The Good Boy #1
Introverted college student Lane Moredock is in a bad place. His mother has been arrested for securities fraud, his father is on the run, and everyone, including the SEC, suspects Lane knows where the missing millions are. Lane, with no money and nowhere to live, makes a desperate deal that lands him in trouble and leaves him unwilling to trust a so-called Dom again.
Photographer Derek Fields lost money to the Moredocks, and is as sure as anyone that Lane is guilty despite his claims. A chance meeting with Lane shows him there might be something more to the young man than arrogance and privilege, and Derek wonders if Lane might be just what he’s been looking for: a sub with the potential to be a life partner.
As Lane slowly begins to open up to Derek and explore his needs as a submissive, the investigation closes tighter around him. Lane might be everything that Derek wants, but first Derek needs to trust that Lane is innocent—and Lane needs to trust Derek with the truth.
The Naughty Boy #1.5
Brin and his Dom, Ferg, have enjoyed a fun, sexy domestic discipline relationship for years. Brin knows his role—flamboyant, fabulous brat—and Ferg knows it's his job to play the big bad Dom, giving Brin the punishment he desperately craves. When Brin is tasked with dressing his new friend Lane Moredock for a date with Brin's ex, Derek, he's excited—fashion is what he knows best, and Lane is going to look stunning.
But what should be a fun afternoon takes a serious turn when Brin sees that Lane has been injured, and Lane's reluctance to tell Brin the truth about it makes Brin start to question who he is, why things didn't work with Derek, and what people really think of him. Is he just a flittery, glittery fashion fairy? Or does he mean something more to the people he loves? And can he find a way to bring these doubts up with Ferg—or is Ferg going to have to Top his way to the bottom of this?
Twenty-one year-old Lane Moredock finally has a normal life. Six months after he was wrongly made a suspect in his parents’ Ponzi scheme, he’s settled down with his older boyfriend, Derek, and is working and attending school. But his happiness is threatened when his mother launches a Christmastime PR campaign to help appeal her prison sentence, and asks introverted Lane to be part of it.
Derek Fields has his hands full taking Santa photos, bird-sitting his sister’s foul-mouthed macaw, and helping Lane prepare for a television interview neither of them wants him to do. As he eases Lane through his anxiety, he worries that Lane sees him as a caretaker rather than a boyfriend, and that their age difference really does matter. He and Lane compensate for the stress in their lives by taking their D/s relationship to new levels--a relationship that Lane’s mother insists he should be ashamed of.
As Christmas draws nearer, the pressure builds. Pushy elves. Snarky subs. A bad fight. A parrot in peril. How the hell is Derek going to give Lane a perfect Christmas when the Moredock legacy threatens to pull them apart before the new year?
Taco Hub was packed.
Brin leaned back in the booth, spreading his arms wide and clapping Ferg on the ear with one hand. “The sun is shining, the zoning board is voting on the new overpass—it’s a great day to constipate yourself with a burrito the size of your forearm.”
“What happened to cooking for me sometime?” Derek asked Ferg.
“I said Thanksgiving.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Derek caught a glimpse of the boy who was going around picking up trays and refilling waters.
He turned, not quite able to believe what he was seeing.
In a green-and-yellow Taco Hub uniform.
He looked as thin, tired, and shut off from the world as he had the other day in the alley.
“Holy shit,” Derek whispered.
“Huh?” Brin said, looking where Derek was looking. Ferg looked too.
“It’s Landon Moredock.”
“Working at Taco Hub?” Brin almost screeched.
“Shh,” Ferg said.
“No,” Brin said, still straining to see Landon. “Nope. That’s not Landon Moredock. That’s some high school dropout with pimples on his ass. Look at his shoes.” He turned back to his burrito. “Landon Moredock would never look so appallingly grease-greasy-greaserton.”
“It’s Taco Hub,” Ferg said. “Everything’s greasy.”
“Seriously. Why do you bring me here? We’re breaking up.”
“That’s definitely Landon,” Derek said. “I can’t believe he actually did it.”
“Did what?” Ferg asked.
“I saw him the other day downtown, looking for work. I told him this place was hiring.” He glanced at the poster in the window, which showed a group of racially diverse people in green-and-yellow uniforms under the headline: NOW HIRING. DO YOU “HUB” WHAT IT TAKES?
“Well, that was sweet of you,” Brin said. “He loses you fifteen thousand dollars, and you point him toward one of these mysterious ‘jobs’ he’s only heard tell of in legend. And Mr. Morecock certainly seems to hub what it takes. He blends right in.”
Brin shifted to grab one of Ferg’s chips and accidentally knocked his water over. He squealed as it dripped off the table and onto the booth seat, soaking his Vera Bradley bag.
Ferg sighed and righted the cup. “How about you ask, and I’ll hand you some chips?”
