A Kind of Home Cover Reveal & Pre-Order!

The cover for A Kind of Home has been revealed! That means it’s officially one month till release day. Woohoo! A Kind of Home is available for pre-order now at Dreamspinner Press and Kobo and coming soon to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.A_Kind_of_Home_FINAL_UpdatedA Kind of Home is book #4 in the A Kind of Stories series. It belongs to Isaac who readers met in the previous books but really didn’t get much of a chance to know. He’s the lead guitarist for Spiral and though he’s a front man alongside the band’s lead singer, he’s never craved the limelight. And he never dreamed of fame and fortune quite like this. Unfortunately, the price tag is steep and there’s no way out. The last thing Isaac wants or needs is the added stress of a unexpected visitor. Especially one from home. The funny about Adam McBride is that with as much baggage as he has, he’s easy, funny, charming and yeah…sexy as hell.  He’s strictly off-limits but Isaac can’t deny Adam feels like a kind of home.

Here’s the blurb for A Kind of Home:

Isaac Dalton is the guitarist for Spiral, arguably the biggest rock band in the world. The band’s meteoric rise to superstardom has its perks, but fame and fortune aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Nonstop touring and performing exhaust him, and when an overzealous fan makes it imperative that Isaac travel with a clingy bodyguard, he is ready for a break from the madness. More so when his newly single first crush shows up on his doorstep. The man is strictly off-limits. He’s a memory from a place Isaac would rather leave behind. And he’s straight.

Fun-loving former athlete slash construction worker Adam McBride desperately needs a new beginning. And New York City is the perfect place to start over and think about how to rebuild his life. A short stint as roommates with his brother’s best friend from high school seems like a mutually beneficial arrangement. However, when friendship gives way to fierce attraction, both men find themselves in uncharted and possibly dangerous territory. Isaac has to decide if he’s willing to take the ultimate risk for a kind of love and a kind of home he never dreamed possible.

*There is a cover reveal rafflecopter opportunity today at Love Bytes blog. Stop by for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

And mark your calendar for June 23. Isaac and the boys are back!

Happy Reading! Lane xo

Coming Soon News…

Unknown-9My precious blog has collected a bit of dust. I’d apologize but my excuse is pretty damn good!  I have back-to-back releases coming next month. Woohoo!  This is a first for me. Add RT and RL and you could say May has been busy and June will be off the charts! LOL

About these releases…

A Kind of Home, #4 in A Kind of Stories, will be out on June 23.  I’m super excited to introduce Isaac’s story. It’s a bit of a departure in some ways from the first three books. The fledgling band that struggled to find gigs and only dreamed of a recording contract in A Kind of Truth is huge now. Mega huge! Think of your favorite band times ten and call them Spiral. We’re talking One Direction big…except rock and roll. The thing about celebrities is they’re hard to relate to… unless you introduce pieces of home. Hint, hint. Did I mention I’m in book-boyfriend lust with Isaac’s man?  And then there’s Isaac… images-8The day before AKH is here, I’ll be releasing a short story called A Way With Words. It’s a little something for Felice Steven’s Kindle World launch for her Breakfast Club/Memories series. But this teensy story doubled in size from a 15k project to closer to 30k. I suppose I’m long-winded because that’s well over 100k in words from Lane coming very soon! Like my A Kind of Series, A Way With Words is set in NYC. Instead of rock stars with big dreams, we have a couple of regular guys dealing with family, jobs and the fear associated with acknowledging who they are. Look for Tony and Remy’s story on June 22. This is my inspiration for Tony… I know, right? ❤ images-1In other news, it looks like Leaning Into Touch, #3 in my newest San Fran series, will be out in September. A short story featuring Zane and Eric from Leaning Into Love will be released a couple of weeks prior. I was aiming for sooner release dates but honestly, I have too much going on in RL with a graduating senior heading to college. I get emotional thinking about all the changes coming. They’re all good but wow, time flies!

In case you missed it, A Kind of Honesty was released in audio last month. Seth Clayton knocked it out of the part again. He’s very upbeat and nuanced. I love his narration style. In fact, I love it so much I asked him to narrate Leaning Into Love! He’s on board and we’re hoping for an August release. Fingers crossed! *Check out the sample for A Kind of Honesty on audio here.

So much going on and I didn’t say a word about RT yet. I loved seeing old friends and I met some wonderful new people too. Hanging out in the bar became my favorite pastime, which is funny, because I don’t drink much at all. It just always seems to be a neutral gathering point with a casual vibe that lends itself to easy conversation. Like last year, I left RT feeling revved up for GRL. I’m hoping to meet a ton of you in Denver this October!Unknown-11

Cover reveals and teasers are coming soon! There’s so much going on this summer, there won’t be any dust on this blog!

Happy Reading!

Lane xo

A Kind of Honesty is Out on Audiobook Now!

images-1Audio release day always seems to come as a surprise. You know it’s happening but you’re not sure exactly when. lol.  Yes, A Kind of Honesty is officially available on Audible.com now.  I’ve been looking forward to hearing Seth Clayton’s narration of Tim and Carter’s story. He is amazing! I love what he’s done with the other books in this series. Take a listen to the sample here.KindofHonesty[A]_FBprofile_OptizimedForFeedAnd because timing is everything, we’re just a couple weeks away from the cover reveal and DSP pre-orders for book #4, A Kind of Home. I’m looking forward to introducing readers to my recent book crush. Adam is my kind of guy…smart but a total goofball. 🙂

*This guy is my inspiration for Adam…  (swoon!!)38828d4d3f22adeb487645d12521c45bLots of new material coming this summer! Did I mention I have back-to-back releases in June? Busy, busy… I’ll be sure to keep my blog updated for the July and August dates, but put June 22 and 23 in your calendars for now! ❤

Happy Reading!  Lane xo

Home Again & A Kind of Honesty Audio Update!

FullSizeRender-72Bon jour! Cheers! I’m home! I have eight loads of dirty laundry, empty cupboards, a couple wilting houseplants, and no doubt a serious case of jet lag coming my way, but my trip abroad was well worth it! We hit fabulous weather in London and Paris. It was mostly cool but there were a couple of summer-esque days in the beginning and almost no rain. Nice! I’ve been posting pics on FB, Instagram and Twitter but I’ll leave a couple more here too because one thing I don’t skimp on is photo-taking! I literally have hundreds to go through. IMG_8152This wasn’t my first time in either city but I know some people will ask which city I liked best this visit and I can honestly say… both. London is so much more vibrant than I remembered it from my last trip a dozen years ago. There are cranes dotting the skyline everywhere. The growth and innovation is impressive! I could easily see myself living there one day. 🙂 And Paris…*sigh… I’ll always love Paris. It takes my breath away every time. I was pleased it left a lasting impression on my daughter too. She loved it too.

But it’s back to reality today! I can’t wait to get back to my guys. Eleven hours in the air was well spent plotting and planning three different books. LOL. My big news is that A Kind of Honesty will be available within the next week or two on audio! Woohoo! I can’t wait to hear Seth Clayton’s narration of Tim and Carter’s story. And of course, this is the perfect lead-in to the release of Book 4, A Kind of Home, which will be out June 23! Look for the cover reveal and pre-order links for DSP a month in advance. 🙂IMG_8144Here’s a bit of teaser news… I have two short stories slated for KU release in June (22nd) and July.  The first is for Kindle World (more info to come) and the second one will be a Zane and Eric short story to prep readers for Book 3 in the Leaning Into Stories series which should be out by August. So yeah… it’s going to be a busy busy summer!

Also, I’m accepting name suggestions for a Lane Hayes FB readers group! I’d like to get one up and running by May. So far I’ve heard Lovers’ Lane, Lane’s Little Black Book, Lane’s Lovers Lounge (kinda like that one!). What do you think?

Back to work! Happy Reading!

Lane xo

A Kind of Home Release Date! & other news…

images-8Mark your calendars! A Kind of Home will be released on June 23rd. Woohoo! I’ll share the blurb and the gorgeous new cover next month with the pre-order link, but I know some of you were very curious. 🙂 This story belongs to Isaac, the lead guitarist of Spiral. He’s been in the background for the past few stories, but this time readers will get a chance to get to know him and check in with the rest of the NYC boys. Best of all, you’ll get to meet Adam, my latest book boyfriend. I’m in love with this guy! He reminds me of my husband in all the best and goofiest ways. Trust me, that’s a good thing. 😉Unknown-4And in other news… I’m heading to Europe! Specifically to London and Paris. I’m really looking forward to some family time in two of my favorite cities. I’ll be sure to post pics, but if you don’t see me around as much on social media, you’ll know I’m probably at a cafe drinking tea, eating a baguettes and dreaming up a story about a sexy Brit or Frenchman. ❤ Unknown-8Cheers and Au revoir!  Lane xo

Final Day of the Leaning Into the Fall Blog Tour!

leaningintothefall-fbad3-1200x628-2This is it, the final day of the Leaning Into the Fall tour. Wow, that went fast! A month ago I was literally sweating over releasing my first-ever self-published novel. It’s been quite a learning experience. For the most part, a truly fantastic one. More so because I’m in love with these characters! LOL.  I’m going to release a “Eric and Zane” (from  Leaning Into Love)  short story for KU before book #3 in the Leaning Into series comes out this summer. I love “behind the scenes” stories and if readers feel the same way, I may write a few more. 🙂

Here are today’s stops. Make sure to register for the Rafflecopter giveaway too!

Dog-Eared Daydreams & 5 Star Review (thank you!)
Reviews by Tammy and Kim
Happily Ever Chapter
MM Good Book Reviews
Sinfully Gay Romance Book Reviews

Bayou Book Junkie Spotlight (Author of the Month Exclusive Interview and another giveaway!)

tumblr_nokl7lZ4In1rxnekho1_500Next up…A Kind of Home, book #4 in the A Kind of Stories! I think this one is coming in June, but I’ll post the exact date when I know it. And look for A Kind of Honesty on audio in April/May. I can’t wait to hear Seth Clayton narrate Tim and Carter’s story!

Thank you all for helping to make my first self-pub experience an awesome one. I appreciate the warm wishes and support. And of course, I love that you get Nick! ❤

Much love and Happy Reading! Lane xoUnknown-9

 

Final Week of the Leaning Into the Fall Blog Tour!

Instacrush-Sean-Altemose-160809-02This is the final week of the Leaning Into the Fall  blog tour. Three stops today and another four on Friday. Be sure to stop by for exclusive material, including interviews, posts and one more exclusive excerpt!

3/29 Alpha Book Club
3/29 Bayou Book Junkie and Author of the Month post too!
3/29 Boy Meets Boy Reviews

I’m also at Love Bytes Book Review with my monthly author post and yes, another giveaway. Stop by and tell me your favorite thing about spring for a chance to win an ebook copy of Leaning Into the Fall.

Back to my edits. A Kind of Home is coming next! ❤

Happy Reading! Lane xo

 

Better Than Engagement- All Parts (NSFW), A Matt & Aaron Short Story

football2All of my boys are special to me, but Matt and Aaron from Better Than Good were my first. Delving into their relationship and getting to know their friends and families helped me navigate my beginnings as an MM author. I fell in love with them and I couldn’t stop writing about them. I wrote 120k words of content most of my readers haven’t seen yet. Some, however, turned into short stories, like Better Than Valentine, Better Than Pride and Better Than Family.

Better Than Engagement is brand new. It includes ten chapters plus an epilogue and is over 26k words long. That’s a decent sized short! LOL.  And considering that I’m currently working on my Leaning Into Stories series and edits for A Kind of Home (June 2017!), it’s also  a ton of work. But it’s a labor of love, because now it’s not just me that cares about about the law student who fell for a beautiful boy at a nightclub. You care too. I’m awed and honored by your response to the Better Than boys. I love that you want glimpses into their daily lives. You’ve made this crazy journey over the past 4 1/2 years 100% worthwhile. Thank you for your support and for taking the time to let me know these characters have touched you. It means more than I can say. images-1For those who’ve saved this to read in one sitting, the story begins just about the time Better Than Safe does. And yes, that means you’ll have a chance to reconnect with the boys from the subsequent books, Better Than Chance and Better Than Friends too.

And now (drum roll, please)… Here are all ten chapters and the epilogue for Better Than Engagement (NSFW)…

Happy Reading! Lane xo

images-13

Better Than Engagement

Part 1-

My computer screen seemed brighter than normal this morning. That had to be why the words blurred and nothing made sense. Or maybe it was caffeine deficiency. I had two hours to read over the government contract before it was due back to the Department of Defense. I had to snap out of it and concentrate. There was no point in daydreaming about my warm bed or the sexy man I’d left there an hour ago. As if on cue, my cell phone vibrated on my desk.

“Hi baby. Why are you up? I thought you were sleeping ’til seven.” I swiveled my chair away from my computer and closed my eyes. Fuck, I wished I was with him.

“I can’t go back to sleep. That was amazing. I can’t stop thinking about you. You’ve never done that before, Matty. You were so…forceful. But in a good way. A sexy way.”

“Aar, stop. You’re gonna make me hard,” I whispered, glancing sideways at my open door.

The office was dark. At six thirty a.m., I was pretty much guaranteed to have the place to myself for another thirty minutes or so. No one would notice my blush or raise an eyebrow if I had squirmed in my chair to hide the bulge in my suit pants. But old habits weren’t easy to shake. Thinking about licking Aaron to oblivion before driving myself inside him that morning was one thing. Talking about it was a whole other story. And Aaron knew it.

His melodic laughter sounded like music to my ears. “Are you hard? Touch yourself. I am.”

“I’m at work, perv. I’m not jacking off at my desk,” I said with a snort.

I could picture him lying naked in the middle of our king-size bed holding his phone with one hand while the other drifted to his perfect cock. When he moaned my name I knew I got it right.

“That would be kind of naughty. I have to get up and do grown up things, like go to meetings and do fashion edits, but our bed is so warm. And even though I’m a sticky, crusty mess, I feel fabulous.”

“Sticky and crusty is fabulous?” I tried to infuse my voice with a note of levity and hopefully move on to PG-rated topics.

“It is when I think about what you did to me. I’m never washing the sheets. These are sacred sex sheets,” he declared with a sigh.

I chuckled at his worshipful tone. “Hmm. You know we can do it again.”

“Oh, I’m counting on it. Geez, I can’t decide what I liked best. It’s a tie between when you tongue fucked me ’til I couldn’t remember my name and when you spanked me and made me hang on to the headboard while you—”

“Oh fuck, Aar.” I swallowed hard and finally gave into temptation, palming my cock through my wool blend trousers. “Did you have to say “spank”?”

Aaron snickered. “Yes! It drives you crazy. My ass is sore and—”

“Mine,” I growled possessively.

“Yes. Yours.”

I shut my eyes for a half second while my lover went into delicious detail about our morning sexathon. He was right. He drove me crazy. He made me want things I never dreamed were possible. And he’d been doing it for over four years.

I don’t think anyone who knew me well when I first met Aaron could have predicted my life now. The bigger parts were easy. I was still with the prestigious DC law firm I’d interned for while I was finishing my degree. I was an associate partner specializing in contract law and any day now I expected to be offered a non-equity partnership. Professionally, I was where I’d hoped I’d be after I graduated. Personally… I was light years away.

Actually, that wasn’t true. I was exactly where I wanted to be. I was in a long-term committed relationship with a person I loved, respected and cherished. Someone so incredible and unexpected that I swear, most days I couldn’t believe my amazing luck. He was passionate, gorgeous, smart, funny and yeah… I was head over heels for the guy. That was the part that still blew a few people away. I was in love with a man. Not a woman.

Aaron Mendez was a Puerto Rican American spitfire with a wicked sense of humor and a lust for life. The fact he wanted anything to do with a boring lawyer was the crazy part. But we fit. We were the missing piece the other needed. This feeling transcended physical attraction. Sure, I was still convinced Aaron was the most beautiful person on the planet. He was small and lean with dark brown hair, hazel eyes and infectious grin that made my heart swell. But now I knew this connection was based on something more than physical attraction. He was part of me. Inside me. He made me a better man.

We were opposites in almost every conceivable way. I was tall, he was short. I liked sports. Aaron loved fashion. I tended to be cool and methodical while Aaron was a free spirit with a taste for the finer things in life. We shouldn’t work, but we did. He made me look at the stars and I reminded him to keep his feet on the ground.

“…and when you stuck your finger inside me while you were fuc—”

“Aar,” I groaned and then started in my chair when the elevator door dinged, signaling I was no longer the only person on my floor. “Great. Someone’s here and I’m sitting at my desk with a huge boner. Quit laughing and help me get rid of it.”

“That’s what I was trying to do in the first place!” Aaron insisted with a chuckle that morphed into a belly laugh. He sobered from his fit of hysteria with a dramatic sigh when I growled into the phone. “Okay, okay. I should get up anyway. What time will you be home tonight? Can you be here by six? Jack and Curt are coming for dinner. I’m leaving the office early to pick up a couple things at the market. Oh! And can you get the dry cleaning on your way home?”

“Sure, but I thought that was the point of a delivery service.”

“They said there was a mix up and they won’t be in our neighborhood until the end of the week. I can’t wait. I need my Zegna suit for a presentation with a British artiste tomorrow morning.”

“Okay. I’ll take care of it. Did you look at the paperwork for the refinance yet?”

“There goes my hard-on,” he snarked. “No, just tell me where to sign. I don’t want to read it. I trust you.”

“It’s going to save us a ton of money, babe.” I swiveled back to my computer and reached for my coffee mug.

I froze mid-sip when a shadow crossed my doorway. It was Jana, the bubbly new intern assigned to help a couple of the associates. Great. I motioned to my phone and my computer, hoping she’d take the hint and find something to do on her own. She didn’t. She leaned on the doorframe and crossed her arms under her ample bosom showcased in a tight, low cut red sweater. Her long brown hair fell artfully over one shoulder in a pose worthy of a fashion shot from Aaron’s magazine.

“You should still read the— Hang on, Aar,” I said before addressing Jana. “Hi. You’re here early.”

