquerading as random characters when she's not writing about boy
romance.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   235


    Please visit http://lissakasey.com for more information on new
releases, works in progress, and contact details.
    Author bio 2: In high school, Xara X. Xanakas shunned typing
class assignments in favor of writing cliffhangers that would drive her
friends nuts. She‘s been toying with writing ever since. More than
twenty years later, she has finally found her inspiration. A wide cast
of characters, including a menagerie of shape shifters, keeps
pressuring her to write their stories, telling her about themselves at
some of the most inopportune times.
    Her fine arts degree has been absolutely no help in the IT job she
uses to pay the bills. She lives in Texas with her biggest fan and two
cats.
    Please visit http://xaraxanakas.com for more information on new
releases, works in progress, and contact details.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition                   236


K Lee Klein – OUTFOXED (Rock Stars)
Genre: contemporary
Tags: rock stars, celebrities, established-                         Dear Author,
couples, book-series (maybe)                                        I love a good rocker story.
Words: 9,994                                                        These boys are rockers in
                                                                    love but all they know how
OUTFOXED                                                            to do well is lust and
                                                                    overwhelming passion.
by K. Lee Klein
                                                                    One has had enough with
                                                                    being closeted and wants to
     Two pairs of scuffed, black combat boots                       just come out and stop
hit the floor of the hotel room with four distinct                  hiding, not only their
thuds before the door locked back into place.                       relationship, but the one
                                                                    night stands and boytoy
Tight, sweltering, black leather pants were shed,                   groupie hook-ups. He just
left in a ball on the floor beside the boots,                       wants to live without
abandoned in the heat emanating from two                            worrying all the time.
excited, lust-filled bodies. They jockeyed for                      The other will come out for
dominance, both already bare-chested and                            him but has come to see that
                                                                    he only has the drive to do it
shining with sweat, hair, faces and sleek,
                                                                    if they make a real
muscled bodies nearly identical except for the                      commitment (open though it
color and shade of their short spiky locks and                      may be)
the scruff that accentuated their made-up but                       [PHOTO: Two thin young
masculine faces. The blond won the toss-up,                         men with rocker hair stare
                                                                    intently into each other's
pushing the brunet roughly against the velvet-
                                                                    eyes. The brunet in gold
papered wall, his mouth covering the soft lips of                   shorts lies flat on his back
the other, tongue shoving immediately inside.                       on a table; the blond in
                                                                    black shorts kneels over
    Rylan Rivers growled between gasps of                           him, straddling his hips. The
breath, thrusting back against the toned body                       blond has one hand under
that pressed him to the cool wall. ―It‘s not your                   the brunet's head and his
                                                                    other leather-wrapped arm
turn,‖ he panted and hissed at his blond lover.
                                                                    pins the brunet's bicep to the
―Back up, Gage. I‘m taking control.‖                                table.]
    Gage Galeano flattened Rylan more firmly                        I hope someone can do
to the wall, head slanting to seal his lips over                    something with this. Not
                                                                    sappy and not overly emo.
Rylan‘s protesting ones. He wrestled Rylan‘s                        Two somewhat famous,
arms up and over his head, keeping a firm grip                      easy, slutty guys that are
                                                                    coming to terms with the
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on both wrists as he slipped a leg between                          true nature of their longtime
                                                                    relationship(s) with the
Rylan‘s thighs and pressed his knee against                         band, with each other and
Rylan‘s crotch.                                                     with their fans.
    Rylan gasped and stopped squirming long                         Sincerely,
enough to suck Gage‘s tongue between his lips,                      Carole
forcing their mouths together until he felt their
teeth click. He sucked indulgently, Gage‘s
flavor overwhelming his senses and sending a
jolt of excitement straight to his cock. He
enjoyed the sensation, the taste, the heat, for a
moment more, then sunk his teeth into the wet
muscle invading his mouth. The metallic taste
of blood assaulted his tastebuds before Gage
jumped back sharply, brown eyes so heavy with
lust they were almost black, a sadistic grin
gracing his beautiful face.
    ―Since when are turns part of sex?‖ Gage
hissed, sinking one hand into Rylan‘s brown
spikes and yanking his head back. His other
hand moved to swipe at his mouth, a red streak
appearing on his pale skin. Rylan watched
transfixed as Gage licked the color away.
Gage‘s tongue was a thing of wonder, always
knowing precisely where to lap and lick and
suck, when to press harder, when to back off,
the right moment to….
    Rylan snapped his gaping mouth closed,
wiping a dribble of drool away from his lips as
he twisted his head from Gage‘s grasp and tried
to clear his head. He managed a controlled
smirk and pushed off the wall. ―I told you, you
were out of line,‖ he growled, adjusting the
uncomfortable bulge in his faux gold-lame
boxer briefs. ―You have the shortest memory in
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the history of the world, dude. Tonight I‘m the man on top, not you.‖
    His words were strong but that didn‘t change the fact he was
hyper-aware of the sweet, addicting scent of sweat and desire wafting
off his lover—Gage‘s zest still alive in his mouth, on his tongue. He
was already rock hard. So hard he had to struggle to keep his hands to
himself, needing to focus on what he wanted to convey to Gage, not
how he looked, smelled, tasted. He thought he‘d won the battle until
Gage suddenly thrust himself forward, grabbed Rylan‘s face between
his fingers and licked across his lips. One of Gage‘s hands ghosted
down Rylan‘s body and over the outline of his aching dick, sending
shivers of ecstasy throughout Rylan‘s taut body.
    ―Mmm, you‘re wearing my favorite shorts, babe, but I think
they‘d look better off than on.‖
     Rylan growled again, covered Gage‘s hand and squeezed his
fingers. He shoved him not-so-gently away, backing up from the heat
and scent of pre-come that surrounded from his lover. ―You‘re not
listening, dumbass.‖
   Gage snickered evilly. ―I‘m totally listening. You wanna be the
husband.‖
     ―Fuck off. You know that‘s not what I want.‖
    ―Sounds like it,‖ Gage teased again, his left foot moving with
precision in front of his right as he slinked in closer. ―You know I
always let you top when you—‖
    ―Let me?‖ Rylan squawked, stepping backwards from Gage‘s
steady pursuit. ―Since when do you let me do anything?‖
    Gage leered at him, heavy-lidded eyes shining with excitement
and daring. He took another step forward, his tongue licking slowly
over his lips, every small movement, every tiny flexing of his body
resembling a wild animal stalking its prey. Rylan was getting
uncomfortable, more uncomfortable than mere seconds before. He
was harder, too, impossibly harder, the head of his dick peeking up
from beneath his shorts. He shifted his feet and swallowed the lump in
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his throat. If he wasn‘t careful, if he didn‘t keep his head clear, his
eyes focused on Gage‘s and not on the way his lover‘s fingers were
rubbing over the bulge in his own black briefs, he‘d end up giving in
like he always did. He‘d end up letting Gage have his oh-so-sexy way
with him, not a bad thing, a really fucking hot thing actually… but
tonight he wanted… oh fuck, he could barely remember what he
wanted.
    ―You usually like it when I give the orders,‖ Gage murmured,
voice low and gravelly as it was after a kick-ass performance. ―How
about I stand here and you shove me against the wall? Would that
help get me laid?" He quickened his pursuit, reaching Rylan before he
had time to react, pushing him back until his ass hit the table beside
the hotel window. ―Or maybe I could do you quickly then you can
have your turn?‖
    Rylan exhaled with a gasp, groaning when fingers dug into the
skin just above the waistband of his shorts, his body lifted and
plunked down on a cold, hard surface. ―Gage,‖ he moaned when his
lover‘s body covered his, sweat dampened bare chests suctioning
together, Gage‘s cock weighing heavily on top of his own. ―Ah fuck,
you don‘t play fair.‖
     He felt Gage smile against his lips, his lover‘s tongue running the
full circle of his mouth that Gage was currently smothering. Gage
lifted his head, shifting his body over Rylan‘s, one hand supporting
his weight, the other wrapping around the back of Rylan‘s head while
he looked deeply into his blue eyes. ―Fair‘s for pussies and I don‘t see
any pussies in the room."
    Rylan‘s body shuddered with a carefully contained chuckle and
more than a little lust. He hated that Gage knew him so well, that he
could play him like a well-tuned guitar, hated it but loved it at the
same time. He was putty in Gage‘s hands and normally, that‘s just the
way he liked to be: soft, pliant, warm and ready beneath the sex-on-
legs body of his best friend and lover.
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    Gage moved to kneel over Rylan, legs bending until his knees
pressed snugly to Rylan‘s hips as he leaned over and pressed his
mouth to the middle of Rylan‘s smooth chest. The kiss sent an
uncontrollable shiver through Rylan‘s body, starting in his heart and
ending with a slight twitch of his demanding cock.
    ―You can take control whenever you want but… mmm, tonight
you just look too damn tasty." Gage replaced his lips with a splayed
hand over Rylan‘s chest, fingers rubbing softly as his mouth moved to
press sloppy open-mouthed kisses to the shadowy stubble of Rylan‘s
jawline.
    Rylan took the opportunity to drag Gage‘s mouth to his, shoving
his tongue deep between his lips, hands cupping the perfect planes of
Gage‘s face as he tried to swallow him whole. Goddamn, the man
intoxicated him, made him lightheaded with a single kiss or touch,
made him want to be naked and squirming beneath him despite what
other plans he may have had for the night.
    The alpha-male-wrestling-for-position was a big part of their love-
making. Rylan usually gave in in the end, letting Gage take control,
but only because he loved how Gage worked his body, how he knew
how to make him soar and fall, over and over again. He was just as
proficient with Gage‘s needs, but the way Gage got all dominant and
growly when he was in control, just made Rylan‘s experience that
much more orgasmic.
    When Gage flattened himself on top of Rylan again, Rylan looped
a leg around Gage‘s hips and pulled him even closer. Rylan‘s dick
was raging in his shorts, spurred on by the hardness that pressed
against him. Gage moaned into his mouth, then pulled back sucking
Rylan‘s bottom lip as he went.
    ―Oh, too fast, babe. Gotta slow it down a bit,‖ Gage whispered in
Rylan‘s ear, sending silent shivers through Rylan‘s body when his
man‘s tongue slid behind his lobe and trailed down his jaw. He
flinched slightly when teeth nipped at the pounding point of his pulse,
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Gage‘s exquisite tongue lapping the pain away and making him shiver
even more.
    The lips headed south next, leaving a trail of wetness and tingling
in their wake. Gage‘s mouth was hot against Rylan‘s skin, searing,
soothing and impossible to ignore or resist. Rylan roughly shoved one
hand into Gage‘s hair, fingertips working through the tangled, glittery,
blond mop, breaking up the dried hair gel and separating the strands.
He arched his back when Gage‘s skilled mouth reached his belly
button, his lover‘s tongue flicking and teasing at the quivering flesh,
all Rylan‘s muscles contracting, heating, screaming for more.
  ―Mmmm, the intoxicating sweat of Rylan Rivers,‖ Gage cooed.
―We could bottle this shit and make a million."
    Rylan‘s fingers tightened in Gage‘s hair when the magic lips and
tongue moved lower, caressing the bulging gold crotch of his briefs,
mouthing and humming hotness through the thin material and over his
throbbing dick. He shook his head, opening his mouth to protest or
maybe encourage the fingers that tugged at his low waistband, so
close to touching, feeling, tasting--
     A loud banging at the door startled him. ―Who the fuck…‖
    ―Oh shit,‖ Gage hissed, nimbly kissing his way back up Rylan‘s
body and resting their foreheads together. ―I completely forgot about
your surprise." He ground his body against Rylan‘s one last time then
pushed off the table, bouncing on his toes when he landed on the
plush, emerald carpet. ―Can‘t leave him waiting, now can we?‖
    Gage‘s eyes sparkled with mischief while Rylan‘s body shivered
from the loss of heat and contact, his brain clouded with confusion,
and more than just a little annoyance, at just who the hell could be
interrupting them so late at night. He and Gage had decided it would
be the two of them tonight, just the two of them celebrating, no thirds
or fourths or God forbid, fifths. They‘d both agreed… hadn‘t they? As
he lifted himself to rest on his elbows, he watched Gage strut to the
door, pause then pull it open. His confusion was overtaken by
disbelief then anger when his surprise slinked through the door.
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   ―Who the fuck?‖ He knew he was repeating himself but seriously
who the fuck?
    ―Ry, this is Hunter,‖ Gage cooed, pulling a young, heavily made
up man into the room. ―He‘s part of your birthday present. You can
totally be grateful to me later.‖
     ―My birthday present?‖
    Hunter seemed to stare at the two of them forever, his green eyes
wide with excitement, his slim, almost-girlish body visibly vibrating.
He wore a black, strategically ripped shirt that hung casually off one
shoulder, and red spandex pants leaving nothing to the imagination, a
cloth backpack slung forgotten over his shoulder. Rylan was pretty
sure that if the kid had a tail, it would be wagging out of control.
    ―Hey,‖ the kid said a little too loudly into the silence of the room,
his tongue coming out to lick across his full lips. ―I‘m like Glitter
Fox‘s biggest fan, dude. You‘re, like, so fucking awesome and holy
fuck, I can‘t believe I‘m standing here in your hotel room… me and
fucking Gage and Rylan from fucking Glitter Fox. I‘ve seen you four
times and each time you brought down the fucking house, man. I even
went and got the same tat as you guys. Look!" Hunter slid one hand
under his shirt, lifting the material to reveal a pale, flat belly. He
grinned as he ran a finger over the brightly-colored Glitter Fox logo
that adorned the right side of his ribcage.
    ―Fucking awesome, right? It‘s not exactly like y‘alls but it‘s as
close as my cousin could get 'cuz I didn‘t wanna wait until my mom
said it was okay to get a real one… holy shit I think I might just
spooge in my jeans I‘m so fucking excited to see you guys and when
that big, muscly dude hauled me up here to see you in fucking person,
I thought I was in some kind of trouble or being punked or something,
man, but holy fuck, no, it‘s actually you and you‘re here and I‘m here
and… dude, are you wearing gold drawers?‖
    Rylan forced a smile, moving quickly to sit up on the table, sliding
to the edge and dropping to stand in front of Hunter. ―Nice to meet
you,‖ he said, his over-played grin reaching neither his voice nor his
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eyes. ―I gotta go." He shoved past both men, reaching for the door
handle as Gage grabbed his upper arm.
   ―Where you going?‖ Gage asked. ―It‘s not polite to leave your
guest hanging—‖
    ―Fuck off!‖ Rylan exploded. ―Get your goddamn hand off me and
let me go.‖
    ―Ry—‖ Gage began, curling his fingers harder around Rylan‘s
bicep.
    Rylan ripped himself from Gage‘s grip, flattening the palm of his
fingerless glove against Gage‘s chest and shoving him backwards.
Gage stumbled comically, eyes wide, mouth gaping open as his ass hit
the floor. ―What the....‖
    Rylan‘s brow furrowed deeply as he glared at his lover. ―You
seriously thought… I can‘t believe you‘d… you‘re so fucking…
goddamn it, Gage!"
    He turned away, his hand on the doorknob, fingers caressing the
cold metal, his breath coming in short angry bursts. This wasn‘t how
he acted. This wasn‘t who he was. How did he expect Gage to
understand what his intentions had been tonight, what he‘d been
hoping for and expecting? With one last deep breath, he faced the man
on the floor again, his gaze locked determinedly on Gage‘s worried
one.
    He didn‘t know what to say, didn‘t know how to explain what he
was feeling, what he‘d been feeling for a long time, and the way Gage
was looking at him gave him no hope that the man knew what the
fuck was going on either. But shouldn‘t he have a fucking clue?
Shouldn‘t the man Rylan had been working with, traveling with…
fucking… know there was more to their relationship than just the
singing and playing and sex? Shouldn‘t he be willing to spend this
important night with just Rylan? Shouldn‘t he want to?
   The realization that Gage was so goddamn clueless with regards to
Rylan‘s feelings made rage flare in the pit of his stomach. He whipped
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his gaze away, turned again and threw himself dramatically out the
door, ensuring it slammed closed behind him.
     ****
    Rylan‘s feet carried him quickly away from Gage‘s door, five
steps and he was at his room. He hated having to have his own room
in the first place, since he and Gage ended up staying in one or the
other together anyhow. But tonight the knowledge that he could get
away from the sex-starved little bastard—and his little groupie—made
the room almost a safe haven in his mind. He blew out a big breath,
threaded a hand through his hair then reached for the door handle of
room 706.
    It wasn‘t until a cool breeze brushed over him that he realized he
was standing half-naked, more than half actually, his gold briefs being
the only thing covering his complete nakedness. The aspect of being
nude in public didn‘t bother him, he‘d had his share of wandering
hotel hallways in his shorts or maybe less anyhow, but the fact that no
clothes meant no room key turned the whole situation on its
proverbial ass.
    He let his forehead drop with a hollow bang to the door, resting
there a moment while thoughts spun in his head. He could see two
possible plans of attack for the situation he‘d haphazardly flung
himself into, one no better than the other. He could stuff down his
embarrassment of being locked out of his room, hop on the elevator
and head to the lobby, then casually, and charmingly, ask the front
desk clerk for another key. That didn‘t seem so bad considering all the
staff assumed the boys on the seventh floor were irresponsible, wild
rock stars, whose behavior wasn‘t expected to meet public standards
anyway.
    That assumption wasn‘t true when it came to Rylan and Gage who
had outgrown that particular part of their success and celebrity status
and were considered mellow, and perhaps even boring, in their circle
of entertainment friends now. They spent their free time in their hotel
room, or rooms, together, no breaking of furniture or drunken, noisy
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binges involved, except perhaps the loud objections and profanities
that spilled from Gage‘s mouth when Rylan kicked his ass at
Playstation or the over-indulgent passionate cries of the odd groupie
that Gage had smuggled back to their room. The latter situation had
happened less and less, a perfectly good thing in Rylan‘s mind. He
wasn‘t sure how Gage felt about it and if tonight was any indication,
Gage seemed quite happy to continue sharing their sex life with
others.
    Rylan didn‘t consider what they shared to be merely fucking but
since words like love, monogamy, and commitment weren‘t part of
either of their vocabularies, he wasn‘t even sure where Gage stood on
the issue of their relationship. And being the pussy partner of the
relationship, as Gage liked to tease, the less aggressive and demanding
one, he‘d never had the courage to ask Gage about it outright.
    Rock stars didn‘t do serious relationships, and if they did, it
certainly wasn‘t with another member of their band, whether that
person was of the same or opposite sex. They may have accidents and
incidents of unexpected monogamy, more often than not involving
one of their conquests getting knocked-up but unless Rylan had
misunderstood his high school biology classes, there wasn‘t much
chance of him, or Gage for that matter, getting pregnant.
    Rumors were always flying when Glitter Fox came to town;
rumors of bisexuality and orgies with groupies, and in the past, those
rumors had been somewhat accurate. But now, for the past couple of
years, the only orgies involved Gage, Rylan and some hot boy they‘d
dragged back to their room. The ever-changing, nameless faces were
usually picked out by Gage, then snuck into one of their hotel rooms
by their muscle-bound bodyguard, Chase. Chase was discreet and
reliable, and had been with Glitter Fox since its early beginnings six
years ago. He was loyal and didn‘t judge, something that was
important to the whole band.
   Rylan swiveled his head against the door, turning his body until he
was facing the opposite way then sliding down until his bottom hit the
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floor. He dropped his head to his knees, screwed his eyes closed and
just breathed in the quiet of the moment, trying hard to ignore the fact
his bare skin was touching carpet that was disgustingly dirty and
germ-ridden. He shifted so one leg settled beneath him, his mind
switching back to the situation at hand.
    His other option was, of course, to go back to Gage—Gage and
his twinkie, Gage and his nightly snack—but fuck, that seemed like
such a backwards turn of events. Not to mention the fact that Hunter
was Gage‘s type not Rylan‘s and whose fucking birthday was it
anyhow? It didn‘t really matter since Rylan wasn‘t interested in being
with anyone but Gage, and seriously, how did someone waltz back
into the room where they‘d just made a dramatic show of storming
out?
    Either way he‘d lose even more of his dignity, more than he‘d
already given up in front of Gage and the kid. Either way he‘d end up
feeling stupid and embarrassed. Perhaps he could just sit here and wait
for one of the other band members to saunter by, not that there was
much chance of that happening given the late hour, and really, how
was that any less stupid or embarrassing?
    He was tired and truth be told, fed up with life on the road at the
moment. He needed a break to digest all the feelings he‘d been
having, all the ponderings and confusion he was feeling about him and
Gage, Gage and him, them together, them apart. He didn‘t even know
when he‘d started thinking in terms of relationships and commitment
instead of one-night stands, fuck toys and just getting laid. All he
knew was one minute he‘d been fine with their casual, open lifestyle
and the next he felt possessive and pouty whenever someone else
shared his and Gage‘s evenings.
    He could blame his behavior tonight on the fact it was his
birthday, make it seem more like a selfish me, me, me display of
acting out rather than what it really was. But maybe age did have
something to do with it. Maybe turning thirty-five put him into some
different phase of his life. Was he like some woman feeling her
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biological clock ticking? Was he craving domesticity? No, that was
just wrong. He still wanted to rock out every night, stand sweaty and
turned-on in front of the band‘s adoring fans, his Les Paul tucked
securing against his body, the crowd screaming his name during his
solos.
    No, that part of his life was fine, fucking great even. It was being
with Gage that kept his brain churning in a schizophrenic labyrinth of
distraction, his mind going this way and that, jumping from one
extreme to the other.
     He wanted Gage all to himself—he didn‘t mind sharing Gage as
long as they were together. He needed Gage to be satisfied with only
Rylan as his lover—Gage needed to be who he was and Rylan was
satisfied to just be part of his life. He wanted to spend the rest of his
life with Gage—he was happy to be with Gage as long as Gage still
wanted him, in any way he wanted him, with whoever else he wanted
to be with.
    The sound of a door opening down the hall broke him from his
self-reflection, his whole body going guitar-string taut. He lifted his
head to see the twink strolling toward him, arms weighed down with
loot; Glitter Fox posters, pictures and assorted other things including a
brand new black T-shirt draped loosely around his neck. Rylan took a
deep breath and lifted himself from the floor, crossing his arms over
his chest and leaning a hip against the wall. He could do this. He
could keep things the same if that‘s what kept him with Gage.
    ―Yo, dude,‖ the kid drawled, a huge ass grin spread across his
face. ―Look at all the shit Gage gave me, man!‖
    He stopped right in front of Rylan, planting himself in the
guitarist‘s personal space and bouncing excitedly from one foot to the
other. Rylan held his ground, one part of him annoyed as hell at the
nerve of the kid and the other, a little impressed for the exact same
reason.
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   ―Looks like a good haul,‖ Rylan said softly, maintaining his alpha
male pose and looking the excited youngster square in the eyes. ―Was
awfully quick though—‖
   ―Gage wanted me to give these to you, man. He said you‘d
probably be hanging out here in the hall."
    Rylan huffed out a frustrated breath as Hunter held his hand out,
something white clasped between his fingers. ―You okay, dude? You
look a little... pouty. Want me to stick around and keep you company?
I could go down and get us a couple of beers. Well, I actually couldn‘t
do that legally but I‘ve got a fake I.D. so that won‘t be a problem. We
could have our own party in the hall, yo!" Hunter grinned widely
again, pressing something into Rylan‘s palm when he extended his
hand.
    No, just fucking no, Rylan‘s brain screamed, then, ―How old are
you, Hunter?" If Gage hadn‘t even bothered to check the twink‘s
I.D.—his real I.D.—Rylan was going to fucking kill him.
    ―Almost eighteen, but everyone always says I look way older,‖
Hunter said proudly, readjusting the bundle of goodies he clutched to
his chest, the huge-ass grin never faltering. ―So… you wanna beer?‖
   Rylan shook his head. Gage was fucking dead. So fucking dead.
―No, Hunter… thank you. You can just head out.‖
    Hunter shrugged and slipped one hand into his front pocket,
fingers wrapping around what appeared to be a cellphone. ―Okay,
cool. My mom‘s waiting in the car anyhow. She said I couldn‘t come
unless I aced my biology test tomorrow so I gotta hit the books hard. I
was wondering if I could snap a quick pic for my Facebook. My
friends are gonna fucking flip out.‖
    Rylan loosely draped an arm around Hunter‘s shoulders, faking
his best rock star smirk as Hunter pulled him close. Hunter kept
hanging on when he pulled the phone back, studying the picture for a
moment then laughing out loud. ―Fucking cool! Thanks, dude. Great
meeting you guys. See you at your next show, right?‖
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    ―Right.‖ Rylan struggled to maintain a calm, casual look on his
face despite the roaring inside his head. The kid wasn‘t even eighteen,
was still in high school and his mother was waiting in the fucking car?
What the hell kind of universe had he been dropped into?
    ―Have a good one, man!‖ Hunter called behind him as he bounded
down the hall toward the elevator, abruptly turning and lifting a hand
in the air. ―Oh fuck, I forgot! Gage said he was gonna do some
bubbles if you wanted to join him… No! He was gonna indulge in
some bubbles. Don‘t know what that means but, well… see ya!‖
     ****
    Rylan waited until Hunter had disappeared into the elevator, then
smacked his hand against the wall. Gage had some goddamn nerve!
Inviting an underage kid back to their room, fucking him then
expecting Rylan to warm his bed for the rest of the night? He shoved
at the wall again, maybe even stomped his bare feet a little in
frustration and anger. Jailbait? Sloppy seconds? Seriously? Holy
fucking Christ!
    Remembering the items Hunter had placed in his hand, he opened
his fingers to find two of the hotel‘s magnetic key cards—two, not
one, two. Leave it to Gage to make it difficult, not that it really
mattered since he could just try both in the door of his room, but at the
back of his mind he knew when Gage was involved, there had to be a
catch.
    He fingered the cards, flipping them over and studying the backs.
One was blank, except for the expected black stripe running across the
center of the card and the hotel name written in plain black letters
beneath it. The other card made Rylan shake his head in disbelief, his
mind struggling to control the ridiculous fluttering of his heart.
Fucking Gage. Staying mad at him for any length of time was always
impossible for Rylan. No matter how he hard he tried, how cold and
distanced Rylan attempted to be, how badly Gage screwed up, he just
couldn‘t get him out of his mind, out of his heart.
     Fucking Gage.
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     ****
    The plastic card slid easily into the slot, the snick of the electronic
mechanism resonating in the empty hallway. Rylan carefully turned
the knob, his decision still not clear in his head, but then pushed the
door open anyway. The suite was dark except for a horizontal slit of
light shining across the floor at the opposite end of the room. It
illuminated the richness of the suite, casting intricate and interesting
shadows on the walls and furniture, as well as laying a path to where
Rylan needed to go.
    He moved toward the light, swearing under his breath as he
stubbed his toe on what he thought was a shoe or boot or maybe even
a beer bottle. He tossed one of the key cards on the table as he passed
by, clutching the other one in his hand and running his thumb over the
side with the magnetic strip. He could just call it a night, go straight to
bed and deal with everything in the morning. That would be the
logical solution, the one guaranteed to help him keep his cool with
Gage, to not get all emotional and pissy with him. Gage was just Gage
after all. He‘d never change and Rylan wasn‘t in the mood to try and
explain how he, himself, had changed almost in the blink of an eye.
What Gage did was his business and it wasn‘t up to Rylan to monitor
his actions, no matter what feelings he had for the man.
    The tingling fragrance of lavender assaulted Rylan‘s nose when he
neared the mostly-closed bathroom door. He hesitated, the bedroom
was only a few feet away, and he silently willed himself to just walk
on past the alluring scent of flowers and warm steam that wrapped
around him and snuggled him close. He snuck a quick peek through
the gap, dipping his head and knowing this was a battle he wasn‘t
going to win.
    ―Still mad?‖ Gage‘s sultry voice echoed in the bathroom. ―I‘m
sure I can make it up to you, babe.‖
    Rylan pushed the door the rest of the way open and sucked his
bottom lip between his teeth to tamp down his amusement. Though
the haze of the steam, Gage grinned at him from the over-sized tub,
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his entire body covered in water and bubbles right up to his neck. One
arm rested on the edge of the tub, a beer bottle grasped between his
fingers while his other arm moved slowly over himself under the
water. His eyeliner was smeared in a well-fucked kind of way, his lips
red, used, inviting. The whole scene was sexual and heated, the image
straight out of a cheesy porn movie except for….
    ―What‘s with the stupid hat?‖ Rylan asked. He moved closer to
the tub, stopping a few feet away and hoisting himself up onto the
countertop, pulling off his fingerless gloves and tossing them beside
him.
    Gage grinned wider and tipped his head to the side. ―How fucking
old are you, man? Don‘t remember the birthday hats we all wore
when we were kids?‖
    ―I know I never wore one like that. Is there a reason you‘re
wearing it in the tub?" Gage was not going to get under his skin.
Rylan could be strong. He could do this. He could spill his guts to
Gage and handle whatever the outcome may be or… he could keep
things just the way they were and be happy with them.
     ―Because it‘s your birthday, dude."
    ―Gage…‖ Rylan hissed. He knew Gage prided himself on pulling
the wool over everyone‘s eyes so they thought he was just some
addle-brained rocker, but Rylan knew the truth. Gage had an I.Q. that
could stun the brightest scientist. He‘d been accepted into three major
universities after high school, full scholarships, full rides, but he‘d
went with his dream of forming a band, traveling the world and
sharing his gifted voice and stage presence with everyone who was
willing to listen. Rylan was glad he chose the path he did, glad he
chose him to take that journey, but that did not mean he‘d let Gage get
away with playing dumb with him.
   ―Come on, babe. You love the bubbles as much as I do. Come
on… take a dip.‖
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    Rylan couldn‘t control the lopsided grin that took over his face.
He shook his head and huffed out a chuckle. ―If your fans could only
see their hot, manly, sex-on-legs leader covered in smelly lavender
bubbles, surrounded by romantic candles and wearing a pink birthday
tiara on his head.‖
    ―Don‘t forget the little surprise under the water,‖ Gage teased,
arching his body, the head of his dick grazing the top of the water.
―Bet they‘d already be in the tub with me.‖
   Rylan dipped his head, swinging his legs back and forth under the
counter, fingertips gripping the marble countertop as he sought the
words he wanted to say.
  ―Uh oh. Something tells me this little fella‘s gonna have to wait.
What‘s going on, Ry?‖
    Rylan took a big breath and looked up at Gage. ―You slept with a
teenager. You trying to get yourself arrested, man?‖
    ―What? How can you even think that?‖ Gage‘s voice was high
with disbelief but he quickly recovered, smiling gently at Rylan.
―Come on, Ry. Jump in here and we‘ll talk. I promise.‖
   ―No,‖ Rylan insisted, lowering his eyes to settle on his thighs.
―This is serious, Gage.‖
     ―I didn‘t fuck him.‖
   ―Don‘t lie to me. He‘s totally your type and I saw how happy he
was when he left.‖
    ―He used to be my type… with a few years added on.‖ Gage
smirked but continued. ―But he was only a messenger, babe. Just a fan
doing me a favor.‖
   ―Is that what you call it now?‖ Rylan hissed. He wanted to believe
Gage, he really did, but the facts just seemed to speak for themselves.
    A sudden whoosh of water filled the uncomfortable silence of the
bathroom and Gage was standing in front of Rylan; soaking wet, suds
dripping off his body as he ran his soapy hands up Rylan‘s thighs and
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pressed his against his chest. ―I. Didn‘t. Fuck. Him,‖ Gage repeated.
―But, man, you were pissed before he even got here. Wanna tell me
what your problem was?‖
    Rylan tried to shove Gage away but the slippery body kept him
pinned to the counter and he didn‘t try that hard anyhow. Gage
smelled so good, looked so good wet and smeared and wanting him.
They stood that way for what seemed like a lifetime, staring into each
other‘s eyes, neither moving an inch, neither giving in to the other. It
was a common standoff in their relationship, a pissing contest,
something they often did just to see who would pussy-out first, who
would come out on top, so to speak.
    Rylan blinked first, his primal instinct kicking in, not to mention
lust and need, and the fact Gage was butt fucking naked and smelled
good enough to eat. The whole situation was just too strong for him to
ignore. He wrapped a hand behind Gage‘s head, fingers digging hard
into the back of his neck, pulling him forward and crushing their
mouths together. Gage tasted like beer and lavender and sweet
peppermint candies, the ones he wouldn‘t admit he was hopelessly
addicted to, the ones he always kept a supply of in the pockets of all
his jackets and pants.
     Gage returned the pressure, flicking his tongue over the crease of
Rylan‘s lips then pushing roughly inside. Rylan groaned when Gage
palmed the bulge between his legs, his cock rising to the occasion,
filling quickly beneath Gage‘s teasing, expert touch. Gage‘s other
hand skimmed up Rylan‘s torso, pausing in the center of his chest,
fingers moving to circle and flirt with his peaked nipples.
    Rylan suddenly couldn‘t breathe. He pulled away, gripping the
sides of Gage‘s head, thumbs caressing the sensitive spots behind his
ears. ―Why do you do this to me?‖ he hissed between gulps of much-
needed air.
    Gage smirked and pressed harder against Rylan‘s crotch, short
fingernails scratching over the top of Rylan‘s briefs. ―Make you
horny?‖ his voice rumbled.
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     ―Make me crazy,‖ Rylan answered.
    ―You‘re the one who‘s teasing,‖ Gage said, leaning in for a quick
kiss and brushing their noses together. ―I didn‘t have sex with the kid.
His mother was waiting in the car for Christ‘s sake.‖
     ―Then what….‖
    Gage mouth dropped open and his eyes grew wide. He planted a
firm hand on Rylan‘s chest and stepped back. ―Wait there. Don‘t
move a muscle or you‘ll be totally punished.‖
    ―What if I want to be punished?‖ Rylan called after him as he
watched Gage‘s beautiful naked ass leave the bathroom. Yeah, he
really wanted to fuck that ass before the night was over. But the
situation hadn‘t, and wouldn‘t, resolve itself, would it?
    He knew he wasn‘t doing a bang-up job of explaining himself, his
actions and his reaction to Hunter but maybe, just maybe, he could
just drop it for now. The last thing he wanted to do was lose Gage
because then the whole point of being in love with him… oh God,
there he‘d said it, or at least admitted it to himself. He was in love
with Gage, pretty sure it had been that way for a while, probably
throughout most of their relationship but for some reason it seemed
more real to him now, more demanding and important to get out in the
open. He didn‘t think Gage felt the same way, at least not in the I‘m-
in-love-with-you-and-don‘t-want-to-fuck-anyone-else-anymore way.
    No, they had something good going, something good together and
with the band, something that could be destroyed if Rylan made the
wrong choice in admitting his love for his best friend. He reached for
the key card that he‘d set on the counter beside him and wondered
again what the red lipsticked heart that had been scrawled on the card
meant. Just another one of Gage‘s teases, one of his sneaky tricks to
get Rylan to forgive him, to come back to the room and have his way
with him. The reasoning wasn‘t really that important anyway since it
had obviously worked.
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   ―Close your eyes!‖ Gage called out from the other room. ―Don‘t
peek or I‘ll kick your birthday boy ass!‖
    ―I‘d really prefer you spank it." Rylan chuckled to himself, the
key card forgotten in his hand as he closed his eyes and leaned his
head back to rest on the mirror. ―You better not have any more jailbait
hidden in here, Gage, or it‘s your ass that‘ll be getting whooped.‖
    He heard Gage‘s throaty laugh, the soft padding of feet on the
bathroom floor, then by Gage joined him on the counter. A strange
hissing sound filled the room and Rylan‘s face was suddenly hot.
―Open 'em,‖ Gage whispered inches from Rylan‘s face.
    Rylan gasped a little when he saw the lit sparkler staring him in
the face, not only because it was fucking hot, but because it was
attached to what he hoped was the most beautiful food known to man.
     ―Is that…‖
   ―A red velvet cupcake flown in from your favorite place in L.A.
and specially designed by moi." Gage grinned from ear to ear.
   Rylan returned the grin, looking adoringly into Gage‘s excited
eyes. ―You had one cupcake sent from L.A.? That‘s what the kid
brought?‖
    Gage nodded, moving the sparkler away from Rylan‘s face and
plucking it out of the cake. ―Unfortunately, you can‘t blow this sucker
out but you can still make a wish. Do it, man!‖
    Rylan studied Gage as he whisked the sparkler through the air,
making intricate designs with it then tossing it into the sink. He closed
his eyes and paused a moment. He knew what he wanted to wish for,
but this, this right here, was just about as perfect as anything he could
ask for.
   ―Done?‖ Gage asked. ―You didn‘t check out my superior design
work yet.‖
   Opening his eyes again, Rylan smiled at his lover. He looked
down at the cupcake, surprised to find something simple drawn in the
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icing. ―A heart? That‘s your big designer career move?" He chuckled
and lifted a hand to ruffle Gage‘s blond spikes, the ones that were still
accessible behind the pretty tinfoil tiara. ―I think you can take this off
now.‖
    Gage made a disgruntled sound and jumped from the counter,
returning seconds later with a matching pink crown in his hands. ―I
forgot to give you yours.‖
    Rylan shook his head and ducked away from Gage‘s intended
crowning. ―I‘m thirty-five years old, Gage. I‘m not wearing a fucking
princess tiara.‖
     The grin never left Gage‘s face as he reached up and secured the
glittery tiara on Rylan‘s head. ―That‘s why you should wear it, man.
You‘re not getting any younger. You gotta enjoy your childishness
while it lasts." He laughed out loud, obviously enjoying his little quips
way more than Rylan was.
   ―You keep forgetting that eventually you‘re gonna be my age, too.
Then you better watch out.‖
    Gage stopped laughing, cocked his head to the side, and made a
dramatic show of counting on his fingers. Rylan gave him a little
shove to his smooth chest. ―I‘ve got…‖ Gage said, tongue sticking
between his lips in concentration. ―Five, no six years until I catch up
but then, of course, you‘ll still be way older.‖
    Rylan grunted and dropped his chin to his chest. ―Argh, don‘t
remind me. I‘m pushing forty now. Don‘t wanna fucking talk about
being over forty.‖
   ―You‘ll still be hot,‖ Gage growled, moving his body between
Rylan‘s thighs, his naked, half-hard cock rubbing erotically against
Rylan‘s leg. ―You don‘t like my cupcake decorating skills?‖ he
suddenly asked.
     ―Oh no, they‘re really great… for a five-year-old.‖
   Gage smirked and wrapped his fingers around Rylan‘s right wrist,
moving the man‘s hand until it was between them then forcing his
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fingers open, revealing the key card. ―It matches the card, though,
right? Ingenious idea if I do say so myself.‖
    ―Only if there‘s some hidden meaning behind it,‖ Rylan answered,
not meeting Gage‘s eyes. He knew if he looked at Gage, his eyes
would just show too much, something Gage was always telling him.
His eyes made him an open book and at that moment, he just wanted
to close that book and stuff it back in the pile. ―So… you um… wanna
jump back in the tub? Might still be warm…‖
     ―I love you, Rylan.‖
    Rylan‘s breath hitched in his throat. He kept his head tucked to his
chest, struggling to control the excessive beating of his heart. Of
course Gage loved him. They‘d been best friends for years, had each
other‘s backs, fucked each other on a regular basis so of course that
meant they had strong feelings for one another, but that did not mean
Gage loved Rylan the way Rylan loved him. Taking an extra moment
to get his breathing under control, Rylan concentrated on shoving
away the fleeting rush of hope that Gage might actually be in love
with him and struggled to say something, anything, back to Gage.
    ―Yeah… um, me too,‖ he mumbled, picking at a loose thread on
his briefs.
    Gage‘s finger pressed under Rylan‘s chin, tugging his head up so
their eyes met. ―That‘s all you got? Me, too?‖
     ―What?‖ Rylan asked, pulling his chin from Gage‘s fingers.
    Gage made a low grunting sound deep in his throat. ―I told you I
love you. Do you know how fucking hard that is to say when you‘re
not sure if you‘ll sound like a whiny teenage girl or a big, sappy
pussy?‖
   Rylan couldn‘t contain his smirk as he saw the look of disbelief on
Gage‘s face. Gage didn‘t get frustrated… ever… but right now, Rylan
would swear that‘s exactly what he was.
    ―Why do you think I‘ve been getting guys that were your type
lately and not mine?‖
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   ―What?‖ Rylan repeated, startled by Gage‘s words, the smug
smile leaving his face. ―My type?‖
    Gage shook his head and took a step back, Rylan‘s knees
squeezing to keep him right where he was. ―Yeah, and I haven‘t
touched another guy in months.‖
     ―Months?‖
     ―Chicago.‖
     ―Chicago?‖
   ―Damn it, Ry. Have you suddenly gone brain dead and can‘t string
more than one word together?‖
    Rylan swallowed purposefully then attempted to clear his throat of
the rather large heart that was lodged there. ―What about Chicago?‖
    ―That‘s the last time I fucked anyone besides you,‖ Gage hissed,
crossing his arms over his chest. ―The last time I even touched another
guy in… that way.‖
   Rylan tilted his head in thought. ―But Chicago was two… three
months ago?‖
   ―Eleven weeks and three days of watching you with other guys,‖
Gage hissed again, attempting to pull away again.
     Rylan snickered and wrapped his feet around the backs of Gage‘s
thighs, pulling him forward so he tipped right into his arms. He
wrapped himself around Gage and squeezed, realizing he finally had
the upper hand. That happened so rarely when it came to the two of
them that his brain had taken a few moments to catch up, and as was
the case when Gage got one up on him, Rylan intended to milk it for
all it was worth.
    ―Ahh, that‘s so sweet,‖ he cooed in Gage‘s ear. ―You‘ve abstained
for that long… just for me?‖
   Gage snorted. ―Well, there hasn‘t been that many guys and I
wouldn‘t actually say I abstained,‖ he said, maintaining his stiff-as-
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fuck posture. ―I did you at least a few times during that sad,
depressing period of my life.‖
   Rylan snickered again when Gage turned his head and grinned at
him. ―You bastard!‖ he hissed. ―You just fucking played me!‖
   Gage laughed and wrapped an arm around Rylan‘s neck. ―Not
completely. But, man, you totally thought I was all offended that you
hadn‘t noticed.‖
    ―Fucker,‖ Rylan growled. He pressed their mouths together,
nipping lightly at Gage‘s bottom lip.
    ―Whoa!‖ Gage warned. ―No more biting. I may need those lips
later.
    ―There‘s no may about it,‖ Rylan said. ―You think you‘re getting
away with just getting me a fucking cupcake for such a devastatingly
painful birthday?‖
    ―A special cupcake… your favorite cupcake actually,‖ Gage
corrected. ―And no, that‘s not all I got you, Mr. Spoiled-As-Fuck.
Now if you let me go, I‘ll get your real gift.‖
     Rylan smiled and dug his heels harder into the back of Gage‘s
legs. ―Maybe I just want you to suck me off for my birthday?" He
lifted his hips and ground his crotch against Gage‘s hardness.
    ―Why settle for something you‘re gonna get anyhow?‖ Gage
teased, lapping across Rylan‘s lips then sticking his tongue in the
dimple in Rylan‘s chin. ―Now, let go.‖
    Rylan squirmed away from Gage‘s obvious ploy to distract him.
That damn dimple was just too fucking sensitive. Releasing Gage, he
leaned back into the mirror again and picked up the cupcake beside
him. He licked across the pink heart, the exquisite sugary flavor
stunning his tastebuds and making him groan out loud.
   ―You haven‘t started that sucking thing without me, have you?‖
Gage chuckled from the other room.
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    ―I wish,‖ Rylan said, taking another swipe at the icing. ―Fuck, this
thing is better than sex.‖
    ―Should I be offended?‖ Gage asked coming back into the
bathroom, a brown paper bag clutched in his hand. ―Is that what
happens when you get to forty? You replace sex with sugar?‖
    ―Fuck you!‖ Rylan returned, using a finger to snag some more
icing. ―And I‘m not forty!" He held his finger out to Gage, waggling it
back and forth. ―You taste this and you‘ll know exactly what I mean.‖
    Gage scrunched up his nose. ―Too sweet for me. Don‘t you
remember making me lick that shit off you? I was sick for the rest of
the day, man.‖
     Rylan chuckled. ―Then why the hell would you buy it?‖
    ―You love 'em. I love you. Simple as that." Gage stood a foot
away from Rylan, arms crossed over his bare chest, bag still clenched
in his hand, the look on his face almost a dare.
    ―That‘s the second time you said that." Rylan could feel his face
redden. What the fuck? He didn‘t blush. He was thirty-five years old,
not some lovesick teenager. ―What‘s going on with you?‖
    Gage shrugged and tossed the bag at Rylan, moving to stand
beside him at the counter. ―It‘s not that big a deal." Rylan frowned. ―I
mean… it‘s just kind of a given anyhow, isn‘t it? But you‘ve been
acting weird so I thought you might like to hear it." He shrugged
again and dipped his head.
   Rylan studied the naked blond man, heart beating wildly in his
chest, his face still flush with excitement. ―How do you do that?‖
     ―What?‖ Gage asked, lifting his head.
     ―Know what I need….‖
    ―Ah, man. Don‘t make it into some sappy thing. We‘ve been
together what… six years in the band?‖
     Rylan added the years in his head, then nodded.
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     ―And fucking around, like, five of those?‖
     Another nod.
    ―So that‘s almost a fucking marriage, Ry. And now I‘m gonna
make it official." Gage grinned wide, head dipping, motioning for a
stunned Rylan to open the bag in his hands.
    The rough paper bag seemed to burn in Rylan‘s fingers. His heart
pounded deafeningly in his ears, his throat went Sahara-dry and he
broke out into tiny pinpricks of sweat along his hairline. ―That‘s not…
I don‘t know what… this isn‘t what….‖
    ―Just open the bag, Ry,‖ Gage coaxed, laying a callused hand on
Rylan‘s shoulder, thumb rubbing gently over his collarbone. ―I‘m not
trying to freak you out. You‘re just freaking yourself out, man.‖
    Rylan‘s hands shook ever so slightly as he unscrunched the top of
the paper bag then reached inside.
     ―Nice wrapping, huh?‖ Gage teased. ―Only the best for my man.‖
    Rylan tried to squeeze out a legitimate smile but failed miserably
as his fingers sought the contents of the bag. He touched something
soft, not what he expected to find at all, his lungs finally unlocking in
his chest. Whatever it was, it was not a little blue or black or what-the-
fuck-ever colored box that he‘d expected… and maybe feared.
   Wrapping his fingers around the object, he pulled it from the bag
and was instantly smiling. ―What the fuck is this? Bracelet?‖
   Gage laughed and moved between Rylan‘s thighs. ―Dude, you are
so naïve for an old guy." Rylan smacked him in the arm. ―It‘s a
cockring… a specially made cockring.‖
     Rylan smoothed his fingers over the butter-soft, black band of
leather. He felt three snaps on the inside and quickly undid them,
flattening the band out in his hand. ―I‘ve never felt such soft leather,‖
he said, eyes wide as something else on the thin band caught his
attention. ―Mine?‖
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    ―I had them specially made and embossed. Hunter‘s mom owns a
leather shop and she‘s a friend of my sister‘s friend‘s cousin….‖
     Rylan shook his head. ―Your sister‘s friend‘s cousin?‖
   ―Nevermind,‖ Gage said, taking the cockring from his lover‘s
hand. ―Get the other one out?‖
    ―Other one…‖ Rylan‘s voice trailed off as he pulled a second
leather circle from the bag.
     ―Read that one,‖ Gage instructed.
     Rylan‘s lopsided smile couldn‘t be hidden. ―Yours.‖
     Gage cocked his head, his face soft and calm. ―I thought you
could pick which one you wanna wear… if you wanna wear one at
all.‖
   This was a side of Gage that Rylan wasn‘t used to and it made his
body hum with warmth. A sentimental, possessive, soft side that
Rylan only saw in private moments and only on special occasions.
    He took the first ring back from Gage and studied them both
carefully. Mine. Yours. Yours. Mine. Two simple words that brought
peace to Rylan‘s mind but how was he supposed to choose?
   ―So…‖ Gage said impatiently. ―Do you wanna be mine or yours?"
He waggled his eyebrows and smirked at Rylan.
   ―I‘m in love with you,‖ Rylan said, eyes determinedly meeting
Gage‘s sparkling gaze. ―Totally, completely.‖
     ―I know.‖
    Rylan gasped dramatically. ―Bastard." He laughed easily, both
rings still clutched between his fingers. ―I don‘t want to pressure you
about not, you know...‖
    ―Not having sex with others? Ry, I already told you I haven‘t been
with anyone else in a while.‖
     ―Can‘t believe I didn‘t notice.‖
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    ―You were busy,‖ Gage teased. He reached out and brushed a
smear of eyeliner from under Rylan‘s eye. ―I‘m done with that shit,
but I‘m okay with you still…‖
   ―Fuck no!‖ Rylan said too quickly, too loudly, too emotionally. ―I
mean… I‘m done, too.‖
    Gage reached for Rylan‘s hands, entwining them with his own.
―Okay, then, by the power invested in me… blah, blah, blah, yatta,
yatta, yatta… you may kiss the… groom." He leaned in and attacked
Rylan‘s mouth, bumping his head back against the mirror and
crushing their lips together. It was hot and harsh and sweet and
beautiful, and Rylan could feel so many emotions welling up inside of
him. He stuffed them down, losing himself in Gage‘s kiss, his lips, his
tongue.
    When Gage pulled away, his mouth was swollen and red, his
naked body sticky with bubble residue, his make-up smudged beyond
fixing. Rylan thought he‘d never looked more beautiful. He handed
Gage one of the cockrings, watching as Gage checked out the
inscription.
     ―Oh, you‘re choosing to be possessive?‖
    ―It is my birthday so yeah, you‘re mine, and I‘m yours. Works out
either way, really." He couldn‘t stop grinning, his face aching from
the silliness and joy that flowed through his body.
    ―Should we make it official then?‖ Gage asked, taking his cock in
his hand and rubbing the leather against it. ―Wanna put it on me?‖
    Rylan took the ring from Gage‘s fingers and set the pair down by
the sink, sliding his body off the counter and facing Gage dead-on.
―Later,‖ he murmured, reaching around and grabbing two handfuls of
beautiful smooth butt cheeks.
   ―You wanna fuck me?‖ Gage asked, moving one of his Rylan‘s
hands to the crack of his ass and leaning into lick Rylan‘s jaw. ―If I
remember correctly, that‘s what started all this.‖
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    ―Oh, fuck yeah. I wanna fuck you ‗til you scream like a little
girl… later." He squeezed Gage‘s ass, pulling him forward so their
cocks brushed against each other. ―Wanna come now though.‖
   ―Here?‖ Gage asked, dipping his hand in Rylan‘s briefs and
palming his hard dick. ―Whatcha want me to do? Suck you? Finger
you? Fuck you?‖
    Gage slid his mouth down Rylan‘s body, his tongue lapping and
flicking. Rylan let his head fall back when wetness swept across the
head of his cock. Gage held him still, fingertips digging into Rylan‘s
hips as Gage tongued his slit.
    ―No!‖ Rylan hissed, shoving his fingers in Gage‘s hair and
tugging him back to his feet. ―Want your mouth….‖
    He pressed his lips to Gage‘s, moving one hand so it wrapped
around the shafts straining between them, his thumb brushing over the
tips and spreading the pre-come over both the blossoming heads. His
tongue poked in the crease of Gage‘s lips and pushed inside, lapping
the hot cavern of Gage‘s mouth. He moaned when Gage‘s hand
wrapped around his and began a gentle stroking motion.
   ―Fuck, yeah,‖ he mumbled against Gage‘s mouth, nipping and
sucking at his bottom lip. ―This is how it happened the first time,
remember?‖
    Gage grunted and increased his strokes. ―You were ripe for the
picking.‖
    ―I‘m pretty sure, I picked you,‖ Rylan growled back. He sucked
his index finger into his mouth then pressed it to Gage‘s crack,
rubbing over his tight entrance. Gage tipped his head back and
groaned, the sound guttural and echoing loudly in the bathroom.
    ―Can‘t believe all the options we have… and you just want a hand
job,‖ he managed to gasp as the finger rubbed harder. ―Oh fuck,
Ry….‖
   Rylan tilted his head and sealed their lips together, removing his
hand from Gage‘s and wrapping it around his lover‘s neck, pulling
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him closer, nearer, tighter into his body. The muscles of Gage‘s belly
contracted and fluttered against his, both bodies moving as one as they
thrust in and out of Gage‘s strong hand.
    Rylan‘s lips ached from the pressure, his body beginning to writhe
and convulse against his lover. He was so close. He needed to come.
Fucking Christ, let him come. A wave of heat and red light washed
over his brain, his body bucking, cock pulsing in Gage‘s hand as his
release ripped through him. Hot come painted his belly two-fold when
Gage climaxed and screamed, fingers twisting and pulling in Rylan‘s
short hair.
    They stood quietly, panting, bodies glued together, foreheads
using each other for support. Gage moved his hand from between
them and slipped it around Rylan‘s waist, pulling him so tight Rylan
was lifted off the ground.
    ―Happy birthday, babe,‖ he whispered, letting Rylan‘s feet touch
the floor again. He let his head fall back a bit, bringing a sticky finger
to his mouth and licking at the come. ―Mmm. I think we even taste
better together.‖
     Rylan smirked. ―You always did have a way with words.‖
     ―I am a singer, you know.‖
     ―Really?‖ Rylan cocked an eyebrow and slid a hand over the
tattoo that graced Gage‘s shoulder. ―I figured you must be… with the
tattoo and all." His fingers traced the outline of the two foxes, nose to
nose, their tails crisscrossing and encircling either side of Gage‘s
bicep only to meet back up and form a heart in the crook of his arm.
    Rylan had designed the tattoo himself and, of course, his was
exactly the same as Gage‘s. They‘d played with the name of the band;
Heart of a Fox, Fox‘s Heart, Foxy Heart, but then Gage had decided
they needed something more glitzy, hence Glitter Fox was born in all
their glittery glory.
   ―Good birthday?‖ Gage asked, kissing Rylan‘s jaw tenderly.
Rylan nodded and returned the kiss. ―I sure outfoxed you, didn‘t I?‖
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     Rylan groaned. ―How long have you been waiting to use that?‖
    ―Probably since we started the band but you‘re usually too quick
for me to outfox.‖
    ―I guess it‘s okay then,‖ Rylan said. ―We could really use that
bath now.‖
     ―Water‘s probably ice cold, babe.‖
   ―Well, it‘s my birthday so get your pretty ass in gear and run us
some more water, bitch.‖
    Gage growled and snapped his teeth at Rylan. ―That‘s Mr. Bitch,
to you.‖
    ―Which makes me…?‖ Rylan asked, slapping Gage‘s perfect little
butt as he pulled away.
    ―Hmm,‖ Gage muttered, stopping in front of the tub, one finger
grazing seductively across his bottom lip as he turned to face Rylan.
Rylan shifted his feet, eyes scanning the full length of Gage‘s body,
pausing at Gage‘s already engorged cock, his own spent dick
hardening against his thigh. ―Mrs. Bitch?"
    Rylan snapped out of his haze, growling and sending Gage his
best death glare. ―Try again, Mr. Bitch, unless you never wanna get
laid again.‖
    Gage snickered then sucked his cheek between his teeth,
innocently batting his big brown eyes at Rylan. ―Okay, how about Mr.
and Mr. Bitch… has a nice ring to it, eh?‖
    Rylan angled his head, crossed his arms over his chest and
softened his gaze. ―Not bad but I think I should be Master Bitch.‖
    ―Wow, you‘re really milking this birthday thing, man." Gage
beamed and shook his head, eyes sparkling across the room. ―How
about we take turns with the master title? You know, like we usually
do.‖
   Rylan laughed, springing forward to tackle Gage, wrapping his
arms around Gage‘s sticky body and sending them both sprawling into
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the cold water. At the last second, Rylan managed to plant a hand on
the wall beside the tub, saving Gage from falling dangerously hard
against the tile surface, but still falling on top of him in the water.
    Gage let out an ―oof‖, then sputtered for a moment. ―You are so
getting punished now,‖ he gasped when he caught his breath. ―And
you better not have broken my fucking tiara.‖
     Rylan laughed out loud. Best birthday ever—tiara and all.
THE END
    Author bio: K. Lee Klein has lived in one part of Western Canada
or another for her entire life. She's a doting mother of three now-
grown kids and has had characters and plots running around her
head for as long as she can remember. Though this is her first foray
into throwing her original fiction out into the web universe and she
hasn't been published yet, she hopes to substitute her passion for
writing beautiful, emotional men for her previous jobs as a hockey
manager/coach, school band volunteer and overall chauffeur. --
     Blog: http://chaosinthemoonlight.blogspot.com/...
     Twitter: http://twitter.com/chaotic_heart
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Marguerite Labbe – TEARS OF THE SEA (Paranormal/Fairytales)
Genre: paranormal/fairytales
Tags: Shibari bondage, unethical use of magic,                      Dear Author,
clothes cutting, memory stealing,                                   This is David, tied up at
Themes: fairytales and myths                                        midnight on a sultry
Words: 16,432                                                       midsummer's eve.
                                                                    [PHOTO: Almost-liquid
TEARS OF THE SEA                                                    blue light pools over the
                                                                    arched-back naked body of
by Marguerite Labbe
                                                                    a bound and blindfolded
                                                                    man. Supported only by the
    ―Liam, what are we doing here?‖ David                           back of the wooden chair
hovered in the doorway to the bare room. It                         under his shoulders, he
held only one stick of furniture, a polished                        waits in stillness. His head
wooden chair sitting in the center with a closed                    tilts back, neck stretched,
                                                                    roped hands hanging, body
duffle bag lying nearby and a bucket on the                         tense under a perfect web of
other side. It reminded him uncomfortably of an                     white kinbaku bindings.]
interrogation chamber. Not that he had any                          Is he magickally bound by
personal experience with a place like that and                      his Fae lover; or is his
he didn‘t intend to start now.                                      vampire boyfriend playing a
                                                                    joke? Or is it his Master just
    Liam moved to center of the room and                            having a normal evening
looked up at the glass ceiling. The full moon                       indoors?
had risen early and now hung straight overhead.                     Whichever; but I hope
No clouds marred that perfect brilliance. The                       David enjoys the outcome.
light coming through the glass had a strange                        Love,
quality to it, a quality that tugged at David deep                  Carole-Ann
inside.
    He turned his gaze away, uncomfortable
with the way it made him feel. It had always
been like that when he looked at the full moon.
A sense of aching loss and drowning need that
made no sense. So David preferred not to linger
on it.
   ―Beautiful isn‘t it?‖ Liam glanced over his
shoulder at him before turning his attention
back to the sky. The moonlight limned his
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friend‘s lean body reawakening that oh-so-familiar desire that David
fought since the first moment he met Liam. That they were both
married and not to each other didn‘t seem to faze his baser instinct
one bit. ―Almost like looking at it from under the water. Not quite, but
close. You ever miss that, staring at the night sky from under the
water?‖
    ―Dude, I can‘t swim. You know that.‖ David frowned and came
further into the room, letting the door latch shut behind him. Liam had
driven for two hours, just to bring him to an oddly familiar empty
room. And it had been impossible to get any words out of him during
the trip. ―I thought you couldn‘t swim either. And why the hell would
you want to at night? Sounds dangerous.‖
    ―We used to, years ago.‖ Liam turned toward him, his eyes intent
in a way that made David want to take a step back. ―Don‘t you
remember, swimming in the moonlight in nothing but our skins?‖
    ―Okay, now I know you‘ve been smoking something. I never
should‘ve let you talk me into this outing. Come on, our husbands are
probably wondering where the hell we are.‖ David had never gone
skinny dipping in his life and he definitely would‘ve remembered
going with Liam if he had. It was time to get home before David did
something he would probably regret in the morning. Liam had not
brought him out all this way for a secret tryst and it had been wrong of
him to even consider the idea.
     ―I‘m not going back to Donovan. Not ever again.‖
    David stared at Liam in shock. The moonlight poured over his
face, sharpening angles, deepening shadows and David had the
strange, unpleasant feeling that this Liam was not the same man he‘d
gotten to be friends with in the last two years.
    His eyes roamed over Liam‘s face, picking out the differences
since last weekend. He looked as if he hadn‘t shaved since then. A
thick stubble on covered his jaw and cheeks and even his brows
seemed heavier than normal. The change from his usual tidy
appearance to something almost untamed had provoked a wild
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response in David. Perhaps that was why he‘d gotten into the car with
him without bothering to tell his husband that he was going to hang
out with Liam for a bit.
    David had to look away inexplicably torn between the urge to flee
and go back to where everything was safe and normal, and the urge to
stay and find out what was going on with Liam. They shared a quiet,
unspoken bond. One that David had never quite understood, but
chalked it up to them being married to twin brothers. Only now that
bond didn‘t seem so quiet anymore and all those feelings that David
had dammed away stirred inside of him.
    ―I wondered when you‘d be ready to talk. Why don‘t you tell me
what‘s going on with you and Donovan?‖ If Donovan hurt him…
David broke off that thought and forced his hands to unclench,
stunned by the depth of his protectiveness.
     ―I don‘t even know where to start. Him and Anthony both.‖
    David drew back at the sound of his husband‘s name and fiddled
with the ring on his left hand, worrying it on and off with his thumb. It
had a tendency to slip free and he was forever losing it. ―What about
them?‖
   ―They‘ve lied to us, betrayed us, and took advantage of us in the
worst way possible.‖
    A cold, sick feeling settled in the pit of David‘s stomach at the
raw anger in Liam‘s voice. ―What the hell are you trying to say? That
they cheated?‖ He couldn‘t imagine Anthony or Donovan doing
anything like that. They were so controlled. They didn‘t seem to type
to let passion rule them unless they had an underlying reason. He
would stray before Anthony ever unbent enough to engage in a wild
affair. It would probably do him some good.
    ―Worse. So much worse.‖ Liam came toward him and once again
David had the insane urge to step back. Not that he thought Liam
would hurt him. He‘d never do that, but something fucked up and
strange moved in the humid, summer air tonight. Liam grasped him
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by the shoulders, stepping close in a way that had David‘s heart
picking up. ―They stole everything from us.‖
    David gripped Liam‘s biceps, giving them a gentle squeeze and
holding him at bay. His friend made him dizzy when he got too close
like this, always had. And David had the craziest little urges to fist his
hand in Liam‘s short dark hair and— He jerked his thoughts away
from that route. ―Liam look. Let‘s go to some diner and talk this out.
Things will seem more normal in the morning.‖
   He tried to extricate himself from his friend‘s grip. Liam shook his
head, his fingers digging into David‘s muscle. ―It‘ll be too late in the
morning. I‘ll be long gone.‖
    ―Whoa, wait. Gone? Gone where? You can‘t go.‖ Liam couldn‘t
leave him all alone. An inexplicable panic rose up that David couldn‘t
banish. And he couldn‘t explain either the thought or the emotion
other then it held him fast. ―I‘m sure you‘re blowing this all out of
proportion. Talk with Donovan. I‘m sure he‘s got a good explanation
for whatever‘s bothering you.‖
     Liam cupped David‘s cheek with a calloused palm. His thumb
rubbed back and forth along David‘s jaw, scattering his thoughts and
filling him with confusion and longing. It seemed familiar even
though David knew that Liam had never touched him like this before.
The longing he was used to, the familiarity unsettled him. He started
to shift back and Liam slid his hand around to the back of his head,
stopping him, and pressed their foreheads together.
     ―Do you trust me?‖
     ―You know I—‖
    ―Don‘t. I need you to really think about this.‖ Liam‘s eyes
gathered the moonlight and glinted fiercely. ―Because if this is going
to work I need your trust. I don‘t want to do this Donovan and
Anthony‘s way.‖
   David studied the hard planes of Liam‘s face: the dark almost-
beard, the prominent lift to his cheekbones and the full, sensual lips.
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He‘d never known Liam to lie or manipulate others and whenever
he‘d needed him, Liam had been there with his steady presence.
     ―I do trust you, Liam. Now please, tell me what‘s going on.‖
    ―I will, I swear. I‘ll tell you everything.‖ Liam stepped back and
led David over to the chair. ―I don‘t think words alone will be able to
convince you. I‘m going to have to show you what I‘m talking about,
make you feel it.‖
   David let himself be seated in the chair and he rubbed his palms
on his cargo shorts, trying to quell his racing heart. Liam crouched
down next to the duffel bag, rummaging through the contents.
     ―What are you going to show me?‖
    ―I‘m going to tie you down, strip away everything that seems
normal from you and hope that it will help you to remember who you
are.‖
    At those cryptic words, Liam rose with a length of white rope and
David‘s heart jumped up into his throat. Liam ran it between his
hands, fingering every inch of the length in a slow caress. David
should be afraid and he wasn‘t. Instead heat stirred David‘s blood and
he strained to look over his shoulder as Liam came up behind him.
―Kinky. Why don‘t we have this conversation somewhere in public
instead?‖
   ―I thought you said you trusted me.‖ Liam crouched behind him
and David‘s pulse leapt as strong hands closed on his wrists, drawing
them together.
    David trusted Liam. He didn‘t trust his own body not to betray his
attraction to his friend. An attraction that grew with every passing
minute. ―I do trust you, but this doesn‘t seem like a practical joke
kinda vibe. And other than that, I can‘t think of any other reason why
you‘d want to tie my hands.‖ The rope wound around each wrist
several times and loped around into a sturdy knot. Liam had done it so
fast that David found himself bound before he could really put up an
argument.
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    Liam pressed his forehead against the back of David‘s head. ―It‘s
absolutely not a practical joke. I‘ve never been so serious in my life.‖
Fingers stroked David‘s hair, brushing it back from his temple and
sending a shiver along his skin. ―It‘s a full moon on a Midsummer‘s
night. It‘s a time for breaking down barriers.‖
    ―When did you get all superstitious? You‘re not making any
sense.‖
    ―Do you remember how we used to play tag when we were kids?‖
Liam returned to the bag and retrieved a longer piece of rope. Once
again he ran it through his hands as if checking for weaknesses. David
would rather have those caressing hands on him instead. Maybe it was
best that he was tied up because his thoughts refused to behave
themselves tonight. ―We‘d get as close to shore as we dared and chase
each other through the surf. My mum used to get so mad at us.‖
    ―We didn‘t know each other as kids. We only met two years ago.‖
Where the hell was Liam coming up with this stuff? It would be nice
to still have one friend from childhood. It seemed like the only people
he knew in the world were Anthony, his husband‘s twin and Liam.
    Liam stood in front of him, straddling the chair in one easy
motion. David swallowed hard as that tingle of awareness went
through him again. This wasn‘t the first night that he‘d noticed how
good Liam smelled, making him want to bury his nose in the crook of
Liam‘s neck. It was harder to dismiss right now with Liam so close
and David helpless. His friend slipped the rope around the back of
David‘s neck so the ends dangled down his chest.
   ―Close your eyes and picture it.‖ Liam brought the ends together
and tied a knot several inches below his collar bone, another knot
above his navel and a final one just over his pelvis.
    ―How can I do that when I have no frame of reference for what the
hell you‘re talking about?‖ It was a stupid waste of time when Liam
really needed to be telling him how their husbands had betrayed them.
―What does swimming or tying me up have to do with Anthony and
Donovan?‖
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    ―Everything.‖ Liam dropped the rope with a shake of his head.
―You aren‘t even trying. You keep fighting it. I‘d hoped you wouldn‘t
need this, but I came prepared just in case.‖ He leaned over and dug
through the bag, coming up with a blindfold.
    David tried to move away from him, though he couldn‘t go far
with the chair digging into his back and his hands bound. If Liam
blindfolded him he would be completely helpless. For the first time,
true fear touched its cold fingers on him. ―You don‘t need that.‖
    ―Are you sure?‖ Liam cocked his head, assessing him. ―I thought
it might be easier to imagine what I‘m saying if weren‘t so busy
watching me and wondering what I‘m doing.‖
    ―Yep, see.‖ David shut his eyes and tried to picture them
swimming, but his mind kept darting about like a fly caught between a
window and a screen, both taunting freedom as they kept him trapped.
He hated feeling like that, like the how even the air pressed against
him, holding him captive. Warm hands caged his face and David tried
to pull back until he realized that Liam wasn‘t holding the blindfold
anymore.
     ―Let me help you,‖ Liam whispered, his voice warm and
compelling. ―Just listen to my words, don‘t fight it. We were about
eight the first time we ventured so close to shore without our parents,
filled with excitement and daring, urging each other on.‖
    The idea of two young boys swimming in the ocean unsupervised
was so incredibly ludicrous that David sighed. He kept his eyes closed
though as Liam continued. ―It was late at night, the moon almost set.
Not a full moon that night, just a thin sliver and—‖
    ―No wonder your mum was pissed at us.‖ David opened his eyes
and gave Liam an exasperated look. ―Two boys swimming alone at
night? Come on. We‘re both orphans. Neither of us ever knew our
parents.‖
    One of the things that had drawn David to Liam was the fact that
they didn‘t have a family to speak of. David didn‘t even know if had
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any brothers or sisters. He found it worrisome that Liam had now
concocted a whole fairytale family to replace what he‘d lost.
    Liam‘s eyes narrowed until only a glint of hard amber appeared
between the slits and his mouth thinned as his lips pressed together.
David shifted on the hard chair and wondered what his friend was
going to do next, almost with a thrill of anticipation. What the hell had
gotten into him? The full moon was making him as crazy as Liam and
the only thing that kept David from reaching for him, despite Liam‘s
obviously delusional state, was his tied hands.
    He did not expect what came next. Liam dipped his head, his
mouth settling over David‘s. Shock rippled through him and David
froze, his breath coming quicker. Warm lips moved over his as David
clenched his fingers around the ropes tying his wrists together. Holy
shit. Liam was kissing him. And not like a quick peck on the cheek
either. His stomach erupted into mad flutters and his heart skipped a
few beats as he leaned into the kiss.
    David‘s breath caught in the back of his throat as firm lips nudged
his own apart. A dizzying rush of need swept over him along with
another force that David couldn‘t quite explain that detracted from the
contact. As if phantom hands had reached inside him, gathered up his
will and carried it away leaving him bemused. Liam broke the kiss,
turning his face away and closing his eyes with an almost pained
expression on his face.
    ―What is it?‖ David asked filled with confusion over what had
happened. He yearned for another kiss, a longer one this time that he
could fully explore. And his friend was acting almost like he‘d
regretted the brief contact. David still felt dizzy from it, almost like
he‘d been drugged.
   ―I didn‘t want to do it this way.‖ Liam cast him a troubled look.
―But I don‘t have time to fight you every step of the way.‖
   ―I don‘t get it.‖ David wanted to pound his head against the wall.
The more he tried to understand what Liam was doing, the more it
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didn‘t make any sense. And his answers were no help. ―Look if you
don‘t start making sense, I‘m leaving.‖
    ―Try.‖ Liam stood back, giving David room to stand up if he
wished. He retreated back into the shadows, moving away from the
skylights so David couldn‘t read his expression.
     ―Fine.‖
    David set his feet under him and tried to stand. Phantom lips
touched his own, smothering his intent. David stared at Liam, his jaw
dropping as his will deserted him and fury took its place. He blinked,
staring up at him, his muscles quivering, straining to move and unable
to.
     ―What the fuck did you do?‖
    Liam lifted his hand toward him and moonlight gathered between
his fingers, dancing little drops of light that slid over his skin like
tears. ―I stole some power from Donovan. Him and Anthony kept us
captive these last two years, using this magic. It takes away a person‘s
control, makes them more biddable. The more power that is used the
more it can affect the mind. Say for instance, like rewriting a person‘s
entire past and making them forget who and what they are.‖
    David shrank back, a chill breaking through the sultry air. He
wished he could see Liam‘s face, but the shadows hid everything but
the gleam of amber from his not quite human eyes. ―Is that what you
did to me? You fucking used magic to trap me?‖
    Liam stepped closer and David breathed a sigh of relief when he
could see his features again. He couldn‘t miss the honest regret in his
friend‘s expression and it eroded the edge of his anger. ―Change your
memory, no. But I did use a little, just a bit, so you would fight me
less. And when this is over with I‘ll release you and beg on my knees
for your forgiveness.‖
    ―You can let me go and start begging now.‖ David struggled
against the invisible bonds that held him even tighter than the actual
ones around his wrists.
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   Liam gave him a sad smile and brushed his fingertips over
David‘s cheek. ―Soon. We don‘t have much time. I don‘t have much
time. You‘re going to have to free yourself from this. You can do it. I
have faith in you, but you have to find the answer within yourself.‖
    ―Dammit, let me go.‖ David‘s breath panted as he continued to
fight. He was going to get out of this chair, plant his fist in Liam‘s
face and use his own rope to tie the other man up. Then maybe he‘d
get some real answers instead of Liam‘s cryptic bullshit. ―Fucking
talk to me.‖
    ―This is what you need to know. Anthony and Donovan have been
using that same spell for the last two years to keep us with them. The
rest you‘re going to have to remember on your own. I‘m not going to
be like them and use the magic to rewrite your memories again. Who
knows what that will do to your brain? You can remember if you try. I
know you can. You‘re stronger than me.‖
    Liam glanced up at the moon, fear and desperation on his face and
the sight drained away the rest of David‘s anger. He sagged back into
the chair with a sigh and poked at Liam with his shoe as his friend
knelt beside the bag again. ―You keep saying you don‘t have much
time. What‘s going to happen if I don‘t figure out your little game
before time‘s up?‖
   Liam‘s shoulders sagged. ―Then I have to leave you behind,
knowing that you‘re trapped here. Knowing that you can‘t remember
us and what we meant to each other. Wondering if you‘re being
punished for my betrayal.‖
   David could hear the sorrow in Liam‘s voice and it tugged at his
chest. ―Then why don‘t you stay until I do or remember whatever it is
you think I should?‖
    ―I can feel the sea in my blood, rising and falling like the tide.
Can‘t you hear her crying for her two missing sons?‖ Liam moved
toward one of the windows on the other side of the room. David
couldn‘t see the ocean from where he was sitting, but he didn‘t have
to see it to sense it lying vast and fathomless not far beyond the
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windows. ―It‘s so hard to resist her song. We‘ve been gone so long.
I‘m not going to be able to help myself and once I‘m home again I
don‘t know if I‘ll be able to return. Not even for you.‖
    David didn‘t know what to say to that, where to even begin. Half
of it didn‘t even make sense, but the naked longing in Liam‘s voice
sent shivers through his body. This wasn‘t a joke or a game that Liam
was playing. Whatever it was, Liam believed it with his whole heart.
    He didn‘t like thinking about the ocean or any body of water for
that matter. He mind seemed to skitter away whenever the subject
came up. He‘d lived in Florida all his life and never gone to the shore.
He‘d never even noticed it before really until tonight when Liam kept
bringing it up. Despite the windows being shut he could almost hear
the surf, tugging at him, dragging him back toward sure death because
he didn‘t know the first thing about staying afloat.
    He watched in silence as Liam returned to the bag, mulling over
what his friend said. Wherever he was going it had to be very far
away if he wouldn‘t be able to come back. And that thought had a
long buried voice inside of him screaming in denial. ―You can‘t
leave.‖
     ―I can‘t stay. I hope that soon you‘ll understand why. And I‘d give
anything to take you with me.‖ Liam turned back from the bag with a
knife in his hand and David shrank back, the slats of the chair digging
into his shoulders. He tried to surge to his feet only to feel the
phantom caress of Liam‘s mouth against his, smothering his will. He
shook his head, torn between fear and anger. He glared at Liam who
still knelt a foot or two away. ―That damn magic feels familiar. Is it
really because of Anthony and Donovan or did you do it to me?‖
    David tried not to flinch as Liam touched his knee. ―I haven‘t. I
swear it. But it has been done to you, many times over the last two
years. And with far more power than what I used. Anthony twisted
you with it constantly. Donovan did the same to me.‖ Liam searched
his face with anxious, hopeful eyes. ―What else do you remember?‖
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   ―Nothing,‖ David snapped in frustration. ―You‘re fucking with my
head.‖
    Liam shrugged as he rose, coming to stand by David‘s side. ―I‘m
sorry. But I can‘t think of any other way of doing this other than
hurting you and I‘m not going to do that. So that leaves this option.‖
  David‘s heart raced as Liam sliced off the first button to his shirt.
―What are you doing?‖
    Liam didn‘t reply until all the buttons had fallen to the floor and
David‘s shirt gaped open. His friend‘s fingertips traced over David‘s
collarbone and he shivered at the sparks that the light touch generated.
It soothed his anxiety and for a moment he wanted to press himself
into Liam‘s arms. David stiffened and tried to pull back. He refused to
give into Liam‘s game. If his friend had tried to seduce him that
would‘ve been one thing, but he wouldn‘t accept this kind of
coercion. ―Are you working that magic again?‖
    ―No, not this time.‖ Liam‘s teeth flashed in the moonlight as he
smiled. Damn, David should not find that sensual look so enticing.
―Maybe there‘s just more between us than what it seems like on the
surface. Despite everything, deep down you still trust me. That will
make it easier for both of us.‖
    David‘s mouth went dry as the blade slipped under the cuff of his
shirt and smoothly cut the fabric up to his collar. The sultry night air
against his skin did nothing to help cool the heat that had sprung up
between him and his friend. He shifted, trying hard to think of
anything other than the fact that Liam was systematically cutting his
clothes off of him. And even more so, trying to ignore the way it made
blood rush to his cock.
   He should not be finding this such a turn on. Instead of focusing
on what was important like his predicament, Liam‘s strange behavior
and his absent husband. He found himself wondering what Liam
would do next. How far would his friend go? Even more disturbing,
how far did David want him to go?
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    The dull end of the blade felt cool against his skin as Liam moved
to the other arm. As the tattered pieces of his shirt fell away Liam
splayed his hand against David‘s chest, pushing the knotted rope to
the side. Heat rose up as his thumb circled David‘s nipple, not quite
touching the sensitive bud. It tightened, stunning David with how
much he wanted that touch.
   ―You‘re so smooth. It‘s not natural.‖ Liam frowned, his heavy
brows drawing together.
    Stung, David tried to shove the chair back away from him only to
realize that it had been bolted to the floor. ―I‘ve always been like that.
Maybe you should go fondle your husband instead of staring at my
bare chest. Last I saw you were all waxed smooth, too.‖
    He‘d always wondered why no hair grew on his body except for
around his cock and under his arms. He‘d never had to worry about
shaving, but it was just one of those things, like being allergic to
shellfish. He craved it, but refrained, knowing that eating it would
send him straight to the hospital.
   ―You saw me how Donovan wanted you to see me. They tried to
remake us in their own image thinking it would tame us.‖
     Liam stepped back from him and tugged his shirt off over his
head. David‘s jaw dropped open. Smooth, dark hair swirled on his
chest becoming thicker in the center as it trailed a path downward to
disappear in his jeans. It was fucking beautiful and David‘s hands
twitched as he longed to run his fingers through it, feel the texture of
it against his skin.
    ―Wait a minute.‖ David tried to shake himself free of the desire to
go to Liam, to touch him, kiss him and run his hands over that lean
chest. ―We just had that barbeque last week. You had your shirt off
then.‖
   ―And I looked just like you. Unnatural.‖ Liam lifted one heavy
brow. ―What does that tell you?‖
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    ―What are you, some kind of werewolf?‖ David asked, only half
joking. Normal men did not grow sexy body hair like that overnight.
For some reason he was very aware of the full moon shining down,
bathing him in its light. He had never believed in the supernatural
before, but this had to be the strangest night of his life. He couldn‘t
deny that Liam had done something to him, something unnatural.
Every time he thought of standing up, of fighting, that bemused
feeling came over him again. Scary that magic was an actual plausible
explanation for it.
     ―No, not a werewolf.‖
    ―Nothing is making sense anymore.‖ David closed his eyes, trying
to push out the wild, sexy image of Liam out of his mind. He pictured
his husband, blond, steady and oh so remote in many ways.
Sometimes he thought that the only person Anthony ever really
connected with was his twin. Just like David connected with Liam.
Like all four of them were with the wrong people.
    ―It will make sense soon. Just let go, relax.‖ Liam‘s fingers
brushed over his cheek and David resisted the urge to turn his head
and kiss those fingertips. He worried his wedding ring with his thumb,
trying to stay grounded as everything spun faster out of his control.
    Hands slid up over his cargo shorts and David‘s eyes flew open.
David gasped, his cock leaping at the sight of Liam kneeling in front
of him. The sudden image of those sensual lips wrapped around his
cock drove all other thoughts from his mind as Liam undid the button
to his shorts.
    ―You cannot fucking get me naked.‖ David tried to squirm back
so Liam wouldn‘t feel his reaction to him. ―Our husbands are going to
be livid. What the hell has gotten into you? We don‘t need to be naked
for you to do whatever it is you think you have to do. I can use my
imagination just fine with clothes.‖
    Another one of those sensual smiles flicked over Liam‘s lips as
the zipper whispered down. Fingers grazed over his shaft, making it
ache and David long for bare skin against bare skin. ―The marriages
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we made were a lie from the beginning. Do you even remember your
wedding day as anything more than a haze of senseless activity?‖
     ―Of course I do.‖ But when David tried to think back, tried to
picture the look on Anthony‘s face as they exchanged vows, or to
remember what kind of music they danced to at the reception all he
got was a confusing blur of conflicting images. Anthony‘s hand
fisting in his hair, his eyes burning. Them kissing and need pouring
over David‘s body in waves. Somebody shouting in the background.
He shook his head violently.
    ―I feel no guilt for looking at you and wanting you, even if that‘s
not what this is about.‖ Fingers curled under the waistband of David‘s
shorts, jerking his attention back to this moment. ―Don‘t.‖
     ―Would you rather I cut them from you?‖
    David‘s cock surged at the blatant, erotic image and Liam‘s brow
rose as he stared down at the bulge pressing against the open shorts.
―Well then, that answers that.‖
    ―Wait.‖ David tried to shift his legs away as Liam picked up the
knife again. ―Seriously, Liam, stop fucking around. What am I
supposed to wear on the way back home?‖
   Liam slipped the knife under the hem of his cargo shorts and
began carefully slicing his way up. ―If this all goes according to plan,
you‘re not going to need clothes ever again.‖
     ―I am not joining a nudist colony.‖
    His friend ignored that statement as he slit up the thigh of David‘s
shorts. David dropped his head back with a groan. That was it; Liam
was certifiable, only he couldn‘t really bring himself to believe that.
Liam‘s actions may seem insane, but the man himself didn‘t. He even
slid the fingers of his free hand under the fabric as he sliced it open to
be sure that he wouldn‘t accidentally cut David in the process.
   Excitement and anticipation shivered through him which was just
wrong. He was married. Mostly happy with his marriage, too. Only
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whenever he tried to summon up his husband‘s face again, Liam‘s
intruded instead.
    Air stirred against his naked skin, the knotted rope shifting and
David swallowed hard as Liam pulled away the ruined clothes, tossing
them in the shadows of the corner. David couldn‘t look at him.
Somehow it felt too right to be sitting naked with Liam close enough
to touch.
   Fingers skated over his shoulder and along the side of his neck.
David couldn‘t help the shudder or the way his head leaned to the side
exposing his throat. He had this crazy image in his head of Liam
swooping down and biting him there. ―What the hell are you, Liam?‖
   ―I‘m the same as you, only I remember who I am.‖ A warm hand
cupped his jaw, turning David‘s face toward him. There was a
desperate hope in Liam‘s expression. ―Are you starting to remember?‖
   ―It would really help if you‘d just tell me what you want me to
know.‖
    ―The spell doesn‘t work that way. I can‘t tell you. The knowledge
has to come from within you. I can nudge you. Do things to help you
try to remember, but I can‘t outright tell you. There‘s a trap in your
head. The twins planned it this way in case one of us remembered. I
was able to get that much out of Donovan, if nothing else.‖
    ―And being buck assed naked is supposed to somehow help you
out in your crazy quest?‖
   ―Do you deny that it feels more normal being in just your skin?
Even if you‘re tied?‖
     David never considered himself a nudist. Outside the bedroom or
the bathroom, clothes remained on. The thought of running around
naked anywhere else never crossed his mind until now. Strangely, it
did feel natural. As natural as breathing. He wasn‘t self-conscious at
all even with Liam being able to see the hard on he had.
   ―If it‘s so damn natural how come you‘re still half-dressed?‖ He‘d
meant it as a rebuttal, not a challenge and David‘s eyes widened as
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Liam took a step back and unbuttoned his jeans. ―Wait. Don‘t. Come
on, Liam this is ridiculous.‖
    ―Your point was valid, besides I feel trapped in these clothes.
They make my skin crawl. If it bothers you to see me naked, don‘t
look.‖
    David couldn‘t help the way that his eyes dropped down as Liam
pulled off his jeans. His already hard cock began to throb as lean
muscular thighs were revealed, covered with a light dusting of dark
hair. Liam‘s underwear followed and he turned, showing off his tight
ass as he kicked the clothes away from him. To his intense
disappointment, Liam‘s cock showed none of the excitement that
David‘s displayed. It lay limp against his thigh.
    He had the sudden urge to take it into his mouth, until he felt it
harden and suck him off until his friend‘s knees buckled. He‘d like to
see Liam remain unaffected through that. The thought took a hold of
him and he couldn‘t even blame it on the damn spell that Liam had
placed on him. It wasn‘t like the feeling that sapped his will when he
tried to struggle. The need was raw and real, making the last two years
of sexual experience with his husband seem bland in comparison.
    ―We‘re running out of time.‖ Liam took David by his arms, his
voice tense with urgency, and steadied him as he pulled David up
from the chair. David felt the heat from his friend‘s body, so close. Or
maybe it was just the heat of the midsummer‘s night, lying heavy on
their skin. He stiffened against the urge to lean closer and feel all that
delicious texture against his own smooth body.
    ―What now?‖ David asked as a bare foot tapped against his ankle
until he shifted his stance, spreading his legs wider. It left him even
more vulnerable and exposed then before. He drew in deep breaths,
trying to calm himself.
    ―I need to finish the harness.‖ Liam glanced up at the moon,
moving across the sky as the night grew later. Every muscle in his
lean body stood out tense against his skin and David‘s hands itched to
soothe that tension from him.
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    His heartbeat quickened as Liam crouched in front of him, his
mouth within inches of David‘s cock. An image flashed in his mind,
gone so fast it was almost like the a shadow left after staring into a
bright light, an image of Liam kneeling before him with love in his
eyes and David‘s hand in his hair. It seemed more memory than
fantasy.
    David‘s fingers curled into his palm as he tried to reach for Liam
only to remember that his hands were still bound at the small of his
back. He looked straight ahead and tried to will his cock to not react
to Liam‘s closeness anymore than it already had. He stared so hard
that when Liam‘s hands passed between his thighs it came as a
surprise.
     He jumped and Liam grasped his hips, holding him until David
felt steady on his feet again. Those beautiful, unnatural eyes stared up
at him in concern until David jerked his gaze away. ―I‘m fine. You
can stop touching me now.‖
    Liam rose in one fluid motion and moved around David. He
pressed closer, but not close enough as he brought his mouth to
David‘s ear. ―Beautiful liar, you‘re dying for me to touch you.‖
    ―I‘m dying for you to get to the point.‖ To his surprise the rope at
his wrists loosened and slipped free. Immediately, he felt steadier on
his feet.
   ―Fair enough.‖ Liam‘s mouth moved closer, his breath ghosting
over David‘s jaw. ―Now don‘t try to run or fight me. I really don‘t
want to use more magic against you. Okay?‖
    ―It‘s a little hard to run when your clothes are in a shredded pile
on the floor. It‘s not like yours will fit me.‖ David rubbed his wrists to
give his hands something other to do besides touching Liam. Besides
bending his friend over that damn chair and giving into the riot of
emotion and need inside of him. ―What now?‖
    David‘s breath caught as the two ends of the rope passed between
his thighs and a shiver moved up his spine. The rope brushed against
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his cock, slithered along the cleft of his ass in a caress that seemed to
be an extension of Liam‘s hands. The rope moved, teasing as Liam
tied more knots along David‘s spine until he finally passed the ropes
through the line against the nape of David‘s neck.
    He looked down, following the line of knots down his body and
feeling their mates along his back. The line lay slack against his skin
and David shivered again. ―I fail to see the purpose of these ropes.
They aren‘t going to stop me from kicking your ass when you‘re
finally done with your game and you take this spell off of me.‖
    ―The ropes put you in a different frame of mind from what you‘ve
been used to in the last two years. You‘re exposed, vulnerable, at a
distinct disadvantage.‖ Liam kissed his shoulder, leaving the warm
impression of lips as he moved back in front of David. ―You‘re turned
inside out. You needed to be jolted out of your rut, just like I was. It‘s
the only way you‘ll remember.‖
    David turned his head to follow Liam as he moved back in front
of him, bringing one end of each rope under his arms. ―Then what
happened to you? What made you remember, what I apparently
forgot, without the magic and ropes and friends going all weird on
you?‖
     Liam‘s face tensed as he slipped the ends of the rope between the
first two knots. ―Car accident. You know how they say your life
flashes before your eyes? Well it‘s true, only it made me remember
my real life, not the fairies and sugar fantasies that Donovan wove for
me.‖
    David‘s heart jolted with fear and he reached for Liam, searching
for injuries. ―Whoa, wait a fucking minute. What car accident? Why
didn‘t I hear about it?‖
    ―Donovan was driving this morning. I‘m not sure what happened.
I think a drunk hit us and our car went into the river. He was thrown
free and my seatbelt trapped me.‖ Liam shuddered, his forehead
glistening in the moonlight from what looked like sweat. ―It made me
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remember that time I was caught in the fisherman‘s net and you saved
me. Don‘t you remember that? Now it‘s my turn to save you.‖
    David could picture all too well the image of Liam trapped, water
pouring in as he struggled against his seat belt and it made him ill. He
reached for Liam again only to have his hands batted away. ―How‘d
you get free?‖
     ―The seatbelt buckle finally unjammed and I swam free.‖
    Liam‘s mouth firmed in determination and he pulled on each end
of the rope, opening a diamond pattern on David‘s chest. Moments
later he did the same in the back, tightening the ropes above and under
his pecs so that they hugged him. It jumped up David‘s awareness of
his predicament one hundredfold.
    ―Were you hurt?‖ David asked when Liam stood in front of him
again. He brushed his fingers over Liam‘s torso where some bruising
had been hidden by the moon shadows and chest hair. He followed the
diagonal pattern down from shoulder to hip where the seatbelt
would‘ve been. ―Where‘s Donovan now?‖
    ―At the hospital getting checked out. He didn‘t react well when I
stole his magic. I‘m fine other than a good sized cut on my scalp. Bled
everywhere, but it was okay once I got it to stop.‖
   Liam tugged on the ropes again, opening another diamond over
David‘s stomach. David caught him by the chin before he could move
away and tipped his head down, determined to see for himself.
―Where? Let me take a look at it.‖
     ―We don‘t have time.‖
    His friend tried to back up and David slipped his hands around
Liam‘s jaw, caging him. ―Look you‘ve got me naked, half bound and
trapped here. You want me to trust you. So give me something in
return and let me see the cut.‖
    ―Fine, but don‘t freak out on me.‖ Liam tilted his head and raised
his hands to part his hair. ―It looks worse than it actually is.‖
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    David winced at the sight of the long, jagged gash. The only good
thing that could be said about it was that it didn‘t bleed. ―Why didn‘t
you go with the EMTs? You should‘ve had that stitched or stapled or
something. Who cleaned it out for you?‖ Liam‘s hair had been
cleaned and there was some kind of slick coating over the wound. He
hoped that it was an anti-bacterial.
    ―I did it myself at home while I grabbed what I needed for
tonight.‖ Liam shrugged and moved back from David‘s touch. ―Once
I get back to the sea the water will help it to heal.‖
    ―Now this officially fucking insanity. It‘s over. I‘m taking you to
the hospital. You probably have a concussion.‖ No wonder Liam was
acting so damn weird and delusional. He could have a skull fracture,
or swelling. Why had nobody contacted Anthony to let him know that
his twin had been in an accident?
    Somehow David had managed to shake off the spell because
nothing stopped him from bending toward the duffle bag to search for
a spare set of clothes. ―In the morning this will all seem like a crazy
dream.‖
    Liam grabbed him and yanked him up against his hard, lean body.
David had a quick impression of heat and sinful texture before Liam
kissed him. David parted his lips and grabbed a hold of Liam before
he could break it again too soon. Both of them pushed and pulled at
each other, trying to get away and get closer at the same time. Liam‘s
tongue swept into his mouth and David kissed him back, vying for
possession, trying to take control.
    Liam tasted strange and familiar. It stirred all those emotion he‘d
been fighting, turned them from a yearning desire to a raging hunger.
Kissing Anthony had never been like this. Liam‘s mouth softened in
surrender and David growled, pressing his advantage as his arms
tightened around his friend.
   The ropes hugged his chest, digging into his skin a reminder of
why Liam was so dangerous in this state. Too late, David tried to pull
back only to feel a heavy lethargy sink into his bones. His mind went
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fuzzy and his thoughts and intent scattered. He swayed and would‘ve
fallen if Liam‘s strong arms hadn‘t caught him.
   ―Why‘d you make me do that?‖ Liam‘s voice cracked. ―I didn‘t
want to be like him.‖
   David tried to make a too heavy tongue work as Liam steadied
him. ―Wha-? Why?‖ His stomach roiled, rebelling as the rest of him
couldn‘t.
    ―We don‘t have time for you to take me to the hospital and I know
you. You wouldn‘t have taken no for an answer once you‘d stopped
kissing the damn breath outta me.‖ Liam‘s stark expression eased
some of the betrayal David felt over being taken over by the magic
again.
    His friend finished tightening the harness around him and David‘s
breath caught as one knot settled right against that sensitive area
behind his balls. The wicked, evil bastard. He glanced down at the
pattern of ropes hugging his body, any other time he might‘ve even
thought it looked good, but right now he had a hard time catching his
breath. Liam was hurt and delusional and who knew what he would
do next.
    ―It‘ll be okay.‖ Liam lowered him to the chair and once again
David‘s hands were tied behind his back. His heart started racing as
Liam drew out the blindfold again and he couldn‘t even struggle
against the ropes as it was tied on. He sat there passive, an impotent
fury building inside of him with each passing moment.
     What gave Liam the right to pull this shit on him?
    ―Just one more thing and then I‘ll release the spell on you.‖
Liam‘s hands cupped his shoulders and David jolted. The touch felt
strange and at first he couldn‘t get his brain to stop whirling long
enough to identify the problem. Then it came to him and he struggled
to draw back, a harsh sound of denial strangling in his throat. Extra
skin had grown between Liam‘s fingers, the membrane feeling extra
warm and the points of claws touched David lightly.
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    ―What?‖ Images flooded his mind, each freakier than the last and
as David fought against the hold on his will, broken, confused
memories came back of being caught up in this same feeling. Only his
tormentor was Anthony not Liam. Anthony with a chill smile and avid
light in his eyes that promised things David did not want to think
about. He jerked his thoughts back to Liam and those unnatural hands
of his. ―What are you?‖
     ―The same as you. I swear it.‖
    The ropes around him began to gently hum, sending a soft
vibration through his body. David gasped as inexplicably he felt the
moonlight on his skin, bathing him in light. It was cooler than the sun
and seemed to gather in the ropes making them vibrate faster. His
heart skipped a beat as his chest and hips lifted up, the harness
supporting him as he was lifted off the chair, his body arching. He felt
every rope, every knot as it cradled him and lifted him up like some
kind of sacrifice.
     ―What are you going to do to me?‖
    Those strange hands cupped his face now and David went limp as
he felt all trace of the compulsion disappear from him. ―I haven‘t hurt
you and I‘m not going to. I‘m trying to help you.‖
   ―You‘ve got a fucking funny way of helping. You put a spell on
me,‖ David snarled as he started to struggle against the ropes. They
dug into his skin, chafing him, but at least that was a sensation that
made sense. ―How‘s that any better? What kind of game have you and
Anthony been pulling on me?‖
   ―It wasn‘t me. I‘m trying to help you break free of it. Remember.
Fucking remember.‖ Frustration roughened Liam‘s voice. ―Has
Anthony, even once, ever removed that spell like I just did?‖
   David tried to think back, but the broken images of his past with
Anthony were too chaotic to make out. All he got from them was the
panicky feeling of being trapped as Liam had him trapped now. ―Let
me go.‖
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    ―I can‘t. Not until you remember or dawn comes. Not until you
give me some hope that you‘re going to beat this.‖ The way Liam‘s
voice dropped off at the end told him which scenario he preferred. He
touched David‘s chest, his thumb stroking as David‘s heart
hammered. ―I‘m not going to hurt you, see? I‘m not going to rape you
or do whatever it is you‘re freaking out about in your head. Please
calm down.‖
   ―How can I calm down when I can‘t see a fucking thing? When I
don‘t know what you look like anymore?‖
    The suspension of the harness, the light vibration made him feel
almost as if he were floating. Only the chair digging into the back of
his shoulder blades grounded him. Somehow through the closed
windows and door David could hear the pounding of the sea. The
sound crashed over him, threatening to drown him.
    Liam straddled him, his thighs brushing against David‘s hip.
―Listen to my voice. Whatever terrors Anthony implanted in your
head, they aren‘t real.‖
    ―Stop it.‖ David ground his teeth at the quaver in his voice. ―Don‘t
let me drown.‖
    ―You can‘t drown.‖ Liam‘s hand slid down his body, the tip of
one claw tracing the diamond over his stomach. ―Listen to me, there‘s
no way you can possibly drown. The sea is in your blood, just like it‘s
in mine. She takes care of us.‖
    ―Let me see you.‖ David lifted his head and tried to stare through
the blindfold. ―This is freaking me the fuck out. Take it off.‖
    ―I can‘t, not yet. I‘m sorry, but I‘m right here with you. Try to
remember what you were doing two years ago. It was a night like this
one, middle of the summer with the air so hot and heavy against our
skin even though it was night it hadn‘t cooled off one bit. Remember?
You‘d wanted to make love on the beach as the tide came in.‖
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   David could almost picture it, the water curling around their naked
bodies, Liam underneath him, moaning into his kiss. He shook his
head, shattering the image. ―We‘ve never been together like that.‖
    Warm lips pressed a kiss to David‘s naked hip and his cock surged
back to life. ―Then why do you react to me like that? I believe you
when you say you haven‘t thought of me as anything other than a
friend in the last two years. Anthony never let you, like Donovan
never let me remember how much I loved you.‖
    David‘s heart skipped a beat as an ache settled in his chest. Liam
loved him. Or he had once. The thought that he might have lost it
unsettled him. It was crazy to want something he never knew that he‘d
had, but David did.
   ―How do you feel about me now?‖ The silence dragged on until
David turned his face away, disgusted by the hope that had risen up.
What did he care? There were a thousand reasons not to give a damn.
―Never mind. Stupid question.‖
    ―I wouldn‘t be here, trying to help you when everything inside of
me is screaming to return to the sea, if I didn‘t still love you. It hurts
to stay. You don‘t understand how much it physically, spiritually
hurts. And I‘m scared. Scared that the twins will catch up to us.
Scared that you‘ll never remember and I‘ll have to live with leaving
you behind.‖
    David tried to steady his breathing and curled into his fingers into
his palms. He couldn‘t ignore that stark plea. ―I‘ll try. I don‘t
remember any of the things you say. Not swimming at night or being
with you, but I‘ll try.‖
    ―That‘s all I ask. I have faith in you.‖ Those strange fingers
stroked his skin along his ribs and as much as the ropes constricted
him they were almost as much of a comfort as Liam‘s touch. They
cocooned him and the vibrations, the inability to see transported him
to a place where all of his other senses were magnified. ―Close your
eyes and let yourself drift. Let the ropes take all your weight. Clear
your mind,‖ Liam said in a low, compelling voice.
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   David obeyed, though clearing his mind was a struggle. Too much
had happened in the last couple hours for him to settle down. ―Can
you use the spell to clear my mind for me?‖
   ―I could, but I think it would hurt you more than help you. You
need to remember on your own.‖ Liam‘s voice moved away and
David turned his head toward him. ―Don‘t leave me like this.‖
    ―If dawn comes and I have to go I won‘t leave you helpless. I
promise.‖ David heard the creak of a window opening and warm,
sultry air flowed in, curling around his body carrying with it the scent
of salt and life. In the distance, waves crashed against the shore,
continuous and rhythmic, a heartbeat that he‘d almost forgotten. ―Can
you hear its song?‖ Liam whispered from across the room.
     David could. The surf moved throughout his body, tugging and
pulling against it as the waves did the same to the shore. He could feel
it in his veins, hear the tide in his eardrums. The soft weeping sigh of
a bereft mother who‘d given up hope.
    How could Liam ignore that cry? It made every bone in David‘s
body ache with the need to submerge himself and become one with
the water. He gritted his teeth against it and strained against the ropes,
trying to close the distance between him and Liam. ―Don‘t leave me.‖
     ―I‘m trying,‖ Liam replied, his voice tense. ―Can you think of
anything that may have happened before you met Anthony? Like your
parents, how your dad used to sing when he thought no one was
listening? Or how your sister loved to play with divers? She‘d swim
up behind them and tug on their flippers only to disappear when they
turned around. Dammit, Dylan remember.‖