“How about you move your lug butt so I can take Vera to the bathroom and run her under the dryer?”
Landon walked by with a water pitcher.
“Hey,” Brin called.
Landon turned, face blank.
Brin nodded at his cup. “Would you mind refilling my water? It seems to have mysteriously vanished.”
Derek tensed as Landon approached the table. He felt strange—still guilty about what he’d said to Landon the other day. Still embarrassed he’d even considered sending that photo to Kim. He glanced at Landon’s uniform. The yellow nametag read “Lane,” not “Landon.”
Derek had never thought of him as anyone but Landon Moredock—a name from the newspapers. But here was a kid who looked tired, whose hair stuck up in the back, who liked dogs. Who went by Lane.
“You don’t know where it went, do you?” Brin asked Lane. “My water?”
“Brin,” Ferg warned.
“I’m just asking.”
Lane refilled Brin’s cup. Derek saw that his hand shook. He filled it too full, and a little water ran down the side of the cup and onto the table.
“When,” Brin said loudly.
Lane started, righting the pitcher. He looked unfocused. Derek could see how tight his shoulders were, how shallow his breathing. And then Derek noticed something else. Bruising, on both wrists.
What the hell?
“Sorry, I forget you’ve probably never done this before,” Brin said, pulling his water close to him. “You want to stop when the cup is full, just like the butler used to do.”
“Brin!” Ferg snapped.
Lane hurried back to the counter.
“What’s up his ass?” Brin asked. “Maybe nothing, now that his sugar daddy’s gone. Or does he have others? An endless parade of father figures who buy him pretty things and spank him when he’s naughty?”
“You are this close,” Ferg said.
“To paradise?” Brin kissed Ferg’s cheek. “I know.”
“To a paddling. You leave that boy alone.”
Derek continued to watch Lane as he walked across the seating area with his pitcher clutched to him like a shield and filled the cups at another table. He dropped a couple of straws on the floor and bent to pick them up. He moved slowly, stiffly.
Hurt, Derek thought. He’s definitely hurt.
Something protective surfaced in him. Yeah, it was Landon Moredock, someone Derek had fantasized about hurting on more than one occasion. But there was nothing satisfying about seeing him look so tired, tense, and unwell.
Or about seeing him in a Taco Hub apron.
Well, maybe there was something satisfying about that. You can work for your money just like the rest of us, Landon.
The feeling wore thin quickly.
Plus Lane looked good in the apron. He looked good in canvas sneakers and pants just a little too short for his long legs. He just looked good.
Except for those bruises.
Those didn’t look good.
Lane straightened and returned to the counter, disappearing through the swinging doors behind it.
“That boy is a hot, hot mess,” Brin said, jabbing clumps of ice in his cup with a straw.
Derek couldn’t have said it better.
Lane was back ten minutes later and stopped to pick up the trays stacked at the end of their table.
“We’re doing well here, thank you for asking,” Brin said. “That Hub-añero Supreme was positively magic.”
Lane was already gone.
Brin yelped as Ferg kicked him under the table.
“What part of ‘enough’ is giving you trouble?” Ferg demanded.
“I’ve got more,” Brin said.
“I’m sure you do. And you will keep them to yourself.” He looked at Derek. “You ready?”
“If you are.”
Lane was behind the counter. There was no one else up there.
Derek made a decision. “One minute,” he said. “I’ll meet you outside.”
He went to the counter. Nodded at Lane, then glanced up at the menu. “Could I have one Triple Tuna Taco to go?”
Lane rang it up without looking at him. “Four twenty-three.”
Derek handed him a five. “I could use an assistant.”
“For this photo shoot I’m doing, with the shelter dogs. Someone to help set up, dog wrangle, and hold the damn reflectors. You seem good with dogs. If you’re interested, let me know. I’ll pay you as well as I can—which isn’t well, but it’s something. I can work around your schedule here too.”
Lane looked at the card but made no move to take it. “I’m not interested.” He gave Derek his change. Derek tried not to stare at the bruises on his wrists.
“Well, keep the card. In case you change your mind. The shoot’ll be going on through the end of the month.”
Derek pushed the card a little closer. He had a vision of Andy, the gold dog in Christy’s kennel, refusing to take the treat until Christy was out of sight.
Across the room, someone slammed a tray down. Lane flinched. His pulse jerked in his neck, and his hands still shook.
“Lane,” Derek said softly. His first time saying the name out loud. He liked it.
Lane looked at him, finally meeting his gaze.
Lane didn’t answer right away. Then he nodded slowly.
“Maybe go outside,” Derek said. “Ask for a break for a few minutes. See if that helps.”