“Good morning, Mr. Sullivan. You said you had a deadline to meet, so I thought I’d come in earlier to help you. What can I do?” Her professional tone didn’t jibe with the come-hither look. Jana didn’t bother hiding her infatuation, which made accepting her “help” awkward as hell. I hoped the gooey looks would fade once she was buried under a mountain of laborious research and filing. So far, no such luck.

“Um…finish going through the memos. If there’s anything of note, pull it aside for me to look at later.”

“You got it, boss,” Jana said with a bright smile, tapping her long red nails on the door before pivoting on her high heels and heading toward her desk.

“Sorry Aar, I—”

“Don’t tell me. Jana.” Thankfully, Aaron sounded more amused than annoyed.

“Yeah,” I sighed.

“Someone’s in love with my hunky boyfriend,” he singsonged merrily.

“You, I hope.”

“Yes, but it looks like I have competition,” he teased.

“Don’t be ridiculous. And stop cackling. This isn’t funny. Her internship is up in May, but I can’t take the extra attention for another two months. I’ll have to come out. Again.”

“Poor Matty. I guess she didn’t get the hint when she saw me kiss you last week in your office that we aren’t Bert and Ernie.”

I chuckled. “Maybe not.”

“She wouldn’t be the first. Your mom still thinks we’re just really good friends.”

That stopped me. I didn’t like the resignation in his voice, like he was simply stating a fact. The sky is blue, the earth is round, my boyfriend’s mother thinks we’re good buddies who do everything together… I didn’t like it. At all.

“It doesn’t matter what she thinks. You aren’t my friend and—”

“Oh please! I’d have never made it to the tender age of twenty-nine if I cared what everyone thought of me,” he replied flippantly.

“You’re thirty-two,” I deadpanned as I pushed away from my desk and moved to the open door.

“Details, details. I’m off. Don’t forget the dry cleaning and be home by six. Curt and Jack will be here at seven.”

“Okay. Hey, wait.” Jana looked from her computer with an expectant smile as though she wasn’t sure whom I was addressing. I turned my head slightly but made sure I continued in a loud clear voice. “I love you, Aar. Have a good day.”

His squeal of delight and profuse declaration of love made me blush at least five shades of red. I couldn’t keep the silly grin from spreading across my face as I finally closed the door. My intern’s perturbed expression barely registered. Who cared what Jana the intern thought? Who cared what my mother thought? We were the only ones who mattered. We’d been saying that for years.

I stared unseeing at the contract on my computer lost in thought. I was surrounded with legal documents, journals and memos. Hell, I was in the business of creating air-tight, binding documents. Any decent lawyer knew there was power in a legally sanctioned title. Sure, Aaron was my friend, roommate, boyfriend, and my partner. However, those labels fell short. They hinted at who we were to each other, but they didn’t stake a claim. They didn’t let the world know he was the only one for me. They didn’t infer that I wanted to build a life with him, complete with every traditional trapping I’d always assumed would be mine one day, albeit with a woman. A home, a dog, kids. We weren’t playing house. Nothing about our relationship was casual. This was the real thing. A forever thing. Maybe it was time to do something about it. Legally.

Part 2-

The condo smelled amazing. I draped the dry cleaning bag over the edge of the sofa before making my way into the kitchen. I didn’t bother greeting the chef. He wouldn’t be able to hear me over the Drake song pumping through the speakers anyway. I hurried to adjust the volume before my eardrum burst or a neighbor pounded on the door. Aaron spun around in surprise, holding a knife in one hand and a tomato in the other.

“Dammit Matty, you scared me!”

I chuckled at his wide-eyed expression and raised my hands in surrender. “I’m sorry. Put the knife down…or at least the tomato.”

Aaron rolled his eyes and tossed both on the counter before throwing his arms around my neck and sealing his lips to mine. “Hi.”

“Hi yourself. How was your day?”

“Busy. Did you remember the dry cleaning?”

“Yeah. I left it on the sofa. Whatcha making?”

“I’m—Yikes! I have to stir.” He pushed out of my arms and hurried back to the stove. “I’m making the spaghetti Bolognese you like. I had grand plans to do arroz con pollo y plátanos, but the photo shoot ran late and I didn’t have time to run to the market, shower and make dinner. I’m not even sure I have all the spices I need for the adobo anyway. Pasta will have to do. Want a glass of wine?”

I ran a soothing hand down his back, noting he hadn’t shower or changed from his work clothes yet. Aaron didn’t have to wear a suit everyday like I did but he definitely wore business couture as befitting the assistant art director of a prominent DC fashion magazine. Today’s ensemble was well-fitted charcoal trousers and a pink oxford shirt with white cuffs and a pair of Italian loafers I knew for a fact cost more than everything else he had on put together. My guy had very expensive tastes.

A bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and four wineglasses sat on the counter nearby. A plate of cheese and crackers was artfully displayed next to a short stack of black cocktail napkins and a huge candle. Our condo boasted an open design so the kitchen flowed seamlessly into the spacious living room. I glanced toward the dining area and noticed that the table was set and the geometric brass chandelier overhead was dimmed. A beautiful spring floral arrangement I was pretty sure hadn’t been there this morning graced the center of the round table. I grabbed his apron from the hook on the cabinet door and moved back to Aaron who giving me a rundown of his day as he spiced his sauce.

“…she wasn’t excited about me getting the assistant directorship so I have to do my best to win her over. Marsha is a tough cookie. If she wasn’t so damn good at—what are you doing?”

“You forgot your apron. Stand still,” I said as I slipped the cotton strap over his head and cupped his package.

“Behave. I’ve got a lot to do and they’ll be here in fifteen minutes.” He smacked my hand but countered the reprimand with a kiss and one of his beautiful megawatt smiles that always turned me inside out.

I moaned theatrically. “What’s the occasion? Everything looks so… fancy.”

“It’s nothing special. We were supposed to get together to celebrate my promotion last week, but Jack had to work and I thought it would be nicer to do something at home anyway.”

“It’s a Wednesday night,” I said in a flat tone, stating the obvious.

“So?” Aaron rinsed his hands and pointed at the wine meaningfully before picking up the knife and tomato he’d abandoned earlier. “Jack owns a bar. He can’t commit to weekends. You know that. We’re not old fogies. We can handle a midweek dinner. Shoot. Do you have to go into work early again tomorrow?”

I shook my head as I pulled the cork from the bottle and set it aside to breathe. Then I snuck a cracker from the marble cutting board and leaned against the counter to study my boyfriend. His hair fell over his eyes but I could tell he’d had a stressful day from the rigid set of his shoulders as he chopped tomatoes like a ninja warrior. He was a bundle of excess energy. Not the good kind.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing. Why?”

“You look stressed. It’s Curt and Jack, babe. Order a pizza. They’d be fine with—”

“Pizza is only appropriate for casual get-togethers. This is supposed to be nice.”

I rolled my eyes and reached out to poke his side playfully but the reflection of unshed tears in his gaze stopped me in my tracks.

“Aaron, what is it?” I set a firm hand on his elbow.

“Huh? Nothing. They’ll be here soon and the salad isn’t done and—”

I moved my hand to his wrist and tightened my grip until he let go of the knife. I was mildly amused when he rounded on me with a pointed finger and switched from English to Spanish. The fiery Latin thing was really fucking cute… and sexy as hell. But when the tears threatened to spill, I was instantly alarmed.

“Hey, hey, hey…talk to me, hothead. What’s going on?” I pulled him against me and held him tight, resting my chin on his head. I threaded my fingers through his hair and kissed his temple. Our size difference made it easy for him to burrow close. I easily had him by five inches. “Aar?”

Aaron sighed and clandestinely swiped at the corner of his eye before stepping backward with a reassuring smile.

“I’m fine. I just had one of those days. One of the models accidently ripped a dress in the fitting and the designer had a cow. It took an hour to calm them both down, which meant everything after was behind schedule. I was one minute late to a meeting with Marsha who made it clear she was unhappy about the sixty second delay. Then of course, she hated the spread. The lighting was wrong. The backdrop was hideous and the models looked like they all needed a meal. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to clobber her or just fucking cry. It took everything I had to keep it together.”

“I’m sorry, baby.”

“Thanks. I’m not overly concerned. I know I’ll prove myself eventually. But I didn’t have time to make the dinner I wanted to. And don’t ask me about the refinance paperwork. I felt like throwing it in the trash after my conversation with your mother. Roommates don’t share the mortgage, do they?”

Oh fuck. That explained everything.

Aaron grumbled under his breath in Spanish as he dumped the tomatoes into a salad bowl with more force than necessary. I let out a deep breath then moved to the wine and poured two generous glasses. Mother discussions required alcohol.

“What did my mom say?”

I handed him a wineglass after he set the salad bowl in the refrigerator and untied his apron ribbon. He took the glass and clinked it against mine then offered a wan smile.

“Nothing overt. You mother is the queen of subtle insults. Sometimes I wish you were Puerto Rican. We don’t do subtle. If we’re angry, we don’t beat around the bush and talk about something vaguely related to what really pisses us off. Not that I have to guess with her. She hates me.”

“She doesn’t hate you, Aar. She just has a hard time understanding us. She needs time to—”

“It’s been four fucking years! How much time does she need?” He set his glass down with enough force to crack the stem. “Whatever. It’s the same old shit. I shouldn’t have picked up the phone without looking at the caller ID. She was pleasant at first. She asked about my recipe and who was coming over. Then she said she could tell I was in a rush. If I’d been smart, I would have said goodbye but I was too wound up after my day and I didn’t take my out. Instead…I gave her a little TMI.”

“What did you say?”

“I said I wanted to get the sauce going so I could look at the loan paperwork like I promised Matty. And yeah…I said Matty.”

“O-kay.”

“She got chilly very quickly. She reminded me Matthew was a lawyer who undoubtedly would be more than capable of handling his own mortgage. And then she made up some lame excuse to get off the phone so she could hang up on me.”

Truthfully that didn’t sound like a horrible exchange but I was getting smarter at this boyfriend thing. Just because I didn’t find something offensive didn’t mean Aaron felt the same.

“Well…”

“You don’t get it, do you?”

“Uh. No. I don’t think she meant it meanly, babe. She—”

“Bullshit. She hates when I call you Matty and she hates knowing my name is on any legal form associated with you. It’s a reminder the novelty of me hasn’t run its course for you yet. She wants to get to know a daughter-in-law to be, not waste time with the overly fabulous gay man answering her son’s phone. You mother can’t stand that I’m still part of your life after all these years.”

“You aren’t part of my life, Aar. You are my life.”

This time Aaron’s smile was incandescent. It was warm and sunny enough to make this cold evening in mid March feel like a warm summer day. He snaked his arms over my shoulders and kissed me breathless. I swore I saw stars when he pulled back to study me with a sexy grin.

“Sometimes you know exactly the right thing to say. I love you, Matty.”

“I love you too.”

We shared a sappy smile as we stared at each other like lovesick fools. It was a perfect moment. The kind you think you might always remember. The kitchen smelled heavenly, the house was beautifully lit with candles and Drake had given way to the Chainsmokers song I’d just learned how to play on my guitar. In retrospect, I should have sung to him and danced him around the island to make him laugh. Or even offered to play the song so he could sing along. A whimsical change in focus would have kept things light and happy. More importantly, it would have saved me from saying something stupid to effectively ruin everything.

But no… I opened my big mouth instead.

“You know, I’ve been thinking we should make this legal anyway.”

Aaron immediately stiffened in my arms and pulled away. He picked up his wine glass and twirled the burgundy liquid lazily before giving me a look I couldn’t read well. It was wary and somewhat guarded.

“What do you mean by legal?”

“You know… like get married.” I shrugged and reached for my own wine. I downed half the glass in a way that would have made my college buddies cheer my name wildly if we’d been in a beer-guzzling contest back in school. My significant other, however, was not impressed. Unfortunately, I didn’t think my manners were the problem.

“Are you asking me to marry you?”

“Uh… yeah. Sure. Why not?”

My mouth was dry. My heart was beating like a drum. I’d been thinking about this a lot lately but fuck, marriage was a big word. So was wedding and husband. I was suddenly scared shitless. Jesus, did I just propose? It wasn’t too warm in the kitchen, but I was sweating and nervous as hell. And Aaron…well, he looked pissed. Or maybe even hurt.

I set my glass down and then gently caressed his chin with my thumb. “That wasn’t smooth. I can do better. I—I love you and I want to marry you.”

“No.”

“No?”

“This is how you’re going to ask me to marry you? To prove something to your mother or to make signing a set of loan documents easier? I’m not a legal afterthought, Matthew. Don’t you dare try to neatly tie up your commitments with my signature on the dotted line because it’s more convenient than—”

“You’re not convenient at all! I mean—” I raked my hand through my hair and pursed my lips. “I didn’t mean that. C’mon, Aar, give me a break. I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m sorry my mom hurt your feelings. I’m sorry you had a rough day. I’m trying to tell you I lo—”

“Stop. Just leave it for now. Jack and Curt are going to be here soon. We can talk later. I’m frustrated and I’m not being fair and… I’m sorry.”

I furrowed my brow but nodded in acquiescence. I didn’t want to leave this conversation here but he was right. At the rate I was going, I’d end up putting my other foot in my mouth before the doorbell rang anyway. Later was good.

Later was only good in theory. The problem was I couldn’t stop thinking about what we’d said. My mom, loan papers, his day, my day… none of it was significant. And it certainly didn’t explain an impromptu marriage proposal. Was I serious or was it an impulse offer I had no business making without carefully thinking through first? I was glad Curt and Jack were there to provide a friendly diversion in the aftermath. I needed a break from my thoughts.

“This is fantastic, Aaron. I need the recipe,” Curt gushed as he twirled spaghetti noodles around his fork.

“Thank you. I was going to do something fancier but time was not on my side tonight,” Aaron said.

Aaron grabbed a piece of garlic bread from the basket in the middle of the table, broke it in two and set one half on my plate. It was one of those quirky things he always did. He was big on sharing food. It could be a bite of something amazing he’d ordered at a restaurant that he wanted me to try or whatever was left on his plate at home. Food was a big deal to Aaron. He loved cooking for friends and family and he was an excellent chef. In a way, it was a creative and emotional outlet for him. It relaxed him and allowed him to do something for the people he cared about most. Needless to say, I never cooked. The kitchen was Aaron’s domain. Toast and cereal were my culinary limit these days. And Curt wasn’t fooling anyone at this table. He was just like me.

Jack snorted in amusement and dabbed at the corner of his mouth with his napkin. “Curtis honey, what exactly would you do with the recipe? Use it as a bookmarker for the cookbooks you never open?”

“Ha. Ha. The recipe is for you. Not me, smartass,” Curt huffed primly.

He yelped a second later when his boyfriend pinched his arm in playful retribution. Jack captured Curt’s wrist before he could pull away and laced their fingers together. Then he raised their joined hands and kissed Curt’s knuckles like a leading-man in a romantic movie. I smiled at their antics. They were a cool couple. And in many ways, they were as different as Aaron and me.

Curt and Jack were polar opposites. Jack was tall, dark and drop dead sexy. And he was fourteen years older than Curt. He owned two businesses; a motorcycle shop for sales and repair and a gay bar that catered to a masculine crowd. It wasn’t a leather bar or a bear hangout but they didn’t play disco music or invite drag queens to lip-synch either, which meant it wasn’t necessarily Aaron’s kind of hangout either. Or Curt’s.

Curt was infinitely more conservative than his tattooed, laid-back boyfriend. He was fanatical about timeliness and deadlines. We’d been good friends since we were roommates in law school at Georgetown. Curt’s cautious nature was offset by a self-deprecating sense of humor and a friendly demeanor that drew people to him. He and Jack had been together for a couple years now. Perhaps they looked like an odd match to outsiders, but they definitely fit.

The intricate design of the tattoo sleeve on Jack’s left arm against Curt’s white button-down oxford shirt made me smile. I glanced over at Aaron, knowing he was probably thinking the same thing, albeit in a mushier way.

I was right. The look on my man’s face spoke volumes. It was the starry-eyed look of a true romantic.

I knew that look well. Aaron got it when he saw old people holding hands or young families pushing strollers and juggling dog leashes. It was the one he’d get at the end of any Hugh Grant rom-com regardless of how many times he’d watched the movie. An Adele song could occasionally do the trick too. But his best gooey looks were the ones he reserved for me. When I played a love song on my guitar and dedicated it to him like I was a rock star on a stage instead of the dork sitting at the end of the sofa. Or when I brought him flowers or held the door for him or brought him a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning. Little things I did without thinking that made him beam at me like I was a freaking hero.

No wonder he looked so damned disappointed earlier.

I messed up. If I wanted what I thought I did, I had to do it right. I had to be… romantic. Fuck.

Part 3-

You know that feeling when every other word out of your mouth sounds awkward as hell and you can’t seem to stop the madness? That was me. All night long. Someone mentioned a new bar in town and my brain turned it into the kind of bar a law student must pass to become an official lawyer. I literally stared at Curt with a dopey look on my face until he crossed his eyes and mouthed “you okay?”. Obviously not, but a concerned Curt was the last thing I needed. He’d ask questions and I’d say…what? “I’m obsessing about asking Aaron to marry me”… Not happening. I vowed to pay better attention.

Thankfully, conversation floated easily between the others. I nodded when required but they seemed to be doing fine with an occasional word or two from me to let them know I was present. However, when the topic turned to our friends, Jay and Peter, who were in California interviewing a potential surrogate candidate, I lost my voice completely. My mind started spinning and then ricocheting, making it difficult to hear anything above my inner static. I wanted kids one day too, and we weren’t getting any younger. Aaron would be a great dad. Of course, we’d have to get to married first but—

“Matt told me he wants at least four kids. Right, buddy?” Curt kicked my shin under the table then fluttered his eyes innocently.

“Four what? Kids?” I sputtered as I came crashing back to reality. “I don’t think so.”

“Well, how many do you want?” he pressed with a mischievous grin.

“Uh… I don’t know. Two?”

“Is that a question or a statement?”

“That’s a fuck off, Curtster. How many you and Jack want?” I retorted, finally regaining my cool.