    Dylan. Liam had called him Dylan and it struck a chord within
him. David had never seemed quite right, like an annoying pet name
that grated his ears. Something shifted inside him and for the first time
he started to really believe what Liam was saying, not just think that
Liam believed it.
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    He didn‘t want to think that Anthony could be capable of doing
what Liam said he had. Cold, remote, beautiful, Anthony. Yeah, if
Anthony had wanted him bad enough he wouldn‘t scruple at using
magic or whatever else it took. It was a side of his husband that David
had chosen to ignore. And those little flashes in his head, those images
that made no sense only added to his belief.
    ―Dylan.‖ He tried the name out loud, tasted it on his tongue and
sensed the rightness. ―I‘m Dylan.‖
    ―Yes you are.‖ His friend returned to Da-Dylan‘s side and cupped
his face between his hands. ―Can you remember anything about us?
About me from before Anthony came?‖
    Dylan tried, combing back through his memories, but every single
last one seemed to have Anthony in it and the more he tried to probe
the time before him, the more it seemed like a black wall of water
ready to crash down and engulf him. He jerked, the ropes constricting
around him as panic clawed inside of him. It was so cold under the
water. His throat closed up, his lungs burned as he struggled to
breathe.
   ―Calm down.‖ Fingers curled around Dylan‘s hip. ―What‘s
wrong? Nothing‘s going to hurt you. I‘m right here.‖
    Dylan clung to the sound of Liam‘s voice, to the way his touch
felt warm and familiar to him, as he dragged himself out of the
hallucination. It seemed so damn real. ―Every time I try to force
myself to remember, I start thinking I‘m going to drown. Do you think
Anthony did that, too?‖
    ―I have no doubt. It would be another way to control you.‖ The
despair in Liam‘s voice had Dylan struggling to reach out to him. ―It‘s
the shortest night of the year. The moon is starting to set and I don‘t
know what to do anymore. Not if trying to get you to remember is
going to trigger that.‖
   ―Don‘t give up on me.‖ Dylan stopped struggling with the ropes
and let them cradle him, trying to relax. He thought that his friend
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might have the right idea by tying, blindfolding and suspending him.
It made it impossible to concentrate on mundane details that would
only distract him. ―I‘ll keep trying. Maybe instead of trying to make
me remember you can show me what should be familiar. Like how
you told me my real name. I don‘t remember, but I can‘t deny that it
feels right.‖
   ―I think I have an idea. Hold on.‖ Lips pressed against Dylan‘s
and then Liam was gone to the sound of the door shutting.
     ―Wait.‖ Dylan twisted against the vibrating ropes. What if he
didn‘t come back? The ocean wasn‘t far away. Dylan could hear each
wave clearly. They rushed against the shore, whispering their song.
His heartbeat slowed down and he stopped struggling as he listened to
it, the sigh of the world breathing. He could almost picture the path
the moonlight made on the waters, beckoning him to swim out further
and further to see where that path ended.
    His body quivered against the ropes as it strained toward that
sound. It filled his entire being, rushed through his blood, and
pounded in his heartbeat, in a longing so absolute that it pierced his
soul with a haunting cry of loss. If Liam went near the water he‘d
never be able to resist such a call. He wasn‘t going to come back.
    ―Liam.‖ Dylan shouted and fought until his cries became hoarse.
Anthony would find him like this and there would be nothing he could
do to fight him off this time.
     This time?
    Vague, shadowy images flickered in his mind. A moonlit beach,
Anthony standing over them… Dylan shook his head and strained to
make the images clearer. They were arguing and then Donovan
reached for Liam and… No, no, his Liam. Not Donovan‘s. They had
been… As he fought to remember the wave came crashing down over
him. Dylan opened his mouth to scream only to have it fill with water.
Choking, he thrashed in the nets that caught him until a sharp smack
across his cheek snapped him out of the illusion.
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   ―Are you okay?‖ Dylan blinked as the blindfold was stripped from
him. Liam looked down at him, his eyes sharp with concern.
    Still gasping, he nodded, trying to catch his breath. The room had
darkened and he could no longer see the moon shining through the
window. The shadows had lengthened and their time was running out.
The tide would be turning soon, moving back out to sea. How he
knew that he couldn‘t say, but he could sense the tide in his blood.
   ―What‘s your real name?‖ Dylan lifted his head as Liam stepped
back, letting the shadows obscure him. ―It‘s not Liam. I‘m sure of it.‖
     ―Llyr.‖
   Dylan closed his eyes as his heart leapt. Dylan and Llyr. The
names fit together like two missing pieces of a puzzle. ―Friends first
and then lovers?‖
   ―Well, to be honest I thought you were an arrogant git when I first
met you and you thought I was a pisser.‖
   Dylan‘s eyes flew open and he met Llyr‘s amber gaze. ―What
changed that?‖
    ―You dared me to nose around a boat off the shore and I went like
an idiot, got caught in a fisherman‘s net.‖ Llyr stepped closer to him,
his hands caught behind his back so Dylan couldn‘t see what they
looked like. ―You rescued me even though you could‘ve gotten caught
too and when we returned with me all cut and bruised I told our
parents that I acted on my own and kept you out of trouble.‖
     Dylan craved more stories like a man dying for want of food and
water. He had all those connections when he‘d thought he was alone
in the world except for Anthony and his friendship with Llyr. He
wanted to know more about his parents, his sister, if he had any other
siblings and where they lived and absolutely everything he could find
out.
   He forced himself to curb his impatience. With every second the
sky grew darker and soon the horizon would start to pale. He had to
remember. He couldn‘t go back to being alone again. ―What else
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would be familiar? What did you bring back?‖ Dylan sniffed the air
and smelled the sand and sea clinging to Llyr‘s skin. ―You went down
to the water.‖
   Llyr‘s eyes lit up as he came by Dylan‘s side. ―I did. I brought
back a bucket of water. You should‘ve seen it, Dylan. It looks like it
goes on forever. Somehow, at dawn, we‘ll go together out there.‖
   ―Maybe you should blindfold me again. That made it easier.‖ As
much as Dylan wanted to keep looking at him he wanted to get this
over with as soon as possible.
     ―I do not like seeing you so helpless, even if I was the one to do
it.‖ Llyr leaned over to grab the fallen strip of cloth. ―You should be
free.‖
    ―Just keep doing what you‘re doing and I will be.‖ Dylan refused
to believe anything else. ―Then later on I can tease you about the time
you had me all tied up in a pretty package and completely neglected
the opportunity for helpless debauchery.‖
     Llyr‘s breath caught and Dylan had the satisfaction of seeing his
friend‘s cock stir. It filled him with a mix of triumph and guilt. Llyr
wasn‘t as unaffected as he seemed and still in the back of his mind a
little voice wailed, what about his husband.
    What really fucked with him was not knowing if that voice was
his own or one implanted by Anthony. Had anything between them
been real?
    As Llyr tied the blindfold on, Dylan worried the band on his
finger until it fell, bouncing across the tiled floor. It was like an
anchor had lifted from him and Dylan drew in a shuddering breath.
Every time he thought of Anthony the sick, little knot of betrayal in
his stomach grew larger. Inexplicable memories played over in his
head. Them arguing and suddenly the argument would be over and
they would make love. Or the time he‘d been dead set on them taking
a cruise and over one conversation at dinner he‘d lost complete
interest in it.
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     Llyr brushed up against him and Dylan turned his thoughts from
all those manipulated memories. He craved Llyr‘s touch. He wanted
to know if it felt as good as his kisses. Because the two they‘d shared
had been nothing like any kisses he‘d had before. If they‘d been
lovers, then surely Llyr‘s touch would be as familiar as their real
names.
    Cool, wet hands cupped his cheeks, a thumb brushed over his lips,
leaving behind the taste of brine. It came as a shock. It was more than
just salty with a wild quality to it that Dylan couldn‘t identify and it
made his heart leap. He flexed his hands, straining to lift his body up
higher. ―More.‖
    He wanted to immerse himself in the water, feel it against his skin.
More liquid dribbled over his body, refreshing against the heat of the
night. Again and again, he heard the splash of Llyr dipping his hands
in the bucket and the water beaded on his skin, ran down until it
collected against the ropes. The weeping of the sea grew stronger. It
wrapped around him and called him home.
    Dylan shuddered. He would drown. His body and heart longed for
one thing and his mind knew better. Whatever he may have been
before, he was human now. And a human couldn‘t survive in the deep
expanse of the ocean. He‘d die within minutes.
     ―May I touch you?‖ Llyr whispered. ―It‘s been so long.‖
    Dylan tried to arch his body against the ropes, but there was no
leverage to do so. Not with the way the magic held him up. ―Please. I
thought you didn‘t want me. Show me how it was between us.
Remind me.‖
    He dropped his head back as warm lips feathered across his throat.
Llyr straddled him, his thighs brushing against Dylan‘s, his hands
resting on Dylan‘s shoulders for balance. Llyr nuzzled him with a soft
sigh. ―I‘d forgotten what you smelled like.‖
    Dylan shivered and turned his head, blindly searching for his
friend‘s lips. ―Kiss me again.‖
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    Llyr rubbed his cheek against Dylan‘s jaw and the sensation sent
prickles through his body. He never imagined stubble could feel so
damn sexy. It awoke every nerve ending as every part of his body
begged for the same time of attention. His cock rose and bobbed
against the underside of Llyr‘s shaft, sending up a flurry of sizzling
sparks.
   He clenched his hands into fists and then started worrying at the
knots. He desire to touch Llyr, to hold him down and taste him, to
make love to him blotted out the song from the ocean. He‘s rather
hear the sounds Llyr made as they came together.
    Their lips met, at first just moving against each other, little nibbles
and open mouthed exploring that slowly deepened. Dylan slid his
tongue into Llyr‘s mouth, paying close attention to every nuance, the
heat of his mouth, the way he tasted so achingly familiar. Dylan‘s
arms strained against the ropes. He needed to bury his hand in Llyr‘s
rich brown hair, hold him to the kiss as it turned wild and wanton.
    Hands slid down his chest, impeded by the ropes. Fingers toyed
with Dylan‘s nipples, hardening them into little nubs. The ropes began
to vibrate more and Dylan gasped, tearing his mouth away as that one
wicked knot teased against the area behind his balls.
    Dylan‘s cock throbbed and he attacked the knots around his wrists
until the ends of his fingers turned numb and he couldn‘t feel the
knots anymore. ―Untie me.‖
    Llyr‘s hands left his body and Dylan cursed, lifting his head. He
didn‘t have to see Llyr‘s face to sense his reluctance. ―I‘m not going
to try to escape or knock you out and take you to a hospital even if
I‘m worried about you. I just want to touch you and see you and taste
you all over. This doesn‘t feel right, being all bound up. Untie me,
Llyr. Let me claim you.‖
    ―Dylan.‖ Llyr breathed his name into the hot, still air. ―We don‘t
have time for that. No matter how much we both may want it. You
said that remaining tied up helped you.‖ His hands returned, sliding
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over the narrow ropes to cup Dylan‘s buttocks. They squeezed and
lifted him up even more, brushing their cocks together.
    Dylan swallowed hard at the little rush of electricity and once
again he started fighting the ropes, trying to get to him. ―Unless you
want me to rub my wrists raw I‘d suggest you let me go. Did you ever
tie me up in the past? I don‘t think so. I‘m not sure where you learned
this pretty bondage thing, but it wasn‘t with me. Your touch is
familiar and I want the chance to touch you in return.‖
    ―I‘d forgotten what a persuasive bastard you are.‖ Llyr kissed the
center of his chest, right between one of the diamonds. His hot tongue
flicked out, tracing a similar pattern on Dylan‘s skin. ―Not this time,
Dylan. You should see how you look. I wish I could take a picture.
All that strength in you, your muscles standing out, making the ropes
seem like nothing more than decorations. Even bound and vulnerable
you don‘t seem helpless at all, not to me.‖
    Dylan followed the path of Llyr‘s lips as they slid up to his throat
before working its way back again. The image of Llyr straddling him,
lean muscles tense as he held him up, kissed and licked his bare body,
burned in Dylan‘s mind.
    ―What if it‘s our last night together?‖ Llyr went still and Dylan
knew he had won the battle. ―Let me have this time with you. Once
again on the beach, like you said how our last time had been. If
anything will help me remember that will.‖
    Llyr bit his shoulder with a soft groan and Dylan‘s body jolted as
another broken piece of his past came back to him. Llyr was a biter
when he got all worked up. Not hard enough to break the skin or to
bruise, just enough to leave little marks all over Dylan‘s body some
nights. ―Fuck, do that again.‖
    ―You mean this?‖ Sharp teeth nipped along his ribs, scored his
hip. Dylan hissed, his cock aching, his wrists stinging as he jerked
against the ropes around them. His entire body burned with the need
to bury himself in his mate.
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     ―Let me go, Llyr.‖
    ―You win. I don‘t know how to fight you.‖ A ripple moved
through the ropes and then Dylan felt his body start to lower back
toward the chair as the vibrations eased off. Dylan waited, his body
tense with anticipation. Llyr untied his wrists first, gently chafing the
sore areas where Dylan had fought against his bonds, before stripping
the blindfold from him.
     ―Later.‖ Dylan stretched with a groan and reached for the knife
that Llyr had put back in the bag so he could get rid of the harness.
His fingers brushed up against something lush and silky. Curiosity
filled him as he pulled out a pelt of dark fur that smelled of Llyr, only
far wilder. A strange, inhuman cry sounded behind him and Dylan
jumped. Llyr snatched the pelt out of his hands, bolting a few steps
before stopping to stare back at him with wide amber eyes.
    Dylan‘s breath caught as he rose from the chair. Llyr had never
seemed as otherworldly as he did now, staring back from the shadows,
clutching the fur to him in a protective gesture. ―It‘s mine. You can‘t
take it away from me again.‖ He growled, thrusting his head out in a
challenging gesture, his entire body tense with the readiness to fight.
    ―I‘m not going to.‖ Dylan glanced down at the bag and the other
fur sticking out, a darker one. His heart sped up as he reached for it
with hesitant fingers. This was his. He knew it without being told. It
called to him and that part of himself that was still locked away
strained at the unseen ties holding him down. ―And this is mine.‖
    He understood the instinctive, primal reason behind Llyr lashing
out at him. Now that he had his own pelt in his hands possessiveness
overcame him. If anyone tried to take it from him, even Llyr, he‘d
attack. Shocked, Dylan realized that his teeth were bared in a silent
snarl.
    Dylan clutched the fur to him, struggling to remember. This was
important. It was his and he couldn‘t fucking remember what it meant
to him. He turned toward Llyr who had moved back, deeper into the
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shadows. ―Let me see you. I need to know what you look like. I need
to know what I am.‖
     ―You don‘t remember. You‘ll think I‘m a monster.‖
     ―I won‘t, I swear. I need to see. Please, Llyr. I won‘t hurt you.‖
Still Llyr hesitated and Dylan moved toward him, being careful to go
slow. His friend was at the breaking edge and the wrong move could
send him scurrying straight toward the sea and Dylan would lose his
last hope of unraveling this mystery. ―Is that what has you so skittish?
Did I hurt you before?‖
    ―It‘s not your fault.‖ Llyr sighed and his body uncoiled from its
tense, hunched over position. ―Anthony and Donovan liked to play
games. The sometimes pitted us against each other. And…‖ His voice
broke off. ―Never mind, I don‘t want to talk about it. If you remember
you‘ll know what I‘m talking about and if you don‘t that will be one
blessing.‖
   Dylan stepped up to him and slipped his arm around Llyr‘s lean
waist. The other man fit against him so damn right. After a moment,
Llyr leaned into him as well, rubbing his cheek against Dylan‘s
shoulder. ―I shouldn‘t have gotten so defensive.‖
    ―I‘m pretty sure I would‘ve reacted the same way and I don‘t have
the reasons that you do. Just instinct.‖ Dylan lifted up Llyr‘s hand and
examined it in the light as his friend tensed. From the lower knuckle
down thin webbing stretched between his fingers and the ends were
tipped with short, blunt claws. Other than that he looked completely
human except for his wild, amber eyes and those beautiful swirls of
hair on his body that hadn‘t been there before.
     ―Is this what we look like?‖
    ―Not usually, we look human in our bare skins.‖ Llyr head up his
hand, turning it slowly with a troubled look on his face and exhaustion
in his eyes. ―This is because I‘m being called home. The change has
been creeping over me since I got my pelt back. I need to go. It hurts,
Dylan.‖
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    Dylan took his hand and led him over to the duffle bag. ―Is there
anything else we need in there?‖ Llyr shook his head and Dylan
grabbed the knife. Silently, Llyr cut the harness from him and traced
the pattern of a diamond left on his skin.
   ―You looked beautiful in the ropes, but I prefer you completely
naked.‖
    ―I hope you enjoyed it because you‘re not likely to get me like that
again.‖ It had been a unique experience, frustrating and liberating at
the same time. And it had at least partially accomplished what Llyr
had set out to do even if it hadn‘t panned out the way his friend had
hoped. Still, Dylan recognized that he didn‘t do helpless well,
especially when there was action that could be taken.
    He led Llyr out the door and the humid air enveloped them. Llyr‘s
step quickened as he moved toward the sound of the ocean. It should
have been too dark to see where to walk under the mangrove trees, but
Dylan found that his eyes pierced the dimness and he followed the
path without misstep.
    As they left the trees, Llyr began to run. Dylan‘s heart leapt in his
throat as the wide expanse of the sea came into view. It was vast,
stretching without limit to disappear in the dark horizon. Even if they
could swim as well as Llyr said they wouldn‘t survive out there. There
were ocean liners and fishermen, sharks and orcas. Dylan shuddered.
Orcas.
    A vision of the black and white beast, its mouth full of teeth came
to him. He remembered the sounds of panic carrying through the
waters. How the creature drove itself toward its chosen prey. He‘d
been little, barely more than a pup. He shook off the memory and
found himself on his hands and knees, the sand digging into him, his
heart pounding.
    Llyr returned to his side, his fingers sliding through Dylan‘s hair.
He shuddered again with pleasure this time and leaned into his
friend‘s touch. ―Are you okay?‖
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    ―Yeah, just a memory. A bad one I think.‖ Dylan captured Llyr‘s
wrist and tugged him down onto the dry sand with him. He wasn‘t
ready to get closer to all that water and he didn‘t want Llyr to be more
tempted by the call than he already was. He wanted his friend to be
tempted by him instead.
    Llyr kept his pelt clutched in one hand as Dylan pulled him closer
and he cast anxious eyes toward the shore. ―How much do you
remember? We should go, Dylan. What if Anthony and Donovan
catch up with us?‖
    ―How would they know we were here? Anthony is probably right
by Donovan‘s side at the hospital. By the time they realize we‘re not
at the house and track us down, we‘ll be long gone.‖ Dylan‘s lips
searched out that little spot behind Llyr‘s ear that drove him crazy,
turned him into a helpless, mewling beggar. He remembered that spot.
What else would he remember if he indulged in his need for his mate?
Whatever else he might‘ve forgotten, his body knew Llyr‘s.
    Dylan tossed down his own pelt and took Llyr‘s gently from him
and made a pallet on the sand. Llyr looked longingly at the surf before
looking at him with equal need in his eyes. ―We could go do this
down where the waves kiss the sand, just like we used to.‖
    ―I think that might be a little bit too much of a temptation for you.
I don‘t want you to disappear when things start to get interesting.‖ He
laid Llyr back on the furs and knelt back on his heels to study him.
One hand slid along Llyr‘s thigh with a possessive touch. Llyr was his
and the thought of Donovan touching him in anyway ate at him.
Moonlight gilded his skin and the whirls of dark hair on his chest
matched one of the pelts below him. Long, lean thighs met trim hips
and a tapered waist. ―The moon hasn‘t set and we still have a little
time. Show me what it was like, Llyr. Don‘t leave me, yet.‖
    Llyr‘s brows furrowed, hesitation on his face and then to Dylan‘s
relief he reached for him. ―Distract me,‖ he murmured as he tugged
Dylan down on top of him. Sweat stood out on his as he turned his
face toward the sea. ―Make me want to stay with you.‖
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     ―Gladly.‖ Dylan kissed him, his tongue dipping into Llyr‘s mouth,
tasting and exploring. He could hear the pull and tug of the sea as
well, a siren‘s song that didn‘t have half the lure of Llyr‘s body
beneath him. He burrowed his arms under Llyr‘s shoulders and held
him closer as they kissed.
    How could he have forgotten this? Each touch, each whisper
evoked more memories of all the countless times they had lain
together like this. They all blended together in a blur of sensation and
urgency. Dylan wanted to remember the first time and that last fateful
time most of all.
    Llyr attacked his throat, stinging it with little bites and then
soothing them with swipes of his tongue. Dylan‘s cock ached as he
pushed Llyr‘s thighs apart with his knees. His mind screamed at him
to slow down, but his body and Llyr had other plans. Llyr slid his
knees up, spreading himself open for Dylan as he arched against him.
Their cocks rubbed against each other in an erotic, heated dance.
   ―Make it hard, Dylan. Hard and fast, please.‖ Llyr tightened his
arms around him, breathless with need.
    ―No wait.‖ Dylan pulled away with a gasp, dragging air into his
fevered lungs. They needed to slow down. He wanted to savor this, to
commit every moment to memory. Reality and the lies he‘d been
living were one big jumbled mess that he had to sort out. The only
thing that seemed real anymore was Llyr, despite how different he
was from the man Dylan had known.
   Llyr was up in a flash, tossing back a seductive smile as he walked
back toward the surf, pelt in hand. ―You‘re over thinking it, Dylan.
Stop struggling against it and give into the urgency.‖
    Dylan scrambled to his own feet. His heart raced as he looked
between the man he ached for and the ocean that he couldn‘t quite
dispel his fear of. Did he have true reason to fear or was it all
implanted memories that didn‘t truly exist? ―Llyr, wait.‖
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    ―You wanted me to show you how we used to play?‖ Llyr called
back and started running toward the water line. ―Then catch me if you
can.‖
    Dylan watched him for a moment before the hot surge of desire
urged him toward his feet. He grabbed the pelt at his feet and took off
after Llyr. At first he stumbled, but as he struck wet sand, he moved
faster, his feet slapping against the ground. Llyr slowed down, letting
Dylan get closer before darting away again. The scent of salt water
grew stronger, the air filled with tiny droplets of water that cooled his
skin. The first rush of water gave his ankles a welcoming kiss and
Dylan drew in a shuddering breath, coming to a halt.
    Instead of being terrifying it exhilarated him. He faced the
oncoming waves, holding out his arms and dropping his head back.
He wanted to dive right into the rollers and let them drag him back
past the breakwaters. His feet moved forward and Dylan couldn‘t stop
them if he tried. Another wave swept up, swirling around his knees,
splashing his thighs.
    The water tugged at him, making him take another step, filling his
ears with its welcoming song. The ache of desire turned into a
different ache. Home. Home. Home.
    Strong arms circled around his waist and Llyr pressed his wet
body against Dylan‘s back. ―Shall we go in together and swim along
the shore until we get tired? Come morning we can sleep on the
waves, knowing we‘ll see our families again.‖ Naked longing colored
Llyr‘s voice.
    ―Not yet.‖ Dylan wrapped his hand around the nape of Llyr‘s neck
and turned to kiss him. He didn‘t know when he‘d have a chance to
touch him again. Llyr‘s lips parted with a sigh and his arms tightened
around Dylan‘s waist.
   ―I‘ll stay with you. I missed you so much, even when I didn‘t
know why I did. I‘d see you with Anthony and it was torture. It drove
Donovan crazy because he couldn‘t erase that from me no matter how
much he tried.‖
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    ―I don‘t want to even think about either of them.‖ Dylan looked up
and down the empty shoreline. He could make out a fishing pier in the
distance and beyond that a row of vacation homes with dark windows.
The building where Llyr had held him was hidden behind the trees.
They were all alone out here.
    Llyr nipped his shoulder and rubbed his cheek against him, the
stubble on his jaw abrading Dylan‘s skin. ―Neither do I. That‘s in the
past now.‖
    ―Is this what we were doing when everything changed?‖ Dylan
slid his hands down to grip Llyr‘s taut ass. ―Did we come to shore to
make love?‖
   ―Yes. Somewhere right along this stretch of the beach. We‘d
never been so far away from our own waters. But we wanted to
explore.‖
     Llyr‘s voice faded as sharp pains stabbed into Dylan‘s brain. He
gritted his teeth against it, sensing Anthony‘s mental touch. The trap.
That conniving, sick bastard. If he couldn‘t have Dylan, nobody
could. ―Tell me more,‖ Dylan gasped, clinging to Llyr as his knees
weakened. He fought against the pain, against Anthony‘s hold on him.
   ―Dylan? Dylan!‖ Llyr lowered his shuddering body to the cool,
wet sand. ―I‘m sorry. I should‘ve kept my mouth shut. Dylan, please
don‘t die on me now.‖
    A wave washed over them and Dylan‘s breath caught as one of the
memories he‘d been desperately searching for came back to him. Llyr
lying under him just like this, trembling in uncertainty and
anticipation. The first time they‘d snuck away to find a secluded
beach. Llyr had believed all the tender, lusty promises that Dylan had
whispered in his ear. He‘d followed without question, trusting that
Dylan would always look after him.
    ―What‘s wrong? You look so sad.‖ Llyr brushed back the lock of
hair that had plastered itself to Dylan‘s forehead. ―Come back to me.‖
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   ―I failed you didn‘t I? It‘s my fault we were caught.‖ Somehow he
knew without having the memory that he‘d been too impatient for his
mate to concern himself with making sure that they were alone.
   ―It was an accident. Neither of us were paying attention. You can‘t
blame yourself.‖
    Dylan closed his eyes, struggling to bring it back. There had been
sounds of a party coming from the mangrove trees, from the very
building they‘d just left. He had been so arrogant, though himself
invulnerable. Now he knew better.
   Sandy hands cupped Dylan‘s cheeks and drew him down for a
sweet kiss. ―Remember this?‖ Llyr whispered.
    Lips brushed over his face and an ache swelled in Dylan‘s chest
and throat. All the little things were trickling back. How Llyr loved to
nuzzle, the contented little sounds he made in the back of his throat as
they lay tangled together after mating, how he would groom and tend
to him. Even now, Llyr still took care of him.
   ―I do remember some things.‖ Dylan lifted his head and searched
Llyr‘s face, warmed by the smile that lit up his eyes. ―I don‘t know
who or what I am, but I remember you, lying here like this. I
remember how much I love you.‖
     Llyr‘s smile faltered as he searched Dylan‘s face. ―You do? Still?‖
    ―I do.‖ Another wave licked along their bodies, bringing with it
more memories. All he had to do was embrace it, immerse himself in
the waters. ―Even when I didn‘t know what you meant to me, I felt
that bond. I dreamt of you.‖
     Llyr had such faith in him. He couldn‘t let him down. He wouldn‘t
let there be a repeat of the past. Anthony was coming closer. Dylan
could sense him like an oil slick foul against his skin. He might never
be able to wash that touch from his mind and he couldn‘t seduce Llyr
here with that threat hanging over them. He couldn‘t watch Llyr in
Donovan‘s arms again. Not when there was a solution to all his
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problems if he could just work up the courage to face those dark
waters.
   Strong arms tugged him down, held him close. ―I love you, too. I
knew you could do it. I knew you‘d remember.‖
    Not yet. It was so close that Dylan could taste it‘s sweetness on
his tongue, but he wasn‘t there yet. He kissed Llyr‘s smiling lips and
then slowly sat up. The tide had turned. Inch by inch the water would
retreat and as it pulled back the call became more frantic. ―Will you
go out there with me?‖
    ―Are you sure?‖ Llyr searched his face, hesitating despite how
much Dylan knew he ached to go. He‘d stayed this long for him. He‘d
stay longer if Dylan needed the time.
   ―I‘m sure, as long as you‘re with me.‖ Dylan took a deep breath
and looked at the waves again. ―Familiar sensations right? What could
be more familiar than that?‖
     ―Considering you spent more than half your life there, not a damn
thing.‖ Llyr slipped his hand in Dylan‘s. He lifted it and kissed Llyr‘s
knuckles. That mix of human and non-human did not seem so
unnatural anymore. Llyr smiled at him and gestured toward the water.
―I‘ll be with you each step.‖
    He wouldn‘t drown. He wouldn‘t let the images in his head get the
best of him. Dylan repeated the mantra with each step and Llyr‘s
presence beside him kept him from succumbing to his fears. His body
rocked with the waves as he moved deeper. They pushed at him,
threatening to tumble him back then yanked, dragging him forward.
Sweat popped out over his chest and face, and his heart drummed.
    Beside him, Llyr moved easily with the water, his face lit up with
excitement. ―Stop fighting it. Let it carry you out. Your body knows
what to do even if you don‘t. Just relax.‖
    He couldn‘t swim. This was a mistake. No more memories came
to him, telling him what he was supposed to do. Just the black, black
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water and his tenuous contact with Llyr that suddenly seemed far too
inadequate.
    Dylan tried to calm the panic clawing at him as another wave
battered his body and almost swept his feet out from under him. Water
splashed against his face as he drew in a deep breath and he jerked
back, arms flailing. Llyr‘s hand slipped from his. ―No.‖ Sputtering,
coughing, Dylan lunged toward where he saw him last. He thought he
saw a small, brown head bobbing several swells away.
     ―Liam!‖ A new voice cried out.
    Dylan spun around to face the beach. A man stood at the edge of
the dry sand, his arm bound in a sling. The early morning light
gleamed off of his pale hair. Another man walked out of the trees to
join him with an arrogant, cold smile on his lips. ―How‘s the water,
David?‖
   A chill rippled through the waves or was it just through him?
―Screw you, Anthony. I remember what you your bastard brother did
to me and Llyr. You‘re not going to be able to terrorize me into
coming back to you.‖
    ―Oh?‖ Anthony lifted his hand, palm up, and the water around
Dylan‘s thighs rushed away, knocking him down and jerking his pelt
out of his other hand. Sand abraded his chest and stomach. Dylan
scrambled to his knees and turned his head in time to see the dark wall
of water just before it crashed down on him again. Its weight drove
him to the bottom and Dylan lost all sense of what was up or down.
All he knew was that he was being dragged, tumbled about, and
everywhere there was only more water.
    Dylan opened his mouth to shout and water poured in, filling his
mouth and nostrils. His lungs ached, his thoughts screamed as he tried
to get his arms and legs to work together. He kicked and clawed his
way to the surface, and drew in a shuddering breath. Fuck, oh fuck.
Salt stung his eyes and nose as he wiped his face. That had been too
close and his heart sank as he realized how much further he‘d been
swept out.
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    Another swell splashed over him as wave after wave dragged him
down deeper. Sounds filled his ears, the clicks and whistles of
dolphins, the trumpeting cry of a whale deeper out among the waters.
Memory touched him and Dylan hovered on the edge of
understanding what all those sounds meant. One sound rose above the
others. Llyr calling to him.
   Llyr was the strong one, not him. Llyr had remembered while he
remained lost.
    Something brushed against his side and Dylan jerked away with a
shout that drove the rest of the air from his lungs. A face appeared
before him, round and covered in slickened dark fur. Amber eyes
turned a warm velvety brown and the whiskers of a seal nuzzled
Dylan‘s chin. A clawed flipper hooked under his arm and teeth scored
his shoulder in a nip of welcome before Dylan was propelled upward.
    Coughing, Dylan dragged in breath after breath, his mind
spinning. Too much. This was all just fucking too much to take in at
once. The seal let go of him and immediately Dylan began to sink.
With a sound of admonishment, it flipped Dylan onto his back before
floating beside him with a ‗see how easy is it is‘ look on his face.
    Wearily, Dylan chuckled and laid back as he felt the seal
supporting him. The waves gently lifted him up and down, rocking
him as gently as a mother with a babe. This couldn‘t be happening and
yet Dylan couldn‘t deny the evidence next to him.
     ―Llyr?‖
    Dylan closed his eyes and reached out, touching the body next to
him. He was losing his damned mind. This was just another
hallucination that Anthony dreamed up. That creature couldn‘t be his
mate.
    The sea wept. Dylan heard every soft, sighing cry, every breath.
He shuddered and finally surrendered to the longing that enveloped
him, too tired to fight anymore. Llyr. In his heart he knew that the
being swimming beside him, staying close in case he started to drown
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again was his mate. The final piece slipped into place and he put a
name to what they were.
     Selkie.
    A selkie without his pelt and doomed to remain in his human
shape until he found it again. Dylan forced his heart to calm as he laid
back in the embrace of the water. It washed over him in a caress,
holding him as his fragmented memories returned.
    ―David, I have something of yours. You‘re not going to get very
far without it.‖ Anthony. How could he have forgotten about him?
Panic clutched Dylan‘s stomach as he reached for his pelt only to
remember how it had been snatched from him. ―Beg me to rescue
your dumbass and I‘ll make sure you get out of there alive.‖
Anthony‘s mocking laughter carried on the wind toward them.
  ―And bring Liam with you,‖ Donovan called in a raw voice.
―What did you do with him?‖
     The seal cried out in defiance and anger as it flipped back onto its
belly. Dylan wrapped his arms around its powerful chest before it
could swim away. ―No,‖ he rasped, his mind racing. ―It‘s a trap, an
illusion. Anthony is good at those.‖ Like the water that tried to drown
him. More illusion than reality, because the sea wouldn‘t have
answered Anthony‘s call. Dylan‘s belief in it is what had led the
illusion its power. If Llyr went to shore, if either of them did they
wouldn‘t be able to fight the twins‘ mind stealing magic. They‘d
either take them again or kill them outright.
    A light shimmered around Llyr and his seal form melted away.
―Are you sure?‖ He lifted his head above the waves, driving his body
up. ―It looks like your pelt.‖
   ―It‘s not. I lost mine in the waves.‖ Dylan treaded water easily
now, his hands and feet changed to aid him, dark hair growing on his
chest and thighs. Another memory niggled at him and for the first
time in what seemed like hours, Dylan smiled. He‘d lost his pelt, not
had it taken from him. Not this time.
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     ―Fine,‖ Dylan shouted as his mind raced. ―We‘re coming back.‖
    ―Dylan, what are you doing?‖ Llyr clutched at his arm, his eyes
huge. ―We can‘t go back. Please don‘t ask me to leave the water
again.‖
    ―Hush.‖ Dylan drew Llyr closer and nuzzled his cheek. Llyr
would follow him into exile and the thought made him ache. He
wouldn‘t fail Llyr this time. ―I wouldn‘t ask you to do that for me.
Especially after everything you‘ve already done. We don‘t need to go
back we just need to buy a little time, get closer. I didn‘t have my pelt
taken from me this time, it was lost.‖
    ―And a lost pelt always finds its way back to its owner.‖ Llyr
grinned, showing his teeth as a wicked glint came to his eyes. ―What
do you have in mind?‖
    ―They‘re afraid of the water. See how they refuse to step onto the
wet sand? We‘re going to make sure they spend the rest of their days
as terrified of the ocean as they made us think we were.‖
    Dylan swam toward shore with powerful strokes. He had to trust,
to believe. After all this time the sea would have no wish to lose them
to the land again. A small brown head popped out of the water next to
Llyr, and then other in front of him as an entire pod of seals came to
join them. They dived and flipped through the water, speaking the
language that Dylan now understood, urging them to come play. They
weren‘t the only ones. The dolphins had come closer, their fins,
cutting through the water. Two manatees even appeared with their
gentle, curious eyes. Dylan urged them all to search.
    The waves became choppy as a wind came out of the east and the
sun slipped above the horizon on an intense bed of red and pink
clouds. A storm approached. Dylan could feel its strength building in
the air and water. He just needed to harness that strength.
    His feet scraped against the ground and Dylan stood up as
something silky tangled around his knees. He reached for his pelt,
breathing a prayer of thanks as Anthony and Donovan stepped closer
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to the water. A dark, limp fur hung from Anthony‘s hand. He‘d been
right. Just another illusion. ―Are you ready to beg or do you want to
feel the waves again? I can wait here all damn day. You‘re going to
get too tired to keep fighting me.‖
    It took everything Dylan had to not snatch up his pelt and change
right there. The ache in his bones burned so fiercely that if felt as if
they were going to crack and splinter. Dylan took that pain, that
longing to go home, and his anger and threw it toward the sky as Llyr
held out his arms beside him.
    Lightning tore down with a clap of thunder, striking the sand in
front of the twins, sending up a spray of grit. Anthony and Donovan
were thrown from each other and they cried out in pain as they landed
hard. Dylan let his memories fuel his anger. All those times Anthony
had let him remember just to fuck with him, only to steal it again
when he wanted a submissive lover. Rain drummed down.
    Dylan wrapped the pelt in his arms and felt the power of sea and
sky tear through him. The waves rose up again, rushing upon the
twins as they struggled to their feet again. It tossed them end over end
as they screamed and thrashed. As Llyr lowered his arms the sea
retreated and Dylan released winds and lightning.
    ―Enough, Dylan. Let‘s go home.‖ Llyr took his hand. ―They can‘t
touch us anymore and we‘re both whole again.‖
    Dylan tore his eyes away from the two men lying on the shore. He
wasn‘t sure whether they were alive or not. A part of him hoped
they‘d survive. The humiliation of being defeated, the fear of going
near the water would eat at Anthony for the rest of his life.
    ―What now?‖ He asked as the change came over him and he
slipped into his true form.
    ―We start over, together.‖ Llyr splashed water at him, inviting a
chase as he headed out to the deeper waters. With a laugh, Dylan
followed his mate home.
THE END
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    Author bio: Marguerite Labbe has been accused of being
eccentric and a shade neurotic, both of which she freely admits to, but
her muse has OCD tendencies, so who can blame her? Her husband
and son do an excellent job keeping her toeing the line, though.
Together with her co-author Fae Sutherland, Marguerite has found a
shared passion for beautiful men with smart mouths.
    When she‘s not working hard on writing new material and editing
completed work, she spends her time reading novels of all genres,
enjoying role-playing games with her equally nutty friends, and trying
to plot practical jokes against her son and husband. Her son is
learning the tricks too quickly and likes to retaliate. You‘d think she‘d
learn.
     Visit Marguerite's web site at http://chasethedream.net/.
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Clare London – SAY A LITTLE PRAYER (Paranormal/Angels)
Genre: contemporary
Tags: angels, British, summer, wings, first time                    Dear Author,
Words: 12,566                                                       A fallen angel? A demon?
                                                                    On a tropical beach?
SAY A LITTLE PRAYER                                                 [PHOTO: On an ocean
by Clare London                                                     beach, a naked man with
                                                                    black-feathered wings sits
    It was too late for tourists to have strayed on                 alone, cross-legged, head
to the beach by accident; too early for midnight                    bowed. Slanting sunlight
                                                                    outlines his chest, folded
lovers to be trespassing. This part of the beach                    legs, and crossed wrists. His
was privately owned by the nearby hotel, which                      lightly-fisted hands, planted
was why I was here. My first week at the job                        in his lap, hide his groin.
and I‘d had enough of it already. Just a few                        The sun catches blue
                                                                    highlights in his curly black
moment‘s peace after a long and hot day‘s                           hair as he looks down at the
work, that was all I needed. Just one blissful,                     glistening wet sand.]
quiet half-hour away from the frenzied shrieks                      I think he needs some help...
of holidaymakers and beach balls bouncing                           Who can find him? A hot
sand in my face, and my tight white catering                        Lifeguard? A shy
                                                                    fisherman?
cap causing rivulets of sweat to run down
                                                                    Thank you kind writer, for
behind my ears.
                                                                    taking my letter in
    A Baywatch boy I wasn‘t. Just a young man                       consideration. :-)
trying to earn extra money in his summer                            Sincerely,
holiday, wheeling ice creams around in a cart                       Camila (Bookwatcher)
along the promenade, from morning until late
afternoon, advertising the local hotel chain. But
I‘d never realised it was going to be damned
hard work. And I wasn‘t even going to get a tan
because of the smart shirt and trousers and long
apron the hotel manager wanted me to wear.
     Then I saw the man.
    I walked towards him because that was the
direction I was going anyway. Plus, he needed
to know this beach was closed to the general
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public, and the hotel security could get a little heavy-handed. He was
sitting on the sand, his back to me. The late afternoon light lit him
from behind, setting a golden glow around his dark curls.
     He was …
     No.
     Surely not.
   I came to a sudden halt as he turned his head to face me. He
probably heard the squeaky wheels of my cart, even on the sand.
     I stared back, temporarily speechless.
     ―Hello,‖ he said, and smiled broadly. ―I‘ve been waiting for you.‖
    ―I‘m sorry?‖ It was the nakedness that startled me. Smooth skin,
shining with the sweat of a hot afternoon, dappled with the shadows
of a sinking sun. Broad shoulders, tight muscles across his back and
arms. A slight dip in at his waist, then back out into the plump, fleshy
mounds of his buttocks. No sign of any inhibition or embarrassment
that I could see. He was sitting comfortably cross-legged, gazing out
over the sea, as the day wore on and the vigorous ebb and flow of the
water eased to something more sensual.
   They must have missed me on the memo declaring this a nudist
beach.
    He yawned gently and raised his arms into a stretch. The muscles
at his sides clenched into a tight formation. There was no blemish to
his skin that I could see, no T-shirt tan marks, no odd freckles on his
shoulders, no dimpling on his thighs from growth spurts, a problem I
seemed to be getting sadly obsessed with every time I took a shower.
   ―It‘s getting late,‖ he said, though without any trace of complaint.
―But now you‘ve arrived.‖
    I stared. ―You shouldn‘t be here.‖ I sounded like some kind of
officious traffic warden. ―This stretch of beach belongs to the Royal
Hotel, it‘s not open to tourists. And you really shouldn‘t be …‖ I
swallowed. ―You know. Like that. Not here.‖
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    He smiled straight at me, his eyes catching the orange flickers of
the sun, his mouth wide and welcoming. ―Where are we going, then?‖
     ―We?‖
    He stretched out his long, lean legs and began to stand up. It was
like one of those tense movie moments, when you can see what‘s
going to happen and you know you need to stop it, but your limbs
move in agonizing slow motion. I raised a hand, preparing to call out,
to warn him, to … what? Protect my modesty? He stood, his back
straightening, his shoulders fully extended, his skin flushed and
dusted with sand. Then he turned to face me. Full on.
     My hand fell back down to my side.
     Oh God.
    A full body flush hadn‘t happened to me since the high school
stage production of Macbeth when I realised in the middle of the
murder scene I‘d left my fly unzipped, but it all came back to me now.
His six-pack was just defined enough to fit my dream-man checklist,
his torso leading down to a firm waist and narrow, masculine hips. A
small trail of sweat trickled down between his nipples, glinting in the
sun. It bobbed down his torso, glistening over the gentle swell of his
belly. It followed the thin, dark trail of hairs that ran down from his
navel into a small, curly bush of pubic hair.
     He was really beautiful.
     And oh …
     God.
     Erect.
     ****
    The man smiled at me and held his hands out to the side as if in
offering. ―This is good?‖
     ―This …?‖
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    I couldn‘t seem to manage more than one word at a time. He
laughed, much too loudly for my liking. What would happen if
someone heard him and found us here together, like this? Someone
with pre-school kids, or someone working for the council decency
committee, or – God forbid – someone who knew my Gran?
    ―You‘re very red,‖ he said, concern in his voice. He took several
slow, graceful steps towards me. The muscles in his calves tightened,
and his … everything bobbed about between his thighs. ―The sun isn‘t
good on your skin. Take me somewhere you can be in the shade.
You‘ve finished …‖ He waved his hand in the direction of my empty
cart, as if searching for the description, ―… this exercise, haven‘t
you?‖
   I nodded. My tongue felt very thick, and I struggled to speak. ―I
have to put the cart away. In the shed at the back of the beach.‖
     He shrugged, smiling. ―That‘s good, whatever it is. I‘ll help you.‖
     ―No!‖
   His eyebrows raised and he paused in his walking. ―You‘re upset,
Jonathan.‖
    I blinked harder. ―How do you know my name?‖ Not that anyone
called me the full Jonathan except for Gran.
   He ignored the question. ―You like this, don‘t you?‖ He glanced
down his body and back up to me. A brief frown passed over his
brow. ―You like men?‖
   I swallowed past the lump of shock in my throat. ―Of course I do.
Some of my best friends …‖ I stopped. From the puzzled look in his
eyes, he wasn‘t getting the joke. ―I mean, I have lots of male friends.
A couple of cousins. Workmates at the hotel.‖
    He frowned even more but his reproach was playful now. ―Yes,
but I mean sex. You like to have sex with men.‖
    I felt very, very hot and it was nothing to do with the lowering
sun. ―What did you say?‖
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   He smiled. ―You‘re charming. You are passionate, I know. And
I‘m the kind of man you like. So we‘ll have sex.‖
     There was a small, shocked silence.
     I cleared my painful throat. ―Is this your attempt at a joke?‖
     He tilted his head to the side, still looking puzzled and maybe a
little offended. He flexed his back as he moved. Something rustled
behind him. ―Don‘t you agree?‖
     ―I can‘t…‖
    ―Can‘t?‖ He looked as if the word was something new and
astounding to him.
    ―I can‘t … I don‘t talk about those things.‖ With strangers. With
forward strangers. With anyone, really, except for Gran – and that was
only because she always bloody talked to me first.
     He smiled. ―I know.‖
   How could he? Plenty of the staff at the hotel were out and proud,
and good luck to them. But me? I just didn‘t feel comfortable with
everyone knowing my business. Mum said I was shy; Gran accused
me of being in denial.
     ―Please don‘t,‖ I said.
     ―You‘re upset because of me.‖ He looked stricken.
    ―No. It‘s okay.‖ Maybe I broadcast more about myself than I
thought. I flushed even more, wondering how many of my workmates
knew. Coward, I told myself. What was the point of denying it? I did
like men. Very much. And I‘d definitely like more sex with them, too.
If I ever got the chance, that was. I told myself there wasn‘t much
time for socializing, studying at college during term time, then
working every evening and holiday at various casual jobs. There
wasn‘t a lot of money to go around, in our small, off-beachfront B&B,
and Mum needed the help.
    ―You need to get a life,‖ Gran had said, the previous evening. She
said it very carefully, obviously mimicking whatever she‘d been
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watching on YouTube during the day. ―Find another nice gay boy and
go dancing. After all, this place is full of them, the little darlings,
there‘s plenty of choice. You‘re nearly twenty two, and who knows
when your hair might start going?‖ Her eyes filmed with the
beginning of tears. ―I pray hard for you to find someone who‘ll be
good to you. You deserve it, Jonathan, putting up with us old folks.
And I know what men like, believe me…‖
     ―So you‘ve told me, Gran.‖ Unfortunately.
    ―…and they‘ll snap up a cute thing like you, like a double scoop
of strawberry ice cream with a chocolate flake.‖ She jabbed me in the
ribs and wheezed with a hearty laugh, the tears gone as quickly as
they arrived. ―You just need to get out there and go for it. I have to
assume you know the facts of life, tab A, slot B –?‖
    I coughed loudly as Mum came in with a tray of tea. She glanced
at Gran, assumed – rightly – the worst, and blushed scarlet.
     ―Jonny‘s shy,‖ she said, weakly.
    Gran snorted. ―Shy rumples no sheets, Gill. He needs to get out to
that beach and get hold of some nice, firm ars–‖
    And that‘s when the conversation ended as abruptly as it usually
did, with me being sent out of the room to finish the washing up while
Gran cackled with crude laughter and Mum tried to make her own
mother appreciate the difficulty of raising a young man on her own.
    But they both always agreed I should get out more, so that was
why I was here on the beach, sweating away at my new job. It would
help pay the way at home, especially now that Gran had come to live
with us and ate as much as I did, but it was apparently also going to
help me meet people and make friends. Well, that‘s what Mum said
when she waved me off on the first morning, telling me to bring home
chips for supper. Gran just grinned and muttered something that
sounded suspiciously like ―get shagging‖.
     And guess what? I was certainly meeting someone today.
     ****
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     ―Jonathan?‖ The man on the beach smiled encouragingly at me.
    I couldn‘t tear my gaze away from his naked body. The heat of my
blush was turning into some other kind of flush. Warmth ran through
me like drinking in sunlight, my senses wallowing in the golden
colour of his skin, the glow of his flesh. It felt incredibly good – the
best I‘d felt for a very long time. And stupidly, that scared me. ―Look,
what‘s going on here?‖
     He shrugged again. ―Things like this happen.‖
   ―Not on Swanage beach, they don‘t.‖ My voice was a bit of a
squeak.
     He smiled, more slyly. ―Is that a joke?‖ He used the same tone my
little cousins used when they saw a small, fluffy kitten on the TV. But
he used it towards me.
    I rolled my eyes. ―I‘m going to put the cart away and then I‘m
going home.‖ I pushed at the damned thing, trying to get the
momentum going again. I could feel the sweat dribbling down under
my hairline.
     ―I‘ll follow,‖ he said.
     ―You can‘t,‖ I snapped, striding on as best I could.
    He shook his head tolerantly. I could smell the sea air on his skin
as I passed him. I could feel the air shifting with his stride as he fell
into step behind me. Something rather shockingly primal stirred deep
in my gut. What was I doing, even talking to him? I reached the small
maintenance hut at the perimeter of the hotel grounds, wrenched open
the door and shoved the cart inside. Not my most careful work, but I
was under pressure, right? I locked it quickly behind me. I was on
duty the next day as well, so I‘d just take the key home with me
tonight.
    I turned around and he was right there, at my shoulder. ―Let me
help, Jonathan.‖
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   ―No. Please. Just … go away.‖ You‘re not real. This isn‘t
happening. Maybe he was right, and I had had too much sun. But no
way was I telling Mum; no way was she making me wear her cheesy
purple straw sunhat to and from work…
    ―Jonathan, please.‖ He didn‘t even look out of breath, having kept
up with my indecent rush up the beach as I tried to escape my
hallucination. ―I understand.‖
     ―You do?‖ I stopped and turned warily to face him. ―What‘s this
all about, then?‖ Was I mad? Sunstroked? Waiting for the TV camera
team to leap out from behind a breaker with a gleeful cry of You‘ve
been Framed?
     He was only six inches away. He was exactly, perfectly my
height. I could see grains of sand on his shoulders. When the wind
lifted his hair, it brushed against my chin.
     God.
    ―I‘ll come home with you and we‘ll talk about it. Or not. We can
have the sex. Or not. Whatever you want,‖ he said, simply. His eyes
had golden lights in them; his expression was full of concern again,
and suddenly that concern seemed to include himself. ―I have to come
with you, Jonathan.‖
   My mouth opened and shut. Then opened again. ―What do you
mean? You can go back to wherever you came from.‖
  His smile was nervous. ―No. Not yet. Please believe me.
Meanwhile, I‘m here for you.‖
    I was still doing the gaping goldfish impression. ―So how‘s that
going to work?‖
     ―What do you mean?‖
    I shook my head so vehemently my little white cap fell off. The
man bent down more quickly than I did – those superb muscles
tightening across his belly – and snatched it up. As he handed it back
to me, he beamed as if he‘d found me a fifty pound note on the
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pavement. He clutched it just a little too tightly as I took hold, making
me tug at it, and his fingertips grazed mine. A cool, sensual shiver ran
down my spine, despite the heat and swelter of the day. When his
gaze ran covetously over the top of my bare head, my scalp tingled
with delight, as if he‘d actually run his fingers through my sweaty
hair.
     Madness.
    I sighed. ―Look, even if I said okay, come home with me, you
can‘t come on the bus like …‖ I waved my hand in his direction,
trying so very – very – hard to stop myself touching him again. ―Like
that.‖
     His smile didn‘t diminish, as if he had no idea what ―bus‖ meant,
let alone what my problem was.
   ―You‘ll scare the pensioners,‖ I said. ―And cause a riot with
schoolgirls, and get us both locked up for gross indecency.‖
    He was gazing at my mouth as if carefully following the words as
they came out, but from the bemused look on his face, he was
understanding only one in three. He was still smiling, though. ―And is
that what you want?‖
     ―That‘s not the point –‖
     ―So what is?‖ he asked, quite calmly.
    And then I laughed. What else was a guy to do? The most perfect
specimen of manhood – and definitely far above number one on my
fantasy wishlist – was standing naked in front of me, his bare toes
wriggling in the sand, his eyes following my every word with
devotion, and his cock … well. Gorgeous, and still erect. I had to
admit, a man would be mad not to be flattered.
     And even without the cheesy straw sunhat, I wasn‘t that disturbed.
     ―Okay,‖ I said. ―Okay, yes, you can come home with me.‖
     ****
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   He looked delighted at my change of mood. ―You‘re no longer
upset by the sun or your bus,‖ he said. ―That‘s good.‖
    ―Yes, it is.‖ I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. Hell‘s bells, I‘d
had enough of my boring life, nothing but essay writing in my spare
time, making beds every morning for Mum‘s guests, and now doling
out pistachio ice cream all day to sweat-shiny people who had nothing
more to worry about than factor 25 or 30. Go for it, Gran had said.
God knows what this experience really was, but I felt myself step,
mentally, a little closer to the cliff edge of adventure. ―Whatever I
want, right?‖
     He nodded.
   ―We need to travel,‖ I said. I felt dizzy at the thought of it. ―You
need clothes on for that.‖
    He frowned slightly, as if the thought was unpleasant but he knew
it was necessary. ―Like yours?‖
    There was no sign of any other clothes around. But I remembered
I had an old hooded sweatshirt and a pair of beach shorts in the hut, in
case I didn‘t want to stay in my work uniform until I got home. The
day was still warm and no one was going to care if a friend
accompanied me in shorts and bare feet. I unlocked the door again and
rummaged around until I found the clothes. He looked crestfallen, but
I waved them at him until he accepted defeat.
    It was a terrible pity, I thought to myself as he wriggled the shorts
up over his arse, to hide any part of that glorious body. They clung to
his thighs, obviously small for him: the purple paisley looked
ludicrous against his golden skin. But they did offer a tantalizing
frame for the tight lines of his torso, and the treasure trail down under
the waistband. I cleared my throat and surreptitiously adjusted the
front of my trousers again. ―I don‘t know you from Adam, of course.‖
  ―I‘m nothing like Adam,‖ he said, with careful patience. ―I‘m
Admael.‖
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   ―Okay.‖ What else could I say? ―And you‘re going to need the
hoodie as well, Admael.‖
     ―Hoodie?‖
    ―The jacket. Sweatshirt. For your …‖ I swallowed hard. Maybe
the hood would cover him. Maybe I could swaddle his torso in an
extra beach towel. Whatever. My hand lifted from my side again,
waving in confusion in front of his chest.
    ―Jonathan?‖ He caught my hand in his, and squeezed gently. The
caress ran goose bumps of pleasure all the way down to my toes.
―You‘re still upset, aren‘t you?‖
     ―Can‘t you see the problem?‖ I said.
     ―You mustn‘t use that word.‖
     ―Problem?‖
     ―Can‘t.‖ He ran his fingers along my forearm, stroking the hairs
up against their lie. ―Tell me about it. Let me reassure you. I‘ll attend
to it all.‖
    ―Oh yeah?‖ I took a deep breath and put out my own hand,
touching him properly at last, running my palm over his shoulder and
down onto his back, savouring the warmth and firmness of his muscle,
exploring the bones under his taut skin.
     He arched like a cat under my touch. ―So …?‖ he murmured.
     ―So,‖ I replied, hoarsely. ―What‘s with the wings?‖
     ****
    Half an hour later, Admael stood in the middle of my small room
in the family B&B, looking down at himself. ―This is normal for you,
you say?‖
     I winced. ―Yes, of course it is.‖
    He frowned, marring the beautifully smooth forehead. Lifting one
leg awkwardly, then the other, he took a hesitant step towards me.
―Why do you suffer such punishment? Have you been very wicked?‖
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   ―Wicked?‖ I shook my head. Like I‘ve had the chance. ―No, I
haven‘t been wicked. It‘s not punishment.‖
    Admael laughed softly, shaking his head. ―Prisoners often do not
realize their own servitude. They accept the pain that binding brings
them, without questioning.‖
    I grit my teeth. ―Look, it‘s not binding, it‘s a pair of jeans. And
socks, and boots. Not some instrument of torture. And you refused the
briefs, remember?‖ I blinked hard. That was a mistake. The thought of
Admael going commando seemed even more provocative than when
I‘d smuggled him virtually naked into my room. ―It‘s just clothing.
We all wear things like that.‖
     He stretched as he had done on the beach, his arms high above his
head, reaching up for the sky. He looked very large in my small room,
a bold, masculine, alien presence. His heels were butted up against the
foot of my bed, he had to lean to one side to avoid a basket piled high
with clean laundry I was meant to have sorted out for ironing, and
when his hand snagged on the bookcase, he snatched it back, startled.
As I‘d suspected, my hoodie was too small for him and it had ridden
up at his side. My eyes were drawn to the sliver of his skin exposed
above the waistband, and the lines of muscle that ran down his torso
and into my spare pair of jeans. The denim looked cold and harsh, as
if it chafed against his perfect skin. He stood awkwardly in the boots
I‘d lent him, though we appeared to be the exact same foot size. For a
couple of moments that was all we did, stare at each other, Admael
half dressed and me thinking I needed to have worn more relaxed
clothes myself, especially around the groin area.
    ―Jonathan,‖ he murmured, laughter running under his voice. ―This
is just one of your jokes, isn‘t it? You prefer me natural, really.‖
Without waiting for me to deny it – as if I would have - he reached
behind his neck and pulled the zipped-up sweatshirt right off. His
shoulders relaxed as if they‘d been unbearably crushed inside the
fabric. He sighed, and I heard the rustle of feathers at his back,
shaking themselves like a duck coming out of the water.
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     The wings!
    I‘d never been a regular church-goer, much to Gran‘s
disappointment. I didn‘t think I believed in either angels or devils. But
there was no denying the amazing creations that sprang from
Admael‘s shoulder blades. From a distance on the beach, they‘d
looked like a shadow on his back. It was only as I‘d got closer that I
realized they were furled, black-feathered wings, gathered in against
his spine. When he stood to greet me, I‘d been distracted by … well,
other parts of his body. But when I‘d tried to fit my thin, worn
sweatshirt over his broad shoulders, I couldn‘t help but acknowledge
them. They shivered against my hands as I pressed them down. The
feathers were smooth, silky black and tightly woven: they smelled of
salty sea air and something that I couldn‘t quite identify, but which
was much, much sweeter.
     The touch of them made my whole body thrill.
    I genuinely don‘t know how we made it back home from the
beach on the crowded number 7 bus without a scene. Yet,
surprisingly, no one made a fuss when we scrambled on. I wriggled in
between a group of Chinese tourists and a young woman with half a
dozen kids. I scrabbled in my pockets for Admael‘s fare as well as
mine, but the driver waved me through. Waved both of us through,
actually, yet never lifted his eyes from the ticket machine. Odd.
    The bus pulled away with a squeal of brakes and diesel fumes, and
I was squashed against a window. Admael seemed to find a space to
stand with less trouble. He‘d seemed my height at the beach, but now
he was a head taller than anyone else, seemingly an oasis in the
middle of squalling babies and pink-burned teenagers. And he glowed
so strongly with health and charisma, I was expecting rays to burst
from his ears. ―Low profile,‖ I muttered to him, but he smiled his
special smile of incomprehension and straightened even further. I
wriggled back off the bus at the Library – with no one screaming at
the fit young Adonis beside me, or gasping with evangelical fervour at
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Admael‘s inimitable brand of backpack wear – and bundled him up
the side street to our B&B.
     ****
    And now here we were: I was trying to dress Admael as a more
typical young man, and he was trying … not to be. His body was a
glorious presence in my rather dull room, he filled it with his strong
limbs, perfect proportions, the lustre and musky aroma of his skin.
And those fantastic, unbelievable wings. Staring at him was rude of
me, but his smile in return never faltered.
     ―Shall we do it now?‖
     His voice woke me from my erotic daydream. ―What?‖
   He was wriggling out of the second boot, his muscular feet bare
once more. ―I will kiss you. Then we‘ll have sex.‖
     For a shocked second, I thought my mind had flipped, not able to
tell fantasy from … well, what my traitorous body had responded to,
the minute I first saw him on the beach.
     ―What the hell game are you playing?‖
    ―Game?‖ He looked worried, as if he‘d forgotten a critical step in
his instructions, but couldn‘t remember where they were for him to
double-check.
   ―Look, I don‘t know where you come from, but here, people get to
know each other before they have sex. You don‘t know me…‖
     ―Of course I do!‖
    I laughed roughly. ―Don‘t you think I‘d remember if I‘d met you
before?‖
   He was watching my expression and he grinned. ―You certainly
wish you had.‖
     ―And you can stop that.‖
     ―What?‖
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   ―That strange way you talk. Like you read my mind. Like you
know what I…‖
    ―…Want?‖ He shook his head gently. ―Need?‖ He pushed the
laundry basket to one side and stepped up close to me. I could feel the
heat from his body, warming me. ―Deserve?‖ he murmured against
my cheek.
     God, a million times, God.
     ―Yes,‖ Admael said, as if I‘d spoken aloud.
    ―Admael. Wait.‖ I tried not to feel intimidated, but he‘d pressed
me up against my clothes chest, and I couldn‘t retreat any further
without spearing one of my kidneys with a drawer knob.
     And did I really want to retreat?
     ―You would like to be natural, too,‖ he said. His voice was soft,
like the feathers that whispered at his shoulder blades. He reached
behind my neck and pulled my own t-shirt up and over my head. I
lifted my arms, helpfully. The protesting didn‘t seem to have any
effect on him, whereas the nudge of his naked torso against mine sent
every nerve I had into overdrive.
    ―Lying in wait for men on the beach … do you do it often?‖ My
throat felt tight. His lips brushed just below my ear.
     ―Never before.‖
   It jolted me with shock. ―My God, if you‘re being forced to do
something against your will –‖
    ―This is my will,‖ he interrupted. His smile became beatific and he
placed his hands on either side of my face. ―I want to do everything,
and I want to do it with you. I want you, Jonathan.‖
    He didn‘t really mean me, did he? Of course not. There was
serious miscommunication somewhere. He didn‘t really know me,
couldn‘t really have selected me from among all the other, properly
gorgeous, sun-worshipping, easy-going, gym-buffed young men that
paraded along the sea front, couldn‘t …
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     … have just kissed me, in my own room, crushing up to me, with
my lower back pressed up against my dresser and my hands clutching
at the air in shock, until …
     … I kissed him back.
    He tasted of the sun, his skin smelled of summer. His lips were
firm but surrendered perfectly to me. I ran my hands over his strong
shoulders and he leaned in close. He breathed into my mouth and his
tongue slicked against mine. The wings fluttered: I felt the vibration
on my palms. It was as if their movement ran along my fingers,
flowing into my arms and my body. The feeling was warm and
energising, like the sun itself, like a burst of pleasure and joy that had
no limits or shortfall. Just pure, total happiness.
   God. He was the most beautiful thing I‘d ever tasted; the richest
emotional flush I‘d ever felt.
     ―This isn‘t real,‖ I whispered.
    ―You do not believe it?‖ Admael laughed softly. ―I must convince
you better.‖ He lifted his hands to hold either side of my face and he
kissed me again. And again. The wings rustled and a shadow settled
around us, as if they‘d gathered us both into their shelter.
     His hands slid down my bare back and I sucked in a breath.
     ―Where did you come from? What are you, Admael?‖
    He frowned as if he wondered about the right words to use. ―What
do you think?‖
   ―You‘re like …‖ I sighed. The wings seemed to whisper around
me, like sea shells mimic the sound of the sea. ―An angel. But that
can‘t be, can it?‖
     ―Whatever you want to call me,‖ he whispered back. ―I‘m yours.‖
     ****
     ―Jonathan, are you up there?‖
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   I pulled away from Admael, the call from downstairs a sudden
shock, a reminder of real life.
    ―Gran?‖ I called back. My heart was hammering fiercely like I
was a schoolboy caught looking at a sports magazine under the bed
clothes, all over again. ―I‘m just getting ready for work.‖
    I could hear her shuffling step at the bottom of the stairs and the
tap of her stick on the linoleum in the hall.
     ―I‘m making your sandwiches,‖ she shouted.
   I winced. Banana and tuna had been yesterday‘s combination.
―That‘s great,‖ I replied loudly. ―I‘ll collect them when I come down.‖
    ―I‘ll give you ten minutes.‖ Her voice carried clearly even though
my bedroom door was closed between us. ―You need to eat more, to
keep your strength up. Who knows when your knees will start going?
I pray for you to keep strong limbs and supple joints.‖
   I smiled and shook my head at her nonsense. Admael‘s teeth
worried gently at the lobe of my ear.
   ―You‘ll never get the most out of sex without Olympic training,‖
Gran continued, undeterred by no reply. ―You just listen to my advice,
and you‘ll have a gold medal in the bedroom at least.‖
    I flushed, even though she couldn‘t see me, even though it was
exactly that kind of exercise that was running through my imagination
at this moment, with Admael‘s arms around me, his leg nudging
between my knees, his naked toes stroking mine on the carpet.
     ―I have to go to work again,‖ I said.
   Admael nodded, his lips damp and hot on my throat. ―That‘s
good.‖
    ―No, I mean it.‖ I craned my neck around to peer at the digital
clock on my bedside table. ―In less than an hour.‖ Damn. ―Another
holiday job. Money for college.‖ I didn‘t seem to be able to phrase a
decent, full sentence.
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   Admael nodded again. His breath was shallow, hot on my ear, his
hand stroking the skin above my breastbone.
     I sighed. ―You don‘t know what I‘m talking about, do you?‖
     He smiled happily. ―You can tell me.‖
    ―I work four nights a week in the local disco bar on the sea front.
On those days, I dash back from the ice cream job, make myself a
quick snack, have a shower and get changed, maybe call Ruth to let
her know what time I‘ll be there.‖
   ―The shower sounds good.‖ Admael‘s close attention seemed
doggedly selective.
    My body shivered with need. I tried not to imagine Admael naked
with me in the small private shower along the corridor. The sight of
his golden skin through the steam. The warm water, glistening on his
shoulders, droplets snagged in between the silky feathers. Soap on my
hands, ready to smooth it all over him …
    ―Excellent.‖ Admael‘s smile was even broader. His gaze was
shamelessly fixed on my groin. ―I see I am the kind of man you like
for sex.‖
     ―Sandwiches ready!‖ Gran called from downstairs.
     ―I have to go,‖ I gasped.
     ―And I‘ll come with you.‖
     ―What? You can‘t come … like that.‖
     He tilted his head to the side, questioning me.
     I stared at him. ―The … wings. Admael, you must see you can‘t –‖
     ―Can‘t?‖ He frowned. ―I have told you, it will all be fine.‖
     ―Are you coming out, Jonathan?‖ Gran screeched.
     Coming out? Surely I misheard that…
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    ―I‘m coming out, too,‖ Admael smiled, with obviously no idea of
what it meant. His gaze flickered down to his own groin and back up
to my face. ―And aren‘t you pleased I‘m coming up, as well?‖
     ****
    I snuck him out of the B&B again, by pushing him quickly out of
the front door while I provided cover in the hallway, pausing at the
lounge door to distract Mum and Gran‘s curiosity. The room was
available for our guests but as Gran usually monopolised it in the
evenings for her TV reality shows, it was lucky most of them went out
into town and didn‘t come home until late.
   ―I‘m off to Terry‘s Bar now, it‘s my last shift this week,‖ I said,
probably more loudly than I needed to.
    ―That‘s nice, dear. Have a good evening.‖ Mum was in the kitchen
along the corridor, washing up. I couldn‘t see her but I could hear her
working.
   ―Mum, I‘ll help you set up the tables for breakfast tomorrow
morning, before I go down to the hotel again.‖
   ―I‘m perfectly capable of a few place settings, if she needs help,‖
Gran grumbled from the living room.
    I smiled at the back of her head over the top of the sofa. ―I know,
Gran.‖ I scooped up the foil packet of sandwiches she‘d made me, and
turned to go.
   ―It‘s peanut butter and hot dog,‖ she said. ―I made two rounds for
you tonight.‖ She was already engrossed in the TV, flicking through
channels to find the X Factor auditions.
     ―Thanks. But I usually get something extra to eat at the bar…‖
    ―The second round is for your date,‖ Gran said, very clearly and
very firmly. ―Not that he looks like he needs feeding up like you do.
Nice abs.‖
     I froze in the hallway, startled.
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    ―No point in hiding him, Jonathan. Better out than in, I always
say. Don‘t I?‖
     ―Uh … yes, Gran.‖
    ―Make sure you close the door properly behind you both,‖ Mum
called. ―So Gran doesn‘t sit in a draft.‖
   I darted out the house to the sound of Gran cackling behind me.
And I couldn‘t be sure, but it sounded like she said ―Nice wings, too.‖
     ****
    The bar was quiet in the early evening, with Ruth and Mikey were
there to help me stock up and get ready for the later rush. The new DJ
was mixing a low but steady beat and some customers were already
dancing out on the handkerchief-sized dance floor. Mikey‘s flatmate
Danny was one of our early patrons, dressed in ludicrously tight shorts
and sipping at something that looked as if a mix of melon and
chocolate had been thrown up in a glass.
    ―So who‘s the new man? I‘ve never seen him around. Local, or
day tripper?‖ Ruth had an armful of bar towels she was meant to be
laying out on the counter, but instead she was hopping from one foot
to the other with barely suppressed curiosity. She hadn‘t taken her
eyes off Admael since we arrived. ―He‘s amazing, Jonny.‖
     I looked at her, sharply. ―Look, I should explain…‖
    ―I bet he works out,‖ she sighed, ignoring me. ―A lot, right? Those
pecs are some of the best I‘ve ever seen. And have you looked closely
at his back? I‘ve never seen anything like –‖
     I sucked in a breath.
     ―– that skin quality on a man outside of Baywatch.‖
   I swallowed hard. ―Look, glad you enjoy the view, but we are
meant to be working here.‖
   She stuck out her tongue at me. ―Okay, I get the picture, he‘s
yours, so hands off.‖
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    ―He‘s Jonny‘s date?‖ Mikey passed us with a box of bagged nuts,
his eyebrows lifted up into his curly fringe.
     ―No, I didn‘t mean …‖
    ―You sly bastard.‖ Danny smirked at me from the other side of the
counter. His gaze flickered admiringly over Admael who was leaning
casually against the end of the bar, apparently doing nothing but
watch me work. ―That‘s one fine catch. You get bored with one-on-
one and you wanna share, you call us first thing, okay?‖
    ―The very first thing,‖ Mikey called back over his shoulder,
laughing.
     ―That‘s not going to happen.‖
     ―And, tell me …‖ Danny started.
     I wasn‘t really listening to him. ―Admael and I, we‘re not …‖
     ―… what‘s with the wings?‖
     There was a sudden, shocked silence from all of us. Oh God, this
is it. My heart stuttered to a stop. I glanced quickly at Admael, who
was smiling calmly at us all, especially Ruth.
     Ruth blinked hard. ―It‘s fancy dress,‖ she said, brightly.
    ―What?‖ Danny and I chorused, both of us startled but for very
different reasons.
    Ruth shrugged. ―He‘s taking Jonny to a party after we close.
Something about mythical beings.‖ She frowned. ―I think that‘s what
he said.‖
    I felt my heart start up again. What had just happened? Did she
really believe that? Why wasn‘t anyone screaming or calling the Daily
Star?
    ―Mythical beasts?‖ Danny‘s eyes got wider and he took a long
slurp of his cocktail. ―Cool.‖
   Mikey appeared back at my shoulder, growling into my ear.
―You‘ll be sharing that invite, Jonny boy, or what?‖
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    ―No,‖ I said. They all believed it? ―Sorry, team. It‘s … a private
thing. Exclusive.‖
   Admael‘s gaze met mine and he winked at me. Danny grumbled;
Ruth gave a low catcall. Mikey slapped me on the shoulder so hard I
stumbled forward a couple of steps. ―About bloody time you scored.‖
     ―That‘s not just scoring,‖ Ruth said wistfully. ―It‘s championship
league promotion.‖ She blushed, raised a hand and gave a small,
girlish wave to Admael.
     He – of course – smiled and waved back.
     ****
    When the rest of them were busy at the other end of the bar, I
scooted up to Admael. I‘d got him a glass of iced water so he looked
marginally more like a normal customer, but he hadn‘t touched it. He
just stood there, leaning contentedly on the bar, watching me as I
dashed about. He was dressed in nothing but my shorts again and an
old pair of flip-flops that I‘d lent him. The jeans and boots had just
seemed too cruel, in the end, and this way he looked a little like one of
the seasonal surfers.
     Well, apart from the bloody wings, of course.
     ―What did you do to her?‖ I hissed. ―To all of them?‖
   Admael tilted his head. ―You work so hard, Jonathan. Will you
have time for sex soon?‖
    I rolled my eyes. No, I wasn‘t going to be distracted, though
someone ought to tell that to my hopefully twitching cock. ―Why
aren‘t they scared or shocked? I mean, they can all see the wings, but
it doesn‘t seem to bother them.‖
     He smiled.
    ―Admael…‖ He was bloody impossible. I felt an unfair but fierce
spike of anger. ―It‘s not normal. No one else has wings. No one else is
built like a young god, like you. No one else talks in that weird way,
like they‘ve never been on a bus, or worn boots, or drunk at a bar.‖ I
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swallowed hard. ―No one else is bothered about watching me wear
myself out behind a sweaty bar under neon lights with heavy dance
music throbbing in their ears.‖
   His smile – just for that small, sudden moment – faltered.
―Jonathan. These things happen.‖
     ―No, they don‘t,‖ I snapped. A customer had been weaving his
way to the bar – maybe for drinks, maybe just to be near the godlike,
weird-talking fellow customer I was currently snapping at – but he
diverted nervously at the sound of my voice. ―What I mean is, they
don‘t happen to me. I‘m just ordinary. Doing my best. Not making
enough money, not finding much time for fun, not sure what‘ll happen
in life, where I‘ll end up.‖
    Admael gazed at me. Funny, the lights over the bar made it look
like there were tears in his eyes. ―It‘s time things happened for you,
Jonathan.‖
     I laughed. ―God knows it‘s way overdue.‖
     ―Yes he does,‖ Admael said simply.
    I stared at him. Ruth called for some help and Mikey wriggled
past behind me. The DJ pumped up the volume on the dance music.
The bar was always busy on a weekend night.
     ―So what is it you did to the others?‖
    He knew what I meant. ―They are all quite well, please don‘t
worry. I just suggested to their mind that they should keep their
distance, that what they see is quite acceptable. I gave them
comfortable explanations for the unusual things they see. I would not
want them disturbed or scared.‖
   ―No, I suppose you wouldn‘t.‖ But it was obviously all right for
me to feel that way. I still felt childishly annoyed.
     Admael reached over and took my hand. ―Do you want me to go?‖
    ―No.‖ I answered absentmindedly, but I realized how true it was.
―I … no.‖
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    ―Good,‖ he said. ―I have to stay with you now.‖ He seemed to
relax, despite the fact he had never really looked tense, even when he
was trying to squeeze into a pair of my socks.
    ―But I don‘t know how the mind meld thing can work longer
term,‖ I persisted.
    He tilted his head in that encouraging yet uncomprehending way
he had.
    ―I have to work most days. I travel on the bus. I buy food in the
supermarkets, I watch TV, I play football sometimes with the guys at
the hotel, I keep Mum‘s garden tidy, I read the occasional car
magazine.‖ None of it was sparking familiarity in his expression. ―I
go out and about and do ordinary things. I can‘t…‖ I paused and re-
phrased. ―I don‘t see how you can do all that with me without drawing
attention to yourself. Without …‖ My throat felt horribly dry.
―Without being really bored.‖
    Admael was quiet for a moment. ―I understand. You are
concerned for me. That‘s wonderful.‖ He gave an elegant shrug, his
half-naked body leaning closely in towards me. ―But you need not
worry. That‘s for me to attend to. I want to be with you, to watch you,
to please you. All the time. Everything else will be all right.‖
    The bar was getting busy and I knew I had to get back to work. I
looked into his wide, sparkling, earnest eyes and I almost believed
him. I knew I wanted to. ―We‘ll talk again at the end of my shift,‖ I
said, turning to take an order from a bunch of giggling girls on a hen
night, all of them with pink fluffy rabbit ears on their heads.
    ―You forgot to mention your gay porn channel subscription,‖
Admael called after me, his voice as clear as a bell, a huge grin on his
face. ―We can watch that together, can‘t we?‖
     ****
    At two a.m. the final call came over the speakers, last orders for
drinks.
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    ―Long night, eh?‖ Ruth passed me, grinning, her face shining with
sweat, her hands clasping a bunch of glasses for washing. ―Soon be on
our way home.‖
    ―Yes.‖ I just stood there, momentarily frozen, as patrons clustered
around the bar calling for last minute drinks, as the music lowered its
techno beat to something less aggressive, as the muted lights at the far
end of the room started to flicker back on. Some couples groaned,
disentangling themselves, distracted from groping in the semi-dark;
others darted on to the dance floor to take advantage of the final
tracks. Many of them were regulars and knew our routine. We stayed
open late, but when the call came, we closed promptly.
    I could see Danny over at a far table, sipping from another
obnoxiously coloured drink, his arm slung over the shoulders of one
of the gym-buffed young men he‘d been paying court to. They‘d
probably go on to one of the smaller, unlicensed clubs, or maybe one
or other‘s flat. They were laughing, and Denny was nuzzling the other
man‘s neck. Ruth was moving around the mess of tables, wiping
spillages, scooping up glasses, moving people on. Her eyes were
bright and her movements hurried. Her boyfriend would be picking
her up in the next half hour, and they‘d go back to their shared rooms
behind the Chinese takeaway, to chat about the tiring night and share
the latest stories. I could see plenty of people together, friends and
lovers, finishing their happy evening as a pair.
     In a sudden ache of need and worry, I scanned the crowd. Was he
still here? Was Admael still waiting? Or had he really been a dream,
some cruel hallucination created from my own loneliness, some
lunacy brought on by the sun and thwarted lust…
     He was still there, and his eyes met mine.
    He stood over by the door now, but he seemed to rise above the
dancers and the swaying drinkers so that I had no trouble seeing him,
head and shoulders above them. Plenty of guys had removed their
shirts as the night got darker and dirtier, but Admael‘s bare chest
looked as if it glowed with something other than a dancer‘s sweat.
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    ―Jonathan?‖ There was no way I could have really heard him over
the noise, but his voice was in my head. His smile was broad. ―Now?‖
   ―Yes,‖ I said. I didn‘t bother raising my voice because I knew he
heard me.
    Then he was there beside me, quite suddenly, my height again and
in the perfect position to look into my face. No one‘s eyes followed
him except mine; no one‘s hand touched him except for mine, as I
reached out and took his arm.
     ―Why me?‖ I asked. ―I‘m nothing special.‖
    He laughed, a musical sound that I heard perfectly well over the
raucous laughter and thudding musical beat. ―You‘re everything
special, Jonathan.‖
   I shook my head. My eyes were stinging. ―You‘re perfect. I never
had someone like you look at me like … you do. Like you don‘t care I
don‘t have money or qualifications or a six-pack.‖
     He peered thoughtfully at my chest. ―I could…‖
   ―No!‖ I only suspected what he was going to say but I thought I
ought to stop him promising me things I wouldn‘t know how to
explain next time I played beach football. ―I just meant I never
expected…‖
    He waited for me to finish what I was going to say, but of course I
didn‘t know how to without sounding even more of a loser.
    ―You‘re not a loser, Jonathan,‖ he said. ―You will get a good
degree, an interesting job, and probably enough money to meet your
needs, whatever they are. At least, that‘s if you can stop Gran from
using your bank card for the TV phone-ins.‖
    I started to laugh but he caught my chin in his hand and looked
straight into my eyes. ―You are bright, funny, honest, compassionate
and generous. You look after your mother and your Gran, even though
you had to apply to a local college and forego many parties, so that
you can help in the B&B. And I know so much more.‖
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     ―You do?‖ I said weakly.
    ―In kindergarten, you gave your favourite ice cream to Sarah
Jones‘s little sister because she dropped hers in the paddling pool. In
junior school, you refused to follow your friends in beating up Charlie
Perry even though he cheated in Maths and took your prize. When
you were fifteen, you gave Donna Thomas your coat on that very cold
New Year‘s Eve because she‘d lost hers after a party, and you
contracted flu coming home in your shirt sleeves. In sixth form, you
climbed Mr Allen‘s tree and rescued his nephew‘s kitten, even though
you twisted your knee and missed the football trials. Nowadays, as an
adult, you help the children at the karate club for free, and sign on for
fundraising events at the hospital charity every year. Last Christmas,
you sat up all night to comfort Ruth when she and her boyfriend
nearly broke up. Two months ago, you drove Mrs. Peters from next
door to hospital when she went into labour early at three a.m. even
though you had an exam the next day. You even offered to stay and be
her birthing companion …‖ He smiled, his eyes twinkling with
mischief. ―Though luckily her husband turned up shortly afterwards.
You were afraid you would faint at the crucial moment.‖
     I gaped at him. No one knew all that. ―No one knows all that!‖
    ―Those are just a few examples. You are a good man, and the kind
who deserves the very best in return.‖ He snickered, startling me even
further. ―And luckily you are also the kind of man I would most like
to have sex with. You always have been.‖
   ―I always…?‖ I was hot with shock and embarrassment. ―You‘ve
been stalking me?‖
    He shrugged gracefully. The wings fluttered suddenly and
stretched out from behind his back. I was awed by how large they
looked unfurled. They glittered under the bar lights, the feathered tips
vibrating with the closing music. I found myself taking a step towards
him, as if to huddle in under their protection and care.
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    ―It‘s not stalking if it‘s fate. But yes, I have watched you, for a
long time. You‘re my …‖ He smiled, but this time it was a special,
soft smile, that seemed just for me. ―My man.‖
   His wings shuddered as if electricity had suddenly run through
them, and they folded forwards around us both, drawing me in. I took
another step forward. My mind was confused, my heart was aching.
    ―Jonny!‖ Mikey called over from the other side of the room. He‘d
just shuffled a group of over-happy tourists singing hits from Mamma
Mia out into the street. He slammed the door shut behind them,
brushed his hands off with a satisfied grunt, then turned to me ―Just
get off to your party, will you?‖
    ―Party? Oh, right.‖ I flushed, my eyes still on Admael. ―I haven‘t
finished the tables by the snacks area yet.‖
    ―Leave them to me,‖ Ruth said, appearing behind me. ―Just this
once.‖ She frowned, but she didn‘t look really cross: in fact, she was
grinning at Admael. ―Jonny, you‘re wearing way too many clothes.‖
     ―I …?‖
    ―You should match Admael‘s fancy dress, shouldn‘t you? Keep
up, kid.‖
    I stared between the pair of them, simpering at each other. When
did they get so chummy they were organizing how I should get half-
naked on my date?
     When you finally got one, Jonny.
    Admael glanced at the last few customers stumbling out of the
bar, many of them arm in arm. ―Let‘s go, Jonathan,‖ he said, and he
carefully linked his arm into mine, in just the same way.
     ****
    Admael hugged me on the bus, when we walked up the
promenade, when we let ourselves back into the B&B. I didn‘t want
that to stop, even though it meant I took three goes to get the key in
the lock. We laughed when we bumped into each other on the stairs,
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and I got one of my bootlaces knotted when I tried to pull them off too
quickly. I peeled off my tee shirt and scrambled out of my jeans to
stand in just my boxers. He kicked off his flip-flops and loosened the
waistband of the shorts. It was all fun: I felt relaxed and good with
him. This was right, and I was ready.
     And then his wings unfurled again.
    They looked much larger in my small room. They made me feel
breathless, just from gazing at them. They shimmered like black
pearls, even under the dim bedroom light, and after having been
clutched against his back for some time, the feathers seemed to ruffle
on opening, one by one, coming back to glorious life. I could smell
hunger in them for their freedom, hear their sensual flutter as they
reached for space and air. I desperately wanted to touch them, but I
didn‘t know if I should – or could.
    What was it going to be like, sex with an angel? Would I hear
heavenly choirs? Would I grow wings myself? Would I be a horrible,
clumsy disappointment to him with my lack of six-pack and an
overexcited libido and a bed that creaked if you pushed too hard on
the headboard …?
   ―Jonathan? You‘re upset again. Would you rather join up with
Mikey and Danny?‖
     I stared back, startled. ―Of course not.‖
    Admael looked both relieved and worried. ―Yet I am concerned
there will be disappointment.‖
   ―What the hell?‖ Had he been reading my mind again? ―With
what?‖
    To my astonishment, he blushed. ―With me. I haven‘t … things
are very different here. I want to please you. But maybe …‖
   ―Maybe, what?‖ And then the penny dropped. ―Admael, have you
had sex before?‖
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    His eyes widened, and two small spots of pink appeared on his
cheeks. He was impossibly gorgeous and my cock swelled painfully –
and dangerously – inside my boxers. I didn‘t know whether to laugh,
cry or pump my fist in the air. Performance anxiety, be damned! We
were novices together.
     ―Jonathan?‖
   ―Here‘s me, imagining you‘re all doing it on the wing, night and
day with the sun perpetually shining and no one ever coming too
soon, in fact before they even get their boxers off…‖
     ―Jonathan, is that another joke?‖
     I laughed, happily and eagerly. ―It will be, if we don‘t get on with
it. Let‘s not worry about disappointment, it‘s not likely, is it?‖ Before
I could lose my nerve, I slid to my knees in front of him and peeled
down the shorts. His cock bounced out of the garish fabric, nearly
smacking me on the nose.
     God.
     He was as erect as the first time I saw him. Magnificent. The skin
was flushed and hot against my cheek. A small drop glistened at the
tip. I licked at it, tentatively. It tasted the same as my other modest
experience of come, and yet … so very, deliciously different.
     Admael cried out and shuddered. ―Oh. More, please!‖
    Grinning, I slid my mouth over the head and started to suck.
Admael shivered and whimpered very gratifyingly. In fact, at one
stage I told him to shush in case he woke Gran, or at least put his mind
meld on her for this evening. He looked shocked at the idea, until I
boldly ran my hand between his thighs and brushed the skin behind
his balls. He nearly lifted off the ground with shock, but he obediently
lowered his voice.
     ―Let me do that, too,‖ he gasped. ―Jonathan, please. Please.‖
    I tumbled us both on to the bed and shifted around as best I could
in the space so that each of us could reach the other‘s cock. His hands
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were very firm on my arse, kneading the flesh like a favourite toy. His
breath was clumsy but eager and hot on my hole, and when he sucked
one of my balls into his mouth he gave a shocked, delighted gasp.
    ―It‘s wonderful! You taste wonderful. We must do more and more
of this.‖
     ―I can certainly live with that.‖ My laugh was mixed with my own
gasp, I was fighting the very serious threat of coming too soon. I tried
to concentrate on peanut butter, or ice creams, or Gran‘s teeth soaking
in a glass by the bathroom cabinet, but nothing could eclipse the pure
thrill of Admael‘s enthusiastic mouth on my cock and balls.
     ―I‘m coming,‖ I groaned.
     ―You‘re …?‖
    Too late to run a course on climax etiquette for him, because it
happened. I moaned and my whole body flushed and shook. The
ecstasy curled up from inside my gut and through every one of my
nerves. I felt my cock bump against his teeth as it swelled. Come spat
out on his tongue and my thighs tensed up either side of his head.
   Oh God. Thank you, God! I cried out some other nonsense
sounds, my lips still around his cock, my hands clutching his hips
much too tightly. I‘d lost all control. It had been the best thing in the
world.
     The very best.
     ―Oh,‖ Admael whispered.
    Trying to recapture my breath, I peered awkwardly back up his
body and saw drops of me on his lips and chin. He looked astounded
but excited. In fact, he looked like the most sexy, fabulous, adorable
thing I‘d ever seen.
    ―It‘s … I … something‘s coming for me, too. Jonathan!‖ His
voice was fractured. Reluctantly, I dragged my mouth off his cock and
replaced it with my hand. I started to stroke him, firmly but carefully.
It wasn‘t that I didn‘t want him to come in my mouth in return – I
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wanted to know, would it really taste different? Should I have worried
about safe sex with an angel? – but I wanted to see his face this very
first time with another man.
    ―Oh. Oh. I can‘t… Jonathan, your hand…please, yes…‖ His pleas
were both amusing and awesome. I leaned over him, pressing against
the slick skin of his torso, feeling the sweaty curls of his hair lick
around my face. I stroked, lazily, relentlessly and he tossed his head
about on the bed, his eyes half closed. I dropped my own head and
kissed him full on the mouth. His desire was sweet, delicious. I licked
up a stray blob of my come on his lower lip and he wrinkled his nose
as if it tickled. The gesture made my heart beat twice as fast and a
small tear prickle at the corner of my eye.
     God. How stupid I felt.
   Then his eyes opened wide, he stared at me and smiled, a smile as
beautiful as the angel he was.
    How stupid? How perfect. I bent over again and sucked at his
nipple, loving the shudder through his body. His skin tasted of the sea,
of sweat, of the cool night air.
    As he came, his wings spread even wider than before, the edges
brushing against the wall of my room, the feathers seeming to crackle,
a blue-grey, glistening hue to his skin blending with their raven
darkness. He raised his upper body off the bed, clutching his arms
around me, his hips jerking and his come trickling out over my fisted
hand, his mouth pressing hard against mine, more a claim than a kiss.
    He sank back on to the bed, still holding me tight, my face against
his neck, both of us panting.
     ―Oh,‖ he said again, almost reverently.
     I chuckled. ―Yes, I know.‖
   I felt him frown. ―I did not know you had the same skills, to know
my thoughts.‖
     I shook my head, smiling.
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     ―Will we do it again, Jonathan?‖
    I rolled my eyes but of course he didn‘t see. ―Give a man a chance
to rest first. But, oh yes, we will. We definitely will.‖ I snuggled
against him, listening to the sound of his wings furling up again,
nestling on my pillows like they belonged there.
     ―Stay with me.‖ I yawned, suddenly tired.
     ―Of course,‖ he whispered in my ear. ―Almost always.‖
    ―Sorry?‖ What did he say? But his arms were warm and strong
around me and I couldn‘t fight off the sleep any more.
     ****
    A few weeks later, I woke suddenly in the middle of the night
without any explanation. It was dark outside and Admael wasn‘t
beside me. His side of the bed was cool. Yawning, I swung my legs
over the side of the bed and reached for my jeans and a sweatshirt.
    Mum had fitted up one of the larger bedrooms for me, after
Admael moved in. She seemed perfectly happy with that, even finding
us some new furniture and a small TV/DVD combo so we could
watch movies in private, when I came home from working at the bar.
Admael liked us to have plenty of privacy, mainly because he was
always keen for sex. Always. But was I complaining? If I did protest
at being dragged into the bedroom before I‘d barely had time to kick
off my boots, he suggested sweetly we could have sex on the stairs
instead or in the bathroom, or on one of the rides on the pier that Gran
had recommended … so after I stopped laughing, I‘d let him have his
way.
    In fact, he assimilated into the family like any much-loved son-in-
law would do – so seamless, I never even saw it happening. Mum did
his washing, too, whereas I‘d always had to do my own. And Gran
made him a round of sandwiches whenever he accompanied me to
work. Except, whereas I passed mine tactfully on to someone else – or
to be honest, binned the more inedible creations – Admael seemed to
finish his with great gusto every time.
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     And no one ever seemed to have any problem with the wings.
   I pattered around on the landing and peered into the lounge, but
couldn‘t see him anywhere. The house was quiet, we only had a few
guests at the time. I slipped on my clothes, coat and boots and let
myself out of the front door.
    Somehow I knew he‘d be down on the beach. No buses were
running at that time of night and I couldn‘t afford a taxi, so I walked
there. It didn‘t seem to take as long as usual. I trudged across the sand,
grey in the cloudy moonlight, and there he was – at almost the same
place as I originally found him, looking out to sea.
    He was dressed in loose jeans and a thin tee shirt with Kiss Me
Quick, or else in neon pink on the front. We cut holes in the back
nowadays to let the wings through, but clothes still seemed to fit him
beautifully. He always looked different, of course, but tonight there
was something else: a glowing mist around him that owed nothing to
the glint off the lapping waves.
     A cold fear settled in the pit of my stomach.
     ****
    I settled clumsily on the sand beside him. He must have heard me
coming but all he did was rest his head on my shoulder, still staring
out at the sea. There was no one else on the beach but us.
     ―Trouble?‖ I asked softly.
     ―Of course not.‖
    I snorted. ―That everything will be all right crap doesn‘t always
ring true, you know.‖
     ―You mustn‘t worry.‖
     ―You can‘t stop me. Not when it‘s for you.‖
     He tensed up against me. ―For me? I … that‘s not what I expect.‖
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    I shifted so that my arse was better settled in the sand and I could
turn my head and press my lips to his cheek. ―I want you to be happy,
Admael.‖
   ―I am!‖ He turned back, his mouth catching mine, and we kissed
deeply and comfortably.
     ―But…?‖
   He sighed and looked away again. ―I‘ve spent many weeks here,
Jonathan. This world is so very different.‖
    I had no idea what his world was like to compare, but I stayed
silent. I slid an arm around his waist to hug him to me. His warmth
slipped through me as if it had its own waves.
    ―I … there has been a lot to learn. The weather is an astonishing
surprise every day, people abuse their natural habitat most dreadfully.
Your bodies are restricted by awkward and sometimes painful
bindings, yet you seem proud of it all. You‘re always in such a rush,
yet your actual steps through life are slow and confused, and you
seem impossibly shy of connections.‖
     I chuckled. ―Yeah, that about sums us up.‖
   ―You all struggle with disappointment and anger, and you pursue
work that is ridiculously hard in proportion to its reward. And yet …‖
   ―Somedays we can look forward to peanut butter and hot dog
sandwiches?‖
    He didn‘t acknowledge my weak joke. ―I wanted to be with you,
Jonathan. I‘ve looked out for you all your life. And then, I reached a
point where I wanted to be in that life. To actively share it, to live it.
To enjoy the physical things, to see what it was like to be a man like
you. To be with you each day. All days.‖
    I let my head drop to his shoulder this time. His wings rustled at
his back and I could feel the steady throb of a pulse in his neck. ―And
I‘m so pleased you‘re here.‖
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   ―But they didn‘t want me to come. It‘s not allowed, you see. Not
encouraged, anyway. We‘re not really meant to do more than …‖
     ―Watch?‖
    He smiled, rather sadly. ―Yes. But when the opportunity came, I
demanded to use it. In fact, I demanded in a very insistent way.‖ He
seemed embarrassed, something I‘d never seen in him before. ―But in
mitigation, I had to agree to exile, to be cut off from my original life.
No contact, no support, no position there.‖
  ―Exile?‖ I was horrified. ―You can‘t go back? But that‘s not fair,
Admael –‖
    ―Hush.‖ He shook his head. ―Please don‘t be upset. They agreed
to reconsider after a while, to see whether I wanted to go back,
whether they … wanted me back.‖
   We were silent for a moment. The sea murmured in the
background; the indigo night settled around us both like a blanket.
     ****
     Admael stirred beside me. ―There were other reasons, Jonathan.‖
     ―There were?‖
    He nodded. ―The tangled, tortured life here is punishment for past
sins, whereas I live … lived in a paradise. But you know, if I am
honest with myself. I wanted some time away.‖ His voice was so soft,
I wasn‘t even sure if it was me he was talking to. ―From relentless
happiness, you understand?‖
     Of course I didn‘t, but I hugged tighter.
    ―The sun always shines, the air is perfectly balanced, the nights
are cool. There is no struggle, no work, no bindings, no argument, no
…‖
     ―No Gran?‖ I said, with a rueful grin.
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    His head twisted back around and he met my eyes. I was startled
at how intense he looked. ―I think the punishment of life here is also
your prize.‖
     ―What‘s that mean?‖
   His mouth pressed wetly on the juncture of my neck and shoulder.
―You said it just now.‖
     I cast my mind back. ―Gran? Hot dogs?
    He rolled his eyes. ―Your sense of humour, Jonathan. We have no
need for that when everything is good, when there‘s no conflict or
differentiation or mistake.‖ When I laughed, he hugged me.
―Jonathan, it seems I have come to rely on you. To need you, in a
physical sense as well as my watch over you.‖
   I licked my suddenly dry lips. ―I know I‘ve never had sex like
it…‖
    He smiled, a return to the sexy, hungry smile I knew so well. ―It‘s
marvelous, isn‘t it? I had no idea it would be so much fun. But I‘m
confused by the other things I feel. I like to be with you, to laugh with
you, to hug you. I appreciate your care and comfort, your generosity
in sharing your life, the way you try to protect the people you‘re close
to. You listen to me, you share your plans, your jokes, your worries.
I‘m grateful for the way you‘ve helped me adjust.‖
     ―But that‘s what love is,‖ I blurted out. I‘d never really announced
the L-word before, at least not to a boyfriend. To a lover. But that‘s
what Admael was, wasn‘t he? ―You‘re everything to me. I want your
life to be as good as you‘ve made mine.‖
   He stared at me. His cheeks went a dusky pink in the half-light.
He didn‘t speak.
   I drew a deep breath. ―They‘ve called you, haven‘t they?
Reconsidered your exile?‖
     He nodded, his eyes never leaving my face.
     ―You‘ll go back?‖
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    There was a small silent moment. Then he said, ―Of course I will
go back. It‘s my world, where I come from.‖
    ―Okay.‖ The night seemed much colder but I was determined to
put a brave face on it. ―Of course you will. It‘s where you belong.‖
    ―Jonathan?‖ Admael slid his hand behind my neck and pulled my
face around to meet his. ―Could I ever belong here, too?‖
     ―Of course you could. You do!‖
   He smiled, mischievously this time. ―And did you think that if I
went back, I‘d never come again?‖
     ―You will?‖ I just stared at him. ―I mean … I won‘t lose you?‖
   ―Never.‖ He leaned in and kissed me again, very, very sweetly. ―I
have demanded insistently again, that I travel between there and here
when I wish. I think I have assimilated more assertiveness from this
world than they expected.‖
     ―But you‘ll be …?‖
   ―Mainly here,‖ he whispered against my mouth, answering the
question I didn‘t dare ask. ―Almost always here. I will never leave
you. I never want to!‖
     ****
   We walked back to the B&B arm in arm, still seeing no one. It
was an unusually peaceful, but wonderful time together. Dammit, I‘d
have been happy for the walk to take forever, but I was glad to reach
home with him eventually. We snuck in the door as quietly as we
could, but as we crept across to the stairs, Gran popped her head out
from behind the kitchen door.
    ―Can hear your rustling from fifty paces,‖ she hissed, her gaze
fixed on Admael‘s back. Her eyes looked very bright.
     ―Gran? Did we wake you?‖
   She brandished a sandwich in the air. Something dripped from the
edge of it that looked like a cold baked bean. ―Just getting a midnight
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snack. Then I heard you love birds creeping around at the dead of
night, like we didn‘t give you enough shag time the rest of the week.‖
     I frowned at her. ―Thanks, Gran.‖
   ―Yes, thanks!‖ Admael said brightly. Obviously his sarcasm skills
needed more work.
    ―Get yourselves back off to bed now,‖ she ordered, waving the
sandwich so that another few beans plopped on to the carpet. ―If you
weren‘t such a good boy, Jonathan, I wouldn‘t have to pray so hard
for you. So make the most of it. Who knows how long libidos last
nowadays?‖
     ―Judging by yours, Gran…‖ I muttered under my breath.
   She snickered, though I was sure she couldn‘t have heard me.
―Sometimes prayers get answered, you know.‖
     ―Gran?‖ I paused on the lower stair.
     She just leered at us both and dipped back into the kitchen.
    I turned and stared at Admael. Did Gran‘s determined prayers for
my love life actually do something? ―Was that the opportunity you
told me about? The opportunity you were offered, to come and see me
in the flesh?‖
   ―I like that phrase,‖ Admael said. He often ignored my questions,
and this time I was sure it was deliberate. ―The flesh part of it.‖
   I put a hand on his shoulder. His eyes shone, his face was flushed
from the evening air. I could smell the salt on his wings again, the
sweet tang of their warmth.
     ―I love you,‖ I said. ―Wherever and whatever you are.‖
     His eyes widened and his smile broadened.
    I ran my hand down the front of his tee shirt and dipped inside his
jeans.
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    He sucked in a harsh breath, his belly tightening under my palm.
―I‘m still working on dressing,‖ he said quickly, defensively. ―I don‘t
always remember the boxer garments.‖
   ―You heard what Gran said,‖ I muttered, grinning. ―Get back to
bed, now!‖
     ****
    The bar was frenzied on club night. There were dancers on the
small stage at the back of the room, heavy techno beat throbbing up
through my feet from the floor, and barely time to turn back from
ringing up one drinks sale to face the next.
   Ruth nudged me in the ribs as she passed with a tray of beers.
―You sure he‘s doing this for free?‖
     I glared at her.
    ―Okay, okay.‖ She backed away, shaking her head. ―I love him
too, Jonny, no need to growl at me. He never has eyes for anyone but
you, you know that. I just thought he‘d expect tips at least, even if
he‘s not taking a cut of the wages.‖
    I glanced to the other end of the bar where Admael was producing
cocktails like he‘d been born to it, shaking and pouring swiftly,
balancing them on trays and twisting napkins into fancy little creature
shapes. All at the same time.
    ―It‘s fancy dress,‖ I saw him mouth cheerfully in answer to a
buxom young woman who was leaning over the bar, face flushed, her
fascinated gaze on his wings. He was drawing a beer and topping up
two gin and tonics, yet not a drop of liquid spilling. As I watched, she
made a sudden, clumsy grab over the bar for him. I gasped,
immediately on alert, ready to run to him and keep interference at bay.
   But he sidestepped swiftly and easily, and was suddenly two feet
away from her. Her hands closed on empty air. He turned his head and
winked at me, then switched back to his work.
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    ―No, I‘m not offended at all,‖ he said to the bemused customer,
his voice rippling with happiness and confidence. ―You know, some
of my best friends are angels!‖
    As I started to laugh at the joke, I knew everything would be all
right.
THE END
     Author bio: Clare took the pen name London from the city where
she lives, loves, and writes. A lone, brave female in a frenetic,
testosterone-fuelled family home, she juggles her writing with the
weekly wash, waiting for the far distant day when she can afford to
give up her day job as an accountant. She‘s written in many genres
and across many settings, with novels and short stories published both
online and in print. She says she likes variety in her writing while
friends say she‘s just fickle, but as long as both theories spawn good
fiction, she‘s happy. Most of her work features male/male romance
and drama with a healthy serving of physical passion, as she enjoys
both reading and writing about strong, sympathetic and sexy
characters.
    Clare currently has several novels sulking at that tricky chapter 3
stage and plenty of other projects in mind . . . she just has to find out
where she left them in that frenetic, testosterone-fuelled family home.
    All the details and free fiction are available at her website. Visit
her today and say hello!
     Website : http://www.clarelondon.co.uk
     Blog : http://clarelondon.livejournal.com/
     Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/clarelondon
     Twitter: http://twitter.com/clare_london
     GLBT Bookshelf: http://bookworld.editme.com/clarelondonb...
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition                   357