Lame advice. And why was he giving the kid advice at all? Except that Derek had seen subs panicked, stressed, or confused, and his first instinct was to help. Even if Lane wasn’t his sub. Even if Lane wasn’t a sub period. Even if last time Derek had seen him, he’d accused him of not caring about Acton Wagner’s suicide.
A lot of help that must have been.
Lane looked away. Someone from the kitchen tossed a to-go bag onto the counter. Lane handed Derek the bag and his receipt.
Brin walked up to the counter and stood next to Derek. “I’d like a dessert burrito to go. Cherry filling.” He turned to Derek. “Are you judging me?”
“Why would I?”
He wiggled his ass. “I know I’ve got a little extra padding back there. God knows I need it to protect me from Fergus’s iron hand.”
He said it loudly, then glanced at Lane.
Derek looked too.
Lane was punching buttons on the register, blushing again.
Derek wondered what that meant. Had Lane ever been spanked? Had he ever fantasized about it?
“Three eighty-seven,” Lane said.
Brin handed him a five. “That goes in the drawer, hon,” he said. “Not in your pocket.”
Lane’s blush deepened, and Derek was glad to see some anger in the kid’s expression.
You don’t have to take that, he thought, wondering when he’d put himself on Lane’s side. Go on. Fight back.
Lane stuffed the bill in the drawer and yanked out Brin’s change. He slapped it on the counter and shoved it toward Brin. “Have a good day.” He sounded as if what he actually hoped was that Brin would fall through a manhole and drown in the Belleview sewers.
Derek went back to their table and set five dollars on it.
Was that insulting? It wasn’t like Lane was a waiter, but he was providing a service, and probably not enough people who came to Taco Hub bothered to tip.
He heard Brin bid Lane a faux-cheerful good-bye and head out the door.
Derek tucked the five under his water glass and headed outside to meet Ferg and Brin.
They were standing by their car. Derek heard Ferg’s voice first.
“—no excuse for speaking to him that way.”
“I don’t like what he did to Derek,” Brin said.
“He wasn’t the one who took the money. And we don’t know that he actually knows where it is.”
“You said you’d eat five burritos if he didn’t.”
“Yeah, well.” Ferg rubbed his forehead. “Maybe I don’t want to think about that kid getting thrown in prison.”
“He’d be a gangbang porno waiting to happen. Is that what you were gonna say?”
“Not in so many words.”
“Hey,” Derek said.
Ferg turned. “We were just discussing what Brin said to Landon in there.”
“Not you at your finest,” Derek agreed.
Brin rolled his eyes. “He deserves it.”
Ferg raised his eyebrows. “And you deserve some serious corner time when we get home.”
“Fergie, don’t be like this.” Brin butted Ferg’s shoulder lightly. “You should have seen how red he turned when I mentioned your iron hand. I think Landon wants to be spanked. I think he wants Derek to spank him. How hot would that be, Derek taking that little liar over his knee and walloping the truth out of him? Der gave him his card. Is that why, Der? To set up a time for a Thou Shalt Not Steal lesson?”
Ferg took Brin’s ear between his thumb and forefinger and tugged. “That is enough.”
“Ow. I was just having some fun.”
“Don’t have fun with someone else’s misfortune.”
“I’m sorry, did I miss when Landon Moredock: Accomplice in Unprecedented White Collar Crimes became Saint Lane the Martyr? I don’t like him. Is that a problem?”
“You still have to treat him decently.”
“Fine,” Brin muttered. “It’s not like I’ll ever see him again. We’re not coming back here. Look at this.” He held up the bag with the dessert burrito in it. “How many calories would you say is in this? Three thousand? Five thousand? Bake me some kale chips, Fergie. I can’t live this way.”
Ferg put an arm around his shoulders and jostled him. “Nobody made you buy that.”
“It’s cherry-pie filling and icing inside a tortilla. I’m only human.”
“Luckily, I’ll be holding on to it until tomorrow, so that you can spend this evening concentrating on being still and quiet in the corner without the distraction of trying to digest that culinary abomination.”
Brin’s mouth fell open. “You can’t do that, Fergus. If you don’t eat it the same day, the shell gets hard!”
“You can always pop it in the microwave.”
“Then the icing runs. Oh God, this is terrible! Where is Landon with that water pitcher? I’m going to yank a page from Acton Wagner’s juicy memoir and drown myself.” He thrust the bag at Derek and looked away, shielding his eyes. “Here, take it. If I can’t enjoy it in its prime, I at least want it to go to a good home.”
“Not in a million years,” Derek said.
Ferg looked at Derek. “So we’ll see you sometime? The club? Maybe?”
“I’ll think about it.”
Brin turned to Derek, eyes suddenly shining.
“Sorry if I embarrassed you in there, Der-Bear. I guess I’m the kind of jerk no one wants anything to do with.”
Derek sighed. “Ah, Brin. You know that’s not true.”