“None,” Jack answered quickly before adding in a slow Southern drawl, “Curt might change my mind some day but we’re fine spoiling our niece and nephew for now.”

“I love being an uncle too, but when the time is right, I could definitely be talked into kids one day,” Aaron said wistfully.

“Two,” I blurted, reaching for Aaron’s hand.

“Two would gre—”

“But not until we get married.”

I wasn’t sure who was in control of my mouth, but it didn’t feel like me anymore. What the fuck was I doing talking about marriage in front of our friends? It was so… not me. And everyone there knew it.

I was treated to an incredulous three-way stare. My vehemence was probably more surprising than the statement itself but either way, the ensuing silence made me sweat. I let go of Aaron’s hand to wipe my clammy palm on my suit pants before giving him a tentative sideway glance. He responded with a radiant grin, then leaned in and kissed my cheek.

“When the time is right, Matty.”

Aaron talked around his toothbrush as he got ready for bed later that night. Every other word was unintelligible but I’d become adept at understanding the occasional distorted sentence. It was part of our nightly ritual. A daily dance we did so well, I could gage his mood and level of exhaustion by how chatty he was while he brushed. Tonight, he was happy and peppy. An evening with friends had rejuvenated him and put him in a better frame of mind than he’d been in earlier. I was relieved but still wary of my own strange mood.

“…I wasn’t sure how Jack would react to—” His garbled speech echoed off the glass tiles in the master bathroom before he bent to spit and rinse. “—but Curt thinks he’s not the jealous type.”

“Jealous about what?” I wiped my mouth on the fluffy white towel before turning to stand behind Aaron. I slid my arms around his waist and nuzzled his neck.

“Not what… whom. Paul. You know Paul…tall, blond, handsome… and British.” He waggled his eyebrows in a silly attempt at being lascivious that made me laugh.

“Of course I know Paul. What about him?”

“You weren’t listening, were you? He’s coming back to DC. It’s not a big deal.” He squinted at me in the mirror. “You know…I’m starting to worry about you, Matt. You’re very preoccupied tonight. Is it work or is it me? I’m sorry I dropped that nonsense with your mom on you when you got home. It wasn’t fair.”

“No, I’m glad you told me. It just… it made me think of other things. Grown up stuff, like mortgages and—”

“Ugh! No refinance talk, please. I’ll sign whatever you want me to tomorrow.” Aaron groaned and threw his head back to rest on my shoulder.

I bit his earlobe playfully then slipped my fingers under the elastic of his boxer briefs and cupped his balls. “That’s not what I meant. I— it feels like time is accelerating and we’re fooling ourselves into thinking it’s not.”

“You aren’t making any sense.” He tilted his hips, looking for friction. “Mmm. Feels good.”

“I’m saying we’re already in the next phase of adulthood and we haven’t acknowledged it. We share a home, a mortgage and a bank account. I know discussions about kids and marriage is serious, grown-up shit, but I think we should…you know…”

Aaron snorted then adjusted my hand so I gripped his cock firmly. “I can’t believe I’m still hard. Seriously, Matty? What part of mortgage and marriage is sexy?”

“Ours will be sexy. I’ll make sure of it.” I pushed my boxers over my rigid dick then licked my palm before stroking him from base to tip.

He jutted forward and backward like he couldn’t decide what he wanted more. My hand on his shaft or my cock riding his ass.

“So good. Just don’t—” Aaron let out a low moan when I bit his shoulder.

“Don’t what?”

He turned in my arms and licked my lips before staring up at me. “Don’t ask me to marry you to tick a box off your to-do list. Heteronormative rules don’t apply. We don’t have to do anything in any order but the one that feels right to us. We make the rules here. It’s like I told you at dinner… we’ll know when the time is right. So stop worrying. Nothing has changed. We’re good.”

I nodded at his sage words. I agreed with everything but his aversion to so-called “heteronormative rules”. Aaron knew I had old-fashioned ideas. I still wanted the traditional trappings I thought I’d have before I acknowledged I was bisexual and in love with a man. But I wasn’t a complete moron. I wasn’t going to touch that old argument when his leaking cock was nudging my upper thigh.

“You’re right.”

“There’s no hurry.” He beamed at me then reached around to squeeze my ass. “And whatever you do…don’t ask me any life altering questions when I have dried toothpaste on my face.”

I laughed at his faux serious expression and brushed his bangs away from his eyes. “Where?”

“Here. I can feel it.” His eyes twinkled as he pointed to the corner of his mouth.

I tilted Aaron’s chin and dutifully licked the imaginary toothpaste away. The gesture took on a symbolic quality of letting go with a reminder to remain in the moment. Now was what counted.

I nibbled his lips, pausing to glide my tongue over his before licking a path along his jaw and down his neck. Aaron writhed in my arms, raking his fingers through my hair and down my sides before slipping his hand between us to grip me in a punishing hold. I rocked my hips forward as he stroked me. It didn’t take long for me to lose my rhythm. He was too good at this and he knew exactly what I liked. But I wanted more.

“Bed.” I smacked his ass and gestured like a Neanderthal toward our room.

Aaron gave me a sexy lopsided grin as he stepped out of his boxer briefs then moved toward the king-size bed. An overhead reading light illuminated one side, casting a warm glow over his olive skin. I stopped to admire his toned back and pert ass as he scrambled to shove the white duvet aside and then reach for the bottle of lube on the bedside table. I jacked myself, smearing precum in a slow circular motion over the head of my cock while I watched him spread his cheeks and finger his hole. My heart tripped at the sight. Fuck, he was beautiful. I had a sudden vision of him gripping the headboard that morning. He was so in tune with his body. So confident and sure. I nearly lost my balance as I moved toward my lover.

“What do you want, Matty? Do you want my on my knees? Do you want me to ride—”

“Suck me,” I demanded in a low voice I didn’t recognize as mine.

Aaron shivered visibly at the command. He hopped on the bed and arranged himself on all fours for a moment before collapsing on his stomach. I moved toward him and tapped my cock against his cheek meaningfully. Aaron glanced up at me then gave me a Cheshire cat grin and swallowed me whole. I held on to his shoulder for balance and did my best not to let go immediately though the desire to pull his hair and fuck his mouth was strong. I grabbed the lube and poured some on my right hand then leaned over to massage the cool gel over his entrance. His groan of approval sent a tremor along my spine that turned into a tingle of awareness I knew meant this could be over sooner that I planned.

Aaron sucked me voraciously as he arched his back and wiggled his ass. When I pushed my finger inside, his breath hitched. He released me with a pop and looked up at me with a lusty gaze. “More.”

I added a second digit and worked my fingers in and out. The angle was awkward but he didn’t seem to mind. He alternately sucked and stroked me while he moved his hips.

“Aar, stop. I need to be inside you.” I tugged his hair and bent to kiss his forehead. He knelt up and started to turn around. “No. On your back.”

He wordlessly obeyed. I added more lube before crawling between his thighs. I ran my fingers over his stomach then lined my cock at his entrance and pushed.

“Oh fuck!”

“You okay?” I trembled with the effect to stay still and let him acclimate. He felt amazing. So tight and warm and fuck…

“Yeah. I—I’m ready.”

I surged forward slowly, moving inch by inch until I was buried balls deep inside him. I watched him for clues. Was I crushing him? Or was he as strung out and desperate as me? He closed his eyes for a moment and rolled his hips experimentally before nodding. I took the hint and began to move, slowly at first before picking up the tempo. Aaron lifted himself to meet me thrust for thrust. He dug his heels into my ass, urging me on. Harder, faster, more. His rigid cock was trapped between us, naturally lubed with sweat and precum.

I shifted my weight to sit back just as he threw his arms around my neck and opened his eyes. I immediately faltered. I held myself over him and stared for a moment, blindsided by the rush of absolute trust and love in his gaze. We were locked in a silent communication that catapulted the physical connection to a higher plane. When we moved again, we soared. We flew high above our bodies entwined in our bed. We transcended the act of making love and became the very essence of love. And then I was gone, tumbling and spiraling through space when our orgasms hit at the same time a moment later. We clung tightly to each other, gasping for air. A beautiful quiet descended in the aftermath. Words weren’t necessary, except…

“I love you, Matty.”

I bent to kiss him softly. “I love you too, baby.”

Holy shit. I was in over my head. I was in so deep, I knew I’d never find my way out again. It was fucking scary as hell, but it was incredible too. And so fucking worth it.

Part 4-

The second I finished one major contract, another three were dumped on my desk and marked urgent. On one hand, it was great. I was making a ridiculous amount of money but working eighty plus hours a week wore on me. The research alone was too much for one person, which meant I had to rely heavily on my assistants and interns. Some were easier to work with than others. Their schedules were erratic because of law school or research they’d started for other lawyers. Of course, the one who always seemed available was the one I hoped to avoid.

Jana was diligent and she was definitely a hard worker, but the subtle touches and sexy glances were becoming a problem. She swung her hair over her shoulder and batted her eyelashes before asking mundane questions. And she couldn’t hand over a piece of paper without touching my arm . It was bad enough when we were alone but she was getting more daring. When my secretary shot an annoyed glance between us as Jana walked out of my office twittering like a teenager, I knew I was going to have to say something. Again.

“Aaron would not approve,” Colleen said sharply, gazing at me over the rim of her tortoise shell glasses.

I made a face and let out a deep breath. “Everyone here knows I’m not single. I’m not sure how to make it any clearer, but yeah…I’ll talk to her.”

She nodded curtly in a deceptive way that might give the impression she didn’t care, but I knew better. Colleen Vegas was a somewhat intimidating for a five foot three middle-aged woman. She had short, dark brown hair, brown eyes and zero tolerance for BS. She’d been my secretary for two years and though it had taken a few months for us to find a rhythm, we were a good team. She kept my schedule in line and watched over my office like a feral sentry. And she loved my boyfriend.

“Good. In other news, Lang is out sick. He’s working from home and said he’d forward his research notes by this afternoon. You’ll need someone to pull the highlighted records at the Department of External Affairs. He suggested Jana, the President of your fan club, because she’s familiar with the project. She helped him with some photocopying, but apparently that makes her an expert now. If I was reading between the lines, I’d say Lang wants what Jana would love to give you. Proceed at your own risk, Sullivan. Also, your mortgage lender called. And…your mother is on hold.”

I massaged the back of my neck and winced. “Thanks. I think.”

I headed back to my office and dropped into my leather chair before picking up the phone on my desk. I’d told her a million times to call my cell if she wanted to talk to me, but she never listened. I had a feeling going through my secretary was her way of making herself known to the people who worked for me. For a relatively young sixty year old, my mother was getting weirdly possessive as I got older. At least she was with me. I doubted my brother or sisters had to deal with this much interference.

“Hi Mom.”

“Sweetheart, how are you?” she gushed.

“I’m fine, but I’m busy. Can I call you back lat—?”

“This will only take a second. Your father and I are coming for a short visit in a couple weeks. Don’t worry. I know you don’t have much room. We’ll stay at a hotel, but save a night for us to take you out to dinner.”

“O-kay. You know you’re welcome to stay with us.”

“That’s sweet of you, but your place is far too small. And you have a roommate. We wouldn’t want to put Aaron out.”

I gritted my teeth together. “I don’t have a roommate, Mom. I—”

“Oh. Did he move out? I talked to him last week and he didn’t sound like he was going anywhere. It’s for the better, honey. If you’re alone though, Dad and I will certainly stay with you.”

“No!”

“So we should stay at the hotel?” she asked, managing to sound hurt even though it was her suggestion in the first place.

“That’s not what I— look, I’m not sure how many times I have to tell you this, Mom but…I don’t have a roommate. I have a boyfriend.” I paused for a moment to let the word sink in and then continued. “Aaron and I live together in a very spacious condo we bought together. It isn’t my place, it’s ours. Mine and Aaron’s. You and Dad are more than welcome to stay with us. As you know from your previous visits, the guestroom is always ready and you have your own bathroom. If you prefer a hotel, that’s up to you. But Aaron, my boyfriend, isn’t going anywhere. So please…be nice. Okay?”

“I’m always nice.”

Right.

The rest of the conversation was relatively brief. I typed the dates she gave me in a text to Aaron who responded immediately with a bug-eyed emoji and then a second one with the eyes crossed out. My phone vibrated in my hand before I could press Send on my next message to him.

“Why now? I’m so stressed out at work, I can’t see straight… not that ever could really, but I’m not sure I can deal with your mother face to face right now. Not when she’s in one of her “it’s time for Matthew to settle down, buy a house in the suburbs and start a family” moods. How many times did she call me your roommate when you talked with her?”

I swiveled my chair to look out the window. The rain was coming in thick sheets, making it difficult to see much beyond the streaks of water sliding down the windowpane. Fuck, I hated dealing with shit. It was an unfair double standard that didn’t seem to register with my mother no matter how many times I’d addressed it over the years.

“Once,” I admitted with a sigh.

“That’s better than usual. I wish we were on a tropical island right now. We need a vacation, Matty.”

“Yeah. I agree.” I didn’t have to remind him neither of us was in a position at work to take one, but damn, I felt the same way.

He must have heard the longing or weariness in my tone. When he spoke again, his voice felt like a caress. I could almost feel his hand on my brow or his lips on my forehead. These were the moments I knew what we had was worth fighting for and that I was a lucky man.

“We’ll get there. Until then…back to reality. What do you want for dinner?”

I smiled at his sudden cheerfulness. “Let me take you out. I’m supposed to meet Curt for a drink at Mark after work. Find us in the bar and then we’ll ditch him and have dinner there or wherever you want. What do you say?”

“Perfecto. Te amo, mi amor.”

He ended the call before I could reply. It was just as well. I had a ton to do. I pocketed my cell as I swiveled back to my desk. Nothing had changed. I still had more balls in the air than a sane person could juggle. But I had Aaron too. That was all that mattered.

Mark was a new uber-hip restaurant downtown with a warehouse meets farmhouse ambience that shouldn’t work but did. Lanterns hung from high ceilings with exposed air ducts while traditional landscapes in ornate frames lined the rough-hewn wood planked walls. Giant galvanized bins filled with spring branches with tiny yellow and pink blossoms dotted the space lending a homey feel to the very crowded restaurant.

I congratulated myself on my perfect timing. I’d purposely arrived five minutes late knowing Curt would get there at least five to ten minutes early to secure a table. I spotted him near the window talking to a cute waiter with a mop of curly blond hair and a flirty grin.

“I recommend the jalapeno margarita. It’s just the right amount of spicy!”

“Um, I think I’ll stick with a beer. Thank you,” Curt said, sounding a bit flustered.

“I’ll have the same.” I smiled at the young man as I took the chair opposite Curt. “Hi honey. How was your day?”

Curt kicked me under the table but waited until we were alone to blast me. “You’re a fucking moron.”

“I love ya, Curtster. And I’d hate for the poor guy to get on Jack’s bad side if he thought someone was after his man.”

Curt rolled his eyes. “He wasn’t flirting with me.”

“He was. Hey, a fancy looking lawyer type sitting by himself at a high-end bar…who can blame the boy for trying?”

“You’re hysterical. No one flirts with me. And that’s fine by me. I honestly wouldn’t know how to respond. Guy and girls flirt with Jack all the time. Me? Not so much.”

“Poor baby. Feeling sad and lonely?” I teased.

“Not at all. In fact…I just wrapped up a huge project. I’m feeling just fine!”

We thanked the waiter for our drinks then talked shop for a few minutes. It was nice to have a close friend and fellow lawyer who was roughly in the same place in his career as me. We commiserated over our workloads and changes in protocol in an in depth way we couldn’t with other friends. I glanced at my phone when Curt ordered another round.

“What’s going on? Got a hot date?”

“Yep. Aar is meeting me here for dinner. The reservation is in fifteen minutes. He left me a text saying he’s on his way, which is code for “I’m leaving in ten minutes”. He’ll be late for sure,” I griped good-naturedly.

“I’d keep you company but Jack should be home soon. You can stay in the bar and flirt with the cute waiter ’til he gets here,” he joked.

“He’s not into me. He’s only got eyes for you, Curtster. Fine by me. Between my work stalker and my mother, I’ve got enough on my plate. I’m hoping for a drama free dinner. Thank you very much.” I raised my glass in a mock toast and then took a sip.

“What’s up with your mom? Don’t tell me she’s trying to introduce you to nice young women from her church group again?”

I snorted. “I don’t think she belongs to a church group but she’s pulling another one of her famous passive-aggressive crusades where she conveniently forgets I’m in a relationship. And that I’m happy. It’s weird because she likes Aaron. Everyone in my family does.”

“She just doesn’t like him for you. Or she would if he didn’t have a dick.”

“Yeah. Feel free to say that a little louder, asshole,” I snarked, turning toward the reception desk just as a large party entered.

“She’s gonna have a heart attack when you finally ask him to marry you.”

“What makes you think I’m ready for that?”

“Dude. Are you kidding me? After your performance the other night at dinner, Jack and I placed bets you’d be engaged within the month. You’re so fucking obvious. But it’s a good thing. Be happy. And remind your mom that’s what she’s always telling you she wants for you anyway. Happiness.” He waited for my nod of agreement before adding, “By the way, if you ask him before the twenty-fifth, I win fifty bucks, so chop chop.”

Curt clapped for emphasis and gave me a mischievous grin.

“Ha. Ha,” I quipped weakly.

I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the weight of grown-up responsibility. I hated being pulled in opposing directions and having my sense of loyalty tested. The man I was five years ago would have sworn family came first. But things had changed.

“Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out. Sooner rather than later is my only advice and not because I desperately want to win a bet. You need to take control. Be decisive and make shit happen. That’s the attitude that’ll make Aaron say yes, your mom shut up and maybe catch the eye of a cute waiter or two who’ll make sure your drinks are delivered in a timely manner.”

I chuckled at his self-satisfied expression and gestured for him to put his wallet away when he stood. “I got this. Thanks for the advice, Mr. Townsend.”

“Any time. If it’s not raining, let’s play basketball this weekend. I think Chelsea is dragging Jason to some spa weekend in the mountains, but Peter said he’d take his place if we need a fourth. Jay is—” Curt cocked his head curiously as he stared at someone or something behind me.