Belinda McBride – FREE TO FLY (BDSM)
Genre: BDSM contemporary
Tags: established couples, leather, lawyer,                         Dear Author,
culinary, family drama                                              I'm really curious on how
Words: 6,555                                                        these two got to this place.
                                                                    Did they always know one
FREE TO FLY                                                         wanted to submit and the
                                                                    other to dominate? Did it
By Belinda McBride                                                  grow out of an established
                                                                    relationship? Is this the
     At eight pm, the street lights were                            "coming out of the closet"
beginning to glow and the scent of summer                           for their Dom/Sub
grilling still lingered on the warm summer air.                     relationship?
The breeze carried the scent of the Pacific                         Could you please settle my
Ocean and in the distance, he could hear the                        curiosity about these two
                                                                    men and how they
churning engine of a boat. Vincent Sala coasted                     "discovered" this beautiful
his Harley to a stop at the curb, gazing around                     aspect of their love?
at the neighborhood he already missed. The                          [PHOTO: Bondage on a
house he‘d lived in this past year had never                        bridge in slanted sunlight.
really evolved into a home, in spite of all the                     The nearer man kneels, ass
                                                                    exposed in black chaps and
hopes he‘d cherished. Tonight would begin the                       boots, muscular arms
end of the most heart-felt, frustrating                             braced on the rails, his
relationship he‘d ever had in his life.                             close-cropped head bowed.
                                                                    Of his lover, only a pair of
     True love doesn‘t always prevail.                              lean legs can be seen,
                                                                    ankles roped outward. This
    The lights were on in the kitchen and living
                                                                    man must be on his back,
room. He frowned, triggering the garage door                        ass open to his lover.]
opener and rolling the bike in next to Daniel                       Sincerely,
McGee‘s upscale SUV. It was Friday; Danny
                                                                    Tj
was scheduled to fly to St. Louis in just a few
hours. He was tied up in a big case and
deposition was schedule on Monday morning. If
not for the house lights, Vincent would suspect
that his soon–to-be ex had taken the airport
shuttle. Unfortunately, a raised voice told him
otherwise. This couldn‘t be good.
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    Vince had planned to start packing tonight. He glanced around the
garage…this was his space. When he‘d first moved in, he‘d taken
mercy on Daniel, clearing the garage of its myriad moving boxes,
storage and general clutter. Dan had been parking on the street until
then. He sighed. The garage was large enough that he‘d been able to
set up a work bench and his tools. Living in apartments all his life,
Vincent had never had the luxury of space.
    He hadn‘t planned to pack and run, that was the coward‘s way out.
He‘d intended to pack, wait for Daniel to return home next week, and
then have the talk. It wouldn‘t come as a surprise; they‘d both been
miserable these past few months. This way was probably better. He
wasn‘t much of believer in letting a bad situation drag out. It‘s just
that he‘d hoped that this was the real thing…a life commitment. It
wasn‘t hard to visualize forever with Daniel McGee. At least…when
things were good.
   Vincent slipped his helmet off, hung it on the wall and ran a hand
over his sweaty, bristly scalp. He grabbed his satchel from the
saddlebag, counted to ten, and then opened the door, stepping into
chaos.
    Danny was pacing the kitchen, cell phone to his ear, laptop open
on the table, and his suitcase tipped over on its side by the doorway.
Paper spilled from his briefcase and he didn‘t even bother to nod in
Vincent‘s direction. His cheeks were flushed and his carefully cut hair
was ruffled. If ever there was a man on the road to a heart attack, it
was Daniel. He wasn‘t even thirty yet.
   Shucking his leather jacket, Vincent headed for the utility closet
where he unbuckled and hung up his leathers. He unlaced his riding
boots and kicked them on the floor next to a pair of ancient steel-toes.
    ―Carrie…can you please just check again? I swear, I‘ve got a
travel site up right now, they show another flight going out in just a
couple hours….you did?‖ Hand to his head, Daniel clutched his hair.
―Carrie…seriously…seriously…no, tomorrow afternoon is too late.
I‘m supposed to meet with the clients first thing. OK….ok…just do
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your best…‖ He powered off the phone, stared at it and his hand
tightened convulsively.
   ―Don‘t.‖ Vincent warned, pulling open the refrigerator door. Not
much in there; he should have just eaten on the road.
    ―Fuck this shit,‖ Daniel mumbled, kicking the suitcase on his way
out of kitchen. A heartbeat later, he was back in the room. ―They
canceled the fucking flight. Mechanical issues. Everything else is
booked…Carrie can‘t even get me on a stand-by till tomorrow
afternoon!‖ He started pacing again. Vincent pulled bread and peanut
butter from the cupboard, and jam from the fridge. He carefully made
a couple sandwiches, letting Daniel rant. He considered a bottle of
beer, chose milk instead. Neither of them needed alcohol tonight.
    He watched his lover in the reflection of the kitchen window.
Danny was dark-haired and slender; beautiful in the way that only
certain men can be. He was as comfortable in a flannel shirt and jeans
as he was in cashmere and wool. And most of the time, his personality
was sunny as his smile. Unfortunately, clouds had been dimming his
light. He couldn‘t remember the last time Daniel had laughed.
    Vincent looked at his own dim reflection and marveled at how
they‘d managed to come together. If ever there was an odd couple, it
was Vince and Danny. Where Danny was chic and urbane, Vincent
was rough, with his buzz-cut hair and guarded brown eyes. His hands
were rough and his muscles where hard from years of hard work.
    Vince was a chef, but he‘d certainly never gone to culinary school.
An inner city kid rarely had the funds for fancy cooking schools. He‘d
sweated away in kitchens from the time he was a kid, working for
whatever wage he could get, and for free when he had to. He‘d
graduated high school only because it made sense to have that bit of
paper in hand. He spoke Italian, French and Spanish…enough to get
by with most of his co-workers. He could even pull out a bit of
Cantonese when necessary.
    The year Daniel entered grad school, Vince landed his first
position as executive chef in an upscale restaurant in the City. When
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Danny passed the bar exams, Vincent graduated from executive chef
to business owner. Their meeting was a stroke of serendipity. Danny
had been promoted to junior partner in his firm and Vincent was
playing host at Tapas, his third restaurant. He‘d seated the lawyers,
looked into a pair of brilliant blue eyes and lost his heart. No one was
as surprised as Vincent at the whirlwind speed of their romance. One
morning he woke up in Danny‘s house on the channel. That same day,
he moved out of his apartment.
   He turned, eating his sandwich while Danny returned to his laptop
and begin yet another search. ―I could drive to Oakland…maybe even
Sacramento.‖
   ―Or you could go tomorrow. Be nice to have an evening at home.
Together.‖
    It was a futile hope, a last minute offer of détente, but Vincent
grabbed onto that last little bit of desperate hope. It was stupid; he‘d
just get shot down. But he loved Daniel and didn‘t want to lose him.
Could one night make the difference?
    ―The depo‘s on Monday, Vince. I need all the prep time I can
get.‖
    ―You‘re a good lawyer, Danny. Nobody knows this case as well
as you. If it‘s necessary, you can do a teleconference in the morning
and then meet your clients on Sunday.‖ That comment was met with
silence.
    When Daniel slammed the lid of the laptop closed, he jumped.
The tension in the room went up another notch. He turned, washed his
dishes and put them in the drainer, then started upstairs. He was
covered with sweat and road dirt. Now, his soul was as weary as his
body.
     ―Where were you all day?‖
    He paused. Sighed. ―I was up the coast a ways. There‘s been a
place up there I had my eye on for a couple years. The owners
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contacted me last month; they want to sell. I spent the day with their
lawyer, hammering out terms.‖
   ―You bought another restaurant? Don‘t you think three is
enough?‖ Danny turned in the chair, looking at him with a devastating
mix of shock and dawning realization in his expression.
   Vincent cleared his throat. ―I‘m selling Tapas. Had an offer on it.
Thought I‘d try something new.‖
     ―You‘re selling Tapas? But that‘s where—―
    ―I know, Danny. It‘s special to me too, but this is business. It‘ll
turn a substantial profit.‖
   ―Profit.‖ He snorted in disgust. ―Business. That‘s pretty much all
you think about, isn‘t it?‖
    ―Your business drags you all over the country. You do it for
profit.‖ The anger that was rising in Vincent was different than usual.
It was hot and nasty; putting him right at the edge of a precipice he‘d
avoided most of his life. Big guys like him couldn‘t afford to lose
their temper. It was dangerous in so many ways…
     ―I do my job. I‘m not selling something I love for money.‖
    He was up, pacing again. His cell phone rang and Danny picked it
up, glancing to see who was calling. ―Yes?‖ He waited…listening.
―Great. Just great.‖ He sighed. ―I understand. It‘s not your fault,
Carrie. You go home, and make sure you put this on your timecard.
Okay? I‘ll see you next week.‖ He hung up the phone. ―Nothing till
tomorrow.‖ He stared at the phone in his hand.
     ―Danny…‖
   His arm came back and he hurled it across the room. The
expensive phone narrowly missed the window as it slammed into the
wall. He whirled, bracing himself against the table.
     ―You‘re dumping the restaurant just like you‘re dumping me.‖
   It felt like a punch to the gut. Danny stalked out of the kitchen,
pushing past Vincent, slamming into his shoulder. Without pausing to
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   362