“Uh-uh,” Ferg snapped his fingers. “Don’t let him pull that on you. He’s not sorry; he’s delighted.”
Brin whirled on him. “How do you know what I’m feeling? I try to do a nice thing for Derek, sticking it to his mortal enemy. How was I supposed to know everyone actually thinks he’s an okay guy? And now everyone’s yelling at me…”
Derek looked at Ferg, who rolled his eyes, then at Brin, who was placing the burrito inside his still-damp Vera Bradley purse. “Come here,” Derek said, opening his arms.
Brin flew into them, purse bashing Derek in the side. “Don’t let him take me, Der,” Brin whispered, clutching Derek. “He’s going to make me write out the dictionary definition of ‘enough’ seventy-five times. It’s happened before.”
“You deserve it.”
“Don’t say that! You’re supposed to be nice. You were always nicer than he is. Except when you spanked. Good God, Derek, your hand hurt like a motherfucker.”
Derek chuckled and patted Brin’s back. “Good luck. I’ll see you sometime next week.”
“Let’s get going,” Ferg said.
Brin turned and hugged Ferg. “I am sorry, even if you don’t believe me.”
“I believe you.” Ferg kissed the top of Brin’s head. “And you’re still going to write me some lines.”
Derek expected Brin to get indignant, the way he sometimes had when Derek wouldn’t mitigate a punishment. But Brin just snuggled closer to Ferg. “Okay. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Not jealous, not jealous, not jealous, Derek repeated to himself.
Ferg and Brin left.
Derek got into his car, looking past the Now Hiring poster in the Taco Hub window, trying to see inside the restaurant.
He hoped Lane had taken his advice and gone outside. He hoped the kid had taken a few deep breaths of fresh air and gotten himself under control.
He hoped Lane would call him.
That was the most Derek could do.
The Naughty Boy #1.5
“It’s not every day you get to dress a hot piece of ass up for a first date with your ex-boyfriend,” Brin announced as he dragged Lane into his bedroom. “You’re lucky I’m a nice person, or I’d convince you to wear plaid.”
Lane looked worried, but that was nothing new. Brin figured he was worried about being here, about his date with Derek, and about this whole fashion makeover thing. Of course Lane probably worried about everything: the fiscal cliff, how gravity worked, and whether or not Lassie really would come home. Not to mention that whole SEC investigation, which, to be fair, Brin supposed was actually worth worrying about.
“Is that…um, is that a problem?” Lane asked, warily casting his eye around the room.
Ferg had done what he could to keep the bedroom neutral, but Brin had made his mark. The bedazzled comforter, the growing collection of glass angel figurines that were ironic, and the lampshade with candy-pink beads hanging off it. Ferg had been so boring before Brin. Apart from the bottom drawer of the dresser, of course. Brin had wanted to make a wall display of paddles and floggers, a kind of shrine to good old-fashioned ass-walloping BDSM, but Ferg had put his foot down. Mostly because his parents visited a lot. Mom and Dad McIntyre had already used up a lot of their open-mindedness since meeting Brin, and Ferg didn’t want to drain that well entirely dry.
“Plaid? It’s a huge problem, Laney.” He pushed Lane toward the bed. “Now take a seat here, and let me work some magic.”
“I meant…” Lane trailed off.
Brin knew exactly what Lane meant, and he’d brought it up in the first place because there was no point ignoring it. Derek was Brin’s ex, and now he was Lane’s…boyfriend? Close enough, even if Lane and Derek weren’t advertising it. So acknowledge it, joke about it, and get the hell over it. Brin would always love Derek as a friend, but they’d both moved on. Well, Brin had. And this afternoon—getting Lane dressed up for his big first date—was Brin’s way of making sure Derek moved on as well. Other than sticking a bow on Lane’s ass and tying a gift tag around his cock that said Best wishes, love Brin, he wasn’t sure how much more supportive and encouraging he could be. Which wasn’t to say that Derek had been heartbroken after Brin asked for time apart—they both knew that was the best decision—just that it had taken Derek a while to put himself out there again. He was busy with his work and his family and his comfortable rut. Well, not tonight. Tonight Lane was going to look hot as hell, and if Derek didn’t end up balls-deep in the kid by the end of the night, well, there was no helping him.
Brin flung open the closet doors. Ferg’s stuff was on one side. Boring, boring, boring. Brin’s stuff was on the other side and in the back, slowly encroaching on Ferg’s like an untamed jungle full of weird, exotic creepers. Or maybe that was just the one vivid purple floral unitard that was part of a Halloween costume and therefore above suspicion.
Okay, there was also the rainbow halter top, which Brin hadn’t worn since his New York-club days. He rifled through the clothes. Lots of tank tops. He didn’t think Real Girls Eat Meat would suit Lane. Or Let’s Get Weird. Or the white Southern Bitch cutoff tank with the Confederate-flag-patterned rose.