“What is it?”

“What does your work stalker look like? Is she a pretty brunette with long legs and big boobs?” My stomach turned ominously. Oh fuck. Not now. I nodded mutely and then tipped back the last of my beer. “Ah. Lucky you. She’s coming this way now.”

Part 5-

Have you ever noticed how minor aggravations seem to take on a life of their own at the most inconvenient times? My intuition warned me to be on guard. I had a volatile Latin lover who was already stressed out from work and news of my parent’s impending visit. Running into the sexy intern who made no secret she had a crush on me and wasn’t above making bold overtures was the last thing Aaron would want to deal with tonight. Hell, it was the last thing I wanted to deal with either. It wasn’t like I planned it. Shit happened. Unfortunately I knew logic wouldn’t fly if my boyfriend walked in on me engaged in a chummy conversation with a pretty brunette with stars in her eyes.

I glanced at Curt who pasted on a friendly “about to meet a stranger” look then stage-whispered, “And three, two, one…”

“Hi Matt! I thought that was you!” Jana gushed, squeezing my arm enthusiastically.

“Hi Jana. Funny to run into you here. Um…hey, this is my friend, Curt. Jana is one of our interns. She’s been extremely helpful with the contract we’re working on.”

Curt’s half eye roll said it all and then some. Lame. “Nice to meet you.”

I stood and shoved my phone in my suit pocket while they muddled through cordial introductions. “We’re heading out now. You’re welcome to take our table if you want. It’s packed in here.”

“Actually I’ve been sitting on the other end of the bar with my friends—” She pointed to a group of women gathering their belongings and moving toward the main dining area. “One of them made a reservation but I’m not sure if I’ll stay. Do you have plans tonight?”

“Uh…yeah, actually I do.”

The ensuing stilted pause was awkward as hell. I wanted out.

Curt rustled his keys as he inclined his head toward the door. “I have to go. I’ll talk to you later, Matt. Tell Aaron hi and don’t forget about basketball this weekend.”

He bumped my shoulder as he sidled past us and headed for the exit, leaving me with a perky intern. Great.

Jana bit her bottom lip and batted her lashes shyly. I had to give it to her. She had flirtation down to a science. She was obvious about what she wanted but there was a sudden fragility about her that made it difficult to be abrupt or unkind. Not that I would be. I still had to work with her.

I stepped aside when a couple swooped in to take our table then gestured vaguely toward the reception desk in the adjoining area. “I’m having dinner here tonight. I should get going.”

“I’ll come with you. I mean…to join my friends.”

She flashed a winning smile then followed closely as I made my way through the tightly packed bar to the entrance. At some point she latched on to me, slipping her arm through the crook of my elbow like she needed me to pull her to safety. I gently extricated myself from her grip then craned my neck to see if my date had arrived.

“Bye Jana. See you tomorrow. Enjoy your dinner.”

“Wait! Can I ask you something?”

“Um…sure.”

“Are you with someone? Colleen mentioned that you were but…”

“I am.”

“Is it serious? I don’t mean to come on strong—” She chuckled when I widened my eyes comically before continuing, “—but I like you. You’re a brilliant lawyer and honestly, you’re one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. You always stop what you’re doing to help interns and newbies and I guess I was wondering if… you know.”

“I’m flattered, Jana, but yeah, I’m in a serious relationship. The practically married kind of serious.”

“But not quite!” She held up a finger and made a funny face that went a long way toward defusing the clumsy air between us.

“Yeah, well I’m hoping to change that soon.”

“Oh wow! Congratulations!” Her enthusiasm seemed sincere. I smiled then glanced away just as she threw her arms around me.

And because timing was everything, that was when Aaron walked in.

He stopped in his tracks and gave me a lopsided grin, clearly amused at my predicament. I’d take amusement over jealousy any day, I thought as I pushed Jana away and turned to face my man. Damn, he looked amazing. He wore an electric blue suit coat with dark, slim-fitted trousers. If I had to guess, I’d bet he’d come from a photo shoot where the makeup artist decided to use him as a guinea pig. His hazel eyes were heavy lined and there was a pale tint to his lip gloss.

I was aware of Jana’s excited chatter next to me but I couldn’t really hear her. I was reminded of the first night I met Aaron. He’d taken my breath away. I was in awe of him and freaked out by my reaction. My pulse skipped, my palms were slick and my mouth was like the Sahara. I hadn’t known then what was going on with me. Now, I knew I was in love.

“Hi. I’m late,” he said with a cocky smile that grew with each passing second. He knew what he did to me and he fucking loved it.

“You’re perfect.” I pulled Aaron forward and kissed his cheek. Then I put my arm over his shoulder and turned to the bewildered woman beside me. “Jana, this is my boyfriend, Aaron.”

To say she was shocked was a bit of an understatement. She looked blown away and maybe even a little ill. She stared at us long enough that I wondered if she was waiting for a punch line or a “just kidding”. When she sensed it wasn’t coming, she cleared her throat and finally took Aaron’s outstretched hand.

“Oh! Oh…oh right. Um…it’s nice to meet you.”

“You too. Do you work at the firm?” he asked politely.

“Y-yes. I’m an intern who’s interning.” She grimaced as she caught herself and then gestured to somewhere in the restaurant. “Uh, I should go find my friends. I’ll see you tomorrow, Matt. Nice to meet you.”

Cool. That was done. I rubbed Aaron’s shoulder then stepped toward the hostess desk when she called my name. “Come on, babe. I’m starving.”

We were seated at a small table for two in the middle of the restaurant next to a glass and steel banister. There was no neighboring table on one side, but we had a bird’s eye view of the entire space. The hostess set two menus and a wine list next to a tiny vase of wildflowers and the single votive on the white linen tablecloth and assured us our waiter would be with us soon. I opened the leather bound wine list and perused the first page before glancing at my uncharacteristically quiet date.

“They have that Bordeaux you like. Do you want wine or would you rather have a cocktail first?”

“So… that’s Jana,” he singsonged, ignoring my question. He set his elbows on the table and tucked his hands under his chin.

“Yep. I’ll order a bottle of the—”

“She’s staring at me.”

“What? Where?”

“She’s sitting two tables away.” He huffed humorlessly. “This is going to be interesting.”

“It’s not going to be anything. Relax and tell me about your day. You look hot, by the way.”

“Thanks. Check this out.” Aaron grinned then leaned in farther and closed his eyes so I could see the aquamarine glitter on his eyelids.

When I oohed appreciatively, he fluttered his eyelashes and giggled like a kid. I laughed then picked up my water glass to keep myself from touching him just as the waiter stopped at our table to take our drink order. He left us with a promise of fresh bread and the speedy delivery of our wine.

“So you played dress up today,” I commented when we were alone again.

“I did. Clothes, hair, makeup. It was a blast and pretty much the only thing that kept the day from being a complete disaster.”

“What happened?”

“You name it. The designer was late. He insisted on using his own models, but they didn’t fit the pieces he brought with him. He fought with the photographer about lighting, the stylist about the models’ hair and get this… when his tirade went to full scale diva heights, he questioned my fashion sense. He actually called me gauche.”

“And you let him live?”

Aaron threw his head back and laughed. “It may have been a rash decision, but yes. All things considered, I think I handled the situation well. When I suggested we regroup in the morning to give everyone a few more hours to prepare, he didn’t argue. Thank God. The second he left, I made all the necessary calls to be sure I have the personnel I need to get his team in and out before noon tomorrow. I just hope Marsha doesn’t fire my ass before I can prove how fabulous I really am.”

I scoffed. “Why would she fire you? You’re the best assistant art director in DC!”

Aaron gave me a sappy smile and sighed. “That’s why I love you, Matty.”

“What did I say?”

“Sometimes it isn’t what you say. It’s how you look at me when you say it.”

Before I could respond, the waiter returned with our wine and launched immediately into an impressive list of specials. I didn’t hear a word he said. I was engrossed with my date. Aaron was an enigma. He was a whirling dervish who peppered nonstop chatter with animated hand movements and a mischievous glint in his eye. Then he’d stop everything to make a point that left me speechless and ten paces behind him, fumbling to catch up. I felt sorry for anyone who made the mistake of underestimating him.

When the waiter stepped away, I lifted my wine glass and tapped it against his. “How do I look at you?”

“Like I’m the only one here. Like you can’t see anyone but me.”

“I can’t.”

“Me either.” He reached across the table and set his hand over mine, then he sat back and huffed theatrically. “I just wish I didn’t have the intern in my peripheral view. She’s killing the romantic vibe.”

“Don’t look at her.”

“I’m trying but she’s staring again. I’m feeling self conscious,” he groused playfully.

“You?” I rolled my eyes. “Oh please.”

“You’re right. Let’s talk about your parents visiting instead. Whatever you do, don’t tell your mother you have an attractive admirer after you. She’ll insist on meeting her and before I know what hit me, I’ll come home to find Bride magazines with the corners folded on every wedding dress and Jana’s initials circled with hearts on every one.”

I scoffed. “And you’d tell her not to bother with magazines because you’re designing your own gown.”

Aaron snickered appreciatively. “Touché. You do realize if we ever get married, we can’t tell your mother. She’ll freak the fuck out.”

“First of all, it’s ‘when’, not ‘if’ and secondly, that’s her problem… not ours.”

“Ooh! I love it when you get macho territorial and protective, Matty. It turns me on,” he purred, sliding his leg along mine under the table.

“Cut it out. I don’t want to sit here for an hour with a hard on.”

“My bad. I’m not sure I could get hard with my hostile audience. Your friend still looks puzzled, poor thing. Why do I get the feeling she had no idea you’re with a man? I can’t decide if her surprise was comical or insulting.”

I sighed with exasperation and leaned in. “C’mon Aar. Give me a break. I didn’t invite her here and I didn’t suggest my parents make an impromptu visit to DC either. I may not wear rainbow ties to work and talk incessantly about my hot boyfriend—”

“You don’t?”

“But I never hide who I am or who I’m with.”

“I know,” he said apologetically.

“Hey, I wish it was easier too. I wish my mom was more like yours. Honestly, I would have thought your family would give me a harder time than mine, but they’re so…accepting.”

Aaron cocked his head thoughtfully. “Of course they are. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”

I opened my mouth and closed it quickly but I couldn’t find my voice right away. When I did, it sounded thick with emotion. “That’s my line.”

“Hmm. The difference with my family and yours is expectation. My family expected me to bring home someone like me and trust me… they weren’t looking forward to it. One of me is difficult enough. Two? No way. But instead of another fabulous freak, they got you. You’re… normal. They love normal. Everyone does! That’s why we’re not easy for your mom to accept. She likes me fine, but I’m not what she expected. She wanted someone traditional for you. In her mind, traditional is safe. She wants you to have what she has and she doesn’t see how you can be happy with anything less.”

Now I really was speechless. He was right. I hated it but everything he said was true. I watched football with his dad and brother and made no attempt to hide the fact I knew nothing about fashion or anything they might consider unmanly. I might have been unexpected but they could relate to me on some level. I was easy.

“We have so much good will and acceptance in our lives,” he continued. “I have to remind myself to let the BS go. It’s not important. Your mom may never like me and if it’s not Jana, who by the way is still gawking at me like I’m an alien…it’s going to be someone else who thinks if my handsome lawyer is really bi, he can probably be swayed back to the straight side of the street.”

Aaron’s self-deprecating smile took the sting out of his bald-faced version of the facts, but I didn’t want to concede that life was unfair and sometimes even good people made life needlessly difficult for the ones they loved the most. I wanted him to forget everyone but us.

I rubbed my nose nervously and shifted in my chair. “She’s still staring?”

“Yeah, but—”

“Change seats with me.”

“Now?” he asked, knitting his brow irritably.

When he started grumbling in Spanish, I stood abruptly and motioned for him to get up. “Come on. Let’s trade.”

Anything could happen now. He might refuse and if he did agree, he might stomp on my foot or even elbow me in the gut when he got up. His piercing gaze cautioned me to think twice. I waited patiently while he dabbed the corner of his mouth then slowly backed his chair up and stood. Just as someone dropped a glass a couple tables away. A brief quiet fell and a few heads turned in our direction, as though startled by the jarring sound of breaking glassware. I took advantage of the disruption and pounced.

I pulled Aaron against me and cover his mouth in a searing kiss. I threw everything I had into the connection. I might not be able to fight every injustice but I would always fight for what was mine.

The place exploded with cheers and enthusiastic clapping. Our table’s central location gave the entire restaurant a front row seat to the show. I didn’t care. No one and nothing mattered but him. I pulled back slightly and rested my forehead on his before pointing at my vacant chair. He gave me a dreamy-eye nod but obeyed.

“I can’t believe you did that,” he whispered.

“Why not? I love you. I don’t care who knows. In fact, I want them to know. Should I start wearing rainbow ties to work?” I asked in a faux serious tone.

Aaron shook his head. “No. Be you. That’s all I need.”

Part 6-

Saturday turned out to be a beautiful day. Blue skies, sunny and though it was a little chilly, it felt invigorating. I looked forward to playing basketball with my friends. I loved that our law school tradition had continued and morphed to include a wider set of guys and sometimes their significant others. Not mine though. Aaron was quick on his feet and could literally run circles around anyone I knew, but his hand-eye coordination was suspect at best. He was happy to hang out with Jay making brunch.

I veered right to snag the parking spot in front of Peter and Jay’s Adams Morgan. I figured Peter and I could walk to the park a couple blocks away where we were meeting Curt and Jack.

“Good thinking! You can always get a ride back here with them if you’re too tired after playing with your balls,” he said as he leaned over the armrest and slid his hand under my basketball shorts.

I was in the process of cranking the wheel and reversing the BMW into the fairly tight spot when his icy fingers grazed my balls through my boxer briefs. I slammed my foot on the brake to avoid hitting the car behind me and then turned to scowl at him.

“Your hand is freezing!”

Aaron gave me a wide-eyed innocent look. He chuckled and rubbed his hands then blew on them to generate a little warmth. “I’m sorry. Let’s try that again. They’re all better now.”

I finished parking the car and turned off the engine. “No thanks.”

“I insist! It’s my duty as your boyfriend to make sure all your parts are in working order.”

“I’m pretty sure I proved that less than an hour ago,” I replied with a lascivious grin as I swiveled in my seat to face him.

“Yes and it was amazing.” Aaron purred like a cat and lowered his eyelids seductively before letting out a deep sigh. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m so horny lately. I think it’s your fault.”

I chuckled. “I don’t mind being blamed for that.”

“What’s gotten into you? It’s like you’ve been taking notes from watching sexy porn scenes or—”

“I have,” I interrupted in a bland tone.

Aaron gasped theatrically then threw his hand over his heart in shock. “What? Without me? That is so fucking hot. Tell me all about it!”

“Uh… now?” I cast a quick glance toward the brick façade of Peter and Jay’s home then back at Aaron who looked like he was primed to crawl into my lap and start something that would surely get us arrested. “Babe, we can’t—”

“I know, but…tell me what you saw and what turned you on the most. We can reenact it later.”

“I—I don’t remember,” I said, feeling more than a little flustered.

“Liar! C’mon Matty, tell me. Was it the office one we watched where the hot guys in suits stopped the elevator in between floors and then sucked each other off? I think they were about to get down and dirty but we had to close the computer because we almost knocked it off the bed when you tore my shirt and—”

“Okay, okay! It wasn’t that one. Cut it out,” I huffed when he busted up laughing. “Aar, look at my shorts. I can’t get out of the car now.”

He snorted with mischievous glee and locked the doors. “You’re right! You’re not going anywhere until you tell me about your awesome jerk-off session without me. It’s important that we’re one hundred percent honest with each other.”

“Do you really think that applies to solo jerk-off sessions?”

“Absolutely!”

His megawatt grin and over-the-top enthusiasm were hard to refuse. “Fine. It was the locker room one.”

“Oh! That was most excellent! I think they were playing soccer, but your basketball shorts totally work. Let’s reenact it when we get home. We can pretend the back of the sofa is the bench. What do you say?”

He pecked my cheek then patted my knee like he was thanking me for taking him to work or the grocery store instead of proposing sports-themed sex later. I was lightheaded with desire and the tent in my shorts was going to be impossible to hide. There was no way I could get out of the car without embarrassing myself.

I grasped his arms before he unlocked his door and pulled him toward me. “How am I supposed to walk into Jay and Peter’s with my dick sticking out like a flag pole?”

Aaron shifted to face me. He cocked his head and let his gaze wander to my crotch. Then he hooked his right arm over my shoulder and brushed his nose against mine.

“I could help you,” he whispered as his hand drifted to my thigh.

I captured his wrist just before he got to my now aching dick. We stared at each other. It was one of those heated moments when we might have taken a chance on being caught doing something naughty if the circumstances were in our favor. The hungry look in Aaron’s eyes told me he’d do it now if I gave him the okay. I shook my head then tugged his hair and crashed my mouth over his. I licked his lips, loving his moan of approval before he let me in.

Sometimes just kissing him was like making love. There was so much passion in the gently slide of our tongues and the soft sigh that it left me reeling and disoriented as we gasped for air in the overly warm car. Aaron caressed my cheek and ran his thumb over my swollen bottom lip.

“Fuck, I love you.”

Aaron leaned in to kiss me again then jolted backward a second later when someone tapped on the passenger-side window.

“Holy crap! He scared me,” he complained, giving Jay an evil look before reaching for the handle. He turned to me with an apologetic half-smile. “I’m sorry, Matty. I can’t help you now but I promise I’ll do whatever you want when we get home.”

“Whatever I want? ’Cause if Jay and Peter weren’t standing on the sidewalk waiting for us, I’d want to turn around right now and go home.”

Aaron’s smile grew until it took over his beautiful face. “Anything. I promise. Now behave. Go play with the basket hoop then we’ll have brunch with our friends and then…anything.”

Jay knocked again before I could reply and then opened the car door himself. “Seriously? Couldn’t you have done it at home first?”

“Actually we did do it. I just have a hard time keeping my hands off him,” Aaron quipped before he stepped onto the sidewalk.