think, Vince reached out, grabbing Danny‘s arm, pushing him face-
first into the wall. He held him there for a moment, getting a rush
from the incipient violence…from his ability to control the other man
with nothing but brute strength. Danny‘s cheek was pressed into the
wall, one arm trapped, the other in Vincent‘s powerful grasp.
    ―Is this what you were hoping for? To push me into hurting you?‖
His voice was a low snarl, his powerful hands dug into Danny‘s
shoulder and arm. The other man had gone still, his eyes wide, his
breathing fast. Unable to leash the anger, Vincent shook him, and then
slammed his hips into Danny‘s ass. His cock was hard as stone and
shame wormed through him like a snake. One finger at a time, he
released his grip. But he didn‘t move back from Danny‘s body. He
looked at that handsome face and saw fear, relief and something that
looked like sheer, raw arousal.
    ―This is it, isn‘t it?‖ He reached around, cupping Danny‘s cock
through the expensive fabric of his trousers. He was so aroused, so
erect that there was a damp spot leaking through. ―All this time
you‘ve wanted me to play the tough guy. You‘ve wanted to be pushed
into walls and forced to submit.‖ Danny shivered as he whispered in
his ear. ―Did you even know?‖
       ―N…no. No. But maybe…yeah.‖ He could barely force the words
out.
    ―Well that‘s what you got. You pushed me here, Danny.‖ He
rested his head against his lover‘s shoulders for a moment, gathering
his emotions. What he was about to do couldn‘t be done in anger,
someone could get hurt. He let the heat simmer in a pool in his belly.
Clearing his mind, he decided on his next move.
       ****
    ―Now Daniel, I‘m going upstairs. I‘m taking a shower and getting
myself cleaned up. You take a few minutes and decide exactly what it
is you want from me. Then you get your ass up to our room. You
bring whatever you want me to use with you. Do you understand?‖
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     Danny nodded.
   ―Then you strip naked. You kneel on the floor and you wait for
me. Do you understand?‖
     Danny nodded again.
     ―Say it!‖ He twisted his arm a bit.
     ―I understand!‖
     ―I think you‘re missing something there.‖
    Daniel blinked rapidly; he looked semi-panicked, rushing to find
the right answer. He decided to help him out a little. He gripped
Danny‘s thick hair and pulled his head till their faces were just inches
apart.
     ―Who am I, Daniel?‖
   ―You…you‘re my…ma…‖he stumbled, clearly on the path he
wanted to go down, but still slightly lost. He stopped, took a breath
and calmed himself. ―Sir. You‘re my Sir.‖
     Slowly, Vincent let him loose. He looked ruefully down at the
front of his jeans; the last thing he wanted right now was to walk away
and get into the shower. But they both needed a few minutes to cool
down and process what had just happened. He took a step back,
waiting for Danny to whirl around and strike out. Instead, he leaned
into the wall, hiding his face. His shoulders heaved as he gulped down
air.
     ―You okay?‖
     ―Yeah.‖
     ―Do you want this to stop?‖ He had to offer the man a way out.
    ―No!‖ Obviously, Danny didn‘t want a way out. ―I need this.
Please.‖
    His voice was gruff. Was he crying? Without another word,
Vincent left the kitchen, climbing the stairs to the room they‘d shared
for a year now. Vince knew the past few months had been hard on
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them both, but he‘d never really been able to figure out what was
driving Daniel‘s unhappiness. Was domination a kink he craved in a
relationship, or was his life so full of pressure that he needed this
release? He stood by the window, looking over the tiny back yard that
led down to the boat dock.
    Daniel‘s passion was sailing. He lived for his weekends on the
water, but it had been months since they‘d been out. The Dove was
there like a ghost in the darkness, always ready to go, but never
leaving her slip. They‘d fallen into the routine of their jobs, their
obligations. Vincent spent evenings in his restaurants, sometimes
cooking, other times just taking care of business. Daniel spent
weekends on the road, hustling on behalf of his firm. They had sex
often, but clearly that wasn‘t enough. And for the first time, Vincent
realized that maybe it was his failure, not Daniel‘s. Maybe he hadn‘t
asked the right questions, or tried hard enough. He‘d waited for
Danny to speak, and tonight, he‘d finally heard him.
    Shoving his hands into his pockets, he fished out his phone and
keys, dropping them onto the dresser. He stripped naked, carrying his
stuff into the bathroom hamper. Vincent cranked up the shower,
stepping in before it was warm, letting the sting of the spray pierce the
odd, sad mood he‘d drifted into. He soaped up, scrubbed himself
down, fondling his semi-erect cock. What sort of person was he that
got turned on by bullying another man? Maybe he was just luck, since
that seemed to float Danny‘s boat. He rinsed and shut off the water,
grabbing a towel from the rack. After he dried his face, he looked up
and froze, staring at the back of the door.
    His leathers were hanging off the robe hook. His riding boots were
on the floor. A wide leather belt lay coiled next to the boots.
     Vincent took a deep breath and grinned.
     ****
    Daniel was on his knees, naked and beautiful and looking a bit
self-conscious. He looked up; his cheeks flushed red at the sight of
Vincent. As he watched, Danny‘s cock began to rise. He fought down
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition    365