“What is that?” Lane asked.
Brin looked. Lane was pointing to a lime-green ’70s-vintage prom dress, one puffy sleeve poking out from behind some T-shirts. “That is one of my favorites,” Brin replied breezily, continuing his hunt, the hangers sliding over the bar.
“What do you wear it for, like, sex games with Ferg?”
Brin glanced at Lane. The joke had come out awkwardly, as most of Lane’s jokes did—not because Lane wasn’t funny but just because he rarely spoke with any real confidence—and Lane looked like he knew it. Brin grinned anyway. It was enough of a triumph that Lane was trying to joke with him. “No. I wore it for my appearance in traffic court last month.”
Lane stared at him, clearly trying to figure out if Brin was kidding or not. With Brin, it could very easily have been the truth, and Brin felt the familiar satisfaction that came with being so singularly outrageous that he might very well have worn a ’70s prom dress to court. And then a brief, even more familiar twinge of insecurity. How must it feel to be Ferg or Derek and be liked wherever you went because you were calm, smart, and normal?
In the end, Derek hadn’t been able to handle Brin’s flamboyance.
Not true. You were the one who ended it.
Because it hadn’t been working. And whose fault was that?
Probably not the mild-mannered photographer. Probably the guy in the bedazzled jeans and houndstooth ascot who couldn’t shut his mouth for more than ten seconds.
It really was okay. Brin was deeply in love with Ferg, and Derek was certainly fond of Lane. It was just weird, because he could remember exactly what it was like to go to dinner with Derek, and he derived some small, unfair measure of pride from the knowledge that he would have known exactly how to make Derek laugh just when he’d put a big bite of food in his mouth—whereas Lane would have no idea.
He shook off the thought. He didn’t take any joy from Lane’s social awkwardness. It had been a long time since Brin had had a close friend. He could chat up anyone, but as far as people he really wanted to spend time with, well, most of them were back in New York. Lane was pretty much it for Brin here. Yet he didn’t even know if Lane considered him a friend. Lane was so hard to read and so appallingly shy. Brin wanted to help him out of his shell, wanted to make him feel comfortable, wanted to…bedazzle him.
“You didn’t,” Lane said, sounding reasonably certain.
“You’re right.” Brin pulled out a mesh shirt and threw it on the bed. “I wore that. This”—Brin drew the prom dress out of the closet and tossed it at Lane. He snickered as the ruffled collar whapped Lane in the face—“would look great on you. Maybe you should wear it for sex games with Derek.”
Lane blushed, as Brin knew he would.
“Come on, Laney. Don’t you ever dress up for him?”
An odd look came over Lane’s face, and Brin wondered if he’d hit a trigger. He could never tell what was going to draw Lane out and what was going to make him retreat completely. He didn’t envy Derek. But suddenly Lane giggled. Like, an actual, uninhibited, girlie-ass giggle. Brin couldn’t believe it.
“Um, what does he like?” Lane asked.
Brin gave a delighted bark of laughter. “Derek likes it all. String bikinis. Perhaps a fuchsia negligee with a fur trim—or, no, a French-maid outfit. You’d look positively ravishing in a tiny apron and cap, puffy sleeves. I have one, if you want to try it on. You know, I once cleaned the whole house in that uniform with a feather duster that was stuck up my ass. Ferg’s orders.”
Brin liked to think sharing such details would make Lane feel more comfortable around him, but in all likelihood it just freaked Lane out. If Brin had had any filter, he’d have used it, but there was nothing—never had been. Lane laughed again, then quieted quickly and spent the next few moments in tense silence while Brin pretended to search the closet. Brin could tell Lane wanted to say something—why didn’t he, dammit?
“Do you ever, uh…” Lane started. “Those guys who dress up like dogs?”
Not even a full question. Still, the topic was unexpected, and Brin was curious. “Do I ever what those guys who dress up like dogs?”
“Those leather guys,” Lane clarified, as though Brin hadn’t known what he meant. “Do you think that’s weird?”
Brin very much liked to dress up and pretend—his closet was proof of that. Derek, although he had enjoyed a little bit of role-play now and then, was lighter on the costumes and heavier on the props. Which meant that any ideas about “those leather guys” and dressing up like a dog was coming entirely from Lane.
Not so much Lassie Come Home as Lassie come hard.
Well, color Brin surprised.
“Laney,” Brin said, and it was probably the most serious thing he’d ever said to Lane, “do I look like the sort of person who is qualified to tell others what’s weird?”
It could have gone either way, but Lane laughed suddenly, breathlessly. “No, I guess not.”