The interruption effectively killed my erection. Thank God. I reached for my bag and threw the strap over my shoulder then clandestinely adjusted myself while I observed the three old friends engaged in an animated conversation on the other side of the car. Aaron and Jay had known each other for well over a decade. They were best friends who alternately communicated with witty banter or knowing glances. And sometimes both. They could be in the middle of a discussion about anything from a fashion trend to a new restaurant in town and then stop speaking and finish the conversation with a “look”. It used to baffle me until Peter caught me frowning at them one day and burst into laughter.

“Don’t bother trying to figure them out. They speak a different language. It’s best to go with the flow,” he’d advised.

Peter had arm around his husband’s waist now as he listened to them go through the menu they planned for our after basketball brunch. He caught my stare and grinned. Damn, he was one good-looking dude. Actually, Jay and Peter were both handsome men and together they were stunning. They were well over six feet tall, lean and blessed with GQ caliber looks. Jay was blond with blue eyes, high cheekbones and golden skin while Peter looked like an Italian god. He was tall, dark and gorgeous and he had a serious air that Jay defused with his more gregarious, friendly nature. Initially I liked them because they adored Aaron but I was grateful we’d become good friends too. It made this funny extended group we’d formed with my friends and Aaron’s feel unique and special.

“Let’s head to the courts. Jack says they’re waiting,” Peter said, gesturing for me to get my ass in gear.

We made small talk as we walked up the quiet tree-lined street. The weather, work, their recent travels. As we neared the park entrance, I heard the steady thump of a basketball hitting the pavement. I adjusted my bag and glanced sideways at Peter before asking the question I probably should have when we first started walking.

“How did it go with the surrogate?”

“Just okay,” he replied. “She’s not the right fit, but we’ll keep looking. It was a good exercise either way. I think we’re going to try adoption too. Jay is very anxious to start a family.”

“What about you?”

“I am too but I’m realistic. Having a kid requires more than a nine month gestation process for gay couples. We’re going to have to jump through serious hoops to prove we have what it takes to be parents. If only they ran the same tests for some of the morons who procreate and walk away from their kids when life gets tough or their relationship sours,” he huffed in disgust.

“Hmm. Hang in there. You guys will be great dads.”

“Thanks. I think so too. We’ll see what happens. It could be a matter of months or years. What about you and Aar?”

“We’ll be there some day too.”

“In the meantime make out in your car as often as possible. I hear that’s tough to pull off with a kid in the backseat screaming for a sippy cup or a diaper change.” Peter chuckled as he pushed open the gate.

“I don’t know about a sippy cup but you’re gonna need a tissue to dry your tears when we’re done mopping the court with you two,” Curt taunted.

We groaned in unison as we dropped our bags next to Jack and Curt’s. I stretched my hands over my head and watched Peter greet Jack with a fist bump while Curt dribbled the ball toward the basket. I waved at Jack then slowly moved toward Curt with deceptive calm before diving for the rebound when the ball bounced off the rim.

Curt snickered at my over-the-top maneuver and motioned for me to throw him a pass.

“I’m not giving the ball to the enemy. You know the rule… boyfriends can’t be partners on the court.”

“Why not? That’s a terrible rule,” he griped as he swiped at the ball.

“Maybe. But it was written for you and Jack because you’re both too damn competitive.”

“That’s Jack. Not me.”

“What am I?” Jack asked. He stole the ball from me and banked a twenty-foot shot before flashing a victorious grin. “Awsome? Oh that’s right!”

“Case closed. I’m with Jack,” I said in most lawyerly tone before glancing at my friend whose gaze was locked on his man’s ass. “That’s the other reason you can’t be on the same team. Get your head in the game, buddy. Oh and one more thing.” I smirked then lunged sideways when he went after me.

“What?”

“We’re gonna kick your ass.”

We played for a solid hour and a half before giving up the court to a gaggle of high school kids who’d been patiently waiting for the old guys to finish. I sucked down my water greedily, wondering when we became the next generation. It wasn’t that long ago that Curt and I and a few of our law school friends made a tradition of a weekend pick-up game. Back then we followed it up by knocking back a twelve pack of beer, sprawling out on the lumpy old furniture in our bachelor pad and watching whatever sport was in season. All damn day.

Now we were heading to our married friends’ house for brunch where we’d hang out as couples, sipping mimosas and Bloody Marys. The conversation would undoubtedly turn toward Jay and Peter’s efforts in starting a family. And somewhere along the line I would wonder what the hell I was waiting for.

Curt bumped my shoulder when he joined me at the bench. He grabbed a towel from his bag and heaved a sigh before cracking open his water bottle.

“Good game,” he conceded with a wry half grin. “We have to change that rule. Jack may be the oldest one on the court but somehow he’s the best.”

Jack must have overheard the compliment. He gave Curt a somewhat lecherous pirate’s smile before resuming his conversation with Peter a few feet away from us. I studied the two formers lovers, thinking it was hard to imagine them with anyone other than their partners now.

“Is it ever weird to see them together knowing they were a couple once?” I asked in a low voice before I could stop myself.

Curt looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “The only thing weird is your question, dumb ass.”

“You’re right. That was lame. Sorry.”

“Would it be strange for you to see your ex with her husband or boyfriend now?”

“Not at all. But we’re not friends and hell, I don’t even know if she lives in DC anymore.”

“What was her name? I can’t remember.”

“Kristin.”

“Oh right. Kristin who wanted to be Mrs. Sullivan. And speaking of Mrs. Sullivan—”

“Geez, I thought you’d at least wait ’til we got to Jay and Peter’s before you started this. For your own safety, I should tell you Aaron will kick your ass if you call him Mrs. Sullivan.”

“I’m not a complete moron, moron. How did dinner go the other night? I was hoping you’d asked him already and that you guys would be making a big announcement at brunch today.”

“So you’d win your fifty bucks,” I finished with an amused huff.

“That would have been nice,” he admitted with a grin.

“I’m not asking Aaron to marry me in a restaurant. Not my style. Or his. It has to be special.”

“Why does the place matter so much? Isn’t it about just popping the damn question already?”

“It matters. Trust me. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think something romantic and meaningful, but I suck at romance stuff.”

“You’re forgetting something kind of important, Romeo. Aaron knows that. You’ve been together for four and a half years already. I don’t think the place matters. I think it’s the mood. You create it with something that reminds you of the first time you met or kissed or a special dinner or—you get the idea,” Curt said as he stood.

“Yeah, I do.”

Just like that, I knew exactly what to do. And I was done waiting. Tonight was the night.

Part 7-

Aaron set his hand on my shoulder as he leaned in to pour more coffee into my cup.

“Are you feeling okay? You barely touched your breakfast,” he observed with a frown.

“Huh? No, um…I’m fine.”

I swallowed hard and tried to crack a smile but I could tell it wasn’t convincing. My face felt tight and my heart was beating a little too quickly. I had to mellow out or I’d have a hard time making it through a day at the office. My mind was already on my after-work plan.

“You don’t look fine. You look…preoccupied. Are you sure you have time to take me to the office? It’s okay if you changed your mind. I promise I won’t be late tonight,” Aaron said as he skirted the island and took the barstool next to me.

“Uh…what?”

He narrowed his gaze. “Something is up. Did your mom call again? If your parents are arriving any sooner than Saturday at noon, I need to know now so I can mentally prepare myself. No surprises, Matty.”

I chuckled and rolled my eyes. “They’re still coming Saturday. Nothing’s changed and nothing’s wrong. I promise. I’ll pick you up at five.”

“And then what?” he asked, cocking his head and giving me a suspicious once-over.

I shrugged and silently congratulated myself on finally pulling off convincing nonchalance. “Dinner?”

“Okay. What do you feel like having? I can take out some chicken to defrost or we can swing by the market and pick up ingredients for turkey meatballs.”

“Sounds good.”

“Which one?”

“Yes.”

“Yes?”

“Uh…” Fuck, what were we talking about? One second I was in control and the next, I was close to breaking out in a cold sweat. If I made it through nine hours at the office without coming unglued, it would be a minor miracle.

“Dinner?” he prompted, squeezing my hand sweetly.

“Meatballs.”

“Fabulous choice!” Aaron kissed my cheek then stood and danced around the island.

I let out a relieved rush of air when his happy chatter about side dishes morphed into humming. He swayed his hips seductively and sang in Spanish to a song I recognized but couldn’t name for sure, which was relatively normal. I knew more Spanish now than I did when we first met. Just like I also knew intense emotion was usually the catalyst for Aaron’s abrupt language shifts. Anger, joy, sadness were accompanied respectively by slamming doors, contagious laughter or sorrowful tears. My favorite was when he sang in Spanish and danced around the house for no particular reason than because he was happy and content.

As funny as that seemed, Spanish was my ticket to the inside. Extreme displays of emotion were simply part of who he was, but to be given access to the unguarded pieces of him was the true gift. Aaron didn’t speak Spanglish with anyone but his family. And me. Everyone else was treated to his version of a Rihanna, Adele or Madonna classic when he was happy, but I got the favorite Puerto Rican songstress his sister told me he adored since he was a kid. I got salsa, merengue and everything in between. I got the real Aaron. Inside and out.

I rested my lower lip on the rim of my coffee cup and stared at his ass in his perfectly-fitted chinos. He spun around with a cocky grin as though he’d sensed my gaze and knew where my dirty mind was going. Damn, he took my breath away. I may have been nervous as hell and most likely would be all day, but it wasn’t because I was afraid I was about to make a hideous mistake. It was because I wanted to get this right. I wanted to create a memory worthy of him. One that made him smile when no one was around and move his hips to a song only he could hear. I wanted him to know without doubt he owned my heart. And he always would.

Details were my forte. At least they were in my work. If you needed a contract outlining transfer of ownership or termination or continuation of services at a high governmental level or for a complex business deal, I was your man. I was known for my ability to crank out thorough, concise documentation in half the time it took other experts in my field without forgetting a single thing. In my personal life, not so much.

I glanced at my watch for the third time in one minute. There was no way I could go home to grab my guitar then drive back downtown to get Aaron after work without being really late. He’d be fine if I called to tell him I’d be another half hour, but he’d also probably suggest getting a ride and meeting me at home. Then he’d wonder why I insisted on picking him up. He’d get suspicious and I’d get more anxious than I already was. Fuck. I might even lose my nerve. I wanted this to be perfect, but I was already a basket case.

I dipped my hand in my pocket and ran my finger along the edge of the velvet ring box as I peered out the window at the tree-lined pathway leading to his office building’s main entrance. I adjusted the volume on the radio and beat my thumbs against the steering wheel to a Tom Petty classic before glancing at the time again. He was two minutes late. That couldn’t be a good sign. Maybe he knew what I was doing. Maybe he was nervous too and decided to get a ride after all. Maybe he—

“Lucky me! My very own chauffeur!” Aaron slid in to the passenger and threw his arms around my neck before sealing his mouth over mine.

He tasted delicious…like peppermint and mocha. I licked his bottom lip and glided my tongue over his, caressing his stubbled chin before pulling back to smile at him. This was going to be fine. He was here. That was all that mattered.

“How was your day?” I asked, loving the dazed look in his eye.

“Uh…good,” he said.

He recovered quickly and flashed a brilliant smile before changing the music to an electronic dance song. Then he launched into his version of the daily shenanigans at his elite DC fashion magazine. I turned the volume down and smacked his hand when he tried to commandeer it again. He chuckled but didn’t miss a beat. The photo shoot was a success, the new designer was a doll… and on he went. I hummed or grunted every so often to let him know I was listening, but I didn’t interrupt. His nonstop chatter soothed my nerves. It anchored me to the moment and to him.

“…Marsha actually touched my arm when she congratulated me on a job well done. And she made eye contact. I may have won her over!”

“No flirting with the art director,” I huffed in mock censure as I navigated the BMW down a quiet alley a few blocks from our Dupont address.

“I’m a professional. I never flirt… unless it’s absolutely necessary,” he added, bursting into laugher.

“Hey!”

“Oh Matty, you know I’m kidd—where are we going?”

Aaron glanced out his window then at me. There was enough daylight to see his confusion on his face, which meant he’d see through me in seconds flat. I had to pull off an Academy award winning performance… starting now.

“I have to pick up some legal documents from a new client,” I answered in a casual tone I thought sounded very reasonable.

“From a dark alley behind a bar after work hours?” he asked incredulously.

Okay, so I sucked at this. I parked the car closest to the back entrance and swiveled in my seat. I grasped his head between my hands and crashed my mouth over his to stop the questions and to keep myself from saying anything stupid. Aaron moaned into the kiss, encouraging me to soften the pressure and make it right. I complied and let him take over until he nibbled my bottom lip and made a purring sound that went straight to my dick. I pulled back with a strained half-laugh.

“Cool it. I’d rather not meet a stranger sporting an obvious boner.”

Aaron snickered then sat back in the passenger seat and made a shooing motion with his left hand. “Go on. I’ll think of what we need at the market while you’re—”

“I need you to come with me.”

“Why? You said you just had to pick up some paperwork. I’ll wait here.”

“No. Come on.” I unbuckled my seat belt then leaned over to do his, noting the stubborn set of his jaw. “Please. I don’t think it will take long but I don’t want to leave you in the car.”

“Fine, but this is a perfectly safe neighborhood, you know,” he groused as he opened his door.

I put my right arm over his shoulder when he met me on my side of the vehicle, mindful of the small box in my left pocket. I willed the swarm of butterflies in my stomach to subside as we traversed the stairs leading to the back entrance of a nondescript brick building. There was no signage to give away our location, though the large trash bins along the alley indicated we were in a commercial zone.

“Do you know where we are?” I infused my voice with conversational curiosity to take any significance away from the inquiry.

“Sure. We’re at a bar somewhere close to home. Are you going to buy me a drink or is it closed?”

“It’s closed for now, but yeah…I bet can buy you a drink. Want a kamikaze?”

Aaron chuckled and playfully burrowed his nose under my chin. “I haven’t had a kamikaze in a while. That was my go-to club drink before I realized it was partially responsible for a few epic hangovers.”

I pressed the buzzer next to the industrial-looking door then swiped my clammy palm on my jacket before clearing my throat. “Well, there’s always tequila.”

“Ha! I don’t think that’s a good ide—”

A Grizzly-sized man with a shock of red hair and a scruffy beard opened the door with a flourish just then. “Hi there, Matt! Good to see you again. You must be Aaron. I’m Ted. Come on in!”

Ted shook our hands and then ushered us inside as though our presence was relatively normal. This wasn’t supposed to be normal. Shit. Did I get the day wrong? I hoped not. I’d be back to square one. There was no way to attempt a repeat if I screwed this up. Aaron wouldn’t buy it twice.

I was so engrossed with my thoughts that it took me a second to register the friendly conversation going on a few feet away.

“Have you owned it long? This place looks familiar.”

Ted stopped at the end of the dark hallway. The cavernous space beyond was draped in shadows, making it difficult to see clearly. The only light was from a votive candle on the bar located at the opposite end. And it was ghostly quiet.

“I’ve been here going on three years now. I haven’t done much to the interior but I’m hoping to make some minor changes later this year. The bar could use a few improvements. I’ll show you what I mean.” Ted motioned for us to follow him toward the flickering light in the distance.

Aaron shot me an amused grin and started after him. I grabbed his elbow before he got anywhere and then slipped my hand in his. His smile was incandescent. It made light superfluous. And the warmth in his fingers seemed to spread through me like a slow-growing flame.

We walked hand in hand across the room. Our footsteps echoed and formed a backbeat of sorts to Ted’s voice as he described his grand plans for his business. When we reached the bar, he gestured for us to sit before moving to the other side. He set two glasses in front of us and poured a generous amount of vodka in each then added triple sec and a lime wedge. He was still talking when he pushed the drinks toward us.

“…acoustic tiles need to be replaced too and—oh sorry, here’s a napkin.” Ted picked up our cocktails and set them on tiny white squares.

Aaron thanked him and used the diversion to interrupt our loquacious host. “What’s your club called?”

“Lumberjack,” he replied, plucking at his plaid shirt proudly. “That’s why I need to add more rustic elements. It’s too slick now. It worked for the previous owner but—”

“What was it before? I know I’ve been here. It’s been a while though,” Aaron said.

I studied my man closely, wondering when he’d start putting the pieces together. He squeezed the lime into his drink and reached for a second napkin as though this was any night at any random bar. I licked my lips and looked over at Ted, hoping to signal I was ready. I didn’t really know the guy. I’d met him once before and talked about my plan ad nauseam. He seemed like a sweet man who assured me he was genuinely happy to help me out when the time came.

It was time now.

“Club Indigo. Isn’t that right, Matt?” Ted asked, wiping his hands on a bar towel.

“Right. Uh, do you have that paperwork?” I was mortified but not surprised when my voice rose an octave.

“Sure thing. My office is upstairs. Enjoy your drink.” Ted smiled and then stepped into the shadows.

When we were alone, I turned to face Aaron and tapped my glass against his. “Cheers.”

Aaron sipped his cocktail then pushed it aside and stood with his arms raised like he was checking for rain. Then he grooved his hips from side to side to a soundtrack only he could hear.

“Club Indigo. I remember this place. I liked it. It was always packed on the weekends. No wonder it took me a second. I don’t think I’ve been here since—” He stopped mid-spin and went perfectly still. I could almost see him put the clues together. “—this is where we met. Kamikazes. He made us kamikazes. That’s what I ordered for us that night, right?”

I swallowed hard then took another sip of vodka before moving toward him. I laced my fingers in his and pulled him toward a short set of stairs.

“Yes.”

“It’s not a coincidence,” he commented in a low tone.

“No, it’s not. I—I know this sounds silly but…this place is like holy ground to me.”

“What do you mean?”

“This was where I was standing the first time I saw you. I was waiting for my friends to get our drinks.” I pointed to the bar as though a phantom group of people might suddenly appear. “The line was long and I was restless and… I wandered here to see what the dance floor was like. All those men dancing with other men. I’d been to other gay clubs with Curt but something felt different that night.”