a grin; there was nothing under the riding chaps but his knee high
boots. He had the wide leather belt draped over his shoulder. His face
and head were a bit bristly and down below, the leather lovingly
framed his hard, aching cock. He ran a hand over his belly, up to his
chest, drawing Daniel‘s gaze to the tough, cut muscle and tanned skin.
     Vincent glanced at the bed; in the few minutes he‘d been in the
shower, Danny had made it up neatly. Rope was neatly coiled at the
foot. Next to it was a bottle of lube and a length of fabric. Initially
he‘d thought the belt was for binding Danny. It appeared there was
another purpose for that wide strap of leather. For the first time, he
felt uneasiness flutter though his gut. Binding and blindfolding was
something he could get into. Hitting? Pain? A man couldn‘t live in the
Bay Area most of his life and not be aware of the pain scene, but
could he step up to the plate and offer his lover what he needed?
   ―You ever do this before?‖ he asked. Mutely, Danny shook his
head. ―Okay. So if it gets too much, tell me your word for ‗stop.‘‖
   Danny swallowed, his eyes lingering on Vincent‘s erect shaft.
―Candy.‖
     ―Okay. Candy. If you say that, I stop.‖ He walked across the
room, stopping just inches in front of the kneeling man. ―Here‘s what
I think you want. You listen. When I finish, you tell me if I‘m wrong.‖
     With his head still bowed, Danny nodded. ―Yes, Sir.‖
     ―Say it so I can hear it.‖
    ―Yes Sir.‖ Danny‘s chest heaved; otherwise, he remained
perfectly still. His body nearly vibrated in anticipation.
     ―I think you want to bend over and show me your beautiful ass.
You want me to touch it…maybe you want me to be gentle. And then,
I think you want me to use that belt on you till you‘re red as a rose. Is
that right?‖
     ―Yes Sir.‖
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     ―Then I think you want to wear those ropes. You want to be tied
up tight from head to foot. You want me to put that blindfold on you.
And then you want my cock in your mouth. You want me to fuck you
till you choke.‖ Shit. He‘d bring himself off just by talking about it.
Thankfully, there were a couple cock rings lying next to the lube. He
took a deep breath. ―After that, you want me to fuck your ass. You
want me to fuck you so hard you won‘t be able to breathe. You won‘t
know if you‘re coming or going. And you know what? You won‘t
come because I won‘t let you. And tomorrow, when you fly out of
here, you‘ll think of me every minute…every second that you‘re
sitting on that plane.‖
    He reached down and grabbed Danny‘s jaw, forcing him to look
up, and then to rise to his feet.
     ―Look at me.‖
    Danny obeyed; his blue eyes were brilliant, glazed with an
excitement Vincent had never witnessed before. ―Get those cock
rings. Put one on. Then put the other on me.‖ He watched carefully;
they‘d have trouble getting the rings on with their erections. Danny
had always favored an adjustable strap, so his went on quickly. The
steel ring that Vincent favored wouldn‘t be so easy. He relaxed,
willing his erection down and watched as Danny lubed the ring, gently
working his balls through it.
     Danny‘s touch on his dick nearly did him in.
    When he was finished, Vincent looked Danny over from head to
toe. For a desk jockey, he stayed fit. His belly was flat and lightly
muscled. His body was nearly hairless, except for the dark nest of
pubic hair that surrounded the base of his cock. His legs were long
and his hips were narrow. Now he was aroused again, his shaft began
to purple with trapped blood. He liked the look of the ring Danny
wore; it was like a harness, holding him up and forward for Vincent to
enjoy.
     ―Turn around.‖
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    Danny presented his back. His ass was tight, narrow and
muscular. He reached out, stroked it, letting his fingers linger between
his cheeks. Without any warning, Vincent brought his hand down
sharply. The sound shocked him and Danny hissed. Was it too much?
     ―Yes or no?‖
     ―Yes!‖
     ―Then bend over. Spread your legs and touch the floor.‖
    Danny obeyed and Vincent closed his eyes briefly. His mouth
went dry, both at the eroticism of the sight and at Danny‘s obedience.
His trust was humbling. He reached up and rubbed his eyes.
    ―Hand or strap?‖ He sounded gruff and stern, completely opposite
of what he felt. Vincent didn‘t know what the hell he was doing, but
Danny didn‘t care. Danny just wanted to please.
     ―Start with the hand. Please, Sir.‖
   Vincent blinked rapidly. Raised his hand and brought it down.
Hard. There was a red mark where he‘d first struck Danny, now there
was a matching print on the other side. His hand stung so he knew it
had to hurt. He stroked gently, knowing the skin on his hand was
rough rather than soothing. Danny moaned a bit.
     ―Quiet.‖ He brought his hand down sharply. Without speaking, he
unlooped the belt from his shoulder, testing it against his hand. When
it snapped, Danny flinched. ―Do you like that sound?‖
     ―Yes, Sir.‖
    Vincent trailed the leather over his ass then up between his legs.
He glanced at Danny‘s face, which was flushed from the position he‘d
been holding. ―Straighten up. Bend over and brace your hands on the
bed.‖ Carefully, Danny followed his instructions. Once he was in
place, Vincent rubbed the leather between his fingers.
     ―I‘m going to use the belt. It‘s going to hurt.‖ Danny braced
himself. ―Relax. Don‘t get tense. It‘ll be better if you aren‘t fighting
it.‖
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    Or so he hoped. His mom had spanked him only once in his life.
He‘d been sixteen, six foot two to her five foot three inches. She‘d put
him over her lap that day and paddled his ass good. He couldn‘t
remember what he‘d done to piss her off so bad, but afterward, they‘d
both ended up laughing. She‘d never tried to punish him again and he
did his best never to give her reason.
    Vincent raised his hand and brought the leather down across
Daniel‘s ass. There was a loud ‗crack‘ that stunned him. At first,
Danny didn‘t react. As the pain registered, he went stiff, and then
loose again.
     ―Again, Sir. Please.‖
    He struck again, picking a lower spot on his buttocks. The next
blow landed on Danny‘s upper thighs, perilously close to his testicles.
The smaller man was breathing hard now. One glance showed that he
was hard and erect. Vincent eyed the welts; none should bruise. He‘d
make sure to rub arnica cream on them after they were finished. He
didn‘t want to risk one more blow, after all, Danny had to fly
tomorrow. He put the belt on the bed and stepped several feet away.
     ―Stand up. Hand me the rope.‖
   Danny was trembling. Bright patches of red stained his pale face.
Sweat shone over his chest. When he handed Vincent the rope, his
hand lingered. He smiled reassuringly.
    ―I‘m all right, Vince. I‘m good.‖ He was out of character, taking
the moment to comfort Vincent.
   What had Danny seen in his face? He took a deep breath and
nodded once. Leaned down and kissed Daniel. ―You‘re amazing.‖
   Danny gave a short caustic laugh. He then retreated behind the
mask of the submissive.
    ―Don‘t know any fancy ways to tie you up. But when I‘m
finished, you won‘t be able to move your arms. If you‘re
uncomfortable or feel panicky, tell me.‖ Next time, he‘d remember to
have scissors on hand. And different rope. This wasn‘t bad, but he‘d
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like a more pliable texture against Danny‘s skin. Vince focused,
looping the rope around the other man‘s wrists, bringing his arms
behind his back. It didn‘t take long since he didn‘t know anything
beyond basic knots. When he finished, he carefully lowered the
blindfold over Daniel‘s eyes. He gently pressed him down to his
knees.
    ―Open your mouth. Lick me till I tell you to stop.‖ Danny leaned
forward with uncanny accuracy, finding Vincent‘s groin, then his
shaft, working his way from root to tip. He fluttered his tongue, and
then licked slow and long, doing everything he could to destroy
Vincent‘s composure. This was a power grab. He was trying to take
control of the game.
    ―Stop.‖ Danny froze, leaning slightly forward. ―Swallow me.
Deep.‖ Danny opened his mouth, positioning himself, and then
leaning in to take Vincent‘s length. He groaned, feeling himself slide
down, surrounded by the other man‘s mouth and throat. He dug his
fingers into Danny‘s hair, guiding him gently while he thrust.
    ―You feel so good…‖ He let his head fall back, losing himself in
the bliss of Danny‘s touch. ―Shiittt….‖ If not for the ring around the
base of his cock, he‘d have gone by now. He thrust into the warm
cavern again, hard. And then once again before he pulled away.
Vincent panted, staring down at the bound man kneeling before him.
    He was high. Never in his life had he suspected he‘d get off on
something like this…having full and total control over someone else.
He couldn‘t think about anything else…not their problems, not the
restaurant, not the fact that he was planning to walk away tonight.
None of that mattered. Not with Danny tied up and on his knees,
waiting for Vincent to make the next move.
    He pulled Danny to his feet and shoved him onto the bed, where
he landed hard, bouncing a couple times. ―God, I‘m gonna fuck
you…fuck you so hard…‖ He heard nothing but the rush of blood in
his ears. Smelled nothing but their sweat and the rising scent of sex
from their bodies. Danny struggled to right himself, to get onto his
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knees, but Vincent pushed him down. He hoisted Daniel‘s hips and
grabbed the rope binding his hands. In the end, the sub was face down
on the mattress, his ass high in the air.
   Vincent grabbed the lube, slicked up Danny‘s ass, and pressed his
thumb deep. The other man was ready, still blindfolded, nearly
immobile, but he still managed to rear back against Vincent‘s hand.
    ―Oh…please… just…hard…please…‖ he was babbling. Vincent
pulled away and slapped his ass sharply.
    ―Be still!‖ When Danny went silent, Vincent nearly came…cock
ring and all.
    Once again, he slipped a finger in. Danny might want it hard, but
he wasn‘t going to damage him. He pumped gently, savoring the feel
of tight muscles giving way to silky flesh. Without removing his
fingers, he lined up his cock, pushing in as he pulled his hand away.
Danny buried his face in the bedding, stifling a groan. In spite of it all,
Vincent grinned.
     He pressed gently, deeply, staying buried deep for endless
moments. Danny turned his face way from the bedspread, allowing
Vincent to look at his face. He reached down and slipped the blindfold
away and the other man blinked against the light. He then lay still,
letting Vince do the work. Reaching around, he grabbed Danny‘s
penis and began to stroke. His hand was full of lube, and as he
pumped into the other man‘s ass, he fisted him hard and fast.
    ―I want you to come. I want you to fuck my hand, Danny.
Harder!‖ Danny‘s hips began to pump, thrusting back onto the cock
that speared him, forward into his hand. He began to wail softly.
     ―Louder. I want to hear what you feel!‖
    ―Ohh…Ohhh…God…Vincent!‖ Hot fluid spilled over his fist as
Danny bucked, his groans rising to nearly a scream. As he reached his
peak, Vincent slapped his ass over and over, even as he pounded
harder and harder, his thighs burning, his balls clenching. He
came…hard…his seed forcing its way from his shaft and into Danny‘s
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convulsing body. He growled, bit and dug the fingers of his free hand
into soft skin. He buried his face between Danny‘s shoulder and neck,
tears flowing freely, as though a dam had burst in his heart.
    Under him, Danny sobbed, his face in the bed, immobile and
helpless under the weight of Vincent‘s heavy body. ―Oh God…don‘t
leave me, Vincent…don‘t leave me…‖ And all the while, Vincent
cried too, only the words didn‘t come so easily. He rolled away, his
cock still too hard to remove the ring. He rose to his knees, releasing
the rope from Danny‘s wrists and arms. They were flushed and
reddened, but not abraded. He rubbed Danny‘s hands, and then rolled
the other man to his back. He was limp and unresisting, staring up at
Vincent, his face etched with despair. ―Please don‘t leave me,
Vincent.‖
    He looked at Daniel, aware that his own cheeks were wet with
tears. He rested his hands on his leather clad thighs and sat back.
―Don‘t make me leave, Daniel.‖
    They stared at each other, wondering how on Earth they‘d come to
this place.
     ****
    The lights were off, the room lit only by the faint light of the
moon and the safety lights on the marina. Somewhere, a TV played, a
man‘s laughter carried on the night air. Glancing at the clock, Vincent
was surprised at the time. It wasn‘t even ten o‘ clock. The men lay
together, arms and legs intertwined, their heads resting together on
one pillow. Vincent‘s muscles were lax, he was exhausted, his mind
oddly empty. It felt like he was coming off a high, but without the
hangover. Danny seemed no different; his eyes were open but vacant.
Once the emotional breakdown had ended, he‘d gone silent and
surprisingly peaceful.
     ―Do you hurt?‖
   Danny shifted, reaching down to rub his bottom. ―No, you did
good. Plus, you got the arnica cream on right away. That‘ll stop the
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bruising.‖ He took a deep breath and exhaled, relaxing back into
Vincent‘s arms. ―That was perfect. I feel…empty. All the chaos in my
brain is gone.‖
   Vincent studied the far wall before speaking. ―Did you know this
about yourself?‖ Briefly, Daniel went stiff, and then relaxed again.
―No. I mean…when I look back, the signs are all over the place.‖
    ―Is this why you were attracted to me? The way I look? The fact
that I‘m rough?‖ That was a painful little thought, but since they were
here and the tension was defused, they might as well air all the bad
stuff. Starting with the basics.
    ―Vincent, the first time I saw you, I thought you were hot. Butch
and tough usually isn‘t my style. But you know…‖ He turned his head
a bit, looking at Vincent. ―…you smiled, and I had to smile back.
When you smiled, I fell.‖ He looked away, tears starting in his eyes
again. ―I thought you were going to leave me. Every day, I expected
to come home and you‘d be gone. Then you told me about the
restaurant…my God!‖ He wiped his eyes. ―And you think I wanted
you to leave?‖
    ―You were gone living your own life. When you were here, I felt
like you wanted me gone. So yeah, I was thinking about…no... I was
going to leave. I wanted to talk with you about it tonight.‖
    Danny brought both hands up, covering his eyes. ―I‘m sorry. I am.
I just…I start pushing and I can‘t stop. My head gets ugly and I guess
I was trying to pressure you into…‖
     ―Dominating you.‖ He supplied.
   ―Yeah. That.‖ He dropped his hands. ―I need this. I‘ve always
needed this and had no idea that‘s what was going on. I need…you. I
need you to take all the choices away. To push me past my limits.‖
   ―Can we maybe push your limits at the gym or something? I
mean…I spanked you, then used a strap on your ass. I tied you up.‖
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    ―And it was hot! I‘ve never…‖ He swallowed. ―I‘ve never felt so
safe before. I felt owned. Cherished. I know it sounds weird, but it
was so good.‖
    It had been good to Vincent too. He‘d loved the game…loved
watching Danny‘s efforts to please him; his willingness to take
whatever pain or pleasure Vince asked him to bear. He knew at that
moment that when he was in control of Daniel, there‘d be no fight, no
break up. Just hot, hot sex.
    ―You don‘t want me to leave?‖ He heard the uncertainty in his
voice and it caused him to flinch. Danny saw too much.
   ―I made you afraid of me.‖ His voice was bleak in the darkness. ―I
was so fucking…selfish.‖
    ―And I turned my back. There are two of us here, Danny. I should
have manned up and talked to you instead of shutting down. And no, I
don‘t want to leave. God, I love you. I thought I‘d die if I walked out
that door.‖
     Daniel laughed weakly, and after a moment, Vincent joined in.
There wasn‘t anything really funny, nothing worth their laughter, but
seemed like the better option at the moment. ―You want to tough it out
a little longer? Here?‖ He reached up and cupped the side of Vincent‘s
face. The laughter died.
    ―Yeah. I‘d like that. But on one condition. You must…must tell
me when this is happening. Even if you can‘t say it with words…give
me some sort of sign that you need me to take control. Can you do
that?‖
     Danny nodded. ―Same goes for you. If you need this…‖
   ―I‘m not a dom. I don‘t know what to do. You have to tell me
what you need.‖
   ―Bullshit. We‘re so right for each other it‘s like a fucking miracle.
Or…miraculous fucking…or whatever. Anyhow, you be who you are.
You‘re a big, quiet, gentle man who needs to take control sometimes.
That‘s who you are and I need you to be that.‖ He sat up, looking
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down at Vincent. ―You knew your path from the time you were a kid.
You followed your passion and dammit! You never seen to take a bad
step, Vince. At work, I won some cases and they promoted me over
guys that have been practicing years…decades longer than me. And
sometimes I wake up and hate my life. I‘m scared shitless that I can‘t
measure up.‖
    ―But you do. You have a gift for negotiating, for seeing the big
picture and sharing your vision. Your firm isn‘t a charity, Danny.
They didn‘t do this as a favor to you. They put you where they needed
you to be.‖
     Danny looked stunned. ―Thank you.‖ He slipped back down onto
the pillow, his head next to Vincent‘s. ―So tell me about this new
place of yours. What on Earth made you buy so far out of town?‖ He
smiled bitterly. ―I thought that was the end. I thought you were going
to tell me you were moving up there to run the place.‖
    ―The thought did cross my mind. I mean, it‘s the perfect showcase
for me.‖ He grinned at Danny. ―It‘s called the Lavender Cottage. It‘s a
Victorian tea shop and bakery.‖
     ―You are shitting me.‖
    ―I shit you not.‖ He chuckled. ―The owners want to travel.
They‘ve got a woman there who‘s the most amazing pastry chef I‘ve
ever met. I want to get a couple of my younger staff members up there
to train for a year or so. Did I mention there‘s a small guest inn
attached to the property?‖
    Danny was up again, leaning back on his arms. ―An inn?
Seriously?‖
    ―A big, gingerbread Victorian. I‘m thinking of opening the place
for lunch, maybe dinner on the weekends. It‘s right off the coastal
highway and should draw good tourist traffic. It‘s got good business
from the regulars already. Just needs better management.‖
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    ―Vincent, this must have cost you an arm and a leg. And I don‘t
believe for one minute that you want to have high tea with a bunch of
ladies.‖
     He rolled his eyes and grinned. ―I‘m charming. They‘ll love me!‖
     ―I‘m not saying then won‘t! But damn it, babe, what gives?‖
    He rolled over onto his side, resting his head on his fist. Danny‘s
gaze flicked to his powerful biceps, than back to his face. ―Did I
mention it‘s a beachfront property? And there‘s a mighty fine marina
there. Nice place to wind up after a day of sailing.‖ He grinned at the
stunned expression on his partner‘s face.
    ―You have got to be kidding me! You did this…so we could have
a vacation home?‖
   ―Well, it‘s a solid investment. I‘m just getting tired of seeing that
boat of yours sitting out there. She wants to fly again, Danny.‖
    Danny leaned                 forward,         covering          his   eyes.   ―God…I‘m
just…damn…‖
    Over on the dresser, Vincent‘s phone chimed softly. He started to
get out of bed, stepping on his fallen leathers.
     ―Just leave it.‖
   He tossed a look of amusement over his shoulder. Like Mr. Type
A would let a call go unanswered? He glanced at the display and
handed it to Danny. ―It‘s for you. Carrie.‖
   ―Oh..‖ He grabbed the phone. ―Carrie. Yes…it‘s me. I left my
phone downstairs.‖
     Vincent rolled his eyes. ―In pieces.‖
    Danny shot him a dirty look. ―Yeah…okay…‖ Vincent wandered
to the bathroom, peed and washed. He came back out to find Danny
climbing out of bed. He headed into the bathroom. ―So I‘m free to fly.
She got me on standby for a redeye out of Oakland.‖
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    Vincent‘s heart sank, but still, it was good that Daniel would make
his meetings. He pulled on a pair of sweats and a tee shirt; they‘d have
to hurry to make the plane. ―You owe that woman flowers.‖
    ―Already done. A box of chocolate too. A lawyer‘s only as good
as his assistant. By the way, I love your phone.‖
    When Danny came out, he crawled back into bed. ―What are you
doing, Vince? Get naked and back into bed!‖
     He turned and looked at Danny in question. Clearly, the man was
settling in for the night.
    ―You were right. I‘m a good lawyer. I‘ll take the flight out
tomorrow night, that‘ll give me all day Sunday to prepare. Besides,
I‘ve already flown tonight. Need my beauty sleep.‖ He grinned and
watched as Vincent stripped. For once, he didn‘t bother to put his
clothes away; he just left them on the floor. He climbed back onto the
bed, right up over Daniel‘s body, where he straddled his legs, pinning
him to the mattress.
     ―When do you come home?‖
     ―Wednesday evening..‖
   Vincent leaned down, one hand on either side of Danny‘s head.
He stared into his eyes.
    ―When your flight lands, you‘ll call me. Take a cab home from the
airport. When you come home, you will strip naked. Do whatever you
need to do to get ready for me. I‘ll be waiting down at the dock. You
will come out to me, kneel and wait for my instructions. Do you
understand?‖
     Danny‘s blue eyes were wide. ―Yes Sir.‖
     ―I like being your Sir.‖
     ―I love being your sub.‖
   ―Good.‖ He leaned down, kissing Danny gently on the lips. ―Now
we‘re free to fly.‖
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THE END
Author bio: Belinda McBride writes erotic romance, primarily in the
sci fi, fantasy, BDSM and paranormal genres. She lives in northern
California with her family, her Siberian Huskies and an alpha
Chihuahua named Squirt.

As an author, Belinda loves crossing genres, kicking taboos to the
curb, and pulling from world mythology and folklore for inspiration.
Several of her books have finaled in the EPIC book awards, and her
m/m science fiction romance An Uncommon Whore is a Passionate
Plume finalist for 2011. Regardless of the flavor of her protagonists,
Belinda is committed to taking her readers on an emotional journey,
and never forgets that no matter how hot the story is, she‘s writing
about love.

Website: http://www.belindamcbride.com

Blog: http://www.belindam.blogspot.com
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Michele L. Montgomery – TEARS FROM ABOVE (Paranormal/Angels)
Genre: paranormal/romance
Tags: light D/s, angels, angst, love, drama,                        Dear Author,
Light BDSM                                                          I‘m not a huge fan of the
Warning: angst and light D/s (and perhaps a                         fantasy genre, especially
tear or two)                                                        anything with angels is a no-
                                                                    no, but maybe you could
Words: 19,345
                                                                    change that?

TEARS FROM ABOVE                                                    This boy is, obviously, an
                                                                    angel. He‘s looking out
by Michele L. Montgomery                                            from a window somewhere
                                                                    in heaven. He‘s alone and
Glossary of Terms:                                                  miserable, because he did
Gagda—The Ascended                                                  the unthinkable and gave in
Nèamh—The Celestial                                                 to the advances of another
                                                                    angel. The two angels fell in
Ifreann—The Underworld                                              love with each other, and
Domhan—Earth                                                        that was when things went
Feitheoir—Supervisors                                               wrong.
Druantia—Teacher                                                    His lover got punished; he
Abrafo—Law Enforcement                                              was tossed out of heaven,
                                                                    because even though
Dluthchara—Friend                                                   sometimes an angel can give
Mider—The Fallen                                                    their wings when they fall in
Diabhal—demon                                                       love with a human, it can‘t
                                                                    happen with other angels.
    Living in the planes above the planets was                      Those are the rules in
                                                                    heaven.
the only way of life Devon and Anson had ever
known. Though they each were conceived in                           The angel in the picture
                                                                    wonders, if it would be
different realms, neither was born as humans                        worth to ask for a
are born. Instead, they were created on a wish                      permission to go down to
made by their Supreme Fathers, Gagda and                            look for his love, because all
                                                                    his lover‘s memories would
Mider.
                                                                    have been wiped when he
    For every wish there is an answer. For                          was de-winged.
every positive, there is a negative. For every                      The worst part? Once an
good, there is an evil. For every heaven there is                   angel asks to go down to
a hell.                                                             live as a human, there‘s no
                                                                    way he can ever return to
                                                                    heaven, not until he dies. He
                                                                    may keep his memories, but
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    The kingdom of Nèamh was a covenant                             what would he do if he
                                                                    couldn‘t find his lover or if
between Gagda and those children who had met                        the lover wouldn‘t want him
with an untimely death because of their sexual                      in his new life.
orientation. Gagda had created several realms                       [PHOTO: Half in shadow,
for His lost children: the throwaways, the                          the dark-haired angel gazes
unwanted, the scorned, and the misunderstood.                       intently up and away.
                                                                    Sunlight catches the fine cut
Within those realms, He placed his favored
                                                                    of his naked muscled chest,
Angels to guide, to teach, to love those lost                       the tattooed stars on his hip,
souls.                                                              the thorny design on his
                                                                    shoulder. Shadows lie on the
    Gagda loved all his children; He provided                       soft white feathers of his
for them and promised them an eternity of                           wings, as he slides his white
happiness. Gagda had spoken but one rule for                        pants open.]

his children; if one of his creations so much as                    And my Dear Author, please
                                                                    don‘t make this in any way
bent that sacred rule, they would forever be
                                                                    about God, Christianity, or
exiled from their blessed existence, a paradise                     religion in general, because
abundant in pleasure, peace, harmony, and                           I‘m agnostic and I can‘t deal
safety in the kingdom known as Nèamh.                               with that stuff. Sorry. :)
                                                                    Yours,
    This story is a testament to Gagda‘s gift and
the promise of eternal love.                                        Tia

     CHAPTER ONE
    Anson walked into the apartment he shared
with Gordon in the Aine house, the angel
feeling blissful. He‘d passed his final exam with
top marks and was offered a position with the
Feitheoir to help govern the new souls being
admitted into his Gagda‘s kingdom. But even
more exciting was that the angel Devon of the
Diancecht house had finally asked him on a
date. What more could any angel want from his
existence? ―He's my mate, I know he is.‖
     ―Anson, is that you?‖
    Out of habit, Anson bowed his head upon
seeing his best friend and mentor walking
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toward him. He and Gordon had shared rooms for as long as Anson
could remember. ―Good day, Gordon. Aye, I'm home to clean up. I
have a date.‖
     ―A date, is it? And who, may I ask, is the lucky angel?‖
    Anson could not help the warmth spreading over his cheeks,
turning them pink. They‘d been flushing at will since the moment
he‘d first looked into Devon‘s eyes. Eyes of the deepest green he‘d
ever seen looked upon him all day, from the start of his testing to the
end, and even after, when Devon asked Anson to meet him for their
evening meal. It was all Anson could do to keep from jumping up and
down, but he calmly and respectfully answered him. As Devon‘s
position ranked a few levels above Anson, he was considered an
honored Angel. His kind was touched by Gagda, the creator of all.
    Anson peeked up at Gordon of the Druantia house and avoiding
answering the question directly, said, ―I trust all is well?‖ Gordon was
more than a mere teacher; he was Anson‘s dluthchara, his best friend.
Gordon had been assigned to Anson by their Gagda, entrusting him
with teaching, training, and caring for Anson since his creation.
   ―Aye, Anson, very well. Now, what is this chatter about a mate
and a date?‖
    Anson felt his cheeks heating once again; he smiled, his stomach
feeling fluttery and happy, matching the feelings in his heart. ―I met
him today. He was one of the masters on the board testing me on my
ability to communicate with the humans, telepathically. I passed with
flying colors.‖
    Gordon ruffled Anson‘s spiky, black hair, and sat, sinking into the
feather-filled love seat. ―His name?‖
     Anson stood up straight, feeling the pride flow through his body.
―Devon of Diancecht house. He‘s absolutely lovely. He‘s tall, even
taller than you; his eyes are greener than the forest after a spring rain;
his skin, I‘m sure, has been kissed by the sun star. And Gordon, his
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square jaw, his high cheekbones, he‘s perfection. He wears the clear
star. He‘s one of Gagda‘s special angels.‖
    Gordon clasped his hands together, as if in prayer, steepling his
index fingers and tapping his chin. ―Yes, I know of him. Anson, are
you quite sure you believe him to be your mate?‖
    Anson nodded. ―I‘m sure he is. I felt something inside me explode
when he looked at me. For the first time in my life, I felt a thrill rush
through me. I can still hear a faint buzzing noise. I can smell him still.
I do believe with all I am that he is the one for me. What do you know
of him?‖
   ―Sit and I will tell you.‖ Gordon motioned and Anson sat in his
usual spot, on the floor between Gordon‘s legs, his head resting on
Gordon‘s thigh. ―Comfortable?‖ He placed his hand on Anson‘s head
and played with the soft hair.
     ―Mmm, yes, Sir.‖
   ―Devon, as you know, is a touched healer, gifted by Gagda
himself. However, he was not originally created as one.‖
    Anson looked up, his black eyes opened wide in surprise. ―Not
created as one?‖
   ―No. He came to Gagda by way of a payment from Mider,
Gagda‘s brother.‖
   Anson gasped and sat up straighter, his hands on Gordon‘s knees.
―Are you telling me that Devon is from Ifreann?‖
    Gordon nodded. ―Long ago when Mider and Gagda created what
we know now, Mider destroyed someone very dear to Gagda, a lovely
goddess who has remained nameless. In payment for the wrong he
committed, Mider bestowed his first child upon Gagda, Mider‘s first
creation. That was Devon and that was a very long time ago.‖
     ―Devon is a…‖
   ―No. No he is not a diabhal. He is anything but a demon. He is the
opposite; however…‖
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    ―Why is there always a ‗however‘ in every phase of my existence?
I feel he‘s my mate, yet he is Mider‘s creation. His blood is of the
diabhal, but not? Please, Gordon, please tell me more.‖
    ―I will, my young Angel, but you must allow me the chance to do
that.‖
    Anson settled in once again, his head on Gordon‘s rock hard
thigh. ―It would have been easier if you and I were mates. Don‘t you
think so?‖
    ―Anson, it is not for us to wish for that. Gagda determined long
ago who your mate would be. Now, back to what I know. Devon
knows of his creation place. He fights daily, the feelings inside him,
both good and bad. His natural instincts tell him he‘s an impure angel;
he yearns to do the opposite of the good he does every day. He‘s a
strong healer; he‘s a gift to us all. He is also extremely stubborn,
strong willed, and every bit the master of his house.‖
     ―So what is the ‗but‘ about?‖
    ―We do not know if he is capable of giving you what you require
the most.‖
     Anson looked at him again, his forehead wrinkled in confusion.
―If that is the case why would Gagda have us mated?‖
    ―We are not to question why, Anson. We do as we are told. Gagda
has a lot of faith in you.‖
     ―To do what, exactly?‖
     ―To prove love will conquer all.‖
   ―Me? So, correct me if I‘m wrong, but I‘m to be mated with
someone who isn‘t capable of…what? Loving?‖
    ―In a nutshell, as they say on Domhan. Gagda does not want to
lose the angel Devon and he believes you‘re the only one who can
save him.‖
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   ―Oh, right. I‘m supposed to love and spend eternity with someone
who can‘t love me back. Lucky me. But what is it that I require the
most? What makes my needs so different from any other angel‘s?‖
    Gordon smiled and signaled for Anson to get to his feet. ―A firm,
strong hand. You need a reason. You need guidance. You need what
Devon may not be able to give freely to you. We are hoping you can
give Devon the freedom he denies himself. As for the rest, I cannot
give all of Devon to you in a story. You must figure out some things
for yourself. It is part of learning who your mate is, part of learning
who you are. You just follow your instincts and if you need me, I am
always here for you. And, young Anson, please know I will be
watching you every step of the way of your courting journey.‖
     ―Does Devon know me? Of me, and what and who I am?‖
    ―He knows some. I must caution you, though; he has refused to
accept his lot and your journey will be difficult. He does not want a
mate, and the last I heard, he‘s sworn never to take one. We believe it
is because of his heritage. However, our Gagda has faith that Devon is
capable of overcoming his biggest fear. Our Gagda has faith that you,
young one, have the power to help him.‖
     ―What is his biggest fear?‖
   Gordon winked and stood up. ―You must find that out on your
own. It will be up to you to show him he need not be afraid.‖
    Anson stayed on his knees, watching Gordon tinker in the kitchen.
The thick cotton carpet felt good on his knees, and he was thankful for
that. He‘d often knelt for long hours, not allowed to rise to his feet
until Gordon permitted him to. Whenever Gordon had something
important to say, he said his piece, then ordered Anson to remain
kneeling to allow what he‘d said to sink in; so he could think about it,
analyze it, and understand what the conversation had been about.
   In Nèamh, each angel, at the time of their creation, was made with
another angel in mind. Each angel balanced out another. In that, as a
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mated couple, they were far stronger and better able to perform their
duties to Gagda and for Him.
    ―I‘m so confused. I truly want to get unconfused so I can prepare
for my date.‖
     ―Anson, you are thinking out loud?‖
   Anson shook his head a little too fast, for he wobbled a bit on his
knees. ―No, Sir. Just thinking,‖ he murmured distractedly.
   Gordon walked back into the room, laughing. ―Go then. Get
yourself ready for your date. You‘ll have a lot of thinking to do when
you come home.‖
    Anson jumped to his feet, ruffled his wings, and bounced off to
his room. ―Okay, I will!‖ he shouted behind his closed door.
     ****
   ―Anson, please come to the sitting room. You have a guest,‖
Gordon said, knocking lightly on Anson‘s bedroom door.
    Anson spun around in front of the looking glass twice more, his
wings brushed and fluffed, his hair re-spiked, his white pants still
white. ―Check. Okay, here goes nothing. Off to see if I can fulfill
Gagda‘s will.‖ He walked slowly down the long hallway, trying his
best not to run to where his future mate waited. He didn‘t want to
appear overeager. Even if he was. He heard Gordon‘s low voice, and
an even lower voice answering, but he couldn‘t make out what they
were saying. When he finally made it to the sitting room, his eyes
focused on one individual.
     Sitting at the white oak bar was the angel who‘d invaded his entire
being since the minute he‘d laid eyes on him earlier that day. It was a
strange feeling, consuming him more and more by the second. Even
sitting down, it was easy to see how massive Devon was. Those wide
shoulders almost hid Gordon from Anson‘s sight.
   Devon stood a good seven inches over his own five-seven frame.
The angel‘s hunter green eyes glistened in the sun star‘s light; his
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square jaw showed a hint of a late day beard, and when he smiled his
brilliant smile, dimples showed on each side of his full, kissable lips.
The angel was one word—heavenly. ―You found me,‖ Anson said,
then gave himself a mental palm-forehead slap for stating the obvious.
    Devon's smile grew wider when he saw Anson blush, and when he
nodded, a tuft of hair fell over his left eye. Anson fought not to reach
out and brush it away from those very addictive eyes.
     ―I did. Am I interrupting something? You look a little flustered.‖
     Could angels die of embarrassment? ―Oh no, not at all. I actually
forgot how good looking you are, and now I ask myself how I could
commit such a crime as that.‖ Anson stopped talking, his mouth stuck
open. He held his breath, once again mentally berating himself. The
all too familiar heat in his cheeks rose to a record high. He knew he
looked like a fish out of water, but what could he say? A fire started in
his heart and he loved how it felt. Devon never stopped smiling, but
his eyes told Anson something else was on his mind, plain as day.
And then Anson's eyes drifted downward and sure enough, something
else was most definitely on the angel's mind. ―I hope it's me,‖ he
muttered. ―You must have gotten in line twice for that body‖ Oh, ugh,
did he just say that out loud? His hand flew to his mouth, trying to
clamp it shut before he scared the angel away for good.
    Devon had managed to unscrew the cap on the water bottle he was
holding, but that was all. He stood, staring at Anson with a look of
amazement on his face. Had the angel really said that much without
taking a single breath? Talk about energy. Or perhaps the other angel
was merely nervous and that‘s what had caused the random torrent of
conversation. He‘d known quite a few angels who babbled when they
were nervous, though it was never tolerated during training. Ignoring
Anson‘s slip, Devon chuckled and said, ―As a matter of fact, Anson, it
is you. I came early because I couldn't stop thinking about you.‖
    Anson stood there gaping at the angel. ―Lucky me,‖ he said under
his breath. ―Please, make yourself comfortable. Can I get you a
drink…? Oh, right, you already have water. And you look quite
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comfortable as well. I‘m just a little nervous. I‘ve never entertained
my own guest before. As you are aware, it is frowned upon by our
Feitheoir. Do you work closely with them often? ‖
    Devon tried not to laugh at the other angel, but he was powerless
to hide his smile. He simply nodded and waited for Anson to sit down.
―I find myself boring compared to you. Let‘s talk about you. Your
mentor tells me you enjoy painting and writing stories.‖
    Anson sat across from Devon, and smiled. ―Yes, I do enjoy
myself. I am very creative and have a rather overactive imagination.
Or so I‘m told. I don‘t see it, though. I often let my hand and head
take over and before I know it, Gordon is yelling at me to come back
to the here and now. Many times, hours will pass and I‘m not even
aware of it.‖
    ―You‘re an angel of the Aine house, known for love and
creativity. You are a very special breed and very rare amongst us.
You‘ve been to Domhan?‖
    Anson beamed; his eyes sparkled and he sat up straight, his hands
grasping the edge of the bar hard enough that his knuckles turned
white. ―Oh, yes! Part of my training required me to spend time
amongst the humans. I had the best time with them. I was chosen to
work with the youth that the society there frowns upon. I believe the
word they use on Domhan is gay? I hope that one day I can go back
and work with more of the young ones. So many are hurt; their souls
are badly damaged, and I found it exhilarating being among them.
Though I wasn‘t permitted to use my powers to make them forget
their pain and flood their hearts with love, the other small tasks I did
with and for them seemed to help the humans. Seeing them smile and
laugh, a few even hugged me and thanked me, with tears in their eyes.
I want to go there for the duration of my time.‖
   Devon heard the young angel‘s happiness in his words and wished
he could feel the same way when he was sent to heal the chosen
humans as his Gagda permitted. But he couldn‘t. Not fully, at least,
because he knew in his heart of hearts his real Father would merely
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create more pain and suffering amongst the humans, to hurt Gagda
more. It was a never ending battle. The real Father hurt, while the
loving Father cured. Devon was tired of carrying the responsibility of
his creation, his true Father‘s hate in his heart. He was embarrassed
and hated knowing that Mider did things just to antagonize Gagda;
then Devon was left to deal with the hurts and pains. He watched
humans suffer every day; little children‘s suffering bothered him the
most. He would see the parents of the small ones cry and beg Gagda
for his help, yet no matter how hard Devon tried, there were times he
could not help them. Love was a poison. He would never allow
anyone into his heart that way.
     ―So, where are we going this evening?‖
    Anson cocked his head to the side and looked at Gordon who still
sat on the recliner listening to their conversation. ―You‘re coming?‖
   ―Why, of course I am. Someone must accompany you; you are not
mated. Being out with another unmated angel without a chaperone is
cause for gossip and ridicule. I‘ll just be a moment.‖
   Anson wanted to slide to the floor and hide under the bar. ―I have
never done this before. I‘m sure he won‘t get in the way. Much. He
means well.‖
    ―Of course. I agree with him. You should not be out on your own
during this season. There are many unmated among us, and sometimes
the younger ones do not stop to think that this is their eternity they are
looking to secure.‖
     Anson nodded his head, not really comprehending the words
Devon was saying, but he was enjoying Devon‘s deep voice. He liked
to watch his Adam‘s apple and those plump lips. ―Do you spend a lot
of time amongst them, the humans?‖
    Devon nodded and said, ―I do. A lot of time. They are very
interesting. Centuries have passed, yet so many seem reluctant to
change, to learn from the past. Then there are others who thrive on
change. I am happy that I remain invisible to their eyes.‖
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    ―Oh? I loved being able to intermingle with them. When I was in
the realm known as North America, in a territory called the United
States, I enjoyed listening to the different manners of speech. Those
living in the southern parts speak with a slow drawl, while those
living up in the East speak with a more distinct accent. And then I
worked a while in an area called California. Did you know that
California was named by a race called the Spaniards, after a mythical
paradise in the Domhan year 1510? Isn‘t that interesting? I loved it
there, all the water and the sun star shining upon it. I sat some days
and stared at the waves hitting the sands. It‘s different from our own
bodies of water. I can‘t explain why, though. It just is. What is your
favorite place on Domhan?‖
     Devon could not help the grin on his face. This little angel, as
chatty as he was, was adorable. He was like a breath of fresh air, air
that Devon needed so badly and had needed for so long. His heart felt
warm for the first time in a long time, felt like it was beating once
again, and that bothered him a little. But looking at Anson made the
pain he kept buried feel better. He didn‘t know if he liked that or not.
He watched Anson talk, watched how his eyes widened when he
became excited, how his hands seemed to talk along with his mouth
when he chose to communicate using words; or when he
communicated with his thoughts, how his lips turned up at the
corners. Anson was so full of life it was almost contagious. And
maybe for a little while, it wouldn‘t be so bad. Spending time with
Anson seemed like a good way to relax and get away from the daily
stress he always seemed to encounter. Besides, the angel was
adorable, small and spirited, his wings neither too big nor too small;
rather, perfect, like his face. That pert nose, his full, pink lips, those
dark eyes that seemed to shine nearly non-stop, and that cut and toned
torso had Devon‘s dick doing its own exercising in his pants. What
was the question? Oh, right. ―I will agree with you on California.
Though I do frequent other areas I enjoy as well.‖ And that was his
first lie of the night. That was something he hated to do, but it came so
naturally, and he didn‘t want to make Anson dislike him before they
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even got started. No sense in having Anson thinking Devon was as
cold and heartless as he truly was, right from the start. Better to hide
some things, less hassle. Besides, Anson was something to do, a nice
diversion, before his next assignment.
     ―Well, kids. I‘m ready to go. Where are we headed?‖
     ―Anywhere, as long as I‘m with him.‖
    Devon laughed and nodded at Anson in thanks. ―I thought we‘d
take a walk to the falls, talk a bit.‖
     ―Oh, we‘re not flying?‖
   ―I fly around so much I get tired of it. I like to walk when I have a
chance. You don‘t mind, do you?‖
    Anson‘s eyes watched closely as Devon rose to his feet, not caring
that his face probably looked like a child staring at the stars in the
night sky. The angel was every bit as handsome as he‘d always
dreamed his other half would be. The real-life one was better than the
dream, though. A lot better, although his eyes were very troubled.
Almost conflicted, it seemed. Anson cocked his head to the side,
trying to read what he was seeing, but Devon turned away, as if he
was hiding from him. ―I think we‘re made for each other. It‘s a
balance thing,‖ he said under his breath.
    Devon heard the words loud and clear but tossed them aside for
now. He was obligated to fulfill the mating with this little angel, but
that‘s where it ended, at his duty to obey Gagda‘s laws. There was no
balancing, no love, nor was there ever going to be. No way. And it
was something he‘d argue with his Gagda about if he had to.
    They all walked to the falls and sat on the grassy banks, talking
about the adventures they‘d each been a part of since their time as
youthlings. Devon did not divulge where he‘d come from, nor did he
speak of how torn he was inside about his feelings and his duty as a
healer. Instead, he filled in the gaps with what he thought the other
two angels wanted to hear. Devon found by the end of the evening
that he‘d stopped worrying at some point and had come to really enjoy
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being around them. Anson lit up the evening with his funny tales and
innocent blunderings, while Gordon told of tales about Anson as a
younger angel that had him laughing so hard he was crying, his
stomach muscles hurting. It was a miracle Anson hadn‘t driven his
teachers to the other side. The angel was one thing—amazing.
   ―Well, I think we‘d better head back. You still must rise early,
Anson, as you have chores to attend to. With the new light, we will
have another chance to visit with Devon. Is that right, Devon?‖
    Devon watched Anson jump to his feet, watched him fluff his
feathers, and found all he really wanted to do was take the smaller
angel into his arms and kiss him, feel how soft his wings were, hold
him tight and then make love to him. And where did that come from?
Devon never made love to anyone. He fucked them and left them,
much to his Gagda‘s disapproval. It seemed being the offspring of The
Fallen did have its advantages, but clearly the statute of limitations on
Gagda‘s patience had expired. ―Yes,‖ he answered. ―I‘d be very
honored to visit again.‖
   ―You‘ll fly home with us for tonight? I would love to say
goodnight, properly.‖
     ―Anson, what do we teach about suggestive actions?‖
   Anson bowed his head, thoroughly lost for a moment. He let his
mouth do it again. ―I apologize.‖ He looked at Devon and smiled. ―I
would like that. Thank you for sharing your time with us. Good night,
Devon.‖
    Devon looked at Gordon, and saw him nod once, then at Anson,
who once again had his head bowed, but still stood straight as a pole.
Anson was a very well trained angel, and for his age that was rare. A
servant of some sort? ―Good night, Anson. The pleasure has been all
mine. And Gordon, thank you for accompanying us. I look forward to
doing this again.‖ He waited for them to turn away and take flight, his
eyes watching Anson until he could no longer make them out.
―Unique and very intriguing.‖
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     CHAPTER TWO
    The following afternoon, Devon found himself knocking at the
door to Anson and Gordon‘s home. He didn‘t put much thought into
the why of it, or if he should or should not. He just did and it felt great
to do something for once, without worrying about the outcome. He
found himself missing Anson and his smiles, the sounds of his
laughter, the way he shrugged his shoulders when he grew
embarrassed about something he said and didn‘t mean to.
   The door opened and he looked into those dark eyes twinkling at
him, and Devon almost lost control. He wanted nothing more than to
back the little angel into the unit, against the wall, where he‘d hold
Anson‘s hands above his head, his bigger body pressing against
Anson‘s and kissing him until he passed out. Devon didn‘t realize
how attracted he was to the angel until Anson stood at the door with a
happy look on his face.
   ―Good afternoon, Devon. It‘s a pleasure to see you. Please, won‘t
you come in?‖
     ―It is very good to see you, Anson. Is Gordon about?‖
   Anson opened the door wider and looked behind him, then looked
back at Devon. ―He is in the back, working on my agenda for the
upcoming days. Why? Did you want to see him instead?‖
    Devon saw the smile drop a bit and felt sorrow in his heart. Why
would he feel that? And why was Anson upset? ―Oh, no. No, I want to
see you. I just didn‘t want to break his rules and get you into trouble.‖
    ―Oh, I‘m always in trouble. I spend a lot of time on my knees
thinking of how I got that way and how I won‘t get that way again.
Though, it really doesn‘t work. Gordon thinks I‘m impossible most
days, but I really don‘t mean to be. One time he had me walk the
perimeter of our lot for a full day to see if I could wear off some of
my extra energy.‖ Devon‘s raised eyebrows asked what his mind or
mouth didn‘t. ―No, it didn‘t work, so now he forces me to sit still to
unwind. I don‘t think that works either, but he does, and since he‘s the
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teacher, he knows best. Oh! I‘m terribly sorry. I have yet to invite you
in. Please, come in. I‘m sorry if I seem a bit flighty. Well, more than
the usual, at least. I guess I‘m surprised to see you since we hadn‘t
made definite plans for the evening. I‘ll just go and let Gordon know
you‘re here.‖
    ―No, wait. I would like to be alone with you for a little while. I‘m
not that comfortable around too many people, and I‘d like to get to
know you a little better, if that‘s okay?‖
    Anson‘s face lit up. ―Well, I‘m sure it‘s okay. He is here, so we
won‘t be alone. Would you like to start by having a look around? I
have some of my paintings displayed throughout our unit, if you‘d
like to see them?‖
   ―I would love to see them. I can‘t draw a straight line to save
myself, so I certainly admire someone with your talent.‖
    Anson closed the door and led Devon into the living area, pointing
at a large portrait over the fireplace. ―I did that one a year ago.‖ He
remembered watching Gordon feeding the winged horses at the Falls
of Freedom. ―My favorite one. Gordon is petting Gleoite.‖
     ―He truly is lovely; his name suits him. Have you ridden him?‖
    Anson smiled and nodded. ―He is my horse. He lives near the falls
with his family. I go see him every three days to ride and give them all
a treat. Would you like to come with me tomorrow? His mate would
give you a ride, I‘m sure she would. I know I would.‖
    Devon laughed, Gordon cleared his throat loudly from somewhere
in the room, and Anson shrugged. ―I do that on occasion. Gordon says
I did not stand in the line which offered shut off valves. I think I stood
in the creativity line more than once, though. At least that‘s what
Gordon says.‖
    ―Well, now that you have graduated, what are you looking
forward to doing the most?‖
  ―Ultimately I want to be given the freedom to go below, to
Domhan, and help the young adults accept one another for who and
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what they are, through art. Freedom of expression, freedom to be okay
with themselves and their lives, that sort of stuff. Have you ever
watched them through our viewers?‖ The angels used the viewers to
watch the people of Domhan below; sometimes they studied them and
their behaviors to learn more about what made them happy or sad or
angry. What drives a human to hate another with so much passion that
they destroy lives? Anson would at times spend hours watching them,
wishing he could do something to help them. ―Do you have joy inside
you when you heal another?‖
    Devon tried to smile, to play it off for the smaller angel, but he
couldn‘t, so he merely nodded. ―I like that picture there,‖ he said,
pointing to one Anson had painted of a great body of water. ―I can
almost see it moving.‖
    ―You may have it if you‘d like. I have tons. So many that Gordon
often changes them once a month so all of them can be seen and
appreciated. Would you like to see what I‘ve done in the kitchen?
Then I can show you my room. I‘ve been looking for a second
opinion.‖
     ―That would be very nice. Thank you.‖
    ―Follow me. I‘m sure Gordon will be a while yet, so I guess I can
give you the grand tour.‖
    ―Right behind you,‖ Devon said, grinning. Oh yes, this little angel
was indeed different. He followed Anson through the sitting area, the
living area, down a bright yellow hallway, with more of Anson‘s
creations displayed on the walls, and right into a brightly lit… ―Hot
pink kitchen?‖ Devon asked.
    ―Yes, I like bright colors and because I love to create new dishes,
which requires me to be in this room more than in any other room, I
wanted it to be cheerful. Well,‖ he said, with his index finger pressed
to his dimpled chin, ―except for my bedroom, of course; then after
that, the bathroom, followed by the living area. Then, of course, if we
go outside the apartment, the backyard is my next favorite. I have so
many different flowers planted it‘s like a rainbow of colors, and it
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smells delicious. Would you like to see the color of my room?
Gordon‘s bedroom is plain ol‘ white, and I think that would be a bore,
but my room is yellow and lime green. Would you like to see it?‖
     ―Lead the way.‖
    Anson realized what he‘d just asked the handsome angel and
couldn‘t stop the heat rushing to his face. He‘d just invited a perfect
stranger to his room. Talk about a fast talker with the smoothest
moves. Not smart, Anson. What if the guy was off-the-wall crazy? He
looked at Devon‘s handsome features, at those lips, and groaned.
―Crazy or not, I‘m good with it. C‘mon, let‘s go. I‘ll show you. Then
we can stop on the way to see Gordon; his room is across from mine.
He‘s getting ready to go out for the night. Follow me.‖
     Devon almost blurted out, ―anywhere,‖ but at the last second, he
clamped his lips together, keeping that thought to himself. Apparently,
that was something the other angel had an issue with. All the better, it
made him as cute as a button. He followed behind that sweet little ass,
all the way down the long hallway, and nearly plowed into it when
Anson stopped so quickly.
     ―Oh, sorry. I need a stoplight back there, right?
    And before Devon blinked, they were at Anson‘s room, with the
door wide open. Goodness, he needed sunglasses. ―It sure is bright in
here, isn‘t it? How do you manage without a shade for your eyes?
Does it glow in the dark?‖
   Anson stopped midway in his room and looked at Devon oddly.
―Shade? Why? The light is outside. We are indoors, no shades here.
Funny though, you‘re not the first person who has mentioned this to
me. Do you think it‘s too much?‖
   Devon tried not to squint, but the glare was almost too much for
him. He looked at the furniture, which thankfully hadn‘t been painted
from its original white oak. That seemed to balance out the colors
dancing in his vision. ―For you? No, Anson, it‘s perfect. ‖ Anson‘s
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smile went right to his heart. This angel was his. At least for a little
while.
    ―Really? Hmm, and to think I was going to calm it down to
neutral tones. Okay, then, I‘ll keep it as it is. So, I guess I had better
get ready for our night out. Where are we going so I make sure I wear
the right clothes?‖
   ―Anything you wear will be fine. But first I would like to ask your
permission for something.‖
     Anson stood before Devon and looked up into his eyes. ―What is
it, Devon?‖
     ―May I kiss you?‖
    Anson‘s mouth opened in shock. He swallowed deep and ruffled
his wings. ―You want to kiss me? No one wants to kiss me. At least, I
don‘t think they do. No one has ever asked.‖
     ―You have never been kissed?‖
   ―Me? Oh no! I was taught to wait for the right mate, a loose angel
and all that.‖
    Devon took the steps to close the distance between them. Oh yes,
this one was his. ―Good. Then I will be your first.‖
    ―Yes, first,‖ Anson mumbled, now staring at Devon‘s plump lips.
Oh, for the love of all things sacred, he was going to be kissed. By his
mate . He wanted to do the happy dance and shout his joy to Nèamh,
but held back. Anson didn‘t want to scare him away. He licked his
lips in anticipation. His heart ticked away happily, doing the jig he
wanted to do with his feet. ―Uh, will this be a sweet kiss or the deep,
steal my breath away type?‖
    Devon froze. His hand, which had been reaching out to hold
Anson around his waist, did too. He had to take a moment to process
what the angel had asked. But once he did, he said, with the utmost
sincerity, ―I want to take your breath away, little angel.‖
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    Anson‘s eyes widened with glee. ―Oh I can‘t wait. I‘ve read about
it a lot but have never gotten to do it, so I don‘t know what it feels
like. Well, come on, then, let‘s do this.‖
    Devon blinked his shock away and backed his little angel against
the wall, never once looking away from his dark eyes. No, not his
angel, never would Anson be anything more than his obligation. The
angel was his responsibility now, nothing more. Devon leaned into
him, reached out and ran his fingers through his short, black hair, and
rested his hand on the back of Anson‘s head. He placed his other hand
on Anson‘s bare chest, over his wildly beating heart, and went in for
the kiss he had been thinking of since meeting him the day before. He
would never admit to anyone that he‘d known of Anson for nearly two
years, else they‘d call him a robber of the young. But now that their
mating had been ordered, Devon wanted nothing more than to take
what was being offered, to claim the body of the angel that stood
there, so willing to give himself over to his curiosity and desire.
    Devon licked at Anson‘s lips to taste and tease him. He kissed
Anson‘s chin, his cheeks, his brow, his nose, and lips several times
before he sought entrance into what he knew would be the sweetest
place in Nèamh. He listened to the little noises escaping Anson‘s
throat, the moans and whimpers that nearly made him spend himself
in his pants. Intoxicating and irresistible. He had to pull back to fill his
lungs with air, and smiled when Anson did the same. He looked down
and grinned. ―I think you liked it?‖
     ―Huh?‖
     ―Yeah, you liked it. Wanna do it again?‖
    ―Yeah. Again.‖ And that was all Anson could say. From the
moment their tongues touched, he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt
that they were mates. His body still tingled with the knowledge it had
found his true other half. Being with Devon was like being home for
the first time, and the more he thought about it, the more he knew he
was going to cry out of pure jubilation.
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   Devon pulled back just a bit and looked into Anson‘s shiny eyes.
―Why do you cry? Did I hurt you?‖ Devon asked, gently tracing
Anson‘s swollen lips with his thumb.
    ―What?‖ Anson let what Devon said register, and he gasped. He
reached out and touched Devon‘s handsome face and said, ―You
could never hurt me. It‘s not even possible. Do you know what I feel
when you kiss me?‖
    ―I can guess but you‘d have to tell me if I was right.‖ He ran his
thumb along Anson‘s lips, down his jaw and his neck, taking its time
to make it to his left nipple.
    Anson moaned and arched his chest, seeking more of Devon‘s
touch. ―Oh, for the love of our wings, that is amazing. Yes, it feels so
right when you do it.‖
   Devon looked at him, paused, and said, ―When I do it? Have there
been others?‖ He was surprised to discover himself very ready to
growl at this point, and angels did not growl.
    Anson looked puzzled; it took him a moment to decipher what
Devon had said. ―Others? Oh, no. No, Devon. I meant compared to
my own hands. Yours are far more experienced and know how to
make me feel tingly. Inside and out. Can we do more?‖ Anson asked,
looking at Devon‘s lips and licking his own, his eyes large and
unwavering.
     Devon‘s dick said yes, but his mind shouted no. If he continued
like this, he‘d end up in a mess with his Feitheoirs and that was the
last thing he needed. He had to go about this the right way because he
knew this was the angel he‘d spend eternity with, and they‘d already
broken the first rule of mate protocol when they kissed. ―I really
would love to do more with you, but we cannot. You know the natural
order of things. I just couldn‘t help but to take a taste of my future.‖
And he had no idea where that came from, promising something he
had no right to promise.
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    Anson‘s eyes darted up to look into Devon‘s playful ones.
―Future? With me? For real? Shouldn‘t we at least kiss again to see if
those tingling sparks you sent through my skin are still there? Then at
least we‘d know if we had a future. That‘s how you tell, you know.
I‘m ready if you are,‖ Anson teased.
    Devon could not help but to laugh, not at the little angel but at the
way he voiced each thought that came to him, consequences be
damned. What a breath of fresh air he was. Though he was warned by
the Druantia that this certain little angel would be a handful for
anyone, he merely smiled and told them not to worry. His position as
Healer would leave Anson in the care of others a majority of the time
anyway, and when Devon was home, he was fairly certain he knew
how to keep the angel busy and out of trouble, so there would be no
hurting anyone. ―One kiss, then we must get going. I have a special
night planned for us.‖
    Anson rocked back and forth from his toes to his heels; his arms
hung at his sides, then went around his midsection, his fingers playing
in the feathers of his lovely silver wings. Anson could not keep still.
     ―Come ‘ere,‖ Devon said, holding his hand out to Anson.
    Anson wanted to take a picture of the vision before him. This big,
beautiful, charming Angel wanted him . Anson wanted to dance
around, and it was becoming harder and harder to control himself. His
trainer had told him once that he was the most energetic angel he‘d
ever worked with and the most down to earth one as well. Anson
never figured out what that meant, but the other angel had smiled
when he said it, so Anson took it as a compliment and thanked him for
his kind words. He slowly released his feathers and reached out to
take the hand waiting for him to make the move. ―It‘s not being loose
if we just kiss, is it? I don‘t want to get you into trouble, but I really
want to kiss you and see if I have sparks.‖
   Devon wasted no time. He took the smaller angel into his
embrace, looked into his eyes, and leaned down for another taste.
Anson moaned and they hadn‘t even kissed yet. Devon licked
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Anson‘s full, pink lips, teasing and tasting, taking his time, never
taking his eyes off Anson. He was breathtakingly beautiful, the picture
of innocence and joy. The feeling in his heart warmed him by the
second. Holding Anson so close created a number of emotions he‘d
never felt before; this was foreign to him and it was confusing, but it
felt damn good. While he enjoyed what he was feeling, and knowing
those feelings were connected to Anson, he had to remind himself
they could lead into a strange territory, one that Devon wasn‘t ready
to travel to now, or ever.
    Anson held his breath, not knowing what to expect, never having
kissed another angel in all his existence. It was forbidden before the
mate ceremony. But he couldn‘t figure out why, for the life of him.
    Devon licked Anson‘s lips, nibbled a bit; then Anson felt the other
angel‘s tongue asking permission to taste him. With a moan, he parted
his lips, not wide, just a little. When he felt Devon‘s tongue touch his,
he jumped in shock as his skin pebbled with goose bumps. The heat
from Devon‘s mouth felt like touching a ray of sunshine. A hint of
mint and something Anson couldn‘t quite put a name to, overwhelmed
his senses. ―Oh, Devon!‖ He yelped when the other angel ran his
hands over his wings. Anson lost his composure, parting his lips
further and accepting Devon‘s tongue inside; the sparks were
definitely there, and he wanted as much of Devon as Devon was
willing to give. His cock was so hard it hurt to be contained inside his
clothing. His entire body felt as if it were on fire; all the nerve endings
seemed to jump in the excitement of Devon‘s touch. He couldn‘t
contain the noises coming from his throat; all he knew was that he
wanted more.
    Devon nearly lost himself in the taste and feel of Anson in his
arms. The little angel was so excited and trusting; he gave himself
over to Devon for safekeeping and Devon swore then and there he
would, at the absolute minimum, do all he could to keep this one safe.
Even if that meant keeping Anson safe from himself. The kiss told the
tale, as Anson said it would; this little angel was his eternal mate, and
he felt that Anson loved him to the very core of his soul. Already.
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Damn. This was not supposed to go this way. He‘d given too much of
himself to Anson too fast. Being commanded to locate his mate and
prepare for his future with him did not mean to fall in love with him.
     Devon sighed. So many beings, angel and human alike, used the
―L‖ word without giving it a lot of thought. So many believed they
felt that powerful emotion, only to find they‘d confused it with lust.
This plane of existence was different from elsewhere in Gagda‘s
creation. Here, when an individual loved, there was no confusing the
emotion. But Devon had spent a lot of time in other realms, carrying
out Gagda‘s work; particularly on the planet they called Domhan, or
Earth, as many called it. Devon had seen the damage the word love
caused, and he‘d vowed long ago neither to feel it nor say it. That four
letter word had the ability to cause catastrophe. Some called Devon
coldhearted, but he laughed it off. No one could hurt him with the
truth. Not even his mate. He would care for Anson, protect him, guide
him, but he could not love him. Devon could admit he enjoyed
holding Anson and kissing him, and he would do whatever the other
angel wanted, as long as they left that word and its meaning out of the
equation.
   ―Well, isn‘t this cozy?‖ Gordon snapped from the doorway. ―This
would be why you‘re not allowed to be alone, Anson.‖
    Anson pulled away from Devon and looked down at his bare feet,
his arms wrapped around himself, looking to Devon like a lost, scared,
unsure child.
   What the hell was going on with this angel of his? Devon
wondered. He was no child and hadn‘t been for a long time. Why was
everyone so off balance when it came to Anson?
     ―Anson! Come to me. And you, you get out of our house now.‖
   Anson jumped and looked helplessly at Devon and then to his
roommate. ―Please, don‘t.‖
  ―Now!‖ Gordon snapped, pointing toward the floor in emphasis.
―We‘re not going anywhere, Anson. It‘s clear I‘m needed here to keep
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you under control until the daylight hours break the night. Then I will
take you to our Feitheoirs for further lessons in how to behave like a
proper angel.‖ Gordon looked back to Devon and said, ―You have ten
seconds to get yourself out of our home, or I will call the Abrafo.‖
     Anson started shaking and looked at Devon, wanting so much to
wrap himself around the bigger angel, and disappear. The Abrafo
were nothing to play with, for they were the council selected to
uphold Gagda‘s laws. Their brand of justice was dealt swiftly and
strictly. He‘d die before seeing his mate in their hands. For now he
would do as Gordon wanted, but only until he received permission to
mate with Devon. Then no one would have a say in how often they
kissed or touched.
    ―Excuse me, Gordon, but Anson is not an animal to be ordered
what to do or not do. Who do you think you are to boss him about as
if he doesn‘t have a say so in what he does? He‘s your equal, not your
doormat. Now, we have a date and we are going to keep it. Anson,
come on.‖
    Anson looked horrified at his mate‘s outstretched hand. If it were
possible to shake any more than he already was, he was sure he‘d
crumble before both Devon and Gordon. Anson backed away from
Devon, pleading with him to understand. He wanted to sob at the look
on Devon‘s handsome face. It wasn‘t fair! He heard himself whimper
before he said, ―I‘m sorry. Please go. Gordon‘s right. I am ashamed of
my behavior. I‘m sorry I made you kiss me.‖ He then turned to
Gordon, cowering the closer he got. ―Please, Gordon, it was all me. I
talked him into it. You know how I can be. I begged him to kiss me. I
won‘t go out with him; I‘ll stay here with you, okay?‖
    Devon stood with his mouth agape. What in the world was going
on here? Gordon grabbed Anson by his thin arm and shoved him
behind himself in the doorway. Devon heard the small cry at the harsh
treatment and almost lost his control. It would take him two paces to
be in Gordon‘s face, his hands wrapped around that throat, forcing the
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other angel to his knees and begging for release. ―And you are
overstepping your bounds. You are not Gagda.‖
    ―I am his guardian and in that role, it is my responsibility to
ensure no harm comes to him, and that he behaves himself as an angel
of his ranking should. I know of you. I know how you play the game.
Anson will not be subjected to that. You must come to terms with
your fate or risk losing this young one forever. This is no game,
Devon. The sooner you come to terms with that the better.‖
    ―Anson is a grown Angel capable of making his own choices. He
does not need someone to dictate to him. He is to be my mate, like it
or not.‖
     ―If I had a say so, I‘d go with not. I would prefer you leave him
be, so he‘d be allowed to find an angel better suited to his ranking, but
it is not up to me. In saying that, it is best this night for you to go
home. Think on this conversation and know that every action has a
reaction, every thing you do has a consequence.‖
    ―You know as well as I that once an eternity mate finds his other
half, there will be no others. Like it or not, Gordon, we are that. I was
sent back to this level to locate him, bond with him, and bring him
home, and that‘s what I intend to do. Anson is now mine.‖
    ―He‘s not a piece of property. He‘s a living being who needs more
than a casual kiss and a pat on the head. He is much more.‖
    ―Don‘t tell me what he is. I‘ve watched him for two years,
knowing what he is. And while I thank you for keeping him under
your wing, he is no longer your concern. I have a duty to perform and
you are nothing but in the way. If you don‘t like it, go tell someone in
authority.‖
    ―You want him? Work for him. As his guardian, I will not allow
him to leave this house tonight. He‘s already committed an act of
foolishness because I wasn‘t paying close enough attention. As I
cannot keep you apart, you are welcome to come over tomorrow to sit
and talk with him. Learn what each of you enjoys and what you do
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not. As I was not informed in advance of this arrangement, he is
forbidden to leave. I think it‘s best if you leave now.‖
    Devon had to admire the other angel. He didn‘t like what he had
to say, but at least he cared about Anson and wanted to keep him safe.
     ―Anson, say goodbye to your guest and see him out.‖
    ―None of this is his fault, Gordon,‖ Devon said, walking down the
hall.
    ―I don‘t care who‘s at fault. He knows the rules and he
overstepped them. You both did. What sort of angel are you that
you‘d give in so easily to your desires?‖ Gordon stopped Devon from
following behind Anson. ―Anson needs someone strong, someone
who takes control, someone who can direct him, or he‘ll be lost. I see
from your expression you didn‘t know that of Anson. Did your
trainers tell you nothing about your mate?‖
   ―I know as much as I need to. He‘s been chosen as my mate,
which is all that matters.‖
    Gordon exhaled and looked at Devon as if he were talking to a
child who only half listened to anything that was said. ―The written
law demands a learning period. Do you think yourself above Gagda‘s
laws? Anson was entrusted to me to protect and until I‘m told
differently, that is what I shall do. Now get out of my home.‖
    All Devon heard were the words strong, control, direct, and
nothing more. His little angel was a treasure. Oh yes, this would work
out nicely. And why hadn‘t he known this? He‘d watched Anson for
years, yet never noticed it. The Gagda certainly knew what he was
doing. ―I understand. I‘ll take my leave. Please, bid him a good
evening. I‘ll see myself out.‖
    Anson peeked out the door to see his mate‘s retreating back. It
wasn‘t fair. He should be at his side, not be kept indoors. They had a
date and dates were allowed for potential mates, and Devon was his
mate; that much he knew. The kisses had sealed that.
     ―Anson, here, now.‖
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    Anson inhaled sharply and slowly went to where Gordon stood in
the living area. He kept his eyes on his feet to keep Gordon from
seeing how disappointed he was.
     ―What do you have to say for yourself and your behavior?‖
     ―He‘s my mate. I didn‘t think it was wrong to kiss him.‖
    ―Oh, little one, it is not wrong to want kiss your mate, but you
know the laws. My concern here is that Devon does not share your
feelings, nor does he view your mating in the same way you do. He
will hurt you and I cannot allow that. Could you not feel that inside?‖
     ―No. I felt sparks and that‘s all that matters.‖
    Gordon looked up at the ceiling in an effort to keep his cool.
Yelling at Anson never turned out well. ―Anson, don‘t you
understand? He must love you as you love him; there must be balance.
If he does not return that emotion in equal measure, you will perish.
You know this. Yet…‖
    ―We‘ve only just met! There has been no time for love, but I‘m
sure it‘ll come. We just need to spend time together.‖
   ―And therein lies the problem. You kissed him. Time now has
new meaning.‖
     ―Yeah, so?‖
     ―You said you felt it in your heart?‖
     ―Yes, I felt it throughout my body.‖
     ―Blood of the heart.‖
    Anson looked at him in shocked acknowledgment. His mouth fell
open, then closed and opened again. ―I didn‘t even think of that. Oh,
St. Peter‘s shoes, Gordon, what have I done?‖
    Gordon nodded and looked at his charge. ―If he does not open his
heart to love you…‖ He left the rest unsaid. ―He cannot be forced to
say it or feel it. He has woken your submissive desires, as any mate
would have, and if he does not take his role seriously, you will suffer
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the effects. This is the true test, Anson, given to each of us by Gagda.
Devon knows the rules, as you do. Now let‘s hope he comes through.‖
   Anson paled and sat down in front of Gordon, his legs tucked
under him, his head on Gordon‘s knee. ―What if he can‘t?‖
    Gordon wrapped him in his arms, as if to protect Anson from the
ugly, awful thoughts. ―He will. There is some time yet for him to
realize what has been set in motion.‖
     ―I don‘t have long, if the process has started.‖
    Gordon nodded and rested his chin on Anson‘s head. ―I‘ll be right
here for you. I won‘t let anything happen to you.‖
    ―Not even you can save me if he does not love me in return. I was
wrong to make him kiss me. I should have remembered that lesson. It
was the one that left an impression on me the most, yet I forgot
everything when he touched me. I looked at him and knew he was to
be my future. I felt it in my heart. I lost myself in his presence and
suddenly, nothing was more important to me than feeling his arms
around me, kissing me breathless. That‘s when I felt my whole self
ignite. It is unlike anything I have ever felt.‖ After a long moment,
Anson finally asked the one question to which he was uncertain he
wanted the answer. ―How long do I have before I start shutting
down?‖
    Gordon closed his eyes. ―Just days, Anson. But let‘s not give up
hope. You must have faith he‘ll remember his lessons and come to
terms with his part in this. Though I feel as if I‘ve failed you, and I
don‘t know what to do or how to fix it. For that, I‘m scared.‖
     ―You did not fail me. I failed you. You‘ve shown me nothing but
kindness and patience. Then I do this. I take full responsibility. For
now, please, don‘t tell anyone, Gordon. Let‘s see if he comes around
first.‖
     ―And if he doesn‘t?‖
    ―Gagda will take me. There‘s nothing that can be done. It is his
written order, and I should have remembered that.‖
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    ―Our Gagda will not let you go, not so easily. You‘re too special,
too precious and rare. While I do not know what he‘ll do, I truly don‘t
believe he‘ll end your life just like that. For now, let‘s hope your mate
wakes up and realizes what he‘s done. He needs to make this right.‖
     CHAPTER THREE
     ―Where is he, Gordon?‖
    Gordon stood at the front door searching Devon‘s eyes,
disappointed to see nothing more showed there than he‘d seen the day
before. Perhaps the angel was truly an idiot. ―He‘s doing his assigned
duties and can‘t be disturbed at this time. You are welcome to wait
until he‘s done.‖
     ―I‘d like that.‖
    Gordon led him to the kitchen and set a kettle on the stove. ―Care
for some tea?‖
     ―That would be nice. Thank you.‖
   Gordon went about getting mugs from the cupboard, as well as a
couple of tea bags, and set them on a tray alongside the cream and
sugar. ―What, may I ask, is your interest in Anson, other than the mate
bond?‖
     ―I find him interesting and funny. Why are you so against this?‖
    ―I am not against it. Entirely.‖ Gordon sat quietly and waited until
the teakettle started to whistle, then turned off the stove. ―Anson is
different than most angels, though, and until you understand what that
means, you‘ll not get the opportunity to be alone with him. I know
what you‘ll do.‖
     ―And what is that?‖
    Devon carried the tray to the table and set it down. ―You‘ll have
him on his hands and knees, taking his virginity. And you‘ll have no
clear idea what to do afterward. You really have no idea how special
he is, and I will not allow you to put him in that situation. You have a
lot to learn about this mating business. Healer you may be, but a
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committed mate you will not be; not until you are able to see beyond
your own selfish needs. He does not deserve ill treatment. He needs
all of you, not just a part. Do you not feel different this morning than
you did the night before?‖
    Devon regarded the angel with half interest. He felt like he‘d
tripped and fallen into a Domhan soap opera. ―I feel fine. What does
that have to do with it?‖
    Gordon sipped his tea, looking at Devon over the rim of the cup.
―If you cannot tell, it is not for me to say. How long do you spend
away from your house when you‘re doing the Gagda‘s bidding?‖
     ―As long as I want. I have nothing worth coming back for.‖
     ―Not even now?‖
    ―I have a mate I‘m to look after now. He will be well cared for. He
will not want for anything. He‘s to be the prince to our house. What
more could one want?‖
    ―Well, Devon, if you must ask me that, you clearly are not ready
to mate with him.‖
    ―I didn‘t realize we had a choice in the matter. I was ordered to
locate him and I did. He‘s lovely and full of energy. I‘m not sorry I
was ordered to find him, but I am sorry to have met you.‖
   ―The feeling is entirely mutual. However, as he is my charge and
you are his mate, we will get along for him. Period. But Devon, one
word of caution. Do. Not. Hurt. Him.‖
     ―No, that‘s four words. And why would I do that?‖
   ―You won‘t do it on purpose, but you will do it. Mark my words:
when you do, the consequences will be devastating.‖
     ―You‘re an Overseer angel, aren‘t you?‖
    Gordon gave a slight nod of his head. ―Anson needs all of his
mate, not just a portion to be doled out as you see fit. Remember
that.‖
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     ―Devon?‖
    Both Devon and Gordon turned their heads to see Anson standing
in the kitchen doorway. He looked from one to the other, and smiled.
―I just took a memory picture, my mate and my best friend in the
same room, and no loud voices. I could get used to this. What are you
talking about?‖
    ―It‘s nothing, Anson. Devon and I were just getting to know each
other. Are you done with your chores?‖
     ―Yes, Gordon.‖
   Gordon smiled. ―Very good, then, how about some time out? How
about it, Devon? Care to accompany us?‖
   ―Oh, yes!‖ Anson said, bouncing in place. ―I‘ll just go shower and
we can go.‖ He looked at Devon and smiled. ―I‘m glad you‘re here. If
Gordon wasn‘t, I‘d kiss you to welcome you.‖
   Gordon groaned and finished off his tea. ―Behave and get washed.
I‘m thinking we‘ll fly out to the falls.‖
    Anson beamed. The falls were his favorite. He loved to dive off
the highest peak and glide down, using his wings to control the
landing. ―I‘ll be right out.‖ Anson took his leave without a backward
glance.
    ―He‘s like a child,‖ Gordon said, looking at the empty doorway,
―yet he‘s so much more than that.‖
   ―He‘s anything but a child,‖ Devon said, looking back over his
shoulder.
     ―What do you know of submissive angels?‖ Gordon asked Devon.
    ―That they are incredibly rare, very susceptible to hurt, they love
with all they are…‖
    Gordon nodded. ―They do. Anson is all submissive. He needs
direction all the time. He needs guidance, praise, a protector, and
someone who can love him with all his heart; he needs not only
discipline but complete devotion.‖
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    ―My mate is a sub? I was told he had the tendencies, but no one
really knew for sure. Are you certain?‖
   ―I‘ve taken care of him for more years than I can number. He‘s
completely submissive and needs a strong mate to make and keep him
happy. In return, he will give himself heart and soul to his mate. Are
you ready for that?‖
    His mate was a rare submissive angel. Devon knew now why he
had been ordered to take care with Anson. Submissive angels were
created once every few hundred years. Angels were directors, leaders,
and safe keepers, not submissives; yet his little angel was just that. His
heart pounded painfully in his chest. ―He needs what I can‘t give
him,‖ he said solemnly, almost too quietly for Gordon to hear.
   ―And that was my fear from the moment I saw you. As I said,
your reputation precedes you. But he needs you now. That kiss…‖
    ―Oh no!‖ Devon‘s breath came in gusts from his chest, his head
dizzy. ―I didn‘t know. If I would have known, I wouldn‘t have…‖
   ―It‘s too late for regrets. Accept it and him. You know what will
happen to him if you do not.‖
    ―I didn‘t ask for this,‖ Devon said, jumping from the chair. He
looked frantically around and eyed the backdoor. ―I need to go. I need
to think. Tell him I had an emergency.‖
   Gordon opened his mouth to tell Devon to stay, but before he
could speak, the backdoor was standing open and Devon was long
gone.
     ―Where did Devon go?‖
     Gordon closed the door and pasted a smile on his face before
looking at Anson. ―He had something to take care of. He is very
happy and wants to take care of everything he can before leaving. So,
it‘s you and I. Are you ready?‖ He studied Anson‘s face, seeing the
sadness in his eyes. The small frown on his lips was something he
couldn‘t remember seeing there before, and that bothered him. Anson
always smiled. It was disheartening to see him like this.
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     CHAPTER FOUR
    ―Anson, turn over and drink your soup. You‘re getting weaker;
you need to eat something. Please, do this for me.‖ After he and
Anson had spent the day at the waterfalls, Anson‘s health began
declining at an alarming rate. A week had passed since Devon‘s visit
and Anson never once asked about him. Gordon was worried and
more than upset with Devon, but at the same time, he understood how
scared the other angel must be. It wasn‘t every day you‘re told your
mate is a submissive angel who would need a lot of attention. And to
an angel like Devon, a Healer, that in itself was a huge responsibility.
It would mean drastically reducing his hours or giving up his calling
altogether.
    ―It hurts to eat.‖ Anson curled up and wrapped his arms around
his legs, holding them close and pretending that Devon was the one
holding him. All he‘d thought of since that one night was the angel
whose eyes set him afire. And to see him walking hand in hand with
another angel near the Falls of Thoughts the day after he‘d left
without so much as a word, tore through Anson like a speeding comet,
all hopes of their future together gone in seconds. The only image he
saw in his dreams was of Devon holding another angel in his arms.
    ―You‘re losing weight, Anson. Stop behaving like a child; you‘re
a grown angel, act like it!‖
    Anson pulled the blanket over his head, wishing Gordon would
leave him alone. Even the slightest of movements hurt from head to
toe. ―Go away and leave me alone.‖
     ―Are you trying to prove a point here?‖
    He needed Devon—his touches, his kisses, his smiles, his
everything. Without Devon, Anson was nothing. ―Please, leave me
be,‖ he whimpered. He felt the blanket being pulled off him. He tried
to make himself smaller, less of a target, but little good it did when
Gordon grabbed his foot and pulled him off the bed. He landed on the
floor with a hollow thud. ―Gordon, please don‘t. It hurts.‖
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     ―I am not going to sit idly by and watch you destroy yourself over
him. You are a fighter and you will beat this. You are not a weakling.
It‘s time to fight back.‖
    Anson lay unmoving and closed his tired eyes. The rate at which
his body deteriorated was beginning to take its toll on him. His body‘s
calls to his mate went unanswered. Rather than trying to fight it, as
Gordon wanted him to, Anson lay abed all day and night, allowing his
systems to shut down. His mate didn‘t want a thing to do with him,
and it was killing him, literally. Anson no longer cared.
     ―Stand.‖
   Anson fought to ignore the command. Punishment or not, he was
done. Without Devon, nothing mattered.
    ―Anson, if I have to repeat myself, you are going to have one hell
of a red ass. And not in a good way either. I am not going to sit by and
watch you do this to yourself over him.‖
     ―I can‘t stop it. My heart is bleeding.‖
    Gordon gasped and dropped to his knees, gathering Anson‘s thin
frame in his arms. He wanted to kick his own ass for losing his
patience with the smaller angel. He should have known this was what
was going to happen. ―Anson, my sweet, I‘m sorry. I didn‘t mean… I
lost my temper. I just hate this. I hate seeing you this way, knowing
there‘s not a damn thing I can do to stop it. How long has it been
going on?‖
     ―It started on the flight back from the falls.‖
    Gordon, who never swore, swore out loud, picked Anson up, and
laid him on the bed, covering him with the heavy down comforter.
―I‘m going to find him. I will bring him back. Please, hold on for me.‖
    Anson curled up and shook his head, his eyes closing. ―Some
never even get to meet their mates,‖ he replied weakly. ―I got to meet
mine and kiss him. It‘s enough for me. Please, Gordon, let him be. He
isn‘t ready for me.‖
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    ―And by the time his stubborn ass gets ready, you‘ll be gone from
here. I can‘t, no, I won‘t accept that.‖ Gordon fell to his knees and
looked at Anson‘s pale face; his once sun-kissed skin was now gray
and cold to the touch. Gordon gently placed his fingers under Anson‘s
chin and said, ―Promise me you‘ll hold on until I come back. Anson,
please?‖
     Anson drifted off before Gordon said another word.
     ****
      ―What are you doing here?‖
    Gordon looked into the rental room Devon stayed in while he was
visiting their level. ―May I come in, or are we going to talk out here
where everyone can hear?‖
     ―Now‘s not really a good time. I‘m, uh…busy.‖
   Gordon ignored him and pushed his way inside. ―This can‘t wait.
Did you leave on assignment this week or have you been ‗busy‘, as
you put it? Why haven‘t you come to see him?‖
     ―I‘ve been busy.‖
   ―Is that right? Care to explain to me why you were holding
another angel‘s hand?‖
   Devon looked at Gordon with a serious expression and nodded.
―He‘s my best friend‘s mate. I was taking him home. Apparently, he
wanted to run away after a heated argument. Why do you ask?‖
    Gordon sighed and sank into the couch. ―Anson saw you. He
believed the angel you were with…‖
     ―He thought I was cheating already?‖
     ―I must admit, Devon, that the idea did cross my own mind.‖
   ―I did no such thing. Now, if you‘re only here to accuse me of
something that never happened, you can leave.‖
     ―Anson‘s dying.‖
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   Devon‘s body went rigid, the relaxation gone from his features,
immediately. ―What do you mean he‘s dying?‖
     ―Just what I said. And it‘s your fault. He needs you.‖
    Devon swallowed a couple of times looking for his voice. ―Yes,
yes of course. I‘ll be right there.‖
   ―It may be too late, but I wanted you to know.‖ He looked into
Devon‘s eyes, and said, ―You don‘t deserve Anson. It‘s a crying
shame Gagda called for your mating to him. You‘re worthless.‖
    Devon felt like the lowest form of scum. He had no words for
Gordon and stood helplessly aside when Gordon shoved him out of
the way. The angel left Devon‘s apartment, slamming the door behind
him.
    Devon felt panic for the first time in more years than he could
remember. He flew to Anson, and the closer he got to the other angel,
the pull to be with him became stronger. This is why he‘d stayed
away. That pulling in his heart was too much to bear. He flew
overhead, circled his mate‘s home, and gave into his heart‘s calling.
Devon healed the creatures on Domhan all the time, he needed to do
the same for Anson. Even if he couldn‘t love him, the little angel
didn‘t deserve to pass into the Beyond, simply because Devon was
incapable of giving him what he needed. Gordon landed in the front
yard, and before his wings folded, the front door was thrown open.
     ―How is he?‖
     Gordon wiped his eyes and motioned for him to enter the home.
    ―Is he…?‖ Devon raced in, not wanting to wait for the answer.
Instead, he ran down the hallway, scanning the rooms as he went and
headed straight to the room he knew was Anson‘s. He flung the door
open and looked into darkness. ―Anson? Are you in here?‖ He felt
along the wall for the light switch. As the light brought the brightly
painted walls into view, his eyes involuntarily closed against the glare.
―Anson?‖ Devon had never wanted him to come to harm. Once they
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were formally mated, he was sure Anson would be happy, so why was
he doing this to himself?
    As if Gordon heard his thoughts, he said, ―It was not his choice.
You did not read your mate doctrine. You did not take the class either.
I checked. You have little regard for your own kind, yet on the planet
below, you‘ve done all you can to assist them and learn their ways.‖
     ―It‘s my job,‖ Devon growled, moving toward the bed.
    ―Oh, yes, I forgot. And Anson is nothing more than a decoration
for your home. What his needs are seem unimportant. Well, here is
the proof of your selfishness. You did this to him.‖
    Devon forced himself to the bed, forced his hand to take hold of
the comforter, pulling it back. ―Anson?‖
     In the middle of the bed lay his little angel, huddled with his arms
wrapped around his knees, trying to make himself smaller than he
already was. Devon reached out to brush Anson‘s sweaty hair from
his forehead, and Anson screamed. Devon pulled his hand away in
fear, hoping he hadn‘t hurt his mate. He walked around to the other
side of the bed so he could see Anson‘s face. Devon needed for his
mate to see him, to show him he meant no harm, only to help him
heal. ―Anson, it‘s me. Please, look at me?‖ When Anson‘s eyes
fluttered opened, Devon, for the first time in his existence, cried. The
silent tears escaped, rolling down his cheeks. He knelt down to better
see the angel he was to mate. ―You‘re going to be okay. I‘m here.‖
Devon could find nowhere on Anson‘s small, shaking body that had
not been affected by the loss of his life‘s blood.
     ―Please, Anson, I want you to look at me.‖
    Devon remained on his knees, looking down at Anson‘s thin, wan
face for several minutes, hoping Anson would look at him. He
reached out and touched Anson‘s cool, clammy skin. Rising to sit on
the bed beside him, Devon placed his hand as gently as he could atop
Anson‘s head and closed his eyes. He focused his healing power on
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the other angel‘s body, looked for the bright light behind his closed
eyes, and concentrated on turning all his energy into healing his mate.
    Anson felt the heat begin to warm the top of his head. At first he
was scared, then realized his dream mate‘s touch was like a live
wildfire setting his skin ablaze. The feeling spread down to his neck,
then further still, to his shoulders, arms, and torso. Anson felt as if
he‘d been standing under healing waters that infused him with love,
washing away the pain. He moaned in pleasure. His eyes fluttered
open and he whimpered. His angel would disappear now and Anson
didn‘t want Devon to leave him in pain. He saw Devon there beside
him still, eyes closed in concentration, lips moving in prayer, and he
sighed. He stared at his mate in awe.
   He was a healing Angel—Gagda‘s favored among all the angels.
Many of the Healers spent more time on the different planets their
Gagda had created than in Nèamh, for reasons known only to the
Gagda.
    ―There you are. You had me scared. Are you feeling a little
better?‖
    Anson blinked rapidly a few times, making sure this was not the
dream but the reality. It must be real. His mate sat on the bed, looking
down at him with so much concern. And perhaps love too? Mates
knew each other immediately; they wasted almost no time on the
small things. Instead, they went straight to formalities. ―You really are
here with me? You‘re not a figment of my overactive imagination?
You healed me, for real?‖
    Relief appeared in the form of a small chuckle Devon could not
hold back. ―I am here, little one. I healed you as much as I can. What
is going on? Why did this happen?‖
    Anson still lay in a fetal position, his body made to appear even
slighter in the midst of the large bed. ―You were with me in my
dreams. I didn‘t want you to leave me again. I‘m sorry for kissing
you. I truly have never kissed anyone before you, but I acted brazenly
and had no right to push myself on you that way.‖
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    Devon leaned down and kissed the top of Anson‘s head, his
forehead, the bridge of his nose, then said, ―It takes two to tango.‖ At
the look of confusion on Anson‘s face, Devon continued, ―Never
mind. Just know I‘m sorry for this. If I had known, I wouldn‘t have
kissed you.‖
    Anson turned away and closed his eyes. Devon may be his mate
but he was a stubborn fool. ―Why did you come back here, if not to
claim me?‖
     ―You weren‘t well. You needed help.‖
     ―And that‘s the only reason?‖
    ―What more is there? I couldn‘t let my mate perish. My
responsibility is to take care of you. I did what is required of me as
Healer and mate.‖
    Anson tuned him out. He had heard enough. This would never
work out. ―Why didn‘t you just leave me? I was so close to the
Beyond; then you pulled me back. I was so close. It has to be better
than this.‖
    Devon stood and looked down at him. ―Anson, it‘s my calling to
heal and my job as your mate to protect you.‖
   ―That may be so, but I want more from my mate than just duty,
Devon.‖
     ―What is it you want? I‘ll do my best to give that to you.‖
    Anson looked shyly at him and said, ―I can turn your sorrow into
treasured gold. You have my heart in your hands. I want love.
Nothing else matters if I have that. We can be mates, yes, but without
love, what‘s the point?‖
    ―We‘ll be okay once we get to my house. There are plenty of
angels there who will love and take care of you. You will want for
nothing, and when I‘m home, we‘ll be together. But you‘ll be safe, I
promise you.‖
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    ―You do not love me. Why do you want me if you can‘t love me?
I want that in my life, Devon. I know we do not know each other well,
but we will. Mates are mates for all eternity; how can that be, without
love?‖
    ―Anson, you do not know what I feel. I care about you; I want to
protect you and spend time with you. Is that not enough?‖
    Anson sat on the edge of the bed and shook his head. He looked
up at Devon with tears in his eyes, his heart breaking into pieces too
small to count. He needed love. That‘s all there was to it. If his mate
could not give that to him now, perhaps he would in time. But
knowing this, Anson could not be with the handsome blonde angel. ―I
must stay here. Perhaps if you and I get to know each other, you will
come to love me as I know I love you. I‘ve accepted in my heart you
are my mate. I do not fight what I feel here,‖ he said, laying his hand
on his chest over his heart. ―Or with what this tells me here.‖ He used
his index finger to point to his head. ―For all of my existence, I‘ve
been taught about and prepared for my mating, for my service to him.
All I‘ve ever wanted in return is love. If you cannot give that to me,
that‘s okay. I will be fine. But I must ask one thing of you.‖
    Devon sighed. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt this angel,
but he could not give him what he so desperately wanted. Devon just
could not do that. ―What is it?‖
    ―Before you leave me here, I would ask that you mark me. In that
mark, my heart‘s blood will do no more than trickle and I can survive
for a little while. I won‘t be happy but it‘s better than nothing.‖
    Devon shook his head. ―I must confess I do not understand much
of this. If it‘s the mate bond and our kiss causing this suffering, why
am I not affected as well?‖
    ―As a Healer, your body is capable of repairing itself. Though
your heart cannot bleed, you will find that as time goes by, you will
begin to lose the ability to heal others and then eventually, yourself. It
is a cycle we will both succumb to, only I will decline faster,‖ Anson
whispered. ―Your mark will slow that for me.‖
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   ―More reason you should come with me to my house. I will not let
anything happen to you.‖
    Anson shook his head. ―I must stay here where I am loved. I
release you, Devon. I want you to go and serve Gagda and to know
that I‘ll be fine.‖
    ―Anson, I cannot leave you here. I am sorry. Mates cannot be
without each other for long, even I know this to be true. I will never
hurt you. My house will provide for you and treat you with kindness,
and when I have assignments, you can come with me.‖
    Anson looked down, disappointment clear not only in his body
language but in his face as well. He would not let his mate see him
cry. He refused to try to force something from Devon that the angel
himself was not willing to give on his own. Perhaps Anson was
expecting too much too soon; after all, they‘d only met a short while
ago. Love would come at some point, of that Anson was sure. He
hoped he could wait that long, though. What Devon didn‘t know was
that once the love blood pumped from Anson‘s heart, it needed
nurturing or he‘d wither away like a dead flower petal. Once love
came to the angels of Anson‘s line and their submissive tendencies
woke, nothing could be done to stop the deterioration of the
submissive angel, unless his mate loved him.
     ―Anson, if I leave you here, will this happen again?‖
   Anson shook his head and stood up. He would not force the
angel‘s love by using pity. If he was destined to perish, then that is
what he was going to do. He looked up at Devon‘s handsome face and
gave a tiny, sad smile. ―You do not intend to mark me, do you?‖
    ―When we have our ceremony, I shall do my duty to you. I am not
so cold as to be indifferent to you.‖
     ―Please, go away, Devon.‖
   ―I cannot leave you here. I was sent to find you and bring you
back. I must fulfill my duty to my home. They expect it of me.‖
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     ―I cannot leave and go to a strange house to be with a mate who
does not want me. If you will not mark me, then please, I beg of you,
take your leave. I am tired and sore and need to rest. Thank you for
checking up on me and for healing me. With rest I will get stronger.‖
He turned and walked on unsteady legs to his bedroom door. Opening
it, eyes glued to the floor, he said, ―Please, go now.
    ―We don‘t even know each other, not really, other than we are
mates. Isn‘t that odd to you? How in the universe are we supposed to
allow that dictate to rule our lives?‖
    ―For me, it‘s the most natural feeling there is. I cannot answer
your question. My guess is that you need to find yourself. When you
do, I hope it won‘t be too late. Goodbye, Devon.‖
   Devon did growl. He took Anson in his arms and hugged him, his
arms wrapped protectively around him. ―I care about you. I do not
understand why that is, but I do feel that in my heart. Is it not
enough?‖
    Anson hung loosely in his mate‘s arms. No matter how much his
heart bled for Devon, he wouldn‘t keep him from doing as he wished.
Sadly, Anson would never know what it was like to have a lover. ―Is
your lover good to you? He better be or I‘ll be upset. You are a good
soul, Devon. You deserve the best. I need to sleep now. Please, go.‖
    Gordon stood in the hallway, his blood boiling in rage. Never
would he understand a submissive Angel. Never. Anson thought
Devon had a lover and all he said was that the other angel had better
take care of his traitorous mate. Devon did not deserve Anson. He
spun away and left the apartment.
    Devon let Anson go and helped him lay back on the bed, covering
him with the heavy comforter. ―I do not have a lover, Anson. He was
but a friend I helped. I‘ll come back in a few days to see how you‘re
doing. Please, think about coming to my home. They will take care of
you.‖
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    ―I do not want a community to take care of me. I only want and
need one and if he is incapable, I will do it my way.‖ Devon knew
nothing about a submissive angel, and that was a disaster waiting to
happen.
     ―What is your way?‖
     ―I do not owe you more. Please, leave me.‖
     Devon nodded and did as Anson requested.
     ****
     ―And just where in the universe do you think you‘re going?‖
    Devon sat on the porch step, suddenly exhausted. Fighting with
Gordon was not what he needed or wanted to do any longer. ―He
asked me to leave. I tried to get him to come with me, but he refused.
I healed him so he‘ll do better.‖
    Gordon walked to stand in front of him. ―So, just like that, you‘re
running away? Your work here is done and that‘s that. Must be easy
for you, huh? I mean, this is what you do all the time, is it not?‖
   ―I can‘t force him to come with me. What would you have me
do?‖
     ―If I have to tell you, you‘re never going to get it.‖
    Devon looked up and said, ―I will come back when I can to check
on him. When the Druantia grant our union, I shall be back for him, to
become his eternity mate as written by Gagda. I‘ll see you soon.‖
     ―What makes you think yourself worthy of him?‖
    ―He‘s my mate. I have a duty to him. I will be back to check on
him.‖ Devon stood and walked to the end of the path before he
stopped and said, ―I will be back.‖
    At first, Gordon felt guilty for his interference, but after Devon‘s
performance, he was glad he‘d made the call, for he would not watch
his young charge waste away again. It was only luck Devon had been
in this plane to get to Anson as quickly as he had. If he had been
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elsewhere, the chances of Anson still being among them were low.
―By the time you get back, it‘ll be too late. I‘ll have lost him because
you are a fool. Well, you carry on and I‘ll do what I must to keep
Anson alive.‖
     CHAPTER FIVE
     ―What do you have to say for yourself?‖
    Devon found himself on his knees before the Feitheoirs, the
Druantia, and the Abrafo, who‘d taken him from his home in a
binding spell, making him an easy arrest. ―I did nothing wrong.‖
   ―No? You are doing a lot wrong from what I can see, young
Devon. You found your mate, did you not?‖
     ―I did.‖
    ―And have you come before us to ask permission for your
ceremony?‖
     ―No, I have not.‖
     ―Why is this?‖
     ―I am not yet ready to mate.‖
     ―Is that your choice?‖
    ―No, it is not. It is Gagda‘s. He feels I have not yet managed to
fully embrace the gift that has been given to me, and as such, feels I
do not deserve the honor of mating with the angel he has seen fit to
present to me.‖
   ―We have word that young Anson nearly perished two months
ago. You saved him. You slowed his system down, for what reason?‖
   Devon‘s head whipped up. ―He‘s my mate! I have no wish to see
him dead. I would have done that for anyone.‖
     ―Why?‖
     ―Why, what?‖
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    ―You do not truly care for the subjects we assign to you. You
merely do our bidding because it is what you are bound to do, true or
false?‖
    ―True,‖ Devon replied quietly. He kept his eyes downcast as was
required, and for that he was thankful. He could not let them see how
close to crying he was. He hated this part of who he was. He did not
trust himself to care about anyone, never mind love them. Didn‘t they
know who his father was? Mider would strike when none of them
would expect it. He didn‘t play by Gagda‘s rules. He played by his
own. Devon felt the calling of his Creator every single hour he lived
among Gagda‘s people. He fought every day to ignore the urge to go
to Mider, and seeing Anson, kissing him, holding him in his arms kept
that urge at bay.
     ―Is it true you are still incapable of love?‖
     ―Yes, my Feitheoirs.‖
   ―Bring him in here,‖ one of them directed to a guard at the
chamber door.
    ―Young Devon, what you‘re about to see is no one‘s fault but your
own. You will live with this upon your conscience, knowing for all
eternity it is your inability to give and receive love that has provoked
this act.‖
    Devon watched the door the Feitheoirs had focused on. It opened
and Gordon walked in, holding someone in his arms, someone
covered in a white sheet, hiding his features from all. And the only
time this happened was when another angel had perished. His heart
quickened and he fought the urge to run to Gordon, who stood still,
holding the body as close as possible.
    ―Devon, because of your negligence, we lost this angel two nights
past. On your last assignment, you were asked if there was anything to
keep you close to this level and you answered no. True or false?‖
    Awareness began creeping its way into his mind and heart. It was
a small body Gordon held in his arms.
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     ―Answer the question!‖
     Devon jumped and answered. ―True.‖
     ―Uncover the body of our most beloved angel.‖
     Devon watched as things moved in slow motion. Gordon laid his
bundle on the altar in the center of the room. Devon watched Gordon
carefully peel the sheet back from the face he had thought of, night
after night, since the first day he‘d seen him nearly two and a half
years ago. ―No!‖ The first thought that came to him was Mider had
found his little mate and destroyed him to teach Devon a lesson for
not going to Mider when he‘d been summoned. Mider did not play
fairly. Devon shook his head in denial. This had to be a ruse. It could
not be real. His heart pounded painfully in his chest, his head
throbbing, threatening to rob him of consciousness. ―My angel,‖ he
said between panting breaths. ―Give him back! He is mine. I didn‘t
know.‖ He jumped to his feet and ran to his mate. ―Anson!‖ He fell
across Anson‘s lifeless body. He held Anson‘s face in his hands and
willed him to open his eyes. ―Anson, my little angel, wake for me.
Look at me.‖ He waited for a few minutes, then leaned in to listen for
a breath, a sigh, anything that might indicate his angel was still alive,
but there was nothing. Devon looked at the peaceful features, the coal
black eyelashes that rested upon porcelain skin, the pert nose and
dimpled chin, the full lips posed in breathless slumber, and he cried.
    ―You‘re being charged with his death. You neglected a gift from
our Gagda, and you must be punished.‖
    Devon ran his fingers over Anson‘s face, pausing near those cold
lips, and moaned in despair. ―Anson, please, open your eyes and look
at me. I didn‘t know.‖
     ―What didn‘t you know, Devon?‖
     ―I didn‘t know he was dying. I made him better.‖
    ―Such a fool! His heart bled until there was nothing left. He
perished because he gave you the gift of your freedom. He perished
out of love for you.‖
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   424