Brin hauled a pair of jeans out of the closet and tossed them at Lane. “These, by the way, will make your ass look great. Not that you need much help on that score.” He grinned as Lane blushed again. “So are you going to tell me that Derek makes you sit up and beg?”
Lane hugged the jeans. “No…nothing like that.”
Brin folded his arms over his chest and waited.
Lane fiddled with the button on the jeans.
“Lord have mercy, the suspense is killing me!” Brin flung himself on the bed and put his chin in his hands. “Are you telling me that you want to wear ears and those paw things, and have a plug with a tail shoved up your butt?”
“I wonder how those work,” Brin mused. “Do you have to wag them yourself, or are they battery operated? Ooh, let’s get on the Internet and find out. Maybe buy ourselves a couple?”
He reached over to Ferg’s side of the bed, to where the laptop sat closed on the bedside table.
Lane almost dived on him to stop him. “I don’t want a tail up my butt!”
Brin shoved him, laughing. “Okay! Whatever you say.”
Lane hauled himself upright. “That would be…silly, I think. I think it would feel silly.”
Brin sat up and shrugged. “Silly can be fun. And then awkward. And then unbelievably fucking hot.”
The Boy Who Belonged #2
Derek Fields opened the door to find his sister standing on the doorstep, looking more harried than usual.
“It’s Paul,” Christy announced breathlessly, shaking her head and scowling. “He’s booked a trip to Fiji for us for Christmas! Fiji, Derek!”
“Um,” Derek said, opening the door to let her in. “The bastard?”
Christy elbowed him as she stepped inside. She dumped her overflowing shoulder bag on the floor and headed through to the kitchen. “Your sarcasm isn’t helping!”
“Well, that’s not what sarcasm is for,” Derek said. He followed her through. “Let me get this straight. You’re going to Fiji for Christmas with the same man you were referring to only last week as Boyfriend McAwesome. Are you sure it’s help you need, not congratulations?”
Christie snorted. She took a glass from the dish rack and filled it from the tap. “God, this place is a mess!”
Derek looked around the kitchen. The breakfast table was piled high with Lane’s textbooks, and the bench was covered in last night’s takeaway containers, but it was hardly a pigsty. And Christy, who had an actual pigsty at her house, which doubled as an overflow for the animal shelter she ran, was in no position to judge.
“Oh shit,” he said. “The animals. Of course.”
“Of course,” Christy said. “Look, Rachel has agreed to move in and house-sit, since she’s done it before, but there’s a problem.”
“She’s done it before,” Christy said. She sighed. “So she’s refusing to take Mr. Zimmerman.”
Mr. Zimmerman was a macaw and was legendary throughout Christy’s neighborhood for the stream of foul-mouthed abuse that he could dish out on unsuspecting visitors. Like the mailman. Or the Girl Scouts. Or, once, the FBI.
“No,” Derek said.
“Please!” Christy actually clasped her hands together. “Mom’s going to stay with Aunt Greta, so she can’t take him, and I really, really, really want to go to Fiji with Paul!”
“Can’t you put him in the shelter while you’re gone?”
“Derek, people visit the shelter. It’s not like I can convince parents to take a puppy home for their kids if they’ve just been called filthy syphilitic whores, is it?” She widened her eyes. “I’ll buy you the best present!”
Derek sighed and shook his head, but he already knew he was beaten. “You’d better.”
Christy hugged him. “You are the best brother ever!”
Derek grunted and brought his arms slowly up to hug her back. “I know. But keep in mind I’m only saying yes because the bird’ll behave for Lane.”
It was true. While the macaw spent all day, every day repeating phrases he’d learned from his crotchety former owner and namesake, Mr. Z tended to tone it down when Lane was around. Just a couple of weeks ago, Derek had overheard him mutter to Lane, “You’re a good man, Corporal.” And Lane had thanked him.
But then, Lane had a way with animals even Christy envied.
“Exactly,” Christy said, stepping back. “And Lane likes him, right?”
“Lane doesn’t have it in him to hate an animal.” Or a person, for that matter. Though Derek could name a few people off the top of his head Lane ought to hate. And it wasn’t so much that Lane believed the best of everyone, but rather that he tended to believe the worst of himself. Derek still thought the only time Lane truly relaxed was when he was around Christy’s menagerie. Which was frustrating, since Derek liked to think he had at least as much to offer Lane as any one-eyed cat or split-eared dog.
But Derek kept reminding himself to be patient. He and Lane had only been together six months, and given all the shit that had gone down over the summer, Derek was impressed their relationship was going as well as it was.
Christy cocked her head. “What’s wrong?”
Derek shook his head and forced a smile. “When does our houseguest arrive?”
“Does Wednesday work for you? We’ll be back the twenty-seventh.”
“Whoa! You’re gonna be gone a whole month?”
“Three weeks.” She looked at him pleadingly. “Paul thinks I need a long break.”