I gestured toward the area just beyond the stairs to give myself a moment to pull my thoughts together. “You were dancing right there. I liked the way you moved. You were so sure of yourself and you were magnetic. Every guy on that floor watched you. I couldn’t look away. I should have been with my straight buddies at the bar, planning our exit strategy. But I couldn’t go anywhere until I saw you up close. I followed you and holy fuck…you took my breath away. I’d never seen anyone so beautiful in my life. Your face, your body. I had a million thoughts swirling in my brain. I wondered who you were, if you had a boyfriend, where you were from and what your voice sounded like.

“The guy dancing next to you saw me staring. He bumped your shoulder and pointed at me. That’s when you turned around and everything in my world stopped. Maybe even my heart. It was so loud in here. The music was thumping, the lights were flashing but it went perfectly quiet for a moment… like it is right now. Silent. Just you and me in a dark room with a single candle. I knew something was happening but I couldn’t put it in words that made sense.”

Aaron watched me carefully. His lower lip trembled. I wanted to pull him into my arms and let him take over but I had so much more to say. I bit my cheek and tried to gather the right words.

“That wasn’t the day I fell in love with you, but it was the day I recognized a piece of myself I couldn’t ignore. It was the day something elemental, raw and real inside me told me to wake the fuck up or I might miss out on the most important moment of my life. Nothing has been the same for me since that night. I’m upside down, backwards and totally over my head most of the time, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.

“I love you, Aaron. I love your smile, your temper, your passion, your intelligence, your kindness. I love that you accept me as I am but still challenge me to be better. We’ve come a long way since that night. You aren’t the hot guy I couldn’t stop staring at. You’re my everything. You’re my best friend. You’re my beginning and my end. You’re the reason I want to get up in the morning and the only person I want next to me at night.”

“Matty, I—”

“Shh. I’m not finished.” I brushed a tear from his cheek and kissed him tenderly before reaching into my pocket for the black velvet box. “Four and a half years ago, I thought I was someone else. I thought I knew what I wanted in life… a good job and eventually a wife, kids, dogs and a house in the suburbs. But my list has changed. All I want is you. I want a husband, kids and—”

Aaron flung himself into my arms. “Yes, Matty. Yes!”

“Wait. I want to get this right. I meant to bring my guitar and I forgot to call the florist, but I think this is the part that matters.” I gently pushed him back so I could pull the box from my pocket. His breath hitched when I got down on one knee. “I love you, Aar and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”

He bit his bottom lip and nodded. “Yes!”

I held his left hand and then slipped the ring on his finger before jumping to my feet and wrapping him in my arms.

“I love you, baby. Forever,” I said softly, swaying from side to side.

Aaron sniffled and wiped at his eyes. He rested his arms over my shoulders and gazed up at me with a look of sheer adoration.

“You say I take your breath away, but… you should know it’s the same for me. I love you too, Matty. I always will.”

I kissed his hands one at a time and stared at the shiny platinum band then twisted it around his finger and kissed it again. Then I pushed his bangs from his eyes and caressed his cheek before leaning in to lick his lips and kiss him once more.

“So I had this plan that loosely involved serenading you with some sappy love song, roses and dinner here, but everything went a little sideways. I forgot my guitar, the roses were delivered to our condo and Ted’s been very helpful, but I had second thoughts about the romantic aspect of dining in a bear bar slash club with my very-non bear fiancé.”

Aaron chuckled and gave me one of those stunning smiles that made my heart flip in my chest. “Hmm. I have an idea. Let’s order take-out and have a picnic in bed. You can play guitar for me if you feel like it…but I have one request.”

“Anything you want.”

“I want you naked. Naked dinner, naked guitar, naked everything.”

I gave him a Cheshire cat grin and nodded in agreement. “You got it. Let’s go home, fiancé.”

Part 8-

Aaron was quiet on the short drive back to our place. Usually his silence would have been cause for concern, but I caught him staring at the ring on his finger and knew he was lost in thought. And maybe even a little overwhelmed. The funny thing was I had no doubts. I trusted us. I loved him and I knew he loved me too. A lifelong commitment didn’t seem frightening to me. Somehow it felt right.

We held hands as we made our way from the parking garage to the elevator. The second the doors slid shut, we were all over each other. I set my briefcase on the floor and wrapped him in my arms before fusing my mouth over his in a passionate kiss. Aaron threaded his fingers through my hair and hummed into the connection before pushing his tongue between my lips. Fuck, he tasted sweet. I grabbed his ass and tilted my hips to meet his. The press of our hard cocks, even through layers of clothes felt amazing. I wanted to back him against the elevator wall, unzip his pants and slip my fingers inside his briefs. I wanted to hear him sigh and beg me for more. Far more than we could do in an elevator without causing a scene. I held his head between my hands and sucked on his bottom lip before plunging my tongue inside his until we were both gasping for air.

A loud ding brought us back to reality. I kiss him softly as the elevator opened onto the building’s contemporary lobby.

“Maybe I pushed the wrong button,” Aaron said breathlessly.

I peeked around the empty-looking area to seeing if anyone was waiting. The doorman noticed me and waved a greeting before gesturing at the gigantic bouquet of red roses on the wood and concrete reception desk. I gave him a thumbs-up sign then glanced at Aaron, intending to ask him to wait while I grabbed the roses. But he looked so fucking sexy with his mussed hair and swollen lips that I made an executive decision. The flowers could wait. I couldn’t.

I signaled to the doorman that I’d pick them up later. Then I pushed the button and prayed there were no more stops. I bent to retrieve my briefcase and flung my arm over Aaron’s shoulders. “What is it?”

“Were those for me?” His wide-eyed gaze was full of wonder. “That had to be at least four dozen roses.”

“Yeah. That sounds about right.”

Aaron snickered. “O-kay. Why so many? Were you afraid I’d say no?”

“Nah. I was pretty sure you wouldn’t turn me down but I was going for romantic… and flowers are usually a safe bet,” I said in a matter-of-fact tone. “How am I doing so far?”

“Very well.” He beamed one of his signature beautiful smiles my way as we exited the elevator and made our way to our condo. “In fact, I have a pretty good feeling you’re about to get lucky.”

His singsong delivery was meant as a tease but I was too strung out to play. I licked his earlobe while he reached for his keys and growled for him to hurry up. The second the door swung open, Aaron grasped my tie and pulled me inside. He kicked the door closed then threw himself into my arms and fastened his mouth over mine. I hugged him against me, making sure not to break the kiss as I backed him into the great room. I slipped his man-bag from his shoulder and dropped it on the sofa along with my briefcase. Then I raked my hands down his back and cupped his ass. When Aaron hiked his right leg over my thigh, I lifted his left leg too and held him against me.

He groaned as he linked his arms over my neck. “I love it when you get all caveman on me. What now, Matty? Do we consummate our engagement or are we supposed to wait until our wedding night?”

I snorted with amusement and smacked his ass before carrying him toward our bedroom. “I vote for immediate consummation, wise guy.”

“Oh good. Me too.”

I tossed him on the bed and snapped my fingers meaningfully. “Get to it, babe.”
Aaron chuckled as he removed his shoes and socks. I loosened my tie and started working on the long row of buttons on my shirt. I loved the way he watched me with his head bent slightly so his bangs fell in his eyes. It gave him a bashful look that was incongruous with the heated atmosphere in the room.

He knelt on the bed and scooted toward the edge of the mattress and beckoned me closer with a subtle crook of his finger. I unbuttoned my sleeves and shrugged my shirt off my shoulders before complying. He pulled at the end of my belt and threaded it through the buckle then unzipped my trousers and pushed them down my legs.

“Take off your shoes. I’ll be right back,” Aaron said, drawing his half-unbuttoned shirt over his head.

I obeyed then bent slightly to free myself from the fabric pooled at my ankles as Aaron worked on his own pants. He fell sideways, wiggling out of them a comic maneuver that might have made me laugh if I wasn’t quite so strung out. He pushed the duvet aside and reached for the lube on the nightstand and crawled back to me. I hooked my fingers under the elastic of my boxer briefs and opened my mouth to say something. But when he lowered himself on all fours and sealed his lips over my rigid cock through the cotton barrier, I lost the power of speech.

Aaron swayed his ass seductively as he teased me, flattening his tongue up and down my length. Then he pulled the elastic back with his teeth and sucked the precum from my slit. I pumped my hips forward as I massaged his shoulders and ran my fingers along his spine. He let out a plaintive sound when I traced his crack then moved my hand up his back again.

“What is it, baby? What do you want?” I asked in a raspy tone.

He knelt up quickly and pushed my boxers out of the way before grabbing my cock in a tight hold. “I want you. Now.”

“Not so fast. Lie down.”

Aaron shifted backward and at the last second pulled my arm so I fell on top of him. He laughed, wrapping his arms around my neck and his legs around my waist and squeezed me like an octopus. I rolled us sideways and kneaded his ass before sliding my fingers over his crack and tapping his hole. Aaron went wild. He gyrated and swiveled his hips in a frantic quest for friction. I nudged his entrance with the tip of my finger as I licked his lips and glided my tongue over his. He clawed at my back and lifted his legs higher to give me room to work. I ground my hard cock against his, loving the slick feel of sweat and precum between us.

When he pushed at my shoulder, wordlessly asking me to lie flat on my back, I bit his bottom lip and shook my head. “No. Suck me first.”

He nodded enthusiastically and moved down my chest, stopping to flick his tongue over my nipples as he made his way south. He knelt between my thighs and stroked himself with his left hand as he bent to swallow me whole. I closed my eyes at the onslaught of sensation. Aaron was really fucking good at giving head. He knew exactly how much pressure I liked. Hard but not too much. He fondled my balls while he sucked and licked like a man possessed. It made me crazy.

I bucked my hips and held him still while I fucked his mouth. It was the sort of thing I never would have done when we first met. I thought it was too raunchy and honestly I wasn’t sure he’d approve. But I’d learned a lot in the last few years. Number one, my man liked sex a little on the rough side. Dirty talk wasn’t my forte, but naked wrestling definitely was. He glanced up at me when I brushed his bangs from his forehead. The look of absolute adoration in his gaze made my heart skip a beat. I pushed him off me and pulled him against me before sealing my lips over his.

When oxygen deprivation became a concern, I softened the kiss and pointed toward his pillow. He fell flat on his back and lifted his legs in the air.

“Hurry Matty.”

I reached for the lube and shuffled toward him, positioning myself so my knees rested against his ass. I poured the clear liquid on my hand then palmed myself before leaning forward to suck my lover’s beautiful cock as I slipped my middle finger inside him. Aaron groaned with pleasure, rolling his hips to meet my mouth and then rocking back on my finger. I licked him from base to tip a few more times before adding a second digit, hooking it slightly so I brushed his sweet spot. He trembled underneath me, moaning loudly as he chanted my name over and over. I set a third finger next to his entrance and pressed the sensitive flesh. Three was usually his limit and this time was no exception.

“You ready for me?”

“Yes.”

I licked my lips as I reached for more lube and lined myself up with his hole. Just as I started to push he shifted out of my grasp and rolled over, presenting himself like a gift. I blinked and tried to get my breathing under control before pushing inside him from behind. I literally shook with the effort to go slowly, inching my way forward until my balls rested against his smooth ass.

“Fuck Aar, you feel so good.” I bent forward, nuzzling his neck and pressing kisses along his neck and jaw.

He trembled beneath me as I laced my fingers through his and began to move. It was nothing more than a gently rocking motion at first. But it didn’t take long before he pumped his hips to meet me thrust for thrust. He clawed at the white sheets and buried his face in his pillow before sliding his legs out from under me to shift to a kneeling position. I sat back and pulled him against me, flattening my chest to his back. Then I reached around to jack his cock while I fucked him, setting a steady, even pace.

We were fused in every way possible and damn, he felt amazing. He moved like a dancer. The fluid roll of his pelvis and that soft whimpering noise he made were hypnotic. He was beautiful. I bit his earlobe as I wrapped my arms around him and tweaked his nipples.

“More,” he demanded in a ragged voice.

I gave him what he asked for. I tightened my hold and fucked into him harder. He set his hand over mine and reset the tempo so we stroked his throbbing dick in time with the steady rocking of our hips. He was leaking precum like crazy. I smeared it over the wide mushroom head then lifted my fingers to his mouth and glossed his bottom lip. He said something in Spanish I didn’t understand but knew meant he was really fucking turned on. He sucked my finger then fell forward to brace himself on his hands. He bucked against me hard until I let go and rode him like a madman. But when I felt that telltale tingle at the base of my spine, I slowed down. I had to see him.

“On your back,” I said gruffly.

Aaron blinked like he wasn’t quite sure why I was changing anything when this felt so unbelievable, but he didn’t ask questions. He laid on his back and wrapped his legs around my ass then pulled me forward. I gathered him in my arms and plunged inside him. I was too close and I was sure Aaron was right there with me. I balanced myself on my elbow to get a better look at him. And everything in me went kind of fuzzy.

His eyes glowed with absolute love. There was no other word. He lay underneath me offering me everything he had and more. Forever. I was shaken by the intensity of my emotion. For as many times as we’d been here, I knew this was different. Maybe it was our new commitment or maybe I was noticing something that had always been there but shone a little brighter tonight. Whatever it was, I was humbled.

Tears welled in my eyes as I brushed his hair back and leaned down to kiss his brow. “I love you, Aar. I love you so much, baby. I don’t think I can—”

“Shh. I know. I love you too, Matty. Te amo.”

He caressed my face and wiped the moisture from my eyelashes then pulled me close so our lips hovered. I moved inside him, aware that in every way that mattered, we were no longer two people. We were one. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I came apart. And he was right there with me.

We lay in companionable quiet for a while before Aaron got out of bed and headed for the bathroom. He climbed over me with a damp washcloth in hand when he returned and got to work cleaning the sweat and cum on my chest and penis. I pushed his hair from his eyes, chuckling when he spent more time than necessary on my balls.

“What are you doing down there?”

“I’m just trying to be a good husband-to-be,” he said with a mischievous grin.

I started to laugh but let out a contented sigh instead when he licked my flaccid dick. “I think you’re pretty fucking amazing already. Don’t change.”

Aaron snickered as he tossed the washcloth over his shoulder then crawled beside me. He kissed my quickly before curling into my side to rest his head on my heart. I hugged him close and reached for his left hand to examine the simple platinum band.

“I never thought this would happen,” he whispered.

“Why not? I think I’ve been pretty clear you’re the only one for me.” I entwined our fingers and squeezed.

“I meant before you came along. I feel so lucky you’re mine, Matty. Sometimes I can’t believe we’re here.”

“Hmm. I knew it would be you. Not immediately maybe, but I caught on quickly. I’ve never felt this way about anyone and the incredible thing is that it gets stronger everyday. I’m the lucky one, Aar. I know I am.”

He shifted sideways and propped himself on his elbow. “You’re killing me with the romance tonight. My heart is going to burst.”

I chuckled lightly. “Good. I wanted this to be special. So… when do you want to get married?”

Aaron’s smile took over his face. He wrapped his left leg around mine as he leaned down to rain kisses on my nose, cheek, forehead and lips. “How soon is too soon?”

“Uh…I don’t think there is a too soon. I kinda thought you’d want the full wedding thing with two hundred of our best friends though. Do you want to go to City Hall tomorrow morning instead?”

Aaron rolled his eyes and shook his head definitively. “Hell no! I want the full wedding thing for sure. I’ll need six months to properly plan it.”

“That would be October. The month we met.”

“That sounds perfect, doesn’t it?” He sighed happily.

“Yeah. Hey, I wasn’t sure about the ring so I didn’t buy mine yet. I told the jeweler to hold it for me ’til Saturday. You said you liked platinum but then I saw you looking at those black rings too.”

“Titanium?”

“Yeah, whatever. There were so many choices. I stared at three rings for an hour before the lady took pity on me and told me I could bring you with me to make a final selection. I also wasn’t clear about which hand it went on so I googled it. Basically, I think because we’re two guys we get to do whatever we want. You can decide. As long as we’re both wearing one, it doesn’t matter to me.”

“Oh Matty. You’re on a roll. You’re saying all the right things,” he gushed. “I wish I could record tonight and play it over and over. Who knew an ordinary day could turn into the best day of my life? I can’t wait to tell our friends. Jay is going to flip! And my family. Mom’s going to cry for sure and—” He stopped suddenly and some of his joyful exuberance faded when he continued. “Yours will too, but for a completely different reason.”

I scowled. “She’ll be fine. And if not, it’s her problem. I love you, Aar. I want to marry you and spend the rest of my life with you. That’s all there is to say.”

“Somehow I think she’ll find something to say. Maybe we shouldn’t tell them. At least not this weekend. Let’s wait or maybe not tell them at all. Can we do that?”

“No. We’re not hiding our engagement from my parents.”

“Fine. Let’s tell your dad but not your mom. Or let’s tell her, but not until November.”

I pushed at his shoulder then rolled on top of him and pinned his hands next to his head. “Nope. This is very simple, baby. We love each other and we’re getting married. No negativity welcome. She may be surprised but—”

“Or horrified,” he supplied.

“But she’ll come around. You’ll see.”

Part 9-

Our engagement probably wasn’t a huge surprise to our friends but they still went crazy. I could hear Jay screaming on the phone when Aaron called him later that night. And then crying. I wanted to roll my eyes but the moisture in them made it difficult to do so with any finesse. This was big. No, it was enormous. Getting married was a major decision. The idea of committing myself to building a life with another person used to make me sweat. Now, it made me smile. So yeah, perhaps I was a little emotional too.

The outpouring of love and support was humbling. Joy, tears and heartfelt well wishes rained on us all week. We answered the same questions a million times. Have you set a date? Where will it be? When are you having children?

“Did you really just ask me that?”

“Well hey. Inquiring minds want to know,” Colleen said with an unapologetic smirk.

I sat back in my office chair and scowled at my secretary. “Yeah I bet. We need to plan and pay for a wedding before we start thinking about kids.”

“Good plan. What’s the date? And don’t tell me this is a small affair you won’t be inviting work associates to because I will plant my ass in front of that church with binoculars if I have to.”