    Devon looked at Gordon to see if what they said was true. He saw
the pain, the anger, and the sadness in those eyes and knew the truth.
―No! He‘s my mate, bring him back to me.‖ Devon gathered Anson‘s
body in his arms, picking him up from the altar he‘d been placed
upon. ―Please. I‘ll do better. I‘ll give him whatever he wants.
Anything he needs. He is pure and kind and doesn‘t deserve this. Take
me instead. Give him my life‘s blood. Bring him back.‖
    ―You‘re right. He didn‘t deserve your neglect, but it is all you had
to give to him,‖ one of the Feitheoir replied in a voice filled with
emotion. ―Anson was a sacred, rare angel, one who can no longer be
reproduced. His kind perishes all too easily, yet we had hoped his fate
would be different with you. Gagda created him for you because he
loves you and believes in you, but you do not believe in yourself. You
do not love yourself, therefore you cannot love another. You care only
for yourself, Healer, and you intentionally committed a grave wrong
against Anson. You denied Gagda‘s gift to you, and now we all will
pay for the sin of your ingratitude. Gagda trusted us with a rare gift
and you, Devon, took him away.‖
    ―I am guilty. I did this to him. Please, give us another chance. Let
me prove to you that I can love him and keep him safe. On my oath,
he‘ll never know another day of unhappiness. Please, I beg for your
mercy.‖
   The panel looked at one another and after several long moments,
one of the council spoke, ―We cannot let this go unpunished. You
must pay for the crime committed.‖
   ―Anything. Anything, but please, bring him back. You have the
power to do it.‖
     ―Lay young Anson upon the altar.‖
    Devon did as he was told, gently kissing his mate‘s cold lips
before standing.
     ―Give him your house mark.‖
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   425


   Devon looked at them in confusion but refused to question an
order. He placed his hands above Anson‘s chest and closed his eyes,
concentrating. It took him no more than a minute to complete, and
when he opened his eyes, he traced his fingers over the tribal design
now covering Anson‘s chest. He then said a small, silent prayer,
devoting his life to his mate.
     ―Bring him unto us.‖
    Devon heard the words and looked down, waiting for a sign. He‘d
witnessed this on only one other occasion, and it had left him in awe.
Anson‘s body twitched involuntarily and his eyes fluttered open. They
were glazed and he seemed slightly disoriented, but they were open.
Anson was alive once more. ―Anson? You‘re okay. You‘re going to
be okay.‖
    Anson looked up at Devon, clearly lost. He rolled his head and
spotted Gordon. He grinned and said, ―I‘m tired.‖
   Gordon sighed in relief. He placed his hand on Anson‘s chest and
smiled. ―I know, little one. Welcome back.‖
     ―Anson, do you know who I am?‖
   Anson looked back at Devon and seemed to concentrate for a
while but shrugged and said, ―No, I‘ve never met you. Who are you?‖
    Devon‘s eyes grew wide and his breath caught in his throat. He
looked to the panel of powerful angels. ―You made him forget me?
He‘s my mate. How could you do this to us?‖
    ―Silence, Healer! And pay close attention. We did not do this, you
did. You denied him your love; something so easy to give and
something that pays you back tenfold. You denied him your mark;
you gave him nothing but pain. You killed him. Why would he want
to remember any of that? Do you truly want him to remember any of
it?‖ The councilman questioned. ―Take him away.‖
    Once the Abrafo had Devon apprehended, the Feitheoirs all stood
and faced him. Each of them wore long, white robes with hoods that
threw their faces into shadow, leaving only their mouths visible. They
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition     426


were a force with which to be reckoned, and they scared many. Devon
looked at them, directly; he was too angry to be scared. ―I care about
him very much!‖
    ―It‘s not enough, too little, too late. You cannot be with him. Your
mark will keep him alive, and he will go on to find a new mate; it has
been ordained. Thanks be to our Gagda for hearing our plea. Your
mark will serve to remind others of the consequences when mates do
not fulfill their fate. Selfishness is an immoral trait, one you learned
from the humans below. Because you covet their ways, you are
banned from Nèamh. You will live among the humans on Domhan,
those of whom you are so fond. Your wings will be severed, your
healing powers drained, and your memories of Nèamh and of this life
will be erased.‖
   Devon paled and stepped back. ―Please,‖ he said, but to no avail.
He was restrained by the Abrafo.
   ―There is much to be learned from this experience, Devon. There
can be peace and happiness in your life, but only if you come to
understand what it means to love and to place your trust in another.
Until that time, you will live in exile. Goodbye, Devon.‖
    Devon looked back at Anson one last time. Anson leaned into
Gordon and looked at Devon in amazement. The thought of never
seeing his angel again was enough to bring Devon to his knees. Were
it not for the Abrafo holding him, he knew he would have caved.
―Anson, I‘m sorry I wronged you. I didn‘t know. I…‖
     Anson watched as the blonde angel disappeared before their eyes.
     CHAPTER SIX
     ―I‘m sorry, Anson.‖
   Anson turned from the observation window and nodded. ―He‘s
having a hard time down there.‖
    It was the hardest thing my Father has ever demanded of me. As I
lay on that altar, though dead to him, I heard it all. I heard the anguish
and the sorrow in his words.‖
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition    427


     ―I know.‖
   ―I wanted to run into his arms that day. I almost told him I
remembered him, but in the end, I could not go against my Father‘s
orders. Do you think he‘ll ever learn to love?‖
   Gordon looked down upon the humans and spied Devon. He
nodded and smiled. ―He‘ll get it.‖
    ―Never seems like there‘s a dull moment down there. Every day
brings something new and different. Those fragile creatures are so
distant and hateful to each other. I can stare at them for hours, and all
I see is the contempt they have for each other. See there? A young
male, he‘s no more than fifteen Domhan years, if that. He‘s being
pushed by the bigger males, and they are making him cry.‖
   ―And look at your Devon. Look! He‘s been on their plane for a
year, a single day of our time, and he‘s reaching out to help.‖
   Anson turned his head, his dark eyes tearing up; he watched as his
mate held the human in his arms and said, ―Earlier I witnessed a
similar scene. A young male was forced to perform sexual acts with
several of his kind. They shot him afterward and left him lying behind
a building. His spirit left his body, but his temple has not yet been
found.‖
    ―He is now talking with the Druantia. He is scared, but he will no
longer be in pain. I just came from there.‖
     ―Gordon, he‘s to be your next charge. I feel it.‖
     ―Aww, come now. I have my hands full with you.‖
     ―I want to go there, Gordon.‖
     Gordon looked at him in surprise. ―What?‖
    ―I want to live among them. I want to help them learn love and the
freedom to love whomever they choose. It seems to me that many of
the humans down there do not accept love in all its forms. They are
ignorant and need teaching. I can teach that. I want to.‖
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   ―Oh, Anson, I don‘t believe the Father will allow that request.
You‘re his rare and favored creation.‖
    ―I‘m no different than anyone else. Well, not really a lot different.
Well, okay maybe a bit different, but I still have something to offer
the humans. The young ones need people they can trust, and I want to
be one of those people. Who knows, maybe I‘ll meet Devon and he
can find a way to love me.‖
     ―If you go there, you‘ll forget him, us. You‘ll be one of them.‖
    Anson nodded and looked back at Domhan. He saw Devon wiping
the tears from the young boy‘s eyes. ―It‘ll be worth it to help those
lost and scared souls.‖
     ―Have you requested an audience with your Father?‖
   ―Yes. I go to see him in a little while. I think he‘ll say yes.
Gordon, I cannot say thank you enough for what you‘ve done for me.
You‘ve taught me so much, and I wish more than anything that I
would remember you when I go to live among them.‖
     ****
    Anson‘s request was heard and on the third day, he was granted
permission to leave Nèamh. He was commended for his bravery and
selflessness, and unbeknownst to him, he would retain many, though
not all, of his memories. There was a short, tearful goodbye between
him and Gordon. When Gordon wrapped his arms around Anson and
told him he couldn‘t have been any prouder if he tried, it was all
Anson needed. On the afternoon of the third day of Devon‘s fall from
Nèamh, Anson found himself standing in the middle of an empty
building.
   ―Open a safe place for your lost souls, my son. They will come to
you for safety, they will come to you for help, and they will come to
you with love. They are my children too.‖
    Anson smiled and looked around the big, abandoned warehouse.
Visions of rooms, offices, and young people with smiles on their faces
appeared before him.
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     ―Excuse me, sir. Will this work for you?‖
   Anson knew that voice. He spun around and gazed into green eyes
he wasn‘t sure he dared hope to see again. He gasped and smiled.
   ―Son, he will not remember you. You must start from the
beginning with your mate, but you can do it. I have faith.‖
     ―Uh, yes. Yes, this will be perfect for what I have in mind.‖
     ―Very good, then. What do you plan to do with the space?‖
   ―Well, how would you like to have a drink with me while I tell
you my plans?‖
     The blonde man smiled. ―Are you asking for a date, Anson?‖
    When the man said his name, goose bumps played havoc with his
skin. ―I don‘t believe in wasting time. Life is too short. What did you
say your name was?‖
    ―Devon, Devon McGregor. And since you beat me to the punch
on the drink invitation, I would like to ask you to dinner. I know of
this fantastic hamburger place over on 17th. The servers there are
some of the hottest in town.‖
   ―Not looking for any other guys, but sure, I‘d love to have a
hamburger with you, Devon.‖
   Devon studied him for several moments, his eyes squinted, his
head cocked to the side. ―Do I know you from somewhere?‖
    Anson grinned and walked out the door. He looked up at the blue
sky and said, ―Thank you.‖
     EPILOGUE
     One Year Later
     ―Are you ready for me?‖
     ―Yes, Sir. Very ready.‖
     ―Such a good boy. What did I do before you came into my life?‖
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   430


   Anson licked his lips and held onto the headboard tighter, his
knuckles white. ―You did without, Sir.‖
    Devon held the lube in his hand and poured a generous amount
onto his fingers. ―You look delicious like this, spread out and needy.
Look how beautiful you are. You‘ve been working out; I see a six
pack here,‖ Devon said, kissing Anson‘s abs, working his way down
to his bellybutton. ―Mmm, you taste so good.‖ He kept kissing,
running his tongue along the crease between thigh and groin, causing
Anson to buck his hips and moan.
    ―Please,‖ Anson panted, his hands grabbing the wooden rails
tighter.
   ―Please what?‖ Devon grinned and ran his tongue along the
underside of Anson‘s hard cock. ―More of this?‖
    Anson ground his ass against the mattress, trying his best to
control the eruption he felt stirring in his lower belly. If Devon kept
that thing up with his tongue, he was sure he‘d explode. ―More
everything, please.‖
     Devon licked the head of his lover‘s dick, moaning from the sweet
taste. It was like heaven. He opened his mouth and swallowed Anson
to the root, smiling and looked up at his little angel. He stopped
sucking, licking, and tasting long enough to look into those dark-as-
the-abyss eyes, when the memories of a past lifetime suddenly
inundated his mind. Dizzy and gasping, he whispered in awe, ―My
little angel.‖
   ―Sir, please, fuck me. I need you inside me; I want to feel you
deep. Take me and make me yours for all time.‖
   Devon blinked a couple of times and the memories of another life,
another time, grew stronger.
    ―It takes a special man to know what Anson needs to feel whole.
An angel who can control him, protect him, make him happy. He‘s a
rare submissive angel and we are entrusting you to give that to him.
Do not stifle him; don‘t hurt him, and he will be yours for eternity.‖
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   Devon sat up and looked at his lover like he never had before.
―Anson, I need to say something before I make love to you.‖
    Anson moaned, trying to control his urge to demand his mate to
take him already. He‘d made that demand once, and Devon stopped
everything, denying Anson the relief he sought. For three whole days.
Devon was a demanding lover, one who took total control and guided
them both to the freedom they desired, a freedom that could not be
found with anyone else.
    Their relationship continued to grow both spiritually and mentally.
They worked as a team, helping whoever came to them seeking
acceptance and love. Devon quit his real estate position and went to
work with Anson, designing and running the center they called
Nèamh. The Celestial . Devon counseled the teens, while Anson often
spent time on the streets, in the back alleys and abandoned homes in
search of his lost souls. The building now covered a city block in
downtown LA. Inside were apartments, offices, school rooms, a large
cafeteria, a library, and even a club where the teens and young adults
could gather together to dance and enjoy life. Yes, this was what
Anson‘s Father wanted and this is what Devon and Anson needed.
    ―We‘re in the middle of making love and now you want to have a
chat?‖
   Devon looked at him very seriously and Anson stopped squirming
and waited.
    ―I love you. In my heart, I believe I have always loved you and I
always will. Anson, you are my life mate, my soul mate, and you are a
rare gift. I intend to keep you safe. I intend to protect you, and I plan
to marry you, if you‘ll have me.‖
    Anson smiled and closed his eyes. Gordon, you were right. But he
took forever to admit it. ―Permission to release my hands, Sir?‖
    Devon took each of Anson‘s wrists in his hands and pulled them
to his lips. He kissed each in turn, murmuring about how much he
loved his little angel. He‘d been such a fool for so long and wasted so
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much time, but he‘d make it up to Anson for the rest of their mortal
lives. Devon believed that Mider had finally released the hold he had
on his son, freeing Devon‘s heart, giving him room to love, and
finally, he felt warmth where the cold had resided since the beginning
of his existence. Devon had had the cure inside him all along; he just
needed to say the words aloud, to feel them, to let someone else love
him.
   Anson batted his lashes against the tears in his eyes, and smiled.
No, he laughed out of sheer happiness. ―Took you long enough.‖
   Devon traced the mark on Anson‘s chest with his finger. ―Proof of
my love, of my dedication, of my promise to you.‖ Devon looked at
Anson, traced his swollen lips with a thumb, and gently placed a kiss
on the tip of his mate‘s perfect nose. ―You have my heart in your
hands. We have it all.‖
   Anson couldn‘t stop the tears running down his cheeks, nor could
he stop himself from climbing into Devon‘s lap and wrapping his
arms around that solid body. ―I love you, my sexy angel. Now, will
you please fuck me?‖
    Devon chuckled. ―I‘m keeping track here. So far that‘s four
paddlings for bad behavior. One for language, and before you say
anything about that, yes, it does turn me on, but only when I tell you
that you have freedom to speak. And in that, we‘re adding another just
because I feel like it.‖
    Anson grinned. ―If I added, please, would it make you hurry
things up here?‖
    ―We‘re making it an even ten.‖ Devon held him tighter, inhaling
the very essence of his angel, of his mate, and held his breath, keeping
Anson there as long as possible. Devon laughed and threaded his
fingers through Anson‘s hair, cradling the back of his head. ―I will
never get tired of saying it. I love you, truly and deeply love you.‖
    ―I love you too. Now, blondie, if you don‘t take me and make me
feel that love, I‘m going to scream.‖
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    Devon pushed him back with a smile on his face, spread Anson‘s
legs, and knelt between them. ―That‘s fifteen.‖ Gently he pushed a
finger inside his lover‘s body, watching his face carefully for signs of
pain. His little submissive angel gave himself over completely.
   ―No more. Just your dick. In me,‖ Anson panted and pleaded.
―Love me.‖
     ―Anson, what have I said about the cheekiness?‖
    Anson squirmed and said with as straight a face as he could, ―Not
to do it. But I swear, you take forever.‖
   ―We have forever.‖ Devon lined up the head of his cock with
Anson‘s hole, and pushed, the head slipping past the ring of muscle.
―Am I hurting you?‖
    Anson held the headboard tighter, took a breath, released it, and
impaled himself on his lover‘s dick. ―Now, please, move and show me
hurt.‖
    Devon swatted Anson‘s creamy white ass and said, ―Pushy
bottoms get what?‖
     ―A nice red ass. I‘m game. Dammit, you feel so good.‖
    Devon pulled back, leaving only the head in Anson‘s ass, and
leaned in to kiss his mate, deep and long, swallowing his lover‘s
moans as he pushed in all the way to the root. A feeling like a spark of
electricity hummed around the head of his cock; it traveled through
his body at an alarming rate of speed, filling him with his lover‘s
scent, his lover‘s ecstasy, his lover‘s life. ―Do you feel it?‖
    Anson‘s head lay back in bliss. He wrapped his legs around
Devon‘s hips and when Devon‘s dick hit his prostate, he screamed in
ecstasy. ―Sparks. Mate! Please more, more.‖
     ―For all eternity, you‘re mine.‖
    Anson smiled and closed his eyes. He‘d waited to give himself to
the only man he‘d ever loved, waited a lifetime. He‘d kept his promise
to the Father. Father had had to be sure Devon loved him truly. For a
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year on Domhan, day in Nèamh, they had waited to share their love.
He knew that Devon had learned to love at last.
    Devon closed his eyes, said a few words under his breath, and
gently slid his hand along Anson‘s sweaty body, down low on his
hips, and drew three perfect stars which appeared on Anson‘s skin as
if Devon had held a marker to design the patterns. Three stars for
three years. He traced the tribal mark on Anson‘s chest, and with a
smile said, ―I love you, Anson. My mate. I love you.‖
    Anson‘s heavy eyelids fluttered open for a few seconds, and he
placed his hand over the new marks from his mate. ―The next time
you mark me, can you at least make it in a pretty color? Like perhaps
hunter green? Or maybe a nice teal blue?‖
     ―For you, anything.‖
THE END
   Author bio: I live my life believing. I believe that all of us can do
anything we want to do. I believe that each goal we set for ourselves
can be met if we strive to meet that goal, no matter what bumps we
have to jump over to attain it.
     I don't believe in fear I believe in the power of love.
    Fear has the power to stop me, to control me and lead me to
failure.
   Love has the power to guide me over the most difficult of
mountains with a smile on my face and a rush of warmth in my heart.
    I'm a writer at heart, I love to tell stories and though most of what
comes out of my imagination can appear a little off the beaten path,
that's because it is.
    I am bringing something different to the table with my stories and
I hope you enjoy them.
     Michele L. Montgomery
     www.michelelmontgomery.com
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   435


     http://www.facebook.com/michelelmontgome...
     http://top2bottomreviews.wordpress.com/
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition                   436


Cherie Noel – KISS AND TELL (Mild Kink)
Genre: Contemporary; M/M/M ménage
Tags: Cock-docking; mild kink; threesome;                           Dear Author,
HEA; Sweet & Hot                                                    Please tell me the story of
Words: 14,663                                                       this pic, who's watching,
                                                                    when does the threesome
WARNING, this story deals with elements of
                                                                    begin, where are they, are
domestic abuse; employs wanton use of both                          they strangers??
lubricant and several shades of blue paint; as                      [PHOTO: A muscular man
well as tolerating patently fabricated references                   with cropped dark hair and
to the king of hot lick-able-ness…Mr. Cary                          razored beard lies back on a
                                                                    low fur-covered bed. Hands
Grant. The writers and beta readers of this story
                                                                    behind his head, he watches
advise keeping both a few pair of asbestos                          intently as another tattooed,
undies and a minimum 50units of insulin on                          naked man cups his flanks
hand while reading. Er, just in case.                               with gentle hands and kisses
                                                                    his scrotum. In the
If that ain‘t skeerd ya off…read on MacDuff.                        background, only the legs of
                                                                    a third man are visible,
KISS AND TELL                                                       standing close, one foot up
                                                                    on the bed.]
by Cherie Noel
                                                                    Sincerely,
                                                                    Heather S.
   This story is for Heather S. because she
asked, and for Patric Michael because he is.
Whenever I need a bad guy, all I have to do is
add a ‗k‘ and write a guy who is the opposite of
my Balthazar. You truly inspire me, sir.