Derek sighed. “Fine.”
“Thank you, Derek. Seriously.” Christy turned at a soft jingling down the hall. Andy padded into the foyer, head down, tail wagging, nails clicking on the linoleum. “Well, it took you long enough,” she said to the dog.
Andy stopped about a foot from her and stretched, spreading his front toes and yawning.
“Oh please,” Christy said. “You couldn’t make it another three steps?”
Derek grinned. “He’s become a total couch potato. I think Lane slips him too many table scraps.”
Christy crouched and scratched Andy’s ears. “Don’t you let him do that,” she cautioned. “Bad for their coats, bad for their behavior, and bad for their metabolism.”
“Come on. Like you’ve never given your zoo your leftovers.”
Christy twisted her mouth. “I’m just saying, he’s definitely put on some weight.” She patted Andy’s stomach and pursed her lips as Andy licked her face. “Unlike Lane. So maybe Lane ought to be eating that food himself instead of feeding it to the dog.”
“I know. But you try reasoning with him.”
Christy stood. “Lane’s so hard to reason with.”
Derek snorted. “Impossible, right?”
“No respect for anyone else.”
“Refuses to follow orders.”
Derek narrowed his eyes at her.
Christy snickered. “Sorry, I wasn’t even thinking about it like that.”
There were moments Derek regretted coming out about his BDSM interests to his mother and sister. It had been fun to have Christy commiserate back when Derek’s love life had consisted of a string of one-night stands courtesy of boundlove.com. But now Derek was in a long-term relationship with someone he loved, and he was more than a little embarrassed to think about what his family might assume he did with--and to--Lane.
“You want some breakfast?” Derek asked.
Christy shook her head. “I gotta get going.”
“So you just stopped by to beg me to take your parrot for three weeks.”
“Basically, yes. I have to work today.”
Derek raised an eyebrow. “Thought this was your day off?”
“Nothing gets done when I’m not there.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “Thank God you’re going on vacation. Please tell me you won’t have an international cell phone. I can just see you calling the shelter twenty times a day...”
“Oh stop. No, I won’t have a phone. I might e-mail them occasionally.”
Derek snorted. The staff at the shelter probably needed Christy’s holiday as desperately as she did. “Do yourself a favor and don’t go near a computer.”
Christy gave him a dubious look, then smiled. “Maybe. So thanks, and I’ll catch you later, okay?”
“Okay.” Derek stifled a yawn. Who knocked on someone else’s door at eight a.m. on a Saturday morning? The worst sister in the world, that was who. “Don’t work too hard.”
“I won’t!” She sailed out the front door.
Derek closed it after her and enjoyed the quiet for a moment. It was broken by nothing but the soft jingling of Andy’s tags as he headed back for the bedroom.
“Breakfast,” Derek told him instead, and the dog’s yellow ears pricked up. Derek fixed Andy his breakfast, then left the back door ajar so he could head out into the yard. He left Andy crunching away at his food, scrubbed his hands through his hair, and went back into the bedroom.
Lane was still asleep, lying curled on his side. He was frowning, his right hand gripping the sheet tightly. As Derek watched, he shook his head and said in a faint but forceful voice, “No!”
Typical of Lane, even his nightmares were quiet. They’d been becoming less frequent in the past few months, but stress sometimes triggered a spate of them, and Lane had an exam this week. Not that he should have worried. He studied hard.
Derek lay down beside him, shifting close so that Lane’s bare back was pressed up against his chest. He rubbed Lane’s arm until Lane released the sheet, sighed, and rolled over so that he was cuddled against Derek. Derek breathed in the scent of his hair.
Six months ago he’d been complaining to Christy that he was single, that he was drinking too much and trying to pretend that he didn’t notice when he talked to himself just so the house didn’t seem so empty. And now he had a boyfriend and a dog. The whole domestic package. Or, as his friend Brin had called it, the gays’ answer to the nuclear family. Derek had pointed out that was an outdated stereotype, and that these days gays could have marriages and kids and an actual nuclear family. The debate had ended when Brin had announced that he was an outdated stereotype too, thank you very much, and Ferg, Brin’s partner, had laughed so much that wine came out his nose. Derek had laughed as well, until he’d realized he’d just said the M-word, not to mention the K-word, in front of his new boyfriend. His very young, barely old-enough-to-drink-legally new boyfriend. But Lane hadn’t looked too spooked.
Derek smiled at the memory and lifted his hand to stroke Lane’s hair. Lane snuffled in his sleep.
Six months ago, Derek had lost his savings to what the media was calling the Magic Moredock investment scam. Laura and Stephen Moredock had ripped away what little financial security he’d built, and he was never going to see that money again. But he’d gotten Lane.