“Something tells me you would do that, but don’t worry, you’re invited. Mark October off in your calendar. Aaron wants a fall wedding. He’s been talking about a couple venues but we’ll have to wait another week to start looking around. My parents are coming to visit this weekend.”

“They must be thrilled. Your Aaron is a beautiful man. Inside and out. You got lucky with that one.”

“I know, but…my mother may not be as excited. We’ll see.”

“Why not? Don’t tell me she doesn’t like him,” she said in a fierce tone that made it clear she’d willingly kick ass if anyone dared to insult my man.

“She likes him fine.”

“But she doesn’t like that he’s a guy, is that it?”

I nodded and then gestured to the file in her hand. “Is that the info on the defense contract?”

Colleen dropped the manila folder on my desk then headed for the door. “No offense to your mother, but she better get her head out of her asses. It doesn’t matter what someone’s got between their legs. Good people are hard to find and you got yourself one of the best. Oh and one more thing…that contract is due tomorrow at noon.”

“What? Tomorrow is Saturday.” I knit my brow in confusion as I opened the folder.

Inside was a handwritten, personal request from my boss to work for the next twenty hours straight in order to complete something one of the other junior partners had failed to do. That wasn’t exactly what it said, but that was what it would take to sift through someone else’s work and finish it properly. I had no idea how much research was still needed. This was a fucking nightmare. Or maybe it was a test to see if I had what it takes to become a full-fledged partner.

“Yeah, I don’t think they care about that. I’ll help with whatever you need today and Jana will be in tomorrow all morning to assist with the rest.”

“Why don’t you get her started today on—”

“She’s not here. She hasn’t been in most of the week ’cause she’s been studying for her exams. Poor thing doesn’t know you’re officially off the market. She’s going to be heartbroken,” Colleen snarked.

“She knows. I told her myself and I was very clear.”

“Hmph. Hope springs eternal. Let me know what you need me to do, boss,” she said, closing the door behind her.

I turned to my computer to get started just as my cell buzzed.

“Hi Curtster. What’s up?”

“Question of the day. To hyphenate or not? Mendez-Sullivan or Sullivan-Mendez?”

“You’re hilarious. What do you want? I’m a busy lawyer, Mr. Townsend. I don’t have time for nonsense,” I said in a paternal voice I knew would bug him.

“Gee, and I thought lawyers who wrote government contracts were experts at nonsense.”

I chuckled in spite of my growing anxiety as I scanned through the document on my screen. This thing was a fucking mess. “I can’t defend myself. And if you saw the piece of crap I’m supposed to magically fix in less than twenty-four hours, you’d actually feel sorry me.”

“Does that mean you’re working tonight?”

“Definitely.”

“Shoot. I just got off the phone with Aaron to invite you guys over tonight for a little engagement celebration.”

“I wish I could, but there’s no way I can manage it and get this contract done in time. Can we do it next weekend instead?”

“Of course. I’ll call Aar and—”

“That’s okay. I’ll tell him myself. I have to let him know I’m working late anyway.”

“All righty. See ya later, Mr. Mendez-Sullivan,” Curt singsonged.

I let out a bemused huff before disconnecting the call and scrolling to Aaron’s number.

“I have five minutes before Marsha gets back. What time will you be home tonight? Curt and Jack invited us over,” he said in a hurried tone.

“Curt just called me too, but I can’t make it tonight. I have to work.” I gave him a rundown about the case I’d been handed and finished with a theatric sigh. “I’ll be here until ten and chance are good I’ll have to be back by five in the morning to complete this in time. I’m sorry. I’ll call the jeweler and see if we can swing by to get the other ring at lunch on Monday or after work.”

“That’s okay. I’ll have quiet night with a bottle of vino and a stack of wedding magazines instead. Monday works better for the rings anyway. I told Marsha I’d supervise the photo shoot by the bridge in the morning. I should be done around the same time as you. But what are we going to do about your parents? Should I hide the magazines? And if they arrive before you get home, do you want me to take my ring off?”

“No, of course not.”

“I’m not telling your mother we’re getting married by myself. She’ll kill me, throw my body in the river and then introduce you to some cute girl she thinks would make you a lovely wife. Don’t let her do it, Matty!”

I snickered at his faux-panicked tone. “She wouldn’t dare.”

“Hmph. You think I’m joking, but I’m not. I don’t want to hide anything but I also don’t want to get stuck answering probing questions.”

“I get it. I’ll ask them to meet me at my office and then I’ll take them to lunch. Better?”

“Much. I have to go. I’ll see you tonight. I love you, fiancé.”

“I love you too, baby.”

My parents were more than happy to meet me at my office. They’d never seen me “in action” and while a Saturday at the law firm was hardly buzzing with excitement, I couldn’t deny I felt a burst of pride I felt showing them the physical proof that the time, money and effort of law school had paid off. I was a full-blown adult with a prestigious big boy job. And in large part, it was thanks to their unwavering support.

“It’s never this quiet during the week. This is like getting a backstage pass to a concert hours before the audience arrives,” I explained as I led them down a long hallway toward my section of the executive floor.

They oohed and ahhed over the traditional meets modern décor and stopped occasionally to gaze at a painting or peek into an empty office.

“This is just lovely, honey,” my mom commented, obviously impressed. “Is Colleen here? I’ve talked to her so many times on the phone. I’d love to meet your secretary in person.”

“She’s not in today. Come this way. I want to show you my office, then we can head out for lunch.” I gestured toward the opposite end of the space just as Jana stepped through the door.

“Oh sorry Matt. I just wanted to let you know I’m leaving now. The files were delivered with plenty of time to spare. You did it!” Jana gushed.

I held out my hand to give her a high five. “Thank you for your help. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Jana grinned then turned to greet my folks. “Hi, I’m Jana. You must be Matt’s mom. He looks just like you. You’re so pretty and he’s so—oh.” She flushed a bright shade of pink before biting her lips nervously and take a step backward.

“He is indeed,” my dad joked, throwing his arm over my shoulders. “Are you a lawyer too?”

“No, I’m just a lowly intern,” she answered in a self-deprecating tone.

“Not so lowly,” I said politely. “You’ve been terrific.”

Jana preened at the compliment. “Thank you. I’ve been assisting Matt on a few projects. It’s such an honor. Your son is brilliant. Everyone thinks so.”

I caught the funny look my parents shared and figured it was time to move on. “Um, thanks again, Jana.”

“You’re welcome. By the way, I’m so excited for you and Aa—”

“Oh hey!” I grabbed her elbow to keep her from spilling the beans and then motioned for her to follow me into my office. “Can I talk to you for a sec? I have a quick question before you go.”

“What is it, Matt?”

She cocked her head curiously so her long hair fell over her eyes flirtatiously. I cast a surreptitious glance at my parents who were busy checking out the photos on Colleen’s desk before whispering, “They don’t know Aaron and I are engaged yet. We’re telling them together later.”

“Oh! Oh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. You didn’t tell them. No harm, no foul.” I assured her, shoving my hands in my pockets.

Jana grinned and then launched herself at me, throwing her arms around my neck and squeezing tight. I gently untangled myself just as she moved in to kiss my cheek. Of course, she ended up planting one on my lips instead.

She gave me a bashful smile and ran her hand down my arm before heading toward the door. “Bye Matt. I’ll see you Monday,” she purred in a low throaty voice.

I swiped my hand over my mouth and then waved at my parents to invite them inside my office. They said their good-byes to Jana first. Mom spent a little extra time chatting with her while I gave my father a brief rundown of my daily life behind my desk. My mother squeezed my arm affectionately when she joined us a couple minutes later. I noted the dreamy expression on her face. It confused me at first, but it didn’t take a genius to realize she’d seen the unintentional lip lock and got the wrong idea.

I opened my mouth to set her straight but stopped myself. I didn’t want to talk about Jana or my sexuality in my office. It felt weirdly out of place and there was no point. Mom would soon find out how wrong she was after lunch.

In retrospect, I should have handled things differently. In the back of my head, I knew my mother wasn’t going to jump for joy at our news. But I was blinded by hope by everyone else’s reaction. Hell, even Aaron’s dad’s voice cracked on the phone when he welcomed me into the Mendez family. Surely, my mother would see that we were happy and admit Aar and I were good together.

If all else failed, I figured a bottle of expensive sauvignon blanc and nice lunch at an upscale downtown bistro would set a pleasant tone. Then I’d take them home where I’d ply them with more alcohol before Aaron and I told them about our engagement.

Aaron and I had talked about how we’d tell them. He wanted a script. Something along the lines of “we want your approval but it doesn’t really matter what you think because we’re doing this thing either way”. I’d laughingly assured him it wouldn’t come to that. My parents loved me. They might be surprised, but they’d certainly come around. However, my mom’s overly bright grin and expectant glances during lunch made me feel slightly nauseous. Something was off. She seemed more excited than an excellent vintage of wine and a delicious lunch warranted.

“Tell us about the sweet girl we met at your office, dear,” she said, setting her napkin beside her empty plate when the server came to clear away our dishes.

Oh boy.

“Jana’s an intern. She’s nice and she’s a hard worker. She’ll be working in my department for another two months.”

“Hmm. And then what?” she prodded, pushing her hair behind her ear before reaching for her wine glass.

I shrugged. “Then she’ll study for the bar exam, I guess. I don’t know.”

“You should ask her out. Or have you already? Are you secretly dating?”

“What? No!” My forehead creased in irritation. “Geez Mom, Jana is an employee. That’s unethical,” I huffed angrily. “We have a working relationship only. And Aaron would—”

“She has a crush on you,” my mother singsonged before gazing up my dad with a knowing smirk. “You noticed it too, didn’t you, honey?”

My dad grunted then shook his head at my mom. “Sure, but that doesn’t mean Matt’s interested.”

“Why wouldn’t he be? That girl is beautiful!”

I rolled my eyes and tuned out their chatter while I observed my folks. They were a striking couple. Dad was tall and ruggedly good-looking with short brown hair that was flecked liberally with strands of gray and Mom was a pretty, petite blonde who wore minimal cosmetics. They were both fit and easily looked a decade younger than two people pushing sixty. They complemented each other well. Dad was laid-back and slow to anger while Mom was a fireball of energy. Kind of like Aaron and me, I thought with a grin.

I tipped back the last of my wine and pushed my glass aside to reach for the bill when the waiter se the leather folder near my dad’s elbow. Then I handed over my credit card without looking and checked the time on my cell before glancing across the table.

“Ready to—why are you guys staring at me? Do I have broccoli in my teeth?” I joked.

“No reason. Except…you look happy, sweetheart,” Mom said with a soft grin.

I returned the gesture. Times ten. My smile was no ordinary upturn of the lips. It took over my face and seemed to burst out of me, like sunlight shooting from my eyes and every part of me that might somehow transmit how extraordinarily overjoyed I felt. I was in love with my best friend. And I couldn’t wait to let them in on our news. I wanted everyone to know I was head over heels for Aaron Mendez.

“I am, Mom.”

“Good.”

“Does Aaron know about Jana?”

“Huh? Yeah, he knows.” I narrowed my gaze as I pushed back my chair. “Speaking of Aar… we should get going. He’s probably wondering where we are.”

“I’m glad you’ve told him. You need to get on with your life. I can’t tell you how thrilled we are for you. Will we get to see her again this weekend? Invite her for dinner!”

I froze in mid-air then slowly stood. “Mom. Why would I do that? There’s nothing between Jana and me.”

She patted my cheek like I was a five year old making up some wacky story for her entertainment. “I get it. Mum’s the word. But you really should be honest with Aaron. He’s a nice young man. He simply isn’t what you need.”

I stared after her with my mouth wide open.

Holy crap. I had a very bad feeling I was walking into a shit storm.

Part 10-

When my cell buzzed in my pocket, I held up my hand to let my parents know I needed a minute before stepping into an alcove to check my screen. It was an email from the jeweler. I was sure she was confirming our previous discussion and reminding me to let her know when I was available on Monday. I’d handle that later. The only person I wanted to talk to was Aaron. And it needed to happen as quickly as possible.

I breathed a sigh of relief when he answered on the first ring.

“Oh my God, Matty, I’ve had the craziest morning. I have a major surprise for you. Major!”

“Major, eh? That sounds important. I thought you had to work.” Yes, I was stalling, but I was charmed too. There was something about the sound of his voice that soothed me and made the excess nonsense fade.

“The shoot was postponed, so I went shopping.”

“Uh oh,” I teased.

Aaron snickered. “I know. I’ve been bad. Real bad. I bought flower samples and color swatches and about a dozen wedding magazines. I even found a gay one. They have a few online but a live and in person one is the find of the century! I have so many great ideas for table décor, wedding favors and flower arrangements. I splurged on one of everything! I have at least a million things to show you, but don’t worry… I’ll clean up before they get here. I don’t want to give your mom a heart attack. How much time do I have?”

I glanced around the corner and spotted my parents holding hands and chatting near the front door. I could tell from their expressions that they weren’t necessarily in agreement but their body language spoke volumes. They were in love and they had been for a long time. They didn’t bother hiding their affection. They were proud of it.

“No, don’t. Don’t put anything away. I want to see everything,” I said earnestly.

“Huh? Did your parents’ flight get delayed?”

“No, they’re with me and we’re on our way, but Aar…I want you to be you. No filters. No more being polite or keeping our lives on the DL.”

“You told them and they’re pissed,” he guessed in a flat tone.

I bristled at the resignation in his voice. The sudden shift from excitement to something resembling defeat was heartbreaking. It was ending now. I was more determined than ever that no one was going to take this joy from him. And they weren’t going to dim it for their own personal comfort…even temporarily.

“I didn’t say a word. Just…don’t change anything and don’t put anything away.”

“Okay, but I’m warning you, it’s epic. I wasn’t exaggerating.”

“Fine by me. We’re not in the closet and we sure as hell aren’t having a wedding in one. I’ll be home in fifteen minutes. Love you, baby.”

My parents weren’t particularly talkative on the drive home. They’d definitely had words of some kind while I was on the phone with Aaron. They were rarely at odds with each other. And usually, it wasn’t a big deal. I probably could have diffused the tension by pointing out a few of their favorite DC sights on the way back to my condo. However, my mind was elsewhere. I loved my parents, but honestly, I wished they weren’t here. I hated big confrontations as much as I loathed heavy silences. Sometimes they were inevitable, I mused with a sigh.

I grabbed their suitcase from the trunk and lead them to the elevator in the underground garage. My dad stepped backward when I held the door open and gestured at my car.

“Matt, I think I left something in the car. Hand me your keys. You go on upstairs. Your mom and I will be there shortly,” he said, tugging gently at my mother’s sleeve.

I didn’t argue. And I certainly wasn’t going to invite my mom to join me. They obviously needed a few more minutes alone. I barely refrained from telling them to take their time as I tossed the keys at my dad. But I stabbed at the elevator button repeatedly, hoping the extra pressure would close the doors before my mom decided to jump in with me.

Thankfully, the ride was short. I rolled the small suitcase down the hallway to our condo, picking up my pace when I heard Latin music blasting through a half-open door.

“Aar?”

I closed the door quickly and left the suitcase in the foyer then hurried to adjust the volume before our neighbors complained. I turned the corner into the great room and immediately stopped in my tracks.

Wow.

The living area had been transformed into a floral wonderland. The coffee table and fireplace mantel were laden with giant bouquets with tall stems and massive branches. Smaller ones were perched along the island and on the dining room table. Roses, lilies, sunflowers and many more I couldn’t name. The colors were brilliant and beautiful but nothing compared to the hot man in the kitchen shaking his ass to a samba beat.

I opened my mouth but nothing came. I was blown away by his attention to detail. Votive candles and antique mirrors were interspersed with wildflowers and miniature pumpkins. Where the hell did he find pumpkins in March?

I turned down the music and set my hands on my hips. Aaron spun in a circle, dropping the stems in his hand on the counter before dancing over to greet me. He threw his arms around my waist and raised his head for a kiss. I bent to lick his lips and slipped my tongue inside. He tasted like peppermint and chocolate. Delicious.

Aaron grinned like a madman as he pulled out of my embrace and made a grand sweeping motion with his right hand. “Well? What do you think?”

“It’s…a lot. I mean, it’s beautiful. But damn, you weren’t kidding. You went crazy. It looks like you offered our condo to a florist who was getting ready to deliver to three weddings on the same day.”

“I warned you.”

“You did. It’s amazing.” I brushed my hand over my stubbled jaw when I spotted the impressive stack of wedding magazine on the table and noted the one on top featured two dapper-looking grooms on the cover.

Aaron nodded enthusiastically.

“It’s going to be. I’ll make sure of it. This will be the wedding of the century! People will be talking about it for years,” he assured me before glancing toward the door. “Where are they?”

“They forgot something in the car. They’ll be here any second.”

“It’s probably too late and you did say to leave everything alone but… do you want me to put anything away? We can hide the arrangements on the balcony or in our room.”

I chuckled. “No. It’s perfect. It’s like a stage. I like your surprise.”

“Oh, this isn’t my surprise.” He glanced at the door again then back at me with a Cheshire cat grin. “I can’t wait. I have to give it to you now. I swear I’ll do it properly later, but…”

He was practically vibrating. His eyes were bright with excitement and his hands were shaking. I cocked my head curiously and furrowed my brow. “What is it, baby?”

“The first thing I did when the photo shoot got canceled was call the jeweler.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I know we’re a done deal but I always wanted to do this part too. I love the ring you bought me so I just picked up the matching one. And… we’re on a time crunch, so I’ll keep this short.” Aaron licked his lips and dug into his pocket. Then he got down on one knee and glanced up at me. “I love you, Matthew Sullivan. I love the way you love me, accept me and make me realize I’m stronger than I think. I’m pretty sure this is a yes, but…will you marry me?”

For the second time in less than ten minutes, I was speechless. Only this time, my heart was in my throat. Perhaps it was the unexpected sweetness of the gesture or maybe it was the look of absolute love and adoration in his eyes. Either way I was humbled. And fuck, I loved him.