    Kevin loathed working the ER. There was
always some rancid shit going down. Drunk
drivers causing accidents would roll in with
minor lacerations while whatever bright kid full
of potential they‘d hit would arrive as a DOA.
Case after case of domestic abuse, junkies
overdosing…it just sucked.
    He pulled a pair of blood spattered gloves
off, tossed them in the bio-hazard bin and then
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition   437


scrubbed his hands before moving on to the next room. The triage
notes listed it as a possible/probable domestic abuse situation…the
guy had frequent flyer miles in the ER evidently. Just fucking great.
Kevin took a deep breath and dredged up his best professional smile
as he walked into the room. A big, dark haired guy was sitting on the
exam table holding a cold pack to one eye, blood running from an
obviously broken nose. He flinched back from his smaller companion
just as Kevin entered.
    Huh. That was weird. The other guy was shorter, and stocky, the
muscles of his upper body thick and powerful looking. The patient‘s
gaze flashed up to where Kevin was. The one eye Kevin could see
was softly brown, like a fawn‘s. The smaller guy swung around, a
patently false smile plastered on his face, his mouth already opening
to spew a line of bullshit. They always had a line of bullshit down
here, covering their own asses, their partner‘s asses…it was always
something.
    Kevin was so never going to pick up another shift down here, no
matter how much Brian, Mike or Chevonne begged. Screw that. There
was a reason he‘d transferred up to the ortho-neuro floor. So he
wouldn‘t have to deal with shit like this. It looked like the little guy
was pissed at his partner for getting in some kind of bar-room dustup.
Kevin wondered if the other guy had ended up at a different ER, of if
he was next on the list of patients. Mentally rolling his eyes, Kevin
glanced back at the triage nurse‘s notes.
     Wait.
    This big guy had been here seventeen times in the last fourteen
months. What the fuck? Was the guy a boxer or something? Kevin
glanced up, his mouth open to ask just what the guy did for a living
and caught the bigger man flinching back from a gesture the shorter
guy was making. Oh. Damn. That put a different spin on things. He‘d
have to get rid of short and stocky before he could talk to the patient.
     ―Excuse me, Mr.?‖
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   Kevin paused, looking expectantly at the burly blond. The guy
crowded right into his personal space pushing his face so close Kevin
could almost taste the stale coffee on his breath.
     ―Robert. Robert Kinsey. My partner had an accident, and—‖
     Kevin cut him off.
   ―Mr. Kinsey, I‘m afraid I‘ll have to ask you to step out while I
examine my patient. I‘ll be sure to have someone inform you when
you can come back again.‖
    The man shot his partner a loaded glance and then bared his teeth
at Kevin. It wasn‘t a smile. He pushed forward into Kevin‘s space
again. Kevin squared his shoulders and braced himself. The sneer
slipped from the blond man‘s face.
    ―What are you, the doctor? Or are you a nurse? I bet you‘re
nothing but a little nurse. Why do you want me to leave? They never
asked me to before.‖
    The heavy emphasis Kinsey put on the word nurse, along with the
twist of his face—as though he‘d smelled something foul—gave clear
indication the man thought nurses were some form of sub-species.
     Kevin gave the man a thin smile. Fucker.
    ―I‘m a registered nurse Mr. Kinsey. Again, I have to ask you to
leave while I examine my patient. I can‘t speak for whomever you‘ve
seen before, but hospital policy clearly states that I need to ask friends
and family members to leave the room while I conduct exams unless
the patient is a minor. I can clearly see from the triage notes that Mr.
Giuliani is not a minor. Do I need to have security remove you?‖
    Kevin normally used a much softer touch with patient‘s friends
and families…but this guy had the fine hairs at the back of his neck
tingling. Kevin wanted him out of the room when he asked Mr.
Giuliani certain questions, and when he gave his big patient the
discreet information card with hotline numbers and the addresses of
several local gay friendly shelters. Kevin had the cards printed up on
his own dime back when he still worked the ER as his normal floor.
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The ones the hospital provided were inadequate in his opinion, giving
only the addresses of shelters that accepted abused women.
    After he read the card the first time, Kevin had realized that any
gay man in an abusive situation would get zero help from the card. He
did some research and found a couple of shelters that were both gay
friendly and willing to forbid entrance to abusive partners. It wasn‘t
perfect, but little in this world was.
     Robert Kinsey sneered at him again.
    ―Fine, Nurse. I‘ll let the administration know                  you‘re
discriminating against my partner and I because we‘re gay.‖
    Kevin bit back a laugh. Right. That should give Mike O‘Brian, the
EO guy a real belly laugh, considering Kevin was the GLBT rep for
the whole damn hospital until they could find someone else to
volunteer as well.
   ―You go right ahead and do that Mr. Kinsey. I‘m sure our EO
compliance officer will find that fascinating. As long as you get out of
my exam room, I really don‘t care where you go.‖
     The big man on the table hunched his shoulders a little, biting
down on his already split lip. The one eye Kevin could see kept
jumping back and forth between Kinsey and himself. Kinsey swung
back around, taking two quick strides toward the man on the table. He
lifted a meaty hand to pat Mr. Giuliani‘s cheek forcefully. His other
hand hung down by his side.
    ―Don‘t worry baby. I‘ll be right out in the waiting room. As soon
as they get you fixed up we can go home and I‘ll take real good care
of you.‖
     Giuliani paled and swayed slightly. Kevin opened his mouth to
tell Kinsey to leave again, but with one last fulminating glare, the man
stomped toward the waiting area. As he pushed past, Kevin glanced
down. The knuckles of the hand he‘d been holding down by his side
were scraped and swollen.
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    Kevin‘s uncle Leo had been a bare knuckles boxer. His hands
often looked exactly the same before he stopped fighting for money.
He called the wounds fight-bites, and had explained to Kevin how
punching someone in the mouth caused them. Crap.
    The tall man on the table turned his amber gaze on Kevin,
something lost and haunted in his look. Kevin reached into the side
pocket of his scrubs and pulled out one of the cards he‘d had a feeling
this man was going to need. He reached forward slowly, pulled
Giuliani‘s free hand off its resting spot and pressed the little rectangle
of hope into his hand. Kevin pitched his voice as low and soothingly
as he knew how.
   ―If you won‘t let me call the police right now, put this in your
shoe, under the lining. They never look there, and that way, the next
time he roughs you up, or you think he‘s going to, you‘ll have
somewhere to go.‖
   Giuliani‘s mouth opened and closed a few times. He shook his
head a little, shivered and bit even harder on his split lip. His voice
came out a low rumble, sounding scared as hell and whisper soft.
     ―I-I never said…‖
    Kevin shook his head, turning to the room‘s counter before
replying. He spoke over his shoulder as he prepped a suture kit and set
up the blood pressure machine. He‘d learned that it was easier for
them to keep the card if they could secret it away while he wasn‘t
watching.
     ―No. No, you didn‘t.‖
    When he turned back around, the little card was gone, and
Giuliani‘s right sneaker had a neat bow where it had been untied
before. Well. At least the guy had a lifeline. If he ever got a chance or
the guts to use it was another matter entirely.
    Kevin swallowed his sigh of frustration, got a blood pressure
reading on the big guy, swapped out his cold pack, and did a quick set
of neuro checks. There didn‘t seem to be anything critical, so after he
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noted that he thought the nose and right cheek needed x-rays Kevin
was pretty much done. He left Mr. Giuliani with the lights dimmed,
telling the big man that the doctor would be with him shortly. It was
the end of Kevin‘s shift, and he had paperwork to finish up or he‘d
have sat with the man until Doctor Stephens came in. Sometimes, if
you just sat with them, they‘d tell you what was really going on.
Kevin gave report to the nurse reliving him, finished up his
paperwork, and clocked out.
    The whole incident left a bad taste in his mouth. It was exactly
why Kevin hated working the ER. There was never enough time or
staff and sometimes, no matter how hard everyone tried, no matter if
everything possible was done…sometimes people fell through the
cracks.
     Two weeks later Kevin rolled into work sporting a huge grin and a
brand new tattoo mostly hidden under his scrubs. Only the edge of
one of the dragon‘s tails came high enough on his neck to be seen.
Nancy, his favorite charge nurse was on duty. She wouldn‘t give him
any grief about it and once it healed a little more he‘d start wearing a
turtleneck to cover it up. For tonight he‘d just slap some gauze over it
right after he got report.
    He‘d also gotten there early enough to snag Janice for his side of
the hallway. She was the best aide on duty, and Kevin loved working
with her. Though the switch to this shift, the three to eleven, worried
him at first it was turning out to be the best of both worlds. He still
had time to get stuff like going to the bank and the dry cleaner done
during the day, without completely giving up his social life.
     Heh.
    Hence the selection of phone numbers he‘d scored last night while
showing off the new tattoo at his favorite club. A zing of satisfaction
shot through Kevin‘s chest. It was good to know he still had what it
took to garner over a dozen offers in an evening. The only one he‘d
seriously considered hooking up with was the tall Italian who showed
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up right at the end of the evening. Kevin could admit he had a bit of a
thing for tall Italians.
     The guy at the club had reminded Kevin of the kid he‘d slipped a
rescue ring card to the last time he worked the ER. For some reason
he‘d had a really hard time getting the young man out of his head. The
Italian from last night had lacked the subtle sweetness Kevin had
sensed just under the surface of …what had his name been? Giuliani.
Yeah. Tony Giuliani. Kevin hadn‘t been able to get the kid‘s deep,
sweet voice out of his head. That as much as anything was why he had
ended the night with a pocketful of numbers rather than a hot body.
Come to think of it, he hadn‘t hooked up at all since he met the kid. It
was a shame the guy was letting himself be abused by that muscle
bound snake that‘d brought him in.
     Well.
     At least he had the card.
    Kevin turned his mind to business, greeted Nancy, and then got
his supplies set and his paperwork in order for shift change. Once he
was set, he slid into the room behind the nurses‘ station where they
did shift change. He snagged Janice to work his side, and then tuned
into what Nancy was saying.
     ―Kevin, you‘ll be getting a transfer from ICU right after dinner.‖
     She shook her head, a few bright red curls escaping her braid.
Pulling a bobby-pin from her pocket, she ruthlessly pinned them back
into submission before continuing. A new chart lay open in front of
her.
    ―I took the report from Margie about ten minutes ago. They want
to hold off sending him down until then…just a precaution. He‘s
stable…you know how Margie is. She likes to dot her ―i‘s‖ and cross
her ―t‘s‖…‖
    Kevin nodded. It was one of the things he loved about accepting
transfers from Margie.
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    ―I guess the kid was here a few weeks ago after a domestic,
refused to call the cops, and then left with his partner…ended up back
in the ER less than five hours later. Margie‘s cousin Sam was on the
ambulance crew that brought him in the second time, and he told her
the admitting nurse said he‘d just discharged the guy a few hours
earlier.‖
     Something dark settled in the pit of Kevin‘s stomach.
     ―Nancy, did Margie say. Uh, what‘s the patient‘s name?‖
     Nancy gave him a sharp look.
     ―Giuliani. Tony Giuliani, age 22.‖
     Kevin closed his eyes. Nancy‘s voice washed over him.
     ―Oh, Kevin, was that the night you picked up in the ER?‖
   Kevin nodded sickly. Nancy reached over and patted his hand.
She spoke briskly.
   ―Sam told Margie the only reason the kid made it at all was that he
was on the phone with one of the shelters when his partner assaulted
him the last time. The shelter worker made the 911 call. Do you want
me to switch him to Tammi‘s team?‖
     Kevin snapped his eyes back open.
    ―No, Nancy. Tammi‘s a brand new grad. She just came off
orientation. I‘ll take him. It. Shit, it‘s the least I can do.‖
    Nancy patted his hand again, and waded through the rest of report.
She didn‘t argue. They were down an aide tonight anyway, so Kevin
really wasn‘t surprised. He knew she had monthly tracking reports to
get turned, and they were a bitch of a time waster. It wasn‘t like he
really knew the guy. He‘d just treated him once before. Kevin sighed.
     *****
    The first time Tony spoke, Kevin heard the difference in his voice.
He‘d been shy and hesitant before, picking out his words with care as
though trying to ensure he said the right thing every time. Now his
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words just fell out. Not a lot of rhyme, though there was still a bit of
reason gleaming at the edges of what he said. He was…childlike. No,
that wasn‘t quite right. Just. He was innocent somehow. Even when
he‘d get upset and swear a blue streak, or throw his meal tray it didn‘t
seem malicious so much as frustrated. Tony would cry after, and as
the weeks passed the other nurses called Kevin at home sometimes,
because word got around that Tony always calmed at the sound of his
voice.
    Kevin requested Jean-Paul from Social Work pick up the case
during Tony‘s stay…because it was clear he couldn‘t just go home.
He tried to maintain a professional distance. He got too involved…but
he just couldn‘t seem to help himself. It felt right, and it felt like Tony
had belonged to him since that first moment down in ER.
    Jean-Paul had testing done and determined that the guy would
need some services…but he was well above what the system would
consider competent. What was going to happen to the guy when he
was released from the hospital? His abusive ex-boyfriend might be in
the county lock-up awaiting trial, but Tony would be easy pickings for
another asshole just like him if he was left to his own devices.
    Kevin thought about that a lot as Tony‘s discharge date grew
closer and closer.
     Christ.
    Tossing and turning , worrying about what was going to happen to
the big guy got so bad Kevin talked to Jean-Paul about what kind of
help Tony might need, and what Jean-Paul, as a social worker,
thought might be unethical, and what was just…ethically in the grey
zone. He did some thinking. Then he offered Tony a place to stay, and
a ‗job‘ as his housekeeper.
    He really just meant to help the big guy get back on his feet. Tony
got under his skin. He made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for
Kevin to take to work, and painted four sketchbooks full of gorgeous
pictures to make sure Kevin didn‘t miss seeing the
sunsets…especially on days he had to work.
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    Kevin came home one day three or four months later to find an old
college acquaintance about to fuck Tony in the living room. Bare. He
tossed Sean out and talked to Tony about safe sex. Tony promised to
follow the always use a rubber rule.
     Two weeks later Kevin got a call from the local police station.
Tony needed bailing out. He‘d finally gotten brave enough to leave
the apartment without Kevin. He went shopping, and walked out of a
store without paying for his merchandise. When Kevin got there,
Tony explained that he forgot his wallet at home, and was going to get
it. He couldn‘t understand why the store clerks got so upset, or why
the police arrested him. He was going to get the money to pay for his
things. Kevin decided the new rule would be that Tony needed to call
if he was leaving the house, and anytime he wasn‘t sure about what
was going on where he was.
    They went to the cell store the next morning to add a line to
Kevin‘s plan. Tony bounced on his toes as he picked out a glittery
pink phone, grinning from ear to ear.
    ―Kevin, look at this one. It‘s sparkly. And pink. I love pink. Pink
is happy, don‘cha think?‖
    Kevin couldn‘t help smiling back at the big goof. They charged
the phone as soon as they got home, and Kevin made up new signs to
put by the front door that read, ―Always call Kevin if you aren‘t sure.‖
Then he programmed Tony‘s new phone so that he was #1 on the
speed-dial.
    But he still worried. Sometimes Kevin forgot to check in, and
sometimes people would talk him out of doing it. Sometimes he‘d
play games on his phone until the charge was gone and then leave the
apartment without bothering to recharge it.
    Kevin helped Tony get enrolled in a local college‘s art program.
Kids at the art school talked him into doing their projects, and
someone was always talking the big guy into fucking them in the
school‘s bathrooms. Kevin made sure his room-mate always had
plenty of condoms. He started resenting how many the big guy was
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using though. He started carrying a bottle of antacid with him
everywhere he went. One day Tony called him at work four separate
times to ask if it was okay to let a guy fuck him raw because he‘d run
out of rubbers and the guy (a different one for every phone call)
promised he was clean. Kevin got written up. It was the last straw.
Tony was officially more than he could handle by himself. And he
was fucking well done giving the big guy condoms to use with other
men.
   So Kevin went home that night with his write-up in his pocket,
and his heart pinned right to his fucking sleeve.
     ―Tony? You here, big guy?‖
    Tony‘s distinctive rumble echoed down the hall from the study
that Kevin had converted into a studio for him.
     ―I‘m in the paintin‘ room Kevin.‖
    Kevin followed the velvet over gravel sound of his voice, pausing
in the doorway to drink in the sight before him. Tony was stripped to
the waist, his broad chest spattered with shades of blue to match the
canvas in front of him. His already paint stained cargo pants hung low
on his narrow hips, the top edge of the dark curls that surrounded his
uncut shaft peeking out. Kevin‘s cock filled, tenting the front of the
scrubs he was wearing. He moaned a low and needy sound escaping
his lips before he could stop it. Tony turned from his painting. His
thick black brows arched toward his hairline as he took in the growing
bulge in Kevin‘s sweats.
    ―Kevin, I don‘t got no more condoms…you never told me if it
was okay to let you fuck me without one. Is it okay, Kevin? Cause I
been hopin‘ for a while that you might want to fuck me. I like you a
whole lot better than the other guys. You‘re my Kevin. Fucking you‘d
be better than a whole day with nothin‘ to do but paint.‖
     Kevin moaned again, stepping into Tony‘s little studio.
   ―Yeah, Tony, I want you. I don‘t wanna fuck you though babe. I
wanna make love to you.‖
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     Tony shivered all over.
     ―You…Kevin, does that mean you love me?‖
    Kevin was right toe to toe with the big guy at that point. He
reached a hand up slowly, touching Tony‘s chest first before sliding
his fingers up around the back of the taller man‘s neck. Applying
gentle pressure he pulled until Tony‘s lips were a hairsbreadth away
from his own.
     ―Yeah, babe, it means I love you.‖
    Tony‘s brows drew together, and a wary light entered his fawn
brown eyes. He bit his top lip, released it, and then bit down again
before finally managing to mumble out a question.
     ―So‘sthatmeanifI‘mbadyouhitme?‖
     Kevin‘s chest constricted until it hurt.
     ―No babe. Not ever.‖
     A tear slipped down Tony‘s cheek.
     ―But what if you get real mad and there‘s nobody to stop you?‖
   The tight feeling in Kevin‘s chest spread to his stomach. He
swallowed hard, wishing he hadn‘t dropped his work bag by the front
door. He could really use a slug of the antacid right about now.
     ―Oh, baby, I‘d never hit you.‖
    Tony squeezed his eyes shut, more tears seeping through his long
black lashes. He whispered against Kevin‘s lips.
     ―That‘s what Robert said too.‖
    Something in Kevin‘s chest broke unevenly, the jagged edges
tearing into his soul. Tony had lived with him for months now.
   ―Baby, would you feel safe if we had someone else here?
Somebody who loved you too?‖
   Tony opened his eyes, a sparkle of hope shimmering in their
depths.
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   ―And youse guys could tell each other not to hit when you got
mad?‖
     Kevin felt his chest loosen just a little.
     ―Yeah, baby, we could do that.‖
    Tony smiled, the edges of his plush lips curling up. He leaned
forward the last millimeter pressing his lips to Kevin‘s.
     ―And the rubbers?‖
     A chuckle bubbled up out of Kevin‘s chest.
   ―Sorry, baby, we still gotta use the rubbers. At least for a while,
okay?‖
     Tony nodded. Then he shook his head.
   ―Do you mean you and me, or me and the other guy…what‘s his
name, Kevin?‖
    ―No, baby, we don‘t have to use rubbers for you and me…not for
right now anyway. And I don‘t know the other guy‘s name yet. We
have to find him, okay? But once we find him, we gotta go back to
using rubbers til I say different, okay? And until I say somebody is
our third guy, you don‘t let anybody fuck you.‖
     Tony‘s eyes got big.
     ―No fuckin‘?‖
     Kevin‘s chest loosened a little more.
     ―No baby, no fucking.‖
     Tony thought that over for a moment.
     ―Does that include no dockin‘?‖
     Kevin shook his head.
     ―No what?‖
     ―Dockin‘ Kevin. Ain‘t you never docked nobody?‖
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    Kevin just looked up at Tony in perplexity. He had no idea what
the big guy was talking about.
   ―Robert din‘t like to dock, but I can show you if you want, ‗cept
we can‘t use rubbers.‖
   Kevin figured the best thing to do would be to have Tony show
him.
     ―If you like it Tony, then show me.‖
    Tony flashed a dazzling expanse of white enamel and took a half
step back. He dropped his cargo pants around his ankles, reaching for
the ties to Kevin‘s scrub bottoms in the same motion. Kevin felt his
scrubs sliding down his legs, and turned his gaze to Tony‘s long, thick
and uncut cock. It was beautiful, hanging quiescent against the bigger
man‘s thigh.
   ―We gotta have a little bit of lube Kevin, it slides better that way.
Gimmee a sec to get some okay?‖
    Kevin pulled his eyes up to look at Tony‘s face. He still had no
clue what the big guy meant by docking, but if it put that happy look
on his face it had to be something good.
     ―Sure thing, baby. Take as much time as you need.‖
    ―Oh, it‘ll jus‘ take a sec, Kevin. I keep some lube in here in case
the paintin‘ gets me excited, ya know?‖
    Kevin nodded. No. He hadn‘t known. He might not have lasted
this long if he‘d known Tony was jacking off in here while he painted.
Fuck. That was hot.
    Tony whirled around, a tube of lube in his big hands, a huge grin
on his face. He stepped quickly back in front of Kevin, uncapped the
lube and pulled his foreskin up to surround the tip of the tube,
squirting a healthy dollop of the slick into his foreskin before putting
more lube into his hand and reaching out to slick Kevin‘s bare shaft.
     Wow.
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    ―You gotta slide your head into my foreskin before I get too
excited, it‘s easier that way.‖
     Fuck.
    Just when Kevin thought the guy couldn‘t get any hotter he went
and blew that theory all to hell. Tingles of electricity seemed to spark
along every inch of Kevin‘s skin. He reached out, grasped Tony‘s half
hard cock with one hand and guided his own with the other. Lining
them up, he paused for a second to look into Tony‘s eyes. They were
shining, clear. Free of fear. Kevin knew he should wait until they
could get Tony checked again…but he couldn‘t bear the idea of doing
anything that would make the big guy lose that happy look. He looked
down, and pushed forward in tightness and heat and heaven.
     Kevin had time for one last coherent thought before Tony‘s big
hand closed over their cocks and began to rub. He thought that this
might be almost better than making love, and definitely better than
fucking. Who knew? Then Tony started to rub, and Kevin stopped
thinking. He pulled Tony‘s head down, kissing the big Italian fiercely;
trying to pour every ounce of love he had into that one act. The last
little bit of tightness in his chest unfurled, and Kevin knew he was so
much more than just in love. He was owned.
    The tingles on Kevin‘s skin shot down his spine. He pulled his
mouth away from Tony‘s, screaming out his satisfaction as the whole
world went white around him, the only color he could see the brown
of Tony‘s eyes and the blue of the paint on his chest. Tony shook and
trembled in his arms, making the tiniest sound at the back of his throat
as he came inside his own foreskin, up against Kevin‘s still throbbing
cock. Kevin lowered Tony to the floor when the big guy‘s knees
started to give out.
     ―Stay put, baby. I‘ll get something to clean us up.‖
    Tony was asleep before he got back from the bathroom with a
warm wet washcloth and a hand towel. Kevin cleaned them both up,
pulled an old blanket and a spare pillow out of the linen closet and got
comfortable on the floor with his man.
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    Patrick came along shortly after that, and he seemed like a god-
send. He was as into Tony as Kevin was, and their work schedules
rarely overlapped at first. So there was always someone to help keep
Tony safe. They all had chemistry…and Kevin couldn‘t help but feel
relieved to not be caring for his sweet Tony all alone. His baby felt
safer again, and really? That was all Kevin needed.
     ****
     Two Years Later
     Tony snapped his glittery pink cell phone shut. Kevin knew that
snap. It didn‘t even need the little frown marring Tony‘s forehead to
tell Kevin the story. Kevin clamped his jaw shut, biting back a curse.
Patrick was bailing out of their plans again.
     Damn him.
    Kevin watched Tony as the bigger man blinked twice, drawing in
enough air to lift his chest, stretching his cobalt blue tee shirt. Kevin
winced. The way Tony snapped the cell shut, the double blink of his
eyes, and the cobalt blue of his tee told a story as well. This latest
snub by Patrick had Tony‘s brows drawing together in the way they
only did when he was devastated by something. Patrick would know
that if he came home to do more than fuck or sleep. Christ. When was
the last time he‘d just hung out with the two of them? Six months
ago? Eight?
   Tony looked up. His brown eyes held a hint of extra moisture. The
sheen bounced a reflection of the overhead light into Kevin‘s eyes,
causing them to water in sympathy. Tony cleared his throat.
     ―He‘ll miss the cake again. I made his favorite.‖
   Kevin swallowed noisily, willing the stinging sensation behind his
eyes away. Tony was talking about cake. That was so not good.
     ―It‘ll be okay, Tony. We—we‘ll save him some cake, like we did
last year.‖
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   Tony‘s frown grew deeper, then crumbled, cracks splitting off
from it until his face was a splintered mask of pain.
    ―It doesn‘t matter, Kevin. He never makes it home for celebrations
now. It‘s pretty clear, huh? He doesn‘t want…he‘s not interested no
more. He liked me better when I had head-aches more, and he could
take care of me and stuff.‖
     Christ.
    It didn‘t matter that Patrick bought Tony a newer, more expensive,
higher tech phone every couple of months, or that he always
apologized for missing these important events. It mattered that he
missed so many of birthdays, the housewarming after they moved into
the new place Kevin bought and Tony graduating with his Bachelors‘
of Arts degree. Tony had worked so hard to once he went back to
school to finish his last four semesters. It mattered that every couple
of months, right after Patrick took off to where-the-fuck-ever; Tony
took the fancy new phone back. He didn‘t want a new phone, and
Patrick never seemed to understand why, or even to notice right away.
    Kevin knew why Tony clung to the old one so doggedly. Tony,
the big, silly queen, adored the dramatic effect of flipping it shut. He
loved the glittery pinkness of it and the way the pink rhinestones
caught the sun. It soothed him. He had a snap specific to every mood,
and Kevin could tell, just by watching him close his phone, how his
day had gone.
   It gave him a little edge in dealing with his Tony. God knows
Kevin needed it now that he was back to taking care of Tony by
himself.
     Kevin contemplated kicking Patrick‘s ass again.
     No. Hell to the n-o. No. Just no. That would only upset Tony. The
last time he and Patrick got into it, the big goof broke down and cried
all over them both because it reminded him of the way his folks beat
on each other when he was a kid. When he let that bit of information
slip it made a lot of things clearer to Kevin. Like how Tony had gotten
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mixed up with the fucker who had permanently destroyed his ability
to equate actions with consequences.
    Kevin was not putting Tony through that shit again, no matter how
much he wanted to plant a boot in Patrick‘s ass. He‘d have to come up
with something better. Something to get Tony to realize that while
they might need a third to feel all the way fulfilled, it would be okay,
for a while, to be just the two of them. As far as Kevin was concerned,
Patrick didn‘t deserve even the smallest bit of Tony‘s love.
   It was time to put a stop to these last minute ditch and dive
maneuvers. Kevin was through watching his baby suffer.
    ―Tony, baby, enough is enough. I can‘t stand to see him hurt you
like this anymore.‖
     ―Kevin, I…I wish.‖
   ―Shh. I know, Tony. I do too. But we‘ll find the right guy
someday. I promise you he‘s out there.‖
    Tony‘s melted chocolate gaze fastened on Kevin, and his eyes
opened up so wide it looked like they should split at the corners. That
painfully hopeful expression sent a zing through Kevin‘s chest.
Sometimes Tony looked at him, just looked, and got Kevin so hot he
wanted to push the gorgeous Italian down on the nearest available flat
surface and fuck him so hard the neighbors were satisfied when he
and Tony finished coming.
    Hot tendrils of feeling curled down from Kevin‘s chest to invade
his groin. He reached out one hard, callused hand, smoothing it gently
along Tony‘s stubble covered cheek. Tony pushed his cheek into
Kevin‘s caress. Doing most of the work building their new deck had
toughened Kevin‘s hands up, and Tony told him and showed him
constantly how much the big guy loved the feeling of those callused
hands on his skin.
   Tony sat heavily in the kitchen chair closest to him. He bit down
on his top lip. Then he released it, firmed his chin and squared his
shoulders.
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    ―I guess I‘d better tell him to stay wherever he‘s at then. I…yeah,
I‘d rather have just you. And then someday we‘ll find our third, right,
Kevin?‖
     ―Yeah, baby, someday.‖
     Tony flipped his silly pink phone open with a decisive snap. He
hit the call button twice, and waited for Patrick to pick up.
   ―Hello, Patrick. No, no I din‘t call to nag. I…we wanted to ask
youse to just drop off the key…oh. Sure. Mailing it‘ll be fine. Yeah.
Well, um, good luck to youse…‖
    Tony pulled his ear back sharply. Kevin could hear Patrick
yelling. He held his hand out for the phone. Tony was biting his top
lip again. Kevin reached out a little further, plucking the phone out of
Tony‘s hands. He let his other hand wander along Tony‘s back in long
sweeping motions.
    ―Kevin here, Patrick. Just shut it, man. You don‘t want to put the
work in…and we‘re not going to be your…whatever the hell we were
to you. Don‘t bother coming by. I‘ll pay for the movers to come get
your shit if you give me an address. No, man, I don‘t have a pen right
now. Email me. That‘s what you normally do anyway. No sense
fighting out of the pattern now.‖
   That was it. A disinterested ―fine‖ and they were done with all the
drama. Kevin felt like an ass for not pushing the matter months ago.
    Tony opened his eyes after a minute. Looking up at Kevin, he
tried to smile. It slipped on one side, leaving the bleak sadness in his
eyes on display. Kevin scrambled in his head, trying to figure out how
to get his lover past this.
   If Tony could just see himself, see how fucking beautiful he
was…
     That was it.
    He‘d find a way to show Tony how utterly perfect he was. Maybe
he could send flowers…just because? No, Tony‘d get pissed at Kevin
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for treating him like a girl if he did that. Shit. Maybe cooking stuff?
God knows the guy loved to cook. While he was thinking about it
Tony surged to his feet, brows drawn together, lips turned down.
     Damn Patrick.
    Taking a step forward, Kevin wrapped his callused hand around
the front of Tony‘s neck, pressing lightly against his throat. Tony
whimpered, a barely audible noise, and leaned into the pressure.
Kevin smiled up at him, sliding his hand up to cup Tony‘s jaw.
   ―Tony, I want some angel hair pasta for lunch, baby. I want your
good marinara too, none of that store bought crap, okay?‖
    Tony‘s breathing steadied. His eyelids dropped in a slow fall,
lashes fluttering against his cheeks for a moment. A small smile
curved his full lips up.
    ―Sure, Kevin, I can do that. Youse know how much I love to cook
stuff so‘s my men—man stays healthy.‖
     The strained feeling in Kevin‘s chest eased. Tony needed so
much. Taking care of him was really a two-man job. Kevin would do
it alone, because right now he had to, just like he had been for the past
six months…but it was wearing him down. One day, soon, he‘d be too
tired and make a mistake.
    Tony really couldn‘t afford any more mistakes. He didn‘t have it
in him.
     ****
    The months passed, and Kevin could see Tony curling in on
himself. Somehow he‘d gotten the idea that he was what was holding
up the works, the cause of that fucktard Patrick leaving, the reason
they hadn‘t found another third yet. Kevin snorted. As if. It was more
like Kevin was a whole fucking lot more picky about who he‘d trust
within a thousand yards of his Tony now. How could the big goof not
see that he was the center everything else swung around? By the time
their sixth month post-Patrick rolled around, Kevin was getting really
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worried. Tony hadn‘t been this down since their early days together
when they were still just room-mates.
    He‘d tried everything he could think of to convince Tony that he
was amazing. Somewhere along the line Tony had become utterly
convinced that it was his fault Patrick didn‘t want to be with them
anymore. He kept making pot roast every Wednesday. Pot roast was
Patrick‘s favorite, and Wednesday was the one day they‘d been able
to rely on him actually coming home on time.
    Kevin‘s gut clenched every time he thought about it, and his heart
pounded. Tony wanted Patrick to come back so badly, but Kevin
knew Patrick was never going to straighten up and come back to
them. Even if he ever tried, Kevin refused to take Patrick back unless
he changed dramatically. There was no way he was letting Patrick
hurt Tony or him again. They could find someone else.
    Strangely enough, the answer to Kevin‘s dilemma was right in his
wallet. He reached in one day at work to find the ―emergency lunch
money‖ he stashed for the days when the lunch Tony packed him was
too tempting and someone stole it out of the employee refrigerator.
    A business card fell to floor when he pulled his twenty out to pay
the delivery guy. It was the card Tony‘s art history professor had
given him at the end of term barbeque the Fine Arts dept had thrown.
Tony had done an internship with him for…photography? Film-
making? It was something along those lines. They‘d discussed how
beautifully Tony photographed, and what it would be like to see him
on film.
    That was it. He‘d film Tony going through his day. No, wait. He‘d
go one better, and hire someone to film them making love, and show
Tony the tapes. The proof of just how loveable he was would be right
there. Tony already knew Neil, and would be comfortable with him.
Yeah.
    Kevin patted himself on the back. Some days he was a certified
fucking genius. He finished his shift with an ear to ear grin, even
though Chevonne had talked him into picking up in the ER again to
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cover one of her shifts, even after the kid with appendicitis puked all
over him.
     ****
    As Kevin drove home he remembered the day he‘d first seen
Tony, eye blackened and nose broken by the sick fuck who dared to
call himself Tony‘s lover back then. It hadn‘t been the first time Tony
had been in that position. Kevin‘s quick look into his thick medical
chart had made that clear. It had however, been the first time someone
had stepped in to help. Everyone else had taken one look at Tony,
seen his height and those broad, well muscled shoulders and figured
he must like it. He could take care of himself, guy built like that,
right?
     Wrong.
     Dead. Fucking. Wrong.
     Tony wasn‘t wired like that.
   Kevin had seen it, somehow, in the ER‘s harsh lighting. The little
boy lost look in Tony‘s eyes.
   Tony was screaming in silence, and the wordless plea for help
kept getting overlooked.
    Kevin almost refused to pick that shift up. He‘d wanted to watch
the fireworks. Missing them, and covering that shift for his friend had
netted Kevin something better than the holiday pay that day.
     He‘d found Tony.
    And lost him when he refused to file a police report, instead
leaving with his abusive boyfriend.
    And then a few weeks later, found him again as a transfer patient.
God. Just thinking about it was almost enough to have Kevin needing
antacids again. He was damn glad he‘d listened to his heart and
offered Tony a place to stay. Things were okay until Kevin told Tony
he‘d fallen in love with the big goof.
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    It hadn‘t taken but a second to see that Tony was scared to death
to be alone with anyone professing to love him without another person
there to police them.
    So, when Kevin met Patrick through work and Patrick seemed like
a good guy…Kevin had introduced Tony to Patrick. He‘d broached
the idea of the three of them all being together. He‘d watched in
delight as Tony settled into the threesome with ease, smiling and
laughing again. It had been…good then. It really had. Kevin couldn‘t
put his finger on just when that had changed. It had though, and now
they were done with him…and Tony was back to being scared that
Kevin would get mad and beat him.
     It sucked.
     Kevin hoped Patrick would find what he was looking for…and
that he‘d take care to treat the next guy he was with better. For now,
all Kevin wanted to focus on was six foot two inches of sweet cream
filled Italian.
    Tony was making his angel hair pasta again today, because today
was Tuesday, and that was pasta day. Kevin grinned. He needed to hit
the gym before work tonight. Tony was gonna put a tire around his
middle if he wasn‘t careful. He left his big cook happily puttering in
the kitchen, and made his way to their home office, closing the thick
oak door firmly behind him. He picked up the phone, and set in
motion his plan to make sure Tony‘s big brown eyes glowed again,
and this time, stayed that way even if Kevin got up on the wrong side
of the bed.
    Kevin knew Neil was the perfect guy to make their video. Neil
was laid back. He was easy to get along with. Tony knew him, and
Kevin had gotten along great with him the one time they‘d hung out
together last year.
   Kevin dialed the number on the business card expecting to have to
remind Neil of who he was.
     ―Neil Smith here.‖
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     ―Hello, Neil, this is Kevin, you know, Tony Giuliani‘s partner?‖
    There was a pause, and then Neil‘s voice came back, warmer, less
business like.
   ―Kevin, it‘s good to hear from you. How‘ve you been, and how‘s
sweet Tony doing?‖
    ―I…I didn‘t think you‘d remember me. I. Shit. Tony‘s not doing
so good, Neil. That‘s why I‘m calling.‖
     ―Oh...is there something I can do to help you then?‖
    Kevin felt the warm tones of Neil‘s voice stroking against his ears,
relaxing him. It was like no time had passed, and they were kicked
back on the picnic table again at the end of term cookout, swapping
stories about Tony‘s goofy brand of brilliance.
    ―As a matter of fact, I could use a good camera man. I want to
show Tony how…he‘s just so. So…Fuck man, I want him to see what
I see when I look at him. But. Umm. Naked. I. I don‘t want to ask too
much…‖
    Silence spun between them for a moment, so thick Kevin could
feel it press against his skin.
   Then Neil rumbled across the line, and Kevin nearly lost what he
was saying in the hypnotic tones of that silk and steel voice.
     ―I can be there in an hour. Does that work for you?‖
    Holy shit. An hour. Well, he could talk it over with Tony, and if
he didn‘t want to…well, then they‘d just hang out with Neil and call it
a day. No harm, no foul.
     ―I‘ll see you then Neil, and thanks.‖
     Neil‘s voice rang with a sharper, anticipatory edge.
     ―See you then Kevin. Bye.‖
     ―Bye.‖
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    An hour later they were sitting down to lunch. Kevin was still
trying to figure out how to ask his baby to make the video without
making him mad, or offending him. He still hadn‘t come up with
anything.
    A knock sounded at the door. Tony jumped up, his face alight. He
practically tore the heavy wooden front door off its hinges.
   Shit. Not again. Every time there was an unexpected knock, or
phone call Tony would think it was—
    ―Patr—oh, hi, Professor Neil. Um. Geez. Good to see you. Come
in. We‘re just about to have lunch. You want to join us?‖
    Kevin shook his head, his eyes crinkling up at the corners as he
pressed his lips together. Tony‘s loping strides came thump-thumping
back down the hallway. That was his baby, all long legs, shoulders,
and enthusiasm. He could hear the smile in Neil‘s voice as the man
answered.
    ―It‘d be a pleasure, Tony. You know I love your cooking. Please
call me Neil though. I‘m not your professor anymore.‖
    Neil‘s voice ran over Kevin like sun-warmed honey, rich, sweet,
and sticky in all the best places. There was a hint of heat in his voice.
Kevin couldn‘t blame him. Tony was looking especially sexy today,
wearing an old wife-beater that fell off one of his sculpted shoulders
no matter how many times he pushed it back up and an old pair of
butter soft blue jeans. The denims were snug and faded with a rip right
across the top of Tony‘s right thigh. It was a damn good thing Tony
dressed to the left, or there would be no doubt as to whether he was
cut or not… at least not in those jeans. Kevin had made a wear at
home only rule for those jeans.
     Just in case.
     They entered the dining room side by side…and yet Kevin
couldn‘t shake the feeling that Neil was somehow guiding Tony. The
professor was an inch or two taller than Tony, his black hair silvered
at the temples.
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   Yum. In his double breasted black suit Neil was very Cary Grant
in Charade. He had a heavy looking bag slung over one broad
shoulder that Kevin assumed must be full of camera equipment.
   ―What are you doing in our neighborhood Professor…I mean
Neil?‖
    Neil cast Kevin a rapid, questioning glance. Kevin shook his head
slightly, lifting one shoulder in a half shrug. Neil nodded, turning his
attention back to Tony.
    ―Kevin and I had an intriguing conversation last year about how
beautiful we thought you‘d look on film. We had a chance to speak
again recently, and we were hoping you‘d allow us to…test our theory
out.‖
    Tony opened his mouth, his eyes glued to first Neil‘s face and
then to Kevin‘s. He pressed his lips together, and then licked the full
bottom one. Damn. He really had no idea how sexy he was. His phone
rang as he opened his mouth again, and he absently flipped it open.
     ―Hiya, Tony here.‖
    His face started to lose color. Kevin jumped up, knowing who was
on the phone. He could hear the fucker yelling at Tony from where he
was. Neil took a step forward, his brows lowering.
    ―No, Patrick, I told you last week that I didn‘t have the money to
invest in your idea. I just don‘t. No. I‘m not going to take it from the
household account. I don‘t care how much Kevin inherited. It‘s not
mine, and I‘m not going to help…‖
    Neil was closer. He snatched the phone out of Tony‘s hands.
Kevin wrapped an arm around Tony, rubbing his back. There would
be time for explanations later.
    ―Ah, this must be Patrick. This is Neil Smith. I heard quite a bit
about you when Tony was my student. I suggest you desist calling Mr.
Giuliani and harassing him for money. Or you‘ll be dealing with me. I
believe you work construction, don‘t you? Ah, I see you‘re
remembering where you‘ve heard the name before. Goodbye Patrick.‖
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    Tony had turned into Kevin, and stood leaning over with his face
buried in the shorter man‘s neck. Neil moved up behind him, and
carefully wrapped his arms around Tony‘s shaking shoulders.
    ―Come on Tony. Let‘s not waste the wonderful lunch you
prepared. He won‘t bother you anymore, and we can talk about the
other over dessert. I stopped by Veniero‘s bakery and got one of their
Tiramisu cakes…I remembered how much you like them.‖
     Tony pushed away from Kevin at that, glaring at Neil.
     ―Did you stop to think maybe I wanted him to call again…just—‖
    Tony bit off the rest of what he‘d been about to say. He stormed
away; flinging the basement door open so hard it left a mark on the
kitchen wall next to it. Neil watched him go, his mouth pressed tightly
closed. He lifted one long fingered hand, running his fingers through
his hair from brow to nape. It left him looking deliciously rumpled.
    Kevin‘s heart beat unsteadily. He didn‘t know whether to make
sure Tony was alright or find out what the hell Neil knew about the
situation, and how he‘d gotten Patrick to shut it so quickly. Neil raised
his eyes from the floor and caught him staring. A half smile quirked
up one side of his mouth.
     ―Come on Kevin. We‘ll set another place at the table, and put a
pot of coffee on. I brought some of that too. Tony‘ll be okay once he
lifts for a half an hour or so.‖
    How the hell the professor knew that was a mystery. Kevin
cocked an eyebrow at him, tilting his head to one side to contemplate
the tall man. Jay-zus, the guy was huge. He was six foot four if he was
an inch, and looked more like he should be training recruits at some
military instillation than teaching art history. Professor Neil caught
Kevin eating him up with his eyes and laughed.
   ―Come on. Stop staring holes through me. If you‘ll show me
where the plates are, and point out the coffee pot, I‘ll explain
everything as we work, okay?‖
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    That worked. Kevin nodded, gesturing for Neil to precede him
into the kitchen.
     ―You already know that Tony was my student.‖
    Kevin nodded and pointed Neil toward the glass fronted cupboard
housing the plates. The silverware was right below it, in the weird
Plexiglas looking drawers Tony had fallen in love with when the
designer showed them to him. There was no need to point them out.
He waited for Neil to gather what he‘d need for lunch, taking slow
deep breaths to keep himself from shouting for answers.
   ―You have a very expressive face Kevin. I can see that you‘re
about to explode with curiosity over there…and that would be such a
waste.‖
    Kevin found his breath coming shorter despite his best attempts to
keep it slow and steady. Holy crow. Neil‘s voice dipped over the last
sentence, coming out closer to a growl than a normal speaking tone. A
flush rose up Kevin‘s neck.
    ―Ah. Is that so, Neil? Well, put me out of my misery then. How
did you know that Tony was going to lift weights?‖
    Neil let one of those lazy smiles drift across his face again. His
smile was ridiculously white and even. Kevin noted that at least it
looked like his nose had been broken a time or two, saving his face
from chiseled perfection.
    ―I think you may have forgotten he interned for the department for
two semesters? No? Most of the second semester, he reported directly
to me. He…sometimes I noticed he needed a little special handling to
succeed in his projects.‖
    Kevin blinked. A shiver chased down his spine. He wavered
between wanting to plant his fist in Neil‘s face and climbing him like
a jungle gym. If he‘d taken advantage of Tony…Kevin‘s hands curled
up at his sides.
     ―What do you mean by ―special handling‖?‖
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    Neil gave him a speaking look from beneath heavy lidded eyes,
and snorted. Kevin felt like he‘d just gotten caught picking his nose in
the principal‘s office. He bristled. Neil held both hands up in a
conciliatory gesture.
    ―I only meant…that I saw pretty early on during the first semester
how easy it was for him to take on too much. He didn‘t seem very
good at telling his classmates and the other interns no, and they would
dump all the really tricky or time consuming tasks on him. I told the
chair I wanted him for my own, and they shifted him to be solely in
my charge during the second semester.‖
   Kevin‘s hands uncurled. He readjusted his thinking. Tony had
been much happier during the second semester. He told Kevin that it
had gotten easier. Kevin shook his head. He should have looked into it
more closely.
     ―I. Thank you. He does need special care. I try.‖
    Neil pinned him with those cobalt eyes once more. This time it
felt…equal. A knowledge shared between them.
    ―I imagine you do. I did what I could while he was my intern…but
he needs more doesn‘t he?‖
     Kevin sighed.
     ―Yeah. We had a partner…‖
     Neil‘s gaze hardened.
     ―Patrick.‖
    ―Yeah. Patrick. It was…good at first. Tony was happy, slept at
night. He doesn‘t sleep well when I‘m at work. I put in for the night
shift when Patrick was still—he was supposed to be here at night with
Tony. He. Shit. I. He‘s not some fainting flower. He just has
nightmares still.‖
    Neil put a hand on Kevin‘s shoulder. The heat of it sank through
his light cotton shirt. He felt some of the tension easing from his neck,
and blew out a big breath.
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     ―Kevin, have you tried to get him to go to counseling? From the
little I learned…well, it wouldn‘t be a bad idea for him.‖
    A jolt of heat burned through Kevin‘s stomach. He swallowed
reflexively.
    ―I did try. After he first moved in, and then again when Patrick
joined us. He went for a little while. It…worked when he had both of
us go with him, but—‖
     Neil‘s face turned stony.
    ―Let me guess. It was too much work for Patrick, and he stopped
going…and then Tony started finding excuses not to go.‖
    Kevin‘s eyes started to burn. He scrubbed at them with one hand,
clearing his throat.
     ―Shit. I‘m sorry, man. Give me a minute here.
   Sucking in several deep breaths steadied him. Kevin tilted his
head back to look up at Neil, who suddenly seemed much closer.
     ―Yeah, you nailed it, Neil. Patrick stopped going, and then after a
while I couldn‘t get Tony to go anymore. He‘d been doing so well.
It‘s hard to see him sliding backwards.‖
    Neil opened his mouth, and then paused. He shook his head
sharply. Smiling down at Kevin, he gripped the shorter man‘s
shoulder tighter for a second, and then released it.
     Kevin was burning with curiosity still.
     ―How did you get him—Patrick—to shut the hell up so fast?‖
    Neil laughed outright, gradually settling into a sharp grin before
he quirked a brow at the smaller man.
    ―Kevin, do you know who the biggest developer in the whole area
is?‖
     Kevin shook his head, completely perplexed.
     ―What the hell does that have to do with anything?‖
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    ―The biggest developer in the whole area is Thomas Neil Smith
Sr. My grandfather happens to dote on me, and if I asked him to make
sure a certain contractor never worked on any of his projects…well.‖
     Kevin blinked up at Neil in astonishment.
     ―How?‖
    ―Oh, my grandfather just had an article about him in the local rag
a few weeks ago, and they mentioned my father and I in it. I knew
from something Tony said once that Patrick was a contractor, and that
he was always looking for ways to weasel his way into befriending
whoever he thought could get him more work.‖
    Kevin knew he was doing a good impression of a guppy. Neil had
the decency to not mention it.
   ―Let‘s get this on the table, Kevin, and get the coffee started while
you explain to me why you think making a video of the two of you
making love is going to help Tony.‖
    Well, hell. The guy didn‘t pull any punches. Kevin grinned. He
liked that. No guessing games. Kevin took the silverware from Neil,
his hand brushing against the older man‘s callused finger tips. What
did he do besides teach? There was no way his hands had gained that
delightfully rough surface sitting at a desk grading term papers. No
wonder Tony liked his hands better when he worked on stuff around
the house.
     ―Okay.‖
     ****
    Kevin watched light reflecting off the silverware as he placed it
around the round table. He ran his fingers along the edges of the table
as he did so, unconsciously counting off the raised metal rivets that
ran along the sides of the table. The sensation of the cool metal bumps
passing under his fingers shot tendrils of calm through him.
   ―He. Tony doesn‘t hear me when I tell him things…but you know
how he is with his art. If I can just get him to see how perfect he is
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right now, and how much I love him…then maybe he‘ll believe we
can find a real third again. He‘s so wounded right now Neil. I‘ve tried
every—‖
     Neil spoke across him.
    ―I think you‘re right. Tony really does do better when he can learn
things in a visual or tactile medium.‖
     He paused.
    ―He has no idea why I‘m here today beyond what I told him
earlier, does he?‖
    Kevin looked up from the battered wood of the table he‘d bought
in a flea market with Tony, meeting the hot blue gaze Neil pinned him
with. Sparks flared to life inside him. Heat rushed into his cheeks.
Neil arched a brow at him.
     ―No. I. Didn‘t know how to ask him.‖
     ―How to ask me what, Kevin?‖
    Kevin looked over his shoulder to the kitchen door. Tony‘s deep
tones rumbling over him sent a shock running through his system.
Chest gleaming with a glistening sheen of sweat, muscles pumped
from his brief stint in their home gym, Tony stood with a perplexed
frown wrinkling his forehead. He lifted a big hand to scrub at the back
of his neck.
    ―Did I do something bad again? I‘m sorry about getting mad so
quick earlier. Youse know, sometimes I can‘t find the words I want,
and there‘s no paint or clay and everybody else figures out stuff
quicker, and…I get mad. So I go to the gym.‖
    Kevin turned completely around, and blinked up at Tony. Sheesh.
And the big goof thought he wasn‘t good with words. He glanced over
at Neil, completely lost. Neil grinned wryly at him.
   ―We were talking about it earlier Tony. Before your ex called.
Kevin wants me to take some pictures and maybe shoot a video of
you, Tony. He wants to show you how he sees you.‖
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     Tony shook his head.
     ―No, Kevin don‘t know how. He‘s not arty like us.‖
    He waved his broad hand in the air between himself and Neil.
Kevin bit back a smile. He didn‘t want to risk Tony thinking he was
laughing at him.
    ―That‘s why he asked me to help him, Tony. Cause he‘s not arty
like us.‖
    Tony smiled then, his white teeth glowing against his olive skin.
Kevin‘s breath caught in his chest. Christ. It was like a sunrise. He
pointed at Tony, turning his head to catch Neil‘s eyes as he spoke.
     ―I want you to catch that on film.‖
    Tony turned puzzled brown eyes his way. Neil nodded briskly,
turning and striding past Tony. Kevin heard Neil‘s footsteps go down
the hallway toward the bedroom. He guessed the older man must be
checking out the lighting in there. Tony was still rubbing the back of
his neck. Kevin stepped closer to him, breathing in his ripe masculine
scent. Longing washed through him, but he repressed it for now.
     ―Come sit down Tony. I‘ll rub your shoulders for you.‖
    Tony grinned as freely as a child upon hearing the offer,
practically leaping into the nearest chair. Kevin chuckled.
     ―Goof.‖
     ―Yeah, Kevin…your goof.‖
    Tony caught his hand, pulling it up to his mouth to press a kiss
into the palm. Kevin caught his breath and let his head drop back and
his eyes slide shut.
     *snick*
    His eyes flew open to find Neil in the doorway, a fearsome
looking camera welded to his hand. The way the older man was
holding the piece of equipment it seemed like an extension of his own
flesh. He flowed along the edge of the room, circling them for a
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moment. Kevin tensed up. He didn‘t photograph well. Neil dropped
the camera down a bit and winked at him.
    ―It‘s all about Tony, Kevin. Stop thinking about how you look.
Start thinking about how
    Tony looks. I can‘t capture it through your eyes if you‘re not
feeling it.‖
    Tony pulled Kevin closer, pushing his cheek into his lover‘s
stomach. Kevin ran his fingers over the curve of the bigger man‘s
scalp. Concentrate on Tony. Yeah, he could do that. He rubbed his
palm across Tony‘s closely buzzed cut. He missed the sweet curls
Tony had before Patrick left, but cutting the curls helped the big guy
get over their ex. Anything that did that was fine by Kevin. He smiled
down at the bigger man, sliding his palm over the soft stubble on
Tony‘s head. When he got to Tony‘s hairline, he kept going until he
was cupping Tony‘s jaw again, one thumb brushing back and forth on
the resilient plush of Tony‘s full bottom lip.
     ―Oooh.‖
   Heh. Tony had three ridiculously sensitive erogenous zones. The
small hollow just behind his right ear, the soft bit of inner thigh right
where his left leg joined his body…and his bottom lip. Kevin knew he
could bring Tony right to the brink with nothing more than a finger on
any one of those spots.
     *snick*
    Kevin ignored the sound, keeping his focus on Tony, and the
hectic flush beginning to rise in his cheeks. He ran his thumb over
Tony‘s lip again, this time dipping inside to pull a little moisture out.
That was one of his personal kinks. It…did it for him to see Tony‘s
lips all swollen and shiny. Oh, yeah.
    Tony whimpered. His big chocolate eyes pleaded as he closed his
lips tight around Kevin‘s thumb and began to suck.
     ―Damn, baby, you know what that does to me.‖
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     Tony moaned and kept sucking.
     Kevin ran his free hand along the side of Tony‘s neck.
     ―Let go for a minute, baby. We need to talk, okay Tony?‖
    Tony let go, but his mouth was set in a mutinous pout. Kevin
forced himself to maintain a serious expression despite how much he
wanted to crack a smile. Tony needed to know he was serious, and
that this was important. Kevin knew if he let himself smile he would
start to chuckle, and as soon as he was distracted, Tony would pounce.
    The younger man was well aware of how pliable Kevin became
once his dick was inside any part of Tony, and he used that knowledge
to great effect at times. It was the reason he and Kevin had spent three
consecutive weeks at Disney World one year. Kevin never wanted to
hear the theme to ―It‘s A Small World‖ again in his life…but he had
no doubt Tony could convince him to go again…
     Kevin took a half step back.
    ―Baby, before we go any farther I have to ask if it‘s okay with you
for Neil to be here, taking pictures while we do this. I want you to see
yourself the way I see you, but…if you‘re not okay with it we‘ll stop.‖
    Tony blinked up at him slowly. Kevin could see the wheels
turning as Tony figured out what that meant to him, and how he felt
about it. A couple of long moments creaked by, everything else in the
house still and silent, only the up and down sweep of Tony‘s
impossibly long lashes marking the time. Finally, something seemed
to click into place, and a big grin broke across Tony‘s leanly
handsome face like a sunrise.
    ―Sure. I‘d like that. I always wanted to fuck Professor Neil, but I
didn‘t on account of you and Patrick being my guys. Him watching is
almost as good as him touching.‖
    A choked off moan came from the side of the room. Kevin cut his
eyes over to find Neil biting the back of one of his wrists. He held the
camera in the same hand. The other hand was pressed against the base
of the massive erection he was sporting.
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     A flash of heat rushed through Kevin.
     Holy. Mother. Of. God.
    Tony wanted to fuck Neil. Neil wanted to fuck them both, if the
hot looks he‘d given Kevin earlier and the downright smoldering gaze
he had Tony pinned with right now were any indication. Kevin? He
wanted Neil‘s mouthwateringly thick cock pounding his ass while he
practiced his number one Tony specific kink.
   Oh fuck, yeah. The idea of docking his cock with Tony‘s while
Neil was balls deep in his ass almost had Kevin shooting right then.
    Kevin bit his lip and looked back at Tony, who was starting to
look concerned. He tried to speak, only managing an embarrassing
squeaky noise. An amused sounding snort came from Neil‘s general
position. Kevin flew him a bird while clearing his throat.
   ―Don‘t frown up, baby. I like that idea a lot. What do you say we
move this to the bedroom, and let whatever happens…happen.‖
     Tony gave that glorious sunrise smile again.
     *snick*
     Kevin paused.
    ―Neil, I have to ask you to use condoms…Tony and I are clean,
probably, but we‘re being careful still. We don‘t know who or what
Patrick was doing before he left. We‘ve tested clean every time…but
just to be on the safe side, you gotta glove up when you fuck us.
That‘s non-negotiable.‖
    Neil snapped another picture, and then lowered the camera. As the
equipment dropped away from his face Kevin could see the clearly
approving gleam in his brilliant blue eyes. His deep voice caused a
shiver to wind down Kevin‘s spine.
     ―I wouldn‘t have it any other way…not for now.‖
    Kevin felt the heat that was already burning away his ability to
function rationally crank up another notch. He swallowed, hoping to
pull some moisture into his suddenly dry mouth. He settled for
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nodding in response, turned and pulled Tony up out of the chair he
was sitting in, and somehow managed to get them both headed in the
direction of the bedroom.
     *snick*
    He wasn‘t worried about Neil following. Neil never got more than
a few steps behind them. Kevin could tell by the soft *snick*,*snick*
sound of him capturing the beauty of Tony‘s uninhibited responses.
*snick,*snick It drifted between the three of them…binding them to
each other in unexpected ways. *snick*,*snick
     ****
    Having Neil with them, all three of them with cocks straining at
the zippers of their respective pants, made Kevin look at the bedroom
with fresh eyes. He snorted. Tony looked over at him, one eyebrow
raised.
     ―What youse thinkin‘, Kevin?‖
    Kevin smiled and tempered his words for Tony, being sure he
stuck to the truth…but still being careful of the big guy‘s feelings.
     ―I just remember what a surprise this room was the first time I saw
it after you decorated it.‖
    Kevin could hear the Ba-aaown chica baaown baaown, chi-chica
baaown baaown music playing in the back of his head. There was no
way he was sharing that thought with Tony though. It would just hurt
his feelings.
     Neil spoke behind them.
   ―Wow. Inspirational. I can almost hear a sound track for this
room. Tony, what influences where you portraying?‖
   Tony grinned mischievously this time, the corners of his wide,
expressive mouth quirking up an teensy extra bit.
     *snick*
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    ―I saw a movie that had a room like this. The people in the movie
didn‘t talk too much, but they sure were having fun.‖
   Kevin cracked up as he realized, after months of trying to place
where he‘d seen this room before, just where he‘d seen it.
   ―Tony. Did you pattern it on the bed-room from ‗Beach-House-
Boyz‘?‖
     Tony‘s grin stretched over his whole face.
   ―Yep. I liked that movie a lot. Do you think we could find another
copy, since Patrick took it with him?‖
    Kevin felt his mouth gape open, and carefully closed it. A jolt of
triumph raced along his veins. That was the first time since Patrick‘s
abrupt departure from their lives that Tony had spoken of him in such
a matter of fact manner.
    ―Sure, Tony. I know where he used to buy all his movies…I‘m
sure we can find another copy of that one.‖
     Tony‘s smile went mega-watt.
     ―Cool.‖
     *snick*
    Tony‘s gaze sharpened, his amber eyes rising from Kevin‘s face.
He stared intently over his smaller lover‘s shoulder. He leaned down
to whisper conspiratorially.
    ―My favorite part was where the big dark haired older guy and the
sort of blondyish one—like you Kevin—are both making love to the
young Italian guy. It was…um, not that I woulda back then ya know,
but it was like they was, me and youse guys.‖
     Tony waved his hands at Neil and Kevin.
   ―It was like they was really making love. The other parts of the
movie was kinda just fucking, ya know? But that was real pretty. It
was like hearin‘ a poem, or lookin‘ at a Matisse.‖
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    Kevin felt the vice grips squeezing his heart again. And to think
Patrick had called Tony stupid. Tony just didn‘t think like other
people. It took him a while to see badness in a person, and sometimes,
he just never saw it. Kevin reached up and pulled Tony‘s head down,
sucking his sensitive bottom lip like it was a lollipop he was trying to
find the center of.
     ―Mmmm. Sweeter than candy.‖
     Tony chuckled.
     *snick*
   That sound was starting to feel like Neil‘s big hands touching
Kevin‘s back. He let Tony take a step back toward the bed, looking
over his shoulder at Neil. It sure felt like he was wearing his fuck-me-
now face, and something must have become unbearable for Neil,
because he growled, real low in his throat, and Kevin saw that his
hands were turning white at the fingertips.
     That couldn‘t be good for the equipment.
     *snick*
    Neil growled more deeply, a sub-vocal rumble that Kevin felt
rather than heard. It caused the hairs at the base of his neck to stand
straight out, and the skin where his shoulder joined the base of his
neck to tingle. It almost felt like Neil was already biting him there,
drawing up a dark mark of possession.
   Kevin shook himself minutely and tried to focus solely on Tony. It
was difficult when what he wanted to do most was beg Neil to slide
deep in his ass as he slid the tip of his cock into Tony‘s foreskin.
     *snick*
    ―God, Kevin, whatever you‘re thinking about, keep thinking it.
Jesus, the two of you are going to set my camera on fire.‖
   Neil‘s voice was a low rasp of sound, like silk against a coarse
wooden door. Kevin closed his eyes in a desperate bid for control.
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When he opened them again Tony had stripped off his shirt and was
busily unbuttoning his fly.
     ―When did you do that, baby?‖
    Tony had been busy with the clippers. His chest was now a marvel
of manscaping and pumped muscles. Kevin could no more stop the
moan that rolled out of his throat than he could stop the pounding of
blood in his achingly hard cock.
    Tony ran a hand teasingly up his chest, pausing to pinch his nipple
lightly. Kevin dropped to his knees to pull Tony‘s pants down and off.
When they slid below Tony‘s hips Kevin‘s second favorite part of his
lover‘s body came into view.
     *snick*
    Tony‘s thick, uncut shaft was one of the most beautiful things in
the world to Kevin. He dropped to his knees, pushing Tony‘s legs
apart to get closer. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Neil‘s
legs getting closer.
     *snick*
    ―Take your shirt off too, Kevin. Let me see the copulating male
dragons Tony was forever trying to draw in class. He told me he could
never get it really right. I want to see if he was right, or if my best
student was just being overly humble again.‖
    The tip of Kevin‘s dick was leaking now, and he knew it was
going to show through his pants in just another moment. He couldn‘t
bring himself to care about his blatant show of neediness. The
authoritative sound of Neil‘s voice directing him was nearly enough to
bring him off right then without a hand on him. He reached back and
pulled up on the back of his shirt, drawing it up over his head before
throwing it to the side. After a minute pause, Neil spoke again.
   ―Ah. No, he was right. He didn‘t draw what was there. What he
drew was better.‖
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    There was a metallic clatter. Kevin turned his head to see Neil in
the process of setting up some sort of tripod.
     ―Is that for the video, Neil?‖
     Tony grabbed for his own cock, fisting it tightly and beginning to
pump, throaty moans pouring from him as he sank down on the zebra
striped bed. Kevin brushed his hands aside, leaning in to kiss Tony‘s
recently waxed balls. Tony shivered, raising his head and holding it in
his hands to maintain the posture. A clicking noise, and then—
*snick*—but Neil had come around to stand right in Kevin‘s line of
sight when he raised his head. The sexy photographer had one foot
propped on the bed.
     *snick*
    He grinned a lopsided, whimsical grin at Kevin and continued to
roll a condom down over his long, almost frighteningly thick cock.
Holding the base of the condom, he slathered lube over his shaft as he
spoke.
     ―Do it now, while I can watch.‖
    Kevin peered up at Neil from the juncture of Tony‘s thighs, his
confusion evident in his wrinkled brow. Tony chuckled at him. Kevin
nipped at the apex of his inner thigh, and Tony subsided back onto the
black and white stripes of the bed with a hungry moan. He cocked an
eyebrow at Neil.
    ―Tony told me once…how you put the head of your penis inside
his foreskin…that sounded so fucking hot. Show me. Now, Kevin.‖
     White hot heat clawed its way up Kevin‘s spine.
     Fucking hell.
     The man was trying to kill him.
     ―Stop talking Neil, or I‘ll come before I ever get it in.‖
    Neil laughed, low and dirty. Oh fuck, it was worse when he did
that. Kevin pinched the base of his shaft and thought of Mrs. Peterson,
his seventh grade English teacher. She had buggy eyes, and—oh thank
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Christ it still worked—she was his go to girl for staving off early
orgasm. Kevin stood, shimmied out of his pants, and straddled Tony
on the bed. He pulled the bigger man up into a seated position, lined
their cocks up and then looked up at Neil.
    ―You want to give us a little lube? Just to ease the way? We do
this pretty often, but I like to keep Tony safe. I know I‘m a little hyper
about it…‖
     Neil waved away the rest of his words.
   ―There‘s nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution Kevin.
Especially when you‘re trying to protect someone you love.‖
    A warm feeling settled into Kevin‘s chest. Neil‘s next words
turned it lava hot.
    ―I want to watch you cum inside his foreskin, and then I want to
fuck you right through this mattress.‖
     *snick
    Kevin was pretty sure the last shot caught him in the middle of a
whimper. He eased Tony‘s foreskin back, hooked the head of his cock
under the head of his sweet boy‘s, and then pulled the foreskin back
up.
    Tony tried to rock forward, but Neil was all the way on the bed
now, big hands holding Tony‘s lean hips still. The sight of Neil‘s
long, pale fingers biting into the olive toned skin stretched taut over
Tony‘s hipbone combined with the power in his voice as he softly told
Tony to hold steady.
    Kevin managed a few erratic rubs before he cried out helplessly,
emptying stream after stream of ejaculate into Tony. He shuddered a
final time, and then collapsed down onto Tony.
     Tony caught his arm, guiding him sideways onto the bed.
   ―Steady there, Kevin. Youse don‘t wanna bang your head and then
we‘d haf‘ta stop all the fun ta go to the hospital.‖
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    Neil licked a line up the side of Tony‘s throat. He bit softly down
on one earlobe before placing his mouth beside the big Italian‘s ear to
ask his question.
     ―What do you want to see Tony?‖
    Tony ran a hand over Kevin‘s flushed cheek before turning his
stunning amber eyes on Neil.
     ―I want to see youse two makin‘ love. You in him.‖
     *snick—whirrrrrrrr*
   Kevin had regained enough presence of mind to ask about the new
sound.
     ―What was that?‖
    Neil kissed Tony lightly on the lips, and then made his way across
the bed to Kevin‘s side.
    ―That was the end of the still photos Kevin. Give me just a minute
to get the video rolling.‖
    Kevin barely had time to register his absence before Neil‘s fingers
were sliding into his ass one and then another and another until there
were four plunging in and out. They put a rapid halt to any sort of
sense coming out of him.
   Vaguely, he heard Tony‘s voice asking Neil a very important
question.
   ―Neil, can youse maybe be…can…do youse think ya could help
me take care of Kevin maybe? It‘s hard to keep him okay all by
myself…so maybe youse could date us?‖
    Neil answered and Kevin didn‘t hear what he said because he was
pulling his fingers out and pushing his cock in and Kevin couldn‘t
make sense of anything but his steady rhythm and the feeling of being
fuller than he‘d ever been…and through it all he could hear Neil
murmuring to Tony, feel Neil caressing his back, and the beautiful
slow and steady rhythm of Neil fucking him right into the mattress
just like he‘d promised.
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    Tony leaned forward and kissed him, sucking on his tongue for a
moment. When Tony‘s mouth left his Kevin opened his eyes to see
Neil and Tony exploring one another‘s mouths slowly. The sight
combined with Neil‘s slow, thorough assault on his prostate. Every
time Neil slammed home the tip of his cock would nail Kevin right
there, and then he‘d slow and roll his hips, sliding the whole thick
length in still pressing down Kevin‘s joy button.
    Kevin was pretty sure someone had let an animal of some sort in
the room, because no way in hell was he making those desperate
howling noises.
     Except he was.
     He decided Neil was the best fuck he‘d ever had.
    Right up until he shot, screaming incoherently he believed that.
And then Neil pulled gently out of him, rolled over on his back and
pulled his knees to his chest, and smiled at Tony.
    ―I seem to remember you saying you wanted to fuck me. Is that
right, Tony?‖
   The sight of Tony‘s incredulous smile changed Kevin‘s mind.
Neil was a prince among men, and he wasn‘t fucking them, he was
making love with them.
     ―Yeah, Profess—I mean Neil. I wanna do youse. If that‘s okay.‖
    Neil just nodded, pulling one knee higher while he released one to
reach down and pull a thick black plug from his ass.
     ―Don‘t forget the condom, Tony.‖
     Tony nodded solemnly.
    ―I know. That‘s rule number one. No fuckin‘ or makin‘ love
without rubbers ‗til Kevin says the tests are good and he trusts the
guy.‖
    Neil smiled at Kevin as he wiggled his body around on the bed,
ending with his head next to Kevin‘s and his ass pointed at Tony. The
big guy gloved up, eased his way between Neil‘s powerful thighs and
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then paused. Neil let go of one leg again to smooth a long fingered
hand along Tony‘s stubble covered cheek.
   ―It‘s just like in class Tony, but this time, the sculpture you‘re
making is you, me, and Kevin. Make us a masterpiece.‖
    Kevin watched the tension slip from Tony‘s shoulders as he slid
into Neil. Tony caught the bigger man‘s legs in crooks of his arms as
Neil released them. Neil reached over, twinning his fingers with
Kevin‘s. He kissed Tony slow and deep, and then broke away to
stroke his tongue into Kevin‘s mouth. It tasted like dark coffee, and
tiramisu, bitter and sweet, both flavors strong…and under them the
wild, heady flavors that were unique to Tony and Neil.
    Kevin was addicted. If he hadn‘t been so spent, he‘d have screwed
them both right into the mattress, because Christ, watching the two of
them moving sinuously on and in one another was the hottest fucking
thing ever.
    Especially when Tony started to copy the slam/roll/prostate
powerhouse he‘d watched Neil using on Kevin. Exchanging kisses
with Neil got harder when Tony started really hammering into him, so
Kevin just held Neil‘s hand and slow stoked his own cock as he
thought about how next time, or at least later, when he had some more
energy he wanted Neil to dock with Tony while he did his damndest
to suck them both off at once.
    Yeah, so it couldn‘t really work like that. He knew that. It would
be a lot of fun trying though.
    Then Tony‘s hips really started snapping, and he started making
the hot as fuck little whimper/growl that always preceded his climax.
Neil gripped Kevin‘s hand tighter, growled, threw his head back and
shot so hard it arched up to hit Tony in the throat.
    Tony pushed as deep as he could one last time, and froze,
trembling all over. Neil opened his eyes, pinned Kevin with a molten
gaze, and then swung his attention to Tony. They both watched him
until the last aftershock released him.
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    Neil got up and went to the bathroom, bringing back wet and dry
clothes for everyone, got Kevin and Tony situated under the covers
and began to put his clothes on.
     ―Where are you going?‖
    Kevin realized he and Tony both blurted out the same question,
with the same slightly panicked air. He grasped Tony‘s hand and
squeezed it lightly. They spoke in unison again, shifting apart on the
bed until there was a Neil sized spot between them.
     ―Stay.‖