Most people still thought Landon Moredock was as guilty as his parents. The people who didn’t know him. But Derek knew Lane now. There had been moments, in the beginning, when he’d wondered. Of course he’d wondered. There had been moments as well when he’d resented Landon Moredock for walking around Belleview like he was innocent. Like he didn’t have other people’s money stashed away somewhere. A part of him had really hated the kid.
And then he’d met him.
Derek breathed in Lane’s scent and closed his eyes.
And now there were lazy Saturday mornings and takeaway containers and bedhead and feeding the dog. Which was as close to perfect as anything.
Against him, Lane stirred. “Morning.”
“Morning,” Derek murmured.
Lane snuggled closer. “Where’s Andy?”
Lane drew back, smiling. His eyes were still glazed with sleep. “Good.”
Derek watched him expectantly. Good because Lane didn’t want Andy to go hungry? Or good because there was nothing more off-putting than having the dog stare at them when they fucked?
The second one.
Lane pushed Derek so that he rolled onto his back, and straddled his hips. He yawned, stretching, and smiled down at Derek. Rubbed himself against Derek’s hardening cock. “Want to have a shower with me?”
Derek gripped Lane’s hips. “Not right now.”
Lane leaned down. “I have morning breath.”
“I don’t care.” Derek tilted his head up, and Lane kissed him gently. Chastely. Then he sat up again, smiling. Derek narrowed his eyes. “Don’t tease.”
Lane’s smile broadened. “Me? Never!”
Derek felt guilty sometimes for thinking of Lane as a kid. But Lane was a lot younger, and it satisfied something deep in Derek to care for him. To feel older, responsible, needed. All right, sometimes he hated feeling older. Feeling old. But he trusted himself with Lane. Trusted himself to love Lane, not just Lane’s youth or beauty.
Derek wrapped an arm around Lane’s back and pulled him down onto his chest. Lane laughed against Derek’s throat, and Derek patted his ass briskly. “Christy says stop giving Andy table scraps.”
“Derek.” Lane’s voice was muffled.
Lane raised his head. “Andy likes them.”
Derek grinned. “I’m just telling you what Christy said.”
“He likes nice things. He hasn’t had them before.”
Derek dug his fingers into Lane’s ribs, then slid one hand between their bodies to stroke Lane’s cock through his track pants. Lane bit his lip, clutching fistfuls of Derek’s T-shirt. With his free hand, Derek patted Lane’s ass again, letting Lane know he was up for adding a little spice to their morning fuck if Lane was. But Lane didn’t push his ass up or nod silently the way he sometimes did to let Derek know he wanted a spanking. Just tugged at the waistband of Derek’s sweats.
Derek moaned as Lane’s hand brushed his cock. “We’re also taking care of the bird,” he said. “For the next three weeks.”
“Mr. Zimmerman?” Lane’s hand stilled. Derek immediately wished he hadn’t brought this up now. Shit was getting a little too domestic if they were going to try carrying on a conversation about pet-sitting while they were fucking.
“He’ll be good company.”
“Are we thinking of the same Mr. Zimmerman?”
Lane laughed and lowered his head onto Derek’s chest once more. “I like him.” Lane lay there, legs splayed, and his breathing deepened. Was he falling asleep?
He worked too much. School, plus clinical practice at the veterinary hospital on the west side of Belleview, plus his job at Taco Hub. And the nightmare, which had probably hurt his sleep. Poor kid.
Derek rubbed Lane’s back until Lane was snoring softly on top of him, then rolled him onto the bed and curled around him. Lane didn’t wake again until Andy returned to the room, tags jingling, and leaped up onto the bed, wedging himself into the nonexistent space between Lane and Derek.
“Go away,” Derek hissed. Andy looked at him. “You have a dog bed.”
“Andy,” Lane murmured, rolling over and slinging an arm around the dog. Andy licked his face, his short gold fur tickling Derek’s nose until Derek had to turn away.
It was out of some goddamn made-for-TV movie, the way shy, damaged Lane had bonded with skittish, aloof Andy. Derek had never been inclined to own a dog before, but there’d been no question of adopting Andy after what the dog and Lane had done for each other.
From forever alone to instant, gay nuclear family in only six months. Not bad. Derek smiled.
Lane dozed off again with his hand on Andy’s side. Derek placed his hand on top of Lane’s, and the three of them slept.
I like to tell stories. Mostly with hot guys and happily ever afters. They gotta work for it though. No free lunches on my watch.
J.A. Rock has worked as a dog groomer, knife seller, haunted house zombie, standardized patient, census taker, state fair quilt hanger, and, for one less-than-magical evening, a server—and would much rather be writing about those jobs than doing them. J.A. currently lives in Chicago but still sees West Virginia behind Illinois’s back.
The Good Boy
The Naughty Boy
The Boy Who Belonged