I sank to the floor and crashed my mouth over his in a searing kiss that left us both breathless. We stared at each other and smiled, surrounded by a forest of flowers in our own living room. Aaron grasped my left hand and glided the ring into place. Then he bent to kiss my fingers.

“Te amo, mi amor.”

“Te amo,” I repeated, caressing his cheek and gazing into his beautiful eyes.

A sharp knock startled us into action. Aaron gave me a panicky look as hopped to his feet. “How do you want to play this? I’ll just follow your lead. Unless you say something dumb. Then I may have to stop you, but—”

“Relax. And remember, no matter what they say or how they react, we’re getting married because we love each other…. and because we want the tax write-off.” I winced when he punched my arm and glowered at me.

“Not funny.”

I snickered and slung my arm over his shoulder. “Find humor in uncertain situations and stick to people who make you smile. I’m marrying my best friend. There’s no reason to worry.”

Aaron laid his head on my chest and grinned up at me. “Are you going to let them in?”

“They have my keys,” I replied.

The door opened on cue a moment later.

I tightened my hold around Aaron reassuringly when I heard my mother’s gasp. On one hand, I couldn’t blame her. It was a normal reaction from anyone walking into an indoor garden unexpectedly.

“What’s going on here?” My mom looked shell-shocked and pale. I waited for a tendril of dread to creep in and overshadow our joy. It didn’t come.

I held Aaron’s hand, brushing the platinum band on his finger as I stepped around the massive arrangement on the coffee table. “Welcome. What do you think?” I asked pleasantly.

No one said a word. They didn’t have to. Their flabbergasted expressions spoke for them. I let the moment linger. A cheerful Latin song was playing at a low volume through the speakers. I preferred it to the classic jazz he usually put on when parents visited because he thought they liked it. The happy melody unobtrusively declared this home was Aaron’s too.

“It smells good,” my dad said with a half-laugh as he set his hand on my mom’s shoulder.

“Thanks. We have something to tell you. We’re—”

“No!” My mom blurted. She moved toward the island, stopping to touch the petals on a red rose before continuing to the dining table.

I let go of Aaron’s hand and stood in front of him protectively as I turned to face her. “Mom, look at me. I have something to tell you and you’re going to listen.”

Her nostrils flared slightly, but she complied. “What is it?”

“Aaron and I are getting married.”

Silence.

No clapping. No tearful hugs and kisses. No questions about how it came to be or what our plans were. Just a little samba music in the background, straining to lighten the growing tension.

My dad moved to my side and clasped my shoulder before embracing my fiancé. “Congratulations. Welcome to the Sullivan family, Aaron. We’re happy for you both, right honey?”

“I— Does he know about the pretty girl at your office?” she asked in a faraway tone.

Aaron raised a brow and nodded. “Jana? I know all about her. She’s young and naïve and no offense to Matty, but she’s probably more infatuated with his job title than she is with him.”

“He didn’t push her away when she hugged him. I was there. I saw,” Mom insisted tightly.

“She was congratulating me, Mom. She knows I’m engaged to Aaron.”

“What do you mean, she knows? You told some intern you were marrying someone before you told your mother? Who else knows?”

“Everyone,” I answered simply. “Our friends, our co-workers, our doorman, Aaron’s family and… my sisters and my brother.”

She threw her hand over her mouth and fixed me with a horrified look. Once upon a time, I would have done anything in my power to erase her sorrow and quell her fear. But not now. I loved my mother but my heart and my future belonged to the man next to me.

“I can’t believe you would do such a thing,” she gasped.

“Be happy?” I shoved my hand through my hair in frustration and stepped toward my now teary-eyed mother. “You always told me you wanted me to be happy. You taught me that giving was more important than receiving and that love is the greatest gift you’ll ever have to offer anyone. It was you, Mom. You. So wise. So nurturing and so unselfish. You taught me the value of respect and that acts of kindness are infinitely more meaningful than sharp words. But now you want me to deny how I feel and I don’t understand.”

“Aaron is lovely man. I like him quite a bit but—”

“I love him!” I shouted. “He isn’t just a nice man. He’s the man I love, Mom. I’ve loved him for years. I’ve loved him for so long I can’t remember what it’s like not to love him. And I never want to. He is my heart. He is the only one I want. No one else even registers. I’ll never change my mind. I don’t notice people like Jana because I gave myself away a long time ago.

“And I made an effort to let you know when I first figured out that I’m not straight. I was scared and unsure so I went to the one person who always had my back. You were the first to know. You said all the right things. You told me nothing changed and that you’d always support me. If that’s true, you shouldn’t be surprised because I haven’t stopped being me and I sure as hell haven’t stopped loving Aaron. If you can’t accept it… it might be best for you to leave.”

Her look of utter anguish sliced me to the bone. But I wasn’t backing down and I wasn’t going to change any part of my life to please her. This was non-negotiable.

“You don’t mean that,” she whispered.

“I do. This is my life and Aaron is the biggest part of it. I won’t tolerate you or anyone else coming into the home we share and being careless and disrespectful. I won’t let anyone hurt him. Especially not the people who claim they love me.”

“I do love you, Matthew. I love you so very much,” she sobbed.

“Then stop this now. Don’t ever tell me you like him but want me to meet a nice girl. Don’t ever refer to him as my roommate or my buddy. Don’t ever make him feel like he’s anything less than my equal.” My voice hitched as my emotions bubbled and spilled to the surface. “The best day of my life happened less than a week ago when Aaron agreed to marry me. He’s going to be my husband but he’s already my family. You need to understand this is forever.”

Aaron threaded his fingers through mine and squeezed them. I looked at our joined hands and then at his face, alarmed at the tears clinging to his eyelashes. I kissed his temple and then glanced back at my dad.

“Give your mom a minute, Matt. She’s going to be okay,” he said.

She sniffed loudly and held up her hand. “No. I don’t need a minute.”

“Mom…”

She shook her head wearily before reaching for her purse and pulling out a tissue. She dabbed at her eyes and sniffled. “I’m sorry. I’m terribly sorry. Please forgive me. Your dad suspected you had news like this but—”

“How? I didn’t say anything.”

“I didn’t know for sure,” Dad corrected. “I just had a feeling you were getting ready to settle down…get married, start a family. You have a calmness about you that wasn’t always there. Like you know where you’re going and you can’t wait to start the next chapter.”

“Your dad saw it and I…panicked. But he’s right, I’m being horribly selfish. I apologize. I knew you were serious about Aaron and that what you felt for him wasn’t ordinary. It scared me. The mother in me wants to protect you. But here you are telling me you’ll protect him from me if you must. God, that breaks me in half.”

She turned to Aaron with a sorrowful look. “I’ve always liked you, Aaron. Even when I didn’t want to. I’m terribly sorry. I hope you can forgive me. But more than anything, please take care of him because… he loves you. And if I know my son, I can assure you he’ll be a wonderful husband to you and some day, the best dad in the world to your children.”

Aaron swept my mother in his arms and held her close. I took a cleansing gulp of air and fought the urge to dog pile on their hug and give in to the well of emotion that had me upside down for days. My dad bumped my shoulder companionably before pulling me into a fierce embrace. He stepped backward and rubbed his hand over his nose.

“You good?” he asked with a sniff.

“Yeah. Thanks.” I cast my gaze at Aaron and my mother still holding each other a few feet away. “So, you’re really okay with everything?”

“Of course. You’re good together. You balance each other out. Mom knows it too. In her heart, she has no doubts. But she loves you so much she can’t see straight sometimes. She lets her fears get the best of her and says things she ends up regretting. I know that wasn’t easy, but she needed you to tell her how you feel. You were gut-wrenchingly honest. That hurts. But she’ll be fine. She knows you love him and he loves you. You have a strong foundation for good head start.”

“I have a feeling we can do better than good.”

Honestly, I was sure of it. Loving Aaron was the easy part. We’d been together long enough to know relationships required absolute trust, unconditional respect, and a willingness to compromise. We knew it wasn’t always hearts and roses, but we also knew what we had was worth fighting for and protecting. He was my partner in the adventure of a lifetime. And personally, I couldn’t wait for the journey to begin.

Epilogue-

Aaron burrowed into my side and hooked his leg around mine. We were covered in sweat and my body was still humming in the afterglow as my breathing returned to normal. If it wasn’t so cold in our bedroom, I might actually be able to fall asleep just like this. I brushed his hair out of his eyes and kissed his brow.

“Aar, grab the blankets. It’s freezing in here.”

“Mmm.” He pulled the duvet over us and settled back, resting his head on my heart. “Better?”

“Much better. Are you sore?” I kneaded his bare ass, wishing I could be inside him again. God, he felt so good.
“I might be in the morning, but I’m fine now. After two days with no sex, I don’t mind at all. It was a nice visit, but I’m glad we have our place to ourselves again.”

“Just us and five dozen flowers.”

“More like eight,” he chuckled. “We made a few important choices this weekend though. Roses, sunflowers and tulips. Shades of yellow, red and orange… perfect, don’t you think?”

“Sure. Thanks for involving my mom. I know you’re going to things your way but it was cool of you made her feel like you needed her advice. Especially since she started the weekend acting like a raving maniac.”

“She loves you, Matty. Besides, she apologized and was on her very best behavior, saying all the right things about being happy for us. I think she meant it at the end.”

“I hope so. You’re so patient with her, which is funny because you’re not patient otherwise.”

“It’s my Catholic guilt. You don’t mess with momma where I’m from,” he joked. “She’s trying. That’s what counts. And when she asked me to take care of you… it got me. I think it was her way of passing a baton. It’s super old-fashioned, but I kinda liked the sentiment. Just so you know…I’m going to be the best husband you ever had.”

I snickered as I reached for his left hand to examine the simple band on his finger. “You’re my only husband.”

“Not yet. Six more months.”

“Yeah, but in a way we’re already married. The title is nice but the truth is… the only thing we’re missing is a piece of paper.”

“And a kickass party. There’s so much to plan, Matty! Band or DJ? Traditional cake or cupcakes or both? What about a seating chart?”

I widened my eyes theatrically then pulled the duvet over my head. “Wake me up in six months.”

Aaron giggled as he flung the cover back. “No chance. I’ll do most of the work, but I have a request to make.”

“What is it?”

“I want you to play our song at the wedding.”

“”Your Song” by Elton John?” I waited for his nod of agreement before adding, “And sing?”

“Yeah. Will you? I know it’s personal. If you really don’t want to, that’s ok—”

“I’ll do it.” I ran my fingers over his flat stomach. “But I’m a little rusty. I haven’t been playing much lately.”

Aaron rolled off the bed and headed for the door buck naked. “I’ll be right back.”

He returned a minute later with my guitar. I sat cross-legged and gently took the instrument from him, propping it on my lap. Aaron mirrored my pose so we sat with our knees touching. I strummed a few chords before humming the first few notes of the melody, then I looked at him and began to sing.

“It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside…”

I missed a couple chords and I fumbled the lyrics once, but when I reached the last line, “How wonderful life is while you’re in the world”, Aaron threw his arms over my neck and kissed me.

“It’s my favorite.”

“Then it’s yours.”

“Thank you.”

I held his gaze as I set the guitar aside. I was tempted to fill the quiet, but I let it go. I wondered what was going on in his head. I wondered if he thought that song was our beginning and if he ever dreamed in a million years he’d ask me to play it for our wedding. Maybe someday I’d ask, but for now, I let the moment be. It was good the way it was. In fact…it was better than good.

 

 

Better Than Engagement, Part 10 & Epilogue- A Matt & Aaron Short Story

This is it! The final chapter and epilogue of Better Than Engagement. I’ll post the short story later today in its entirety, but I wanted to get this final part out for everyone who’s been patiently waiting for it. It’s almost 2 in the morning here, so without further adieu…here’s Matt and Aaron.  Happy Reading!  Lane xoimages-13Better Than Engagement – Part 10

When my cell buzzed in my pocket, I held up my hand to let my parents know I needed a minute before stepping into an alcove to check my screen. It was an email from the jeweler. I was sure she was confirming our previous discussion and reminding me to let her know when I was available on Monday. I’d handle that later. The only person I wanted to talk to was Aaron. And it needed to happen as quickly as possible.

I breathed a sigh of relief when he answered on the first ring.

“Oh my God, Matty, I’ve had the craziest morning. I have a major surprise for you. Major!”

“Major, eh? That sounds important. I thought you had to work.” Yes, I was stalling, but I was charmed too. There was something about the sound of his voice that soothed me and made the excess nonsense fade.

“The shoot was postponed, so I went shopping.”

“Uh oh,” I teased.

Aaron snickered. “I know. I’ve been bad. Real bad. I bought flower samples and color swatches and about a dozen wedding magazines. I even found a gay one. They have a few online but a live and in person one is the find of the century! I have so many great ideas for table décor, wedding favors and flower arrangements. I splurged on one of everything! I have at least a million things to show you, but don’t worry… I’ll clean up before they get here. I don’t want to give your mom a heart attack. How much time do I have?”

I glanced around the corner and spotted my parents holding hands and chatting near the front door. I could tell from their expressions that they weren’t necessarily in agreement but their body language spoke volumes. They were in love and they had been for a long time. They didn’t bother hiding their affection. They were proud of it.

“No, don’t. Don’t put anything away. I want to see everything,” I said earnestly.

“Huh? Did your parents’ flight get delayed?”

“No, they’re with me and we’re on our way, but Aar…I want you to be you. No filters. No more being polite or keeping our lives on the DL.”

“You told them and they’re pissed,” he guessed in a flat tone.

I bristled at the resignation in his voice. The sudden shift from excitement to something resembling defeat was heartbreaking. It was ending now. I was more determined than ever that no one was going to take this joy from him. And they weren’t going to dim it for their own personal comfort…even temporarily.

“I didn’t say a word. Just…don’t change anything and don’t put anything away.”

“Okay, but I’m warning you, it’s epic. I wasn’t exaggerating.”

“Fine by me. We’re not in the closet and we sure as hell aren’t having a wedding in one. I’ll be home in fifteen minutes. Love you, baby.”

My parents weren’t particularly talkative on the drive home. They’d definitely had words of some kind while I was on the phone with Aaron. They were rarely at odds with each other. And usually, it wasn’t a big deal. I probably could have diffused the tension by pointing out a few of their favorite DC sights on the way back to my condo. However, my mind was elsewhere. I loved my parents, but honestly, I wished they weren’t here. I hated big confrontations as much as I loathed heavy silences. Sometimes they were inevitable, I mused with a sigh.

I grabbed their suitcase from the trunk and lead them to the elevator in the underground garage. My dad stepped backward when I held the door open and gestured at my car.

“Matt, I think I left something in the car. Hand me your keys. You go on upstairs. Your mom and I will be there shortly,” he said, tugging gently at my mother’s sleeve.

I didn’t argue. And I certainly wasn’t going to invite my mom to join me. They obviously needed a few more minutes alone. I barely refrained from telling them to take their time as I tossed the keys at my dad. But I stabbed at the elevator button repeatedly, hoping the extra pressure would close the doors before my mom decided to jump in with me.

Thankfully, the ride was short. I rolled the small suitcase down the hallway to our condo, picking up my pace when I heard Latin music blasting through a half-open door.

“Aar?”

I closed the door quickly and left the suitcase in the foyer then hurried to adjust the volume before our neighbors complained. I turned the corner into the great room and immediately stopped in my tracks.

Wow.

The living area had been transformed into a floral wonderland. The coffee table and fireplace mantel were laden with giant bouquets with tall stems and massive branches. Smaller ones were perched along the island and on the dining room table. Roses, lilies, sunflowers and many more I couldn’t name. The colors were brilliant and beautiful but nothing compared to the hot man in the kitchen shaking his ass to a samba beat.

I opened my mouth but nothing came. I was blown away by his attention to detail. Votive candles and antique mirrors were interspersed with wildflowers and miniature pumpkins. Where the hell did he find pumpkins in March?

I turned down the music and set my hands on my hips. Aaron spun in a circle, dropping the stems in his hand on the counter before dancing over to greet me. He threw his arms around my waist and raised his head for a kiss. I bent to lick his lips and slipped my tongue inside. He tasted like peppermint and chocolate. Delicious.

Aaron grinned like a madman as he pulled out of my embrace and made a grand sweeping motion with his right hand. “Well? What do you think?”

“It’s…a lot. I mean, it’s beautiful. But damn, you weren’t kidding. You went crazy. It looks like you offered our condo to a florist who was getting ready to deliver to three weddings on the same day.”

“I warned you.”

“You did. It’s amazing.” I brushed my hand over my stubbled jaw when I spotted the impressive stack of wedding magazine on the table and noted the one on top featured two dapper-looking grooms on the cover.

Aaron nodded enthusiastically.

“It’s going to be. I’ll make sure of it. This will be the wedding of the century! People will be talking about it for years,” he assured me before glancing toward the door. “Where are they?”

“They forgot something in the car. They’ll be here any second.”

“It’s probably too late and you did say to leave everything alone but… do you want me to put anything away? We can hide the arrangements on the balcony or in our room.”

I chuckled. “No. It’s perfect. It’s like a stage. I like your surprise.”

“Oh, this isn’t my surprise.” He glanced at the door again then back at me with a Cheshire cat grin. “I can’t wait. I have to give it to you now. I swear I’ll do it properly later, but…”

He was practically vibrating. His eyes were bright with excitement and his hands were shaking. I cocked my head curiously and furrowed my brow. “What is it, baby?”

“The first thing I did when the photo shoot got canceled was call the jeweler.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I know we’re a done deal but I always wanted to do this part too. I love the ring you bought me so I just picked up the matching one. And… we’re on a time crunch, so I’ll keep this short.” Aaron licked his lips and dug into his pocket. Then he got down on one knee and glanced up at me. “I love you, Matthew Sullivan. I love the way you love me, accept me and make me realize I’m stronger than I think. I’m pretty sure this is a yes, but…will you marry me?”

For the second time in less than ten minutes, I was speechless. Only this time, my heart was in my throat. Perhaps it was the unexpected sweetness of the gesture or maybe it was the look of absolute love and adoration in his eyes. Either way I was humbled