THE BEGINNING
    Author bio: Butcher, baker, candlestick maker…ummm, eww,
every chance I get, and I surely would if these damn characters would
ever shut up. Born in West Palm Beach, Florida and raised…er, is all
over the damn place a sufficiently descriptive term? No? Then how
about this? Tinker, tailor, Indian chief…Ooooh, especially when
smexy men are involved (!), only under duress, and did the cheek-
bones give it away?
    Seriously? I‘ve lived in Washington D.C., Virginia, Upper
Michigan, Texas, New York, California, and Alabama in the United
States; Hessen in Germany, London in England, Masirah Island in
Oman and…sometimes it was in a house, sometimes in a tent, and
sometimes anyplace I could find to lay my head.
    I‘ve been in love with words since before I drew breath, and I
don‘t see that ever changing. I write stories. Sometimes I write music
with them, sometimes they‘re poems, and lately, to my great delight,
M/M erotic romance. Yum. Smexy man to the second…or third
power…now that‘s the kinda math I can get behind!!
    The hair curls or frizzes as it will, the eyes are green and tend to
look in two different directions—no, really—and the rest is subject to
change. You know the guy who didn‘t know if he was a butterfly
dreaming he was a man or a man dreaming he was a butterfly? Yeah,
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that‘s me, but substitute drag queen for butterfly and wacky, wild ex-
Army chick for man.
     Vital Stats for Cherie Noel:
   Cherie Noel can be found at these localities, as well as Coming
Soon to MLR press
     url: http://www.goodreads.com/cherienoel
     born: Yes, yes I was. Oh…where?
     West Palm Beach, The United States
     Gender: Bender
    Website: http://talesfromthewritingcave.blogspot.... ,
http://www.facebook.com/CherieNoel , or just old fashioned email me
at cherienoel@yahoo.com and I‘ll prolly even write back. Heh.:0) I‘ll
be so jazzed I‘ll for sure write back.
    Genre: Gay & Lesbian, and even some (gasp) Het Romance,
served up with a dash of Science Fiction & Fantasy, and a sprinkle of
Paranormal. Mmm, mmm good. Heh. M/M/M Goodreads too.
Don‘t Read in the Closet – GayRomLit Retreat 2011 Special Edition                    483


Lydia Nyx – MOON OVER MONTANA (Shifter/Cowboys)
Genre: paranormal
Tags: shifter, cowboys, wolf, ranch, Montana                        Dear Author,
Words: 18,083                                                       This cowboy has two
                                                                    secrets: once a month during
MOON OVER MONTANA                                                   the full moon his body
by Lydia Nyx                                                        changes and he roams the
                                                                    foothills of his ranch as a
                                                                    beautiful wild beast...He
     CHAPTER ONE
                                                                    also loves the only man that
    Cooper Holt walked cautiously into the                          knows and keeps his secret.
cavernous darkness of the barn. The cool air                        A fellow ranch hand who
                                                                    nurses and cares for him
held the woody smell of hay, even though the                        after his body is ravaged by
barn was nearly empty so late in spring.                            the shifts...He can never
                                                                    reveal his love, because he
   "Blake?" he called out. His voice sounded                        fears losing his only friend.
small in the echoing space.
                                                                    [PHOTO: A naked, burly
    He heard nothing but the distant sound of                       cowboy rides a saddle on a
                                                                    rail fence. His head is
cattle bleating and the clank of machinery. The
                                                                    thrown back, eyes closed,
herd was restless and the ranch hands were out                      feet in the big Western
early. Cooper could tell the shape of the day by                    stirrups, hands bracing him
how the morning came: in deep winter, thick                         on the rail. His face is
                                                                    bearded, and shadowed by
clouds and heavy darkness signaled a blizzard
                                                                    his black Stetson. His body
on the horizon; in summer, a low sky foretold a                     is muscular, lightly furred,
storm rolling in that would put a halt to haying.                   armband-tattooed and fully
He could also tell what the night had been like                     erect.]

by the sounds on the ranch, so familiar if even                     Please tell us his story and
                                                                    help him find love...
one was out of place his ears picked it up.
Something violent had happened last night.                          Sincerely,
                                                                    Lauraadriana and MsMiz
   A faint shuffling sound to his left made him
whirl around.
     "Blake?"
     A soft moan.
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   He hurried toward the sound. "Blake?" he called out louder. "It's
me, Coop. Where you at?"
    Another moan, followed by more shuffling. Cooper spotted a
bulky shape on the floor.
   "Goddamn," Cooper said, and rushed over. He knelt. "You okay
Blake? I'm sorry, I fell asleep. Shit Blake, tell me you're all right!"
     Blake was just a shadow, but Cooper could smell him—sweat and
dirt and a sickly copper scent. Blood.
     "I'm all right," Blake said, his voice rough. "Healing's taking a
little longer this time since I got so messed up, but I'll be fine."
    Cooper tried to check him over with his hands. He felt the
slickness of sweat and the unmistakable gooey thickness of congealed
blood.
     "What happened?" Cooper asked.
    "I came on another wolf and thought I could take him. Big
bastard."
    Cooper huffed. "You know wolves are territorial, Blake Ripley!
You can't go sniffing around their areas, or chasing after them picking
fights."
    "I know. But when it takes over, all rational thought goes straight
out of my head." Cooper flinched when he felt Blake's hand glide over
the denim encasing his thigh. "That's why I tell you to keep this on
you." He was referring to the 45 Colt pistol slung across Cooper's hip.
    Cooper just flushed under his collar and continued trying to assess
his friend's physical state by touch, making sure no bones were
sticking out. "We gotta get you up to the house," he said. "It's still
dark enough we can make it without anyone seeing us, but we have to
go now."
     Getting Blake on his feet wasn't an easy task, as he had a good
fifty pounds on Cooper. Outside in the faint, early morning light,
Cooper saw Blake's body—a beefy mass of thick, coiled muscle and
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taut, sun-darkened skin—was covered in dirt and streaked with blood.
Blake was tall, broad, and sculpted by days of hard ranch work. He
might have been intimidating if Cooper didn't know what a good heart
beat in his chest.
    The world was still soft and blue and though the air was warm, the
June heat wasn't yet oppressive like it would be later in the day.
Cooper was used to getting up at the crack of dawn. He'd been ranch
handing since the age of fifteen and worked on his uncle's ranch in
unofficial capacity before that. His mother, God rest her, once joked
he'd been born on the back of a horse, which according to his father
was nearly true. Waking up to the first gold and pink light streaking
the vast Montana sky was something he'd seen so many times he
wasn't even awed.
    What did awe him was discovering there were a multitude of
mysteries in the world he hadn't imagined before, and somehow, he'd
gotten to be the keeper of one.
    Cooper snuck them in the back door of the house and up the
kitchen stairs. They tried to be quiet but kept bumping against the
walls, as Blake was still unsteady. Just as they were about to get
through the door of Blake's bedroom, a female voice called out from
down the hallway.
     "That you, Blake? You up already?"
    Blake, leaning so heavy against Cooper they were pressed against
the door frame, widened his dark eyes at Cooper. Blake's
grandmother.
    Cooper cleared his throat. "No ma'am, it's me, Coop. Just getting
ready to head out."
    "I'll be down shortly to start breakfast," she said. "Don't leave out
just yet."
     "All right," Cooper called back.
   When he heard her door close Cooper hustled Blake the rest of the
way into his room.
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    Blake sunk onto the bed with a groan and Cooper went to grab a
basin and rag from the connecting bathroom. When he came back he
plunked the basin on the stand next to the bed and turned on the lamp.
Blake winced, holding a hand up to shield his eyes. The first aid kit
was under the bed, but Cooper didn't get it out just yet. He wanted to
know what he was dealing with first.
     "We gotta start penning you up or something," Cooper said. "If
you can't keep your snout out of where it don't belong, someone has to
start watching you. And I don't want you getting lost out there, either."
Full Moon Ranch boasted slightly over four thousand acres, which
was a lot of room to lose something in, be it man or beast. The town
of Ennis, the closest civilization, was almost twenty miles away. That
left a lot of room beyond their fences to get lost in too.
    "That ain't practical," Blake said and lowered his hand. "You're
the only one who knows. How you gonna pen me up? Where you
gonna pen me up?"
    Cooper didn't answer. He knew how silly the idea was. He wrung
out the rag and started carefully washing the dirt and blood from
Blake's skin. Cooper had seen Blake nude plenty of times, so him
sprawled out on the bed stark naked in all his finely-hewn male
perfection didn't faze Cooper a bit. Well—maybe a little, but for
different reasons. He kept his gaze focused and concentrated on the
wounds, cleaning them out. Blake hissed and grunted and gritted his
teeth, but didn't pull away.
    "It chewed you up good, didn't it?" Cooper asked, examining what
looked to have been a nasty bite mark on his bicep. The wound was
nearly healed now, the skin bright pink and smooth. He examined the
rest of his arm. Despite Blake's ability to heal once he changed back
into a human, scar tissue from the injuries remained. "Good thing you
got this healing ability," Cooper said.
   "I'm afraid one of these nights I'm gonna bleed to death before I
change back, though."
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   Cooper dunked his rag again. The water was already murky
brown. "You oughta try to find somebody who can help you."
     "Help me? Who's gonna help me?"
    "There has to be somebody out there." Cooper started on his chest,
wiping off dirt. Blake had very little chest hair, just a dark patch in the
middle that got thicker as it shot down in a line to his narrow, flat
stomach. Lower than that Cooper was careful not to notice, though he
glanced every now and then.
   "There has to be others like you," Cooper said. "Can't be the only
one."
    "I been like this all these years, haven't come across another one
like me or anyone who knew what it was. Except that night, the night
my Dad…" he trailed off. Blake's father died the night Blake was
changed into what he was. Not because of Blake, thankfully.
    "You haven't exactly asked anyone, either," Cooper said. "There
has to be at least one more out there, or you wouldn't be like this."
    Cooper leaned across Blake's body to get his other arm. As he
worked, he felt the weight of Blake's stare on the side of his face and
glanced down at him. He had a look in his eyes as if he were trying to
figure something out.
     "What?" Cooper asked.
     "Just wondering something."
     "Wondering what?"
     "Why you keep doing this for me."
   Cooper turned his attention to Blake's long, thick fingers and
wiped the caked dirt from between them. "I'm the only one who
knows. The only one who's seen you transform."
     "And you didn't run away."
     "Oh, I ran." He laughed sharply. "Scared the piss right out of me."
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   "But you stuck around. I expected you to be off the ranch by
morning. That would have been the sensible thing."
    Cooper smiled and drew back. "Never had much sense. That's
why I been doing this job so many years." He wrung out the rag, filthy
water streaming out. "You better go shower the rest off. Doesn't look
like you need the first aid kit this time."
    Blake lifted his left arm, extending his fingers, and flexed them. "I
seem to be healing faster. And better. I don't feel all stiff like I usually
do." He turned his hand from back to palm, then over again, gazing at
it.
     "Sure seems that way. Maybe that's how it goes."
    Blake looked up at him. Their eyes met, gazes locking and
holding. Cooper's chest tightened, filled with an urge he couldn't
name. Heat crept up his neck and into his face.
    Blake looked away, rolling his head to the side, his hair wild and
dark against the white pillowcase, full of little bits of hay.
     "Yeah," Blake said. "I better get washed up."
    Cooper turned away, looking down at the dirty rag twisted around
his hands. "I'll see you downstairs," he said.
     ****
   Cooper had been on the ranch long enough to have a room in the
main house, though it wasn't just seniority that put him there.
However, if anyone asked he'd tell them that, because the real reason
couldn't be spoken and wouldn't be believed.
    In his bedroom, he checked himself over in the mirror, making
sure he wasn't as disheveled as he felt and there wasn't any blood on
his clothes. He ran a hand through his collar-length brown hair,
shaggy at the moment because he hated to sit still for a haircut. He
kept it under a Stetson most of the day anyway, so he didn't see the
point. He needed a shave. No matter how often he shaved though, he
always had stubble on his jaw and darkening his upper lip. He noticed
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Blake had the same problem and wondered with amusement if it was
some kind of cowboy issue—too much testosterone and whatnot.
    His similarities to Blake ended there, however. While he had a fair
amount of muscle, he was leaner and more sinewy than Blake, a few
inches shorter, and not as broad across the shoulders. His smaller
frame made him a good candidate for wiggling into tight spots when a
calf decided to be contrary or an obscure part of a barn needing
patching up.
    When he smelled coffee he headed downstairs with hat in hand
and his pistol on his hip. Most of his work didn't require him to pack,
but they were moving cattle to a new pasture today and there were
always scavengers bringing up the rear hoping for a quick meal.
    The kitchen was homey and rustic, from the hardwood floor, to
the brick walls, to the steepled ceiling with its exposed beams. There
were four stoves, six in-wall ovens, and enough appliances to turn out
meals for the entire ranch several times a day. A long wooden table
big enough to seat sixteen people dominated the center of the room,
and most of the chairs were already full. The ranch hands ate in turns,
depending on their duties.
    Blake sat at the head of the table, wolfing down his food. His plate
was heaped full. He ate enough during the three days of his change to
feed a barn full of horses. Cooper didn't understand what the change
did to Blake's metabolism but it was oddly thrilling to see him in an
almost primal form. He didn't even look tired, despite being up all
night.
    Cooper nodded to Blake's grandmother, Adele, as she brought a
pot of coffee to the table. She was in her eighties but still sharp as a
whip. She had once been a star roper, but her hips had gone out with
age and she couldn't get on a horse now. Instead she commanded the
kitchen staff the way she must have once cut pairs, with no-nonsense
and confidence.
     "Ma'am," Cooper said to her, pulling out a chair.
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   "Better get something fast," she said, casting her grandson a look.
"Before Blake eats us out of house and home."
     Blake grunted and refilled his coffee cup.
    Cooper ate quickly as well. Breakfast wasn't a meal to savor
because there was always work to get started. Eating slow came later,
while trying to draw out a lunch break to let your bones rest, or during
dinner when you could actually relax.
    After breakfast, they headed out to the pens. Cooper followed
behind Blake and found his gaze locked on him, taking in the
swaggering form he made. He was encased in tight denim from neck
to boot, his black Stetson perched atop his head. Cooper made himself
look away, squinting toward the north pasture where they'd be taking
the cows, trying to pretend his mind was on his work.
    "You all right?" Cooper asked him while they saddled up in the
barn. "Everything back to normal?"
     "I'm fine," Blake said. "Right as rain."
     They had cut the cow and calf pairs the day before so the ones
they were moving were in their own fence. They had to be careful to
keep pairs together, because losing even one calf to starvation was
losing money. People like Blake and Cooper who had been working
on a ranch all their lives could do the cutting by sight and sense,
watching cow and calf interaction. Newer hands used the tags on the
ears. Some who came out to experience the 'romantic cowboy
lifestyle' couldn't even do that effectively, and Cooper was irritated
ranch handing had become a tourist attraction. Blake didn't want
tourists on the ranch, even if it brought in money. His grandpa, on the
other hand, felt differently.
    Blake's grandpa, Mack, was a weathered old man, but still rode
high in his saddle. Mack had taken Cooper under his wing when
Cooper's uncle had to sell his ranch six years prior and most of the
staff was turned out. Cooper had a soft spot for the old man, even if
like Blake, he didn‘t agree with Mack opening up the ranch to visitors.
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Mack was a business man, and he had to get by in a tough economy
where more and more people were losing their ranches. Cooper could
grudgingly see his point.
     But it was hard to lose the old ways.
   They began rounding up the cattle, riding in pairs across the field
and keeping in sight of each other so every inch of ground would be
canvassed. Cows could hide in the damndest places.
    Cooper was paired up with a man named Dalton Vine. Dalton was
what Cooper considered 'green.' He was in his early twenties, had only
been on ranches a few years, and came to work at the Full Moon the
previous winter. He was a nice enough kid, tall and wiry, with
cropped blond hair and darkly tanned skin. He seemed eager to learn
and was a good listener. However, there was something about him
Cooper couldn't quite put his finger on and it made him uneasy.
   As they shooed the last of the cattle toward the main herd, Dalton
rode up beside Cooper.
   "Hey, Blake all right?" Dalton asked. "I know you two are friends.
Thought you'd be the man to ask."
     Cooper squinted at him. "Why you ask that?"
   "I saw him outside last night, right after dark. He looked awful
anxious and took off before I could talk to him. Thought something
might be wrong."
   Cooper had to stifle a panicked reaction. He looked straight ahead
while scrambling for an answer.
   "Yeah, he's all right," he said casually. "Far as I know, anyway.
You know Blake, he gets in moods."
   They rode up to the herd and Cooper glanced over at Dalton.
Dalton had his eyes narrowed and looked like he didn't believe him.
Cooper quickly moved on ahead of him.
   Cooper was good at moving cattle. He had a well-broken gelding
and he understood the relationship between a man and his horse, the
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subtle way they manipulated and directed each other. The horse was
just as smart as any of the men were.
    The operation was delicate, especially at first, urging the cattle
slowly through the gate in a narrow stream like a running creek that
would eventually flow into a river. Beyond the gate, concentration
was the key. They had to pass two ponds, go through the river bottom,
and cross several benches of land with both timber and brush. Cattle
were drawn to all these things. Cooper and several others, along with
the dogs, had to make sure they kept moving in the direction they
wanted; though any man who had been on a ranch any amount of time
would tell you cattle pretty much went where they damn well pleased,
you just had to follow them.
    The less experienced hands were instructed to ride out wide and
keep a watch for bunch-quitters and guide them back into the flow.
They also looked out for downed fences, scavengers, and magpies—
indicating a carcass that could turn into a distraction.
   When they got to the river bottom, the herd was flowing smoothly
and Cooper could relax a bit, let the horse take over and just keep an
eye out for sick or lame cows. Blake was too far ahead to see, but
Cooper's thoughts went to him.
    He was nervous Dalton had seen Blake right before his change.
The transformation was strange, swift and unnatural. When Cooper
had accidentally seen it happen a year ago on a balmy summer night,
he thought he was drugged or dreaming. Blake thankfully had enough
control to run off instead of tearing Cooper apart with his huge, razor-
sharp fangs.
    Blake had told him, frightened and ashamed the next morning, if
his grandma and grandpa found out they'd be terrified. Other people
on the ranch might try to kill him. Cooper might have shot him out of
sheer terror himself, if he'd had his pistol on him that night.
    He remembered Blake's eyes that morning, full of sorrow. He was
vulnerable, distraught. Then and there Cooper vowed he'd keep his
secret and make sure no one else found out.
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     By noon they had the cattle in the new pasture. The grass was
green and full there. Putting cattle out to good pasture in the summer
meant no more daily feeding and watering and more time for other
things like fence work, irrigation, and haying; also, preparing for the
fall sale and getting the ranch ready to do it all over again through the
winter and spring. Summer was the 'easy time,' if there was such a
thing on a ranch.
    Once the cows were in the fence, they tied up the horses and
spread out on a nice piece of grass for lunch. People from the house
rode out with food packed up by Adele. Cooper settled down in a
patch of shade. The whole world was green and rank with the scent of
grass and the heady odor of animals. The sun was bright. Everyone
was talking and laughing, basking in the glow of a job well done,
while the dogs chased each other around. It was hard to imagine there
were any horrors lurking just beyond the fall of night.
     Blake joined Cooper in the shade and dug into his lunch bag.
     "Starving," he growled. "Damn hungry work today."
     "Yep." Cooper took a bite from his sandwich.
   "Where were you leading them cows down in the bottom, Blake?"
One of the hands, a woman named Sam, chided Blake as she plopped
down on a blanket next to her horse. "Straight into the river?"
   "They were leading me into the river," Blake answered, tearing
open the foil on his own sandwich. "Think they were trying to drown
me."
   "I thought they were herding you for a minute," Sam replied.
Laughter went up
    "You best hush up," Blake told her. "I saw you pulling leather
back there." More laughter. 'Pulling leather' meant a hand had to grab
onto their saddle to steady themselves. It was considered the sign of
an amateur.
   "Only time you seen me pulling leather, Blake," Sam said, "was
when I was saddling up your unruly horse."
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   More good-natured ribbing went on as they ate. Mack, sitting on a
stump, just shook his head at them.
    Cooper covertly passed Blake some of his food. He wouldn't be
doing anything too strenuous the rest of the day and he could spare it.
Blake gave him a brief, grateful glance, and then looked away.
    The ride back, sans cattle, was utilized for inspecting fences and
pipes, noting areas of weeds needing sprayed, and scouting for
carcasses in the brush. Wolves and coyotes were bad enough without
leaving something juicy out to lure them in. Cooper couldn't help but
wonder, as they dragged a stinking civet-cat out of a hedgerow, if
Blake ever snacked on such things in his other form. The idea made
his stomach turn.
    "I know I said this before," Cooper told Blake, while they were off
their horses inspecting a ditch, "but that boy don't sit right with me.
He's strange."
   Dalton was a way up the ditch, checking a pipe. He'd been
watching them all afternoon, Cooper had seen him.
    Blake squinted in Dalton's direction. "He's just young. He'll get his
feet."
    "It ain't just that." Cooper kept his voice down. "He gives me an
odd feeling. And he asked me about you. Said he saw you last night
after dark and you were acting strange."
    "Yeah, I ran into him out by the horse barn. Don't know what he
was doing out there, but I got away easy enough. Wasn't changing
yet." He knelt down.
    "But what if you had been? You gotta be careful." Cooper knelt
beside him. Leaning toward him, he murmured, "I'm gonna be
watching tonight. I'm not gonna sleep."
    Blake sighed. "You can't do that to yourself, Coop. There's the
start of haying tomorrow, you'll be dead tired."
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     "It doesn't matter. I'm worried about you, the way you been
getting yourself tangled up with other animals. I'm gonna sit out and
listen. If you get yourself into anything I'll be right there."
   "I told you, you have to stay away from me while I'm changed. I
don't know what I might do to you. I don't know if I can control
myself."
     "And I don't know what I'd do if something killed you."
    Blake looked at him. They were nearly shoulder-to-shoulder, and
under the brim of his hat Blake's eyes were dark and deep. Cooper
looked down, feeling heat creep over him that had nothing to do with
the sun.
    "I mean, what your grandma and grandpa would do," Cooper said.
"I don't want them to find your body out in a pasture."
   Blake was silent. Cooper didn't move, though he thought he
should.
    "Maybe you're right," Blake said. "I gotta find someone who can
help me, someone who knows what this is. Someone has to know
about it besides us."
   Dalton was walking toward them. They both rose. "Pipe looks
good down there," Dalton said.
    Blake nodded and looked out over the surrounding field. "Expect
there ain't much more to see out here. We best turn for the house."
    They were back well before sunset, but Blake grew restless as the
afternoon waned. They had to inspect all the haying equipment and
Cooper noted the tension in Blake's every movement, the way his
temper shortened, and how he finally withdrew from interacting with
the others altogether. His stride seemed smoother and wider, his gaze
sharper. Cooper swore if he drew back his lips he would see fangs
starting to extend there.
    Blake ate fast and heartily at dinner, and told Adele he was turning
in early to get a good rest. Cooper tried to eat equally fast so he could
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leave the table at the same time. Blake was up and out of the room
before Cooper got halfway through his meal however, and he couldn't
chase after him and look suspicious, so he slowed down.
    Dalton left the table the same time as Cooper did, and from
Cooper's bedroom window he watched him cross the lawn toward the
bunkhouse. The hands wouldn't bunk down for a while, and they
usually stayed around the main house to have a few beers, watch
movies, and socialize. Cooper found it strange Dalton was taking off,
but he didn't have time to watch him. He had more important things to
do.
    Blake wasn't in his room, but the window was open. Cooper stuck
his head out just in time to see him reach the ground below, having
worked his way down the trellis next to the window.
     "Blake!" Cooper whispered loudly.
   Blake looked up. In the gathering shadows his eyes flashed. The
moon was already climbing into the sky, silvery and bloated.
     "Wait," Cooper said. "I'm coming down."
   Cooper withdrew from the window and raced back to his room.
He grabbed his pistol and tucked it into his belt. He would have to go
down the back way and out the kitchen door so no one would see him.
He hoped Blake was still around when he got out there.
    He managed to get outside without running into anyone and
circled around to where Blake's window was, above the flower
garden. To his relief, Blake was still out there, pacing restlessly and
running his hands through his hair. He stopped, stock still, and stared
at Cooper as he approached, like a wild animal sensing danger.
     "Try to stay near the house tonight," Cooper told him. "I'm gonna
go out by the barn where I found you this morning. If I hear anything
I'll come find you with my pistol."
   "Don't put yourself in danger," Blake said. His voice was lower
and gruffer than normal. "I don't want you alone out there in the dark,
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where anything could happen to you." He looked away. "Where I
could happen to you."
     "I ain't afraid. Except for you."
    Blake looked back at him. His eyes shone, reflecting the
moonlight. His hair was rumpled and sweat glistened in the hollow of
his throat. On the warm night breeze Cooper could smell him, a
strange scent, both human and animal.
    "I'm telling you to stay in the house tonight," Blake said. "That's
an order."
     Cooper snorted. "Since when do you give me orders?"
    Cooper wasn't prepared for what happened next. Blake grabbed
him up by his shirt, and with a growl, and terrifying strength, lifted
him off his feet and spun him around. Cooper gasped as his back hit
the wall of the house. Blake got in his face, an energy radiating off
him that crawled over Cooper's skin, under his clothes, with the
intensity of summer heat. He tried to push Blake away but found him
too strong to heave off.
     "Get off me!" Cooper said. "Blake, you ain't yourself right now."
    "You stay in the house tonight," Blake snarled in his face. "Do as I
say!"
    Cooper tried to push him away again. Blake's body was hot, his
shirt damp with sweat. Then he suddenly backed off and stumbled
away, but not because of Cooper. He looked alarmed, frightened, and
Cooper sensed the change was coming.
    "I'll make sure nothing happens to you," Cooper said, back still
against the wall. "Go!"
   Blake turned away. He tore his shirt open and ripped it off.
Cooper watched with breath held as Blake's muscles rippled in the
moonlight, the curve of his back flowing down to his hips like
something an artist would create. Cooper only had a moment to
admire his form before Blake dropped his shirt and ran off across the
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garden. In a twinkling he was gone, leaving Cooper with just the
sound of his own pounding heart and the distant, muffled murmur of
voices from inside the house.
    Cooper shoved himself away from the wall. He walked over and
grabbed up Blake's shirt and stared into the night. He waited for a
great, gray wolf to burst out of the shadows, but he knew Blake would
be running now, getting as far away from him as possible.
    He looked down at the shirt in his hand. Blake had ripped the
fabric, torn off the buttons. Cooper balled it up, looking back out into
the night.
     "Don't worry," he whispered. "I'll look out for you."
     CHAPTER TWO
    Keeping watch by the hay storage barn was safe. No one had
reason to go out there in the middle of the night, and even if they did,
the area was open enough Cooper would see, if not hear, them
coming. Everyone would assume he was asleep in his room, and
barring something catastrophic happening, they had no reason to go in
there and find out otherwise.
    He took several items with him for his watch: a blanket, a
flashlight, some water, his pistol, and his cell phone. If worse came to
worst, he could call for help.
    He spread the blanket out in the soft grass next to the barn and
stretched out on it, using the pack he'd brought everything in as a
pillow. He still had Blake's shirt, balled up in the pack, but he didn't
know his reasoning for keeping it. Maybe he'd give it back to him in
the morning. Maybe he didn't want him to lose it.
    Stretched out, hands behind his head, Cooper gazed up at the sky,
full of stars and soft blue with moonlight. Under the Montana sky a
million stars were visible on a clear summer night. Combined with the
warm wind rustling the grass and the distant sound of lowing cattle—
and even the sound of the river down in the bottom if he listened hard
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enough—Cooper couldn't imagine wanting to be anywhere else in the
world.
     Except, maybe wherever Blake was.
    He kept his ears open, taking in the sounds of the night. None of
them were unusual. In the tree line at the bottom of the ridge behind
the barn, he heard rustling and occasional calls and chirps—night
birds, foxes, the yapping of coyotes. He tried not to consider what
might happen if Blake came upon a black bear, or worse, a mountain
lion.
    At one point he thought he heard rustling in the grass nearby, like
something moving swiftly past the corner of the barn, but when he
swiveled to look nothing was there. He settled back down and gazed
up at the sky.
   As he lay there, his mind drifted to things he'd learned about
Blake over the past year, things Blake had told him about his
metamorphosis. Cooper remembered the conversation they had the
morning after he'd seen him change for the first time.
    Blake and his father were driving back from Ennis one night in
early December, when Blake was sixteen, and they'd run into heavy
snow. The truck slid off the road and into a ravine, rolling it over.
Cooper recalled Blake's soft, haunted words:
    "My dad was dead. I was spread out on the snow, half broken.
When I opened my eyes I saw a huge wolf hovering over me. I
thought it was a dream. There was blood everywhere, all over the
snow."
    Blake said he'd been in so much pain he hadn't realized at first the
wolf had bitten him, leaving a ragged hole in his upper arm. A
neighbor came along and saw them in the ravine shortly after, saving
him from bleeding to death along with his father.
    "That wolf stayed by me until help came," Blake said. "Then it ran
off into the night. Don't know why it didn't finish me off and make a
meal of me. Don't know why it bit me to begin with, since wolves
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don't generally act like that. Maybe it was starving. Maybe the truck
crushed its mate. I'll never know."
   Blake was orphaned, since like Cooper, his mother died when he
was young. Adele and Mack took custody of him, Blake the youngest
of three brothers, one in the military and the other a ranger at
Yellowstone. Blake just had the ranch in his future, and a curse.
     "I changed every full moon after that," he told Cooper in a hushed
tone. "I didn't know why, but I knew it would happen, knew what was
inside me as if it had always been there. I couldn't fight it. I couldn't
tell anyone either, I knew I had to hide it. And it's never been easy."
    Cooper closed his eyes and pictured what it must have been like
that night: the falling snow, the blood, and the great wolf hovering
over Blake's broken body like a demon in the wintry night, dark magic
looking for an outlet. Blake said he didn't know if the wolf was like
him, or just a wolf, and having bitten him at just the right time turned
him into what he was. Cooper wondered about it too.
   He must have fallen asleep pondering it, because the next thing he
knew he jerked awake to the sound of vicious snarling. He sat up,
heart hammering, and fumbled for his pistol, all the while cursing
himself for dozing off.
    A fight was going on in the tree line, evidenced by the crack of
branches and violent ruffling in the underbrush. Cooper hoped it was
just coyotes, but something inside him knew better.
    He quickly got to his feet, pistol in hand. He wouldn't shoot at
anything unless it became absolutely, positively essential to his
continued survival, and then he'd only shoot to wound. He could never
forgive himself if he mortally wounded Blake in a panic.
    Cooper walked swiftly toward the tree line. The moon had slid
down in the sky and the shadows of the trees were long across the
grass. The sounds were enough to make a man tuck tail and run, but
he forced himself to go forward, gripping the butt of the pistol and
trying to decide his next move.
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    As it turned out, the next move was chosen for him. A large,
bright form streaked out of the trees and across the grass toward him.
He knew from the shape it was a wolf—a big, white wolf. Before he
could react, another form shot out of the brush and leapt onto its back.
This one was darker, but also clearly a wolf.
    Cooper backed off as the two began to struggle wildly, snarling,
jaws snapping, claws flashing. The dark wolf was Blake, he knew it,
knew his form, though he'd only seen it once. The white wolf was
bigger and more vicious. It lunged at wolf-Blake's throat, latched on,
and Blake yelped as they both tumbled across the grass and into the
moonlight.
     Cooper lifted his pistol. "You there! Yah! Get out of here!"
    His voice distracted them. The bigger wolf let off and wheeled
around on Cooper. He leveled his sight on it, though his aim would be
faulty in the dark. The darker wolf, still whining, rolled away.
    The big wolf was locked on Cooper. The animal snarled low and
warningly, baring glistening fangs. Ducking its head in predatory
fashion, it slunk toward him. Cooper forced himself not to move lest it
lunge.
    "Go on, get out of here," Cooper said, finger on the trigger. "Go
on now!"
     The wolf responded with a snarl and advanced on him.
   Cooper lowered the barrel and fired. The crack was loud in the
peaceful night. The bullet went into the ground in front of the wolf,
sending up a shower of dirt, and the wolf yelped, turned, and fled.
   The smaller wolf had gotten to its feet, and though it lurched at the
sound as well, it didn't run off. Instead it stared at Cooper.
   He lowered the pistol to his side. "I know it's you, Blake. I know.
Go on and run."
     The wolf inched toward him. Cooper noted dark patches on its fur,
all around the neck. It was bleeding.
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   "Blake," Cooper said, anguished, knowing there was nothing he
could do for him at the moment. "Goddamn it."
    The wolf emitted a low growl, ducking its head. Cooper clutched
the pistol but didn't raise it.
   "It's me, Cooper," he said. "You know me. Don't do this. Don't
make me have to fire at you. I don't want to hurt you."
   The wolf panted, eyes gleaming, fangs bared, but didn't advance
any further. Cooper swallowed and tried to breathe evenly, every
muscle tense.
    "Go on," Cooper said. "Go off and lick your wounds, and come to
the barn when you change."
   The wolf lowered its head further. Then, as if the part that was
Blake had somehow taken control, it turned away, tail drooping in
acquiescence. After one look back, it loped off into the night.
    Cooper drew a shaky breath. He watched until the wolf
disappeared into the shadows of the trees.
    He had no idea where the other wolf was, or if it might come back
for another round. He turned and hurried toward the barn, intending to
spend the rest of the night inside.
     In the safety of the barn, he spread his blanket out on a couple of
bales in a corner and stretched out on his side, heart still thudding,
listening. He prayed Blake wouldn't bleed to death. Of course the fool
had to go pick a fight with the biggest, meanest bastard he could find.
    Cooper lay staring into the darkness of the barn, thoughts racing,
nerves on edge. After a while he heard voices outside, not far off. He
wasn't surprised. When someone was firing shots in the night other
people were going to wonder what the hell was going on. He didn't
reveal himself though, just curled up in a ball and hoped they wouldn't
come across Blake. Eventually, he opened up his pack and pulled out
Blake's shirt. He needed to touch it and smell his scent on it, to be
reassured there was something human about him. He balled it up
under his head and buried his face in it.
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     He awoke the same way, with a low, angry voice in his ear.
     "You coulda been killed, you fool."
    Cooper tried to turn over but he was pinned down by a heavy,
very hot, very sweaty, naked body. Blake's naked body.
    "Are you all right?" was all Cooper could think to ask. "You were
bleeding and I was worried, the way that big wolf attacked—"
    He was flipped onto his back, so quick he couldn't think. Outside
it was pre-dawn and the barn was still dark, so Blake was just a
looming shadow above him. Cooper felt his hands come down on his
shoulders and push them into the hay beneath him. He could feel the
whole long, weighty length of Blake's body holding him down,
trapping his legs, pushing against his hips.
    "I told you not to come out here," Blake snarled, so close to his
face Cooper felt his breath. It smelled bad, rank. He turned his face
away, grimacing. "You could have died. That wolf could have
attacked you. I could have attacked you!"
    "You could have died too!" Cooper said. "Goddamn it, if I hadn't
come along that beast might have torn your throat out. It was bigger
than you!"
   Blake didn't speak, breathing heavy, his chest moving against
Cooper's chest.
    Cooper squirmed, trying to push against his grip. "Let me take
care of you. Blake, I need to see your wounds, see if you need
attention."
    "I can't… I can't do this…" He slumped against Cooper's body,
dropping his head beside his, and murmured close to his ear, "I can't
live like this no more." He was winding down, his energy draining
out, the thing inside him leaving him for another month, leaving him a
shell in its wake. Cooper had seen it over and over again.
   "Blake," he said gently, and struggled to get out of his grip again,
enough to put his hands on the slick, twin swells of his shoulder
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blades. "Come on. Let me get you to the house. I need to see if you're
all right."
   "I gotta find a reason for this." He was still mumbling. "Gotta do
something about it, find some help."
    Cooper pressed up against him, trying to push him off. He realized
he could feel all of him, every inch, even the intimate parts. Blake's
cock was erect, a long, hard line against Cooper's thigh. Cooper told
himself it was just the power, just the aftermath of the change. He
wanted to wrap his arms completely around him, wrap his legs around
him, enfold him and protect him.
   Instead he tightened his grip on his shoulder blades and
whispered, "Blake."
     "I know," Blake murmured back. "We ought to get to the house."
   Cooper wrapped him in the blanket and guided him to the house.
As the morning before, they went in the back door and up to Blake's
room as swiftly and quietly as they could.
    Blake had bite wounds on his neck and chest, but he'd already
started to heal. He was covered in blood though and Cooper hurried to
get water to clean him up with.
   "I'll tell them you ain't well," Cooper said as he washed him.
Blake seemed half asleep, eyelids drooping, and Cooper didn't know if
he was listening. "You need to rest."
   Cooper started tending the wounds and was amazed to see they
were literally healing right before his eyes, closing up and smoothing
over.
   "It's happening faster now," Cooper said, more to himself than
Blake. "It's like you're getting stronger."
    "I want you to stay here with me until I fall asleep." Blake reached
out and gripped Cooper's wrist. "Coop."
     "I'm here." He put his other hand over his. "Don't you worry."
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    Cooper finished washing him and then got him into a shirt and a
pair of shorts. Adele would no doubt be up to check on him, if Cooper
said he wasn't well. He made sure to clean the dirt off the floor and the
spots of blood off the sheets.
   "Don't you worry about anything," Cooper said, pulling a chair
over next to the bed. He sat down and reached over to touch Blake's
arm."I'll look out for you."
    Blake was nearly asleep, eyes closed, but murmured something
that might have been, "thank you."
   A few hours later, Cooper went downstairs. The breakfast table
was already full. Mack was there, talking to everyone.
    "I'm gonna find out who was shooting last night," he said. "Wasn't
any need for anybody to be outside firing a gun. If you know
anything, you better bring it to me today. I don't want no funny
business on my ranch."
    Everyone at the table looked somber and a little shame-faced.
Cooper felt guilty. He didn't want his coworkers taking the
punishment for something he'd done, but he couldn't exactly come
forward.
    Mack looked around at Cooper. "You hear anything last night,
Coop? Around four a.m.? Someone firing a gun? I reckon it was a
pistol by the sound."
    Cooper shook his head. "Can't say I did. Of course, I slept like a
log last night."
     Mack grunted. "I can't sleep through the night, only reason I heard
it. Went out looking, but we couldn't find anything."
   "Huh," Cooper said. He didn't say anything further. If he started
babbling, asking a bunch of questions, he might sound suspicious.
  The hands went back to their meals, murmuring to each other, and
Mack headed toward the door, stalking off like a man on a mission.
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   Adele put a hand on Cooper's back. "Sit down," she said, nudging
him toward the table. "So you get in on the first round. Blake on his
way down?"
     "Actually ma'am, that's what I came down to talk to you about. He
ain't feeling too well."
    Cooper gave her his carefully rehearsed spiel about catching Blake
in the bathroom that morning upchucking, and how he'd sent him off
to bed with the promise to bring something up to him. Adele fussed,
starting putting something together for him, and told Cooper to tell
him she'd be up soon to check on him.
     "Hope it ain't another damn flu bug," she said as she handed
Cooper a small plate of dry toast. Blake needed more to regain his
strength, but Cooper couldn't give away the ruse. Maybe he'd be able
to sneak some of his breakfast up to him. "Last thing we need is a
stomach bug tearing through here again like it did last winter," she
said. She gave Cooper a bottle of water and shooed him off. "Tell him
I'll be up. Put a sick bucket by the bed for him too, there's buckets in
the utility room."
    Cooper noticed Dalton, sitting at the table with his back to him,
turn slightly and glance over his shoulder. Cooper pretended not to
notice and left the room.
    After breakfast, Cooper went out on the long side porch of the
house and plopped down in a chair. The sun had risen fully. He could
hear the machinery being prepared for the start of haying. He knew all
day he'd be out in the fields, working up a sweat under the blazing
sun, and his body would drag after a night without sleep. He slumped
down in the chair and pulled the brim of his hat down over his eyes,
thinking a nap might be a good idea, even fifteen minutes. Then he
heard the screen door open.
   Dalton came out, a coffee mug in hand. Cooper tried not to look at
him, but he sat down on the railing right in front of him.
     "I saw you go outside last night," Dalton said.
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     Cooper pushed his hat up, stomach clenching. "What's that?"
    "Last night, after dinner. You snuck out the back way and went
out to the flower garden."
     "So?"
   "So. You told everyone you were going to bed. What was that all
about?"
    Cooper sat up and forward in his chair. "Ain't none of your
business. Why are you always asking questions?"
   "Well, I thought it was kind of odd, with someone being outside
shooting last night."
   "I don't know anything about that. I was sound asleep when it
happened."
     "So what were you doing outside earlier?"
     "I told you, it ain't none of your business." Cooper stood up.
    Dalton looked up at him. Cooper hated the way he looked at him,
the apprising gaze, the nosy demeanor.
     "Blake really sick?" Dalton asked.
     "Of course he is, what kind of damn question is that?"
     "Just wondering."
     "Why the hell would you wonder?"
     "Just a lot of odd things been going on lately, that's all."
    "I don't know nothing about it." Cooper walked across the porch
to the screen door, trying to mask his anxiousness with anger. "Stop
pestering me!" He yanked open the door and went inside.
   Cooper realized then and there he needed to convince Blake to do
something about Dalton—get him off the ranch, or get him to keep his
mouth shut.
     CHAPTER THREE
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    When haying began, the days were long and so were the nights.
Haying went on as long as there was light; make hay while the sun
shines wasn't just an adage, it was a steadfast rule. Baling took place
at night, when it was cooler and the humidity was down. This wasn't
just for the workers, the difference in heat and moisture also produced
firmer bales. Most of the hands, including Cooper, were working
themselves to the bone around sixteen hours a day.
    There wasn't much time for socializing or having fun during this
time. When the day was done, Cooper ate dinner and washed up
quickly so he could collapse into bed directly after. There was nothing
like a haying sleep—he slept the hardest and deepest he did all year,
and only the Devil showing up and burning the place down could have
woken him up.
    However, the first week of July he started to worry like he always
did. The moon was getting fatter in the sky. Summer was a difficult
time for Blake's change, since they did a lot of work at night.
   Blake had been distant from him since the last cycle. Cooper
could blame it partly on the work, but it wasn't all that. Even at dinner
Blake didn't say much, and during breaks in the field he avoided him.
Cooper couldn't help feeling a little hurt.
    Sometimes, before Cooper drifted off to sleep, he recalled Blake
on top of him in the barn, the heat of his body and the vulnerability in
his voice. The memory filled him with emotions he didn't want to feel,
so he stuffed them down as deep as he could. They kept trying to
resurface every time Blake ignored him, or cut a conversation short,
or wouldn't meet his eyes across the table.
   One afternoon, Sam spoke to Cooper after they finished loading
hay into one of the barns. Cooper was leaning against a fence,
mopping his face with a handkerchief.
   "Blake don't seem like himself lately," she said. "I'm worried
about him."
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    "Oh yeah?" Cooper wadded up the handkerchief and jammed it
into his shirt pocket. "He's been kind of quiet lately, I guess. Must be
focused on work."
   Sam frowned doubtfully. "I know you two are friends. I thought
you might know why he's been so withdrawn lately. I tried to talk to
him a couple times, but he seems like he don't want to."
    Cooper looked down and kicked at the dirt. "I don't know. Maybe
Mack's been giving him a rough time." He looked up and out over the
hay fields. "Mack's got ideas about how this place should be run when
he's gone. I know he puts a lot of pressure on Blake. It's a lot for a
man to take over."
    "I don't know, but I miss the old, fun Blake. Seems he ain't been
that way in a long time." She nodded toward the barn. "He's down
there now, looking stormy as hell. I tried to talk to him and he just
told me to go back to the field. I'd be pissed, if I wasn't so worried
about him."
     Cooper looked toward the barn. "He by himself?"
    She nodded. "Maybe you ought to try. See if you can get a word
out of him."
    Cooper was reluctant. Part of him wanted to be angry and petulant
and not give Blake so much as the time of day, but like Sam, he was
too worried to be truly mad. He turned and headed down the slope to
the barn.
    Everyone had gone back to the field, so the barn was indeed
empty—except for one person, huffing and grunting as he tossed bales
onto a stack. Blake had his hat off and his denim shirt was soaked
dark with sweat, all the way down his back from neck to waist. His
sleeves were rolled up, muscles bulging as he lifted and tossed. His
skin had gotten darker from the sun. Cooper stood a moment watching
him, and then he cleared his throat.
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    Blake looked around, chest heaving. There was something dark in
his gaze, something malevolent. Cooper had never seen him look so
twisted, not even when he was about to change, and it scared him.
   "You're supposed to be out in the field," Blake said, and turned
back to the hay. "Still got a couple hours of daylight."
     "I'm going. But I thought I might have a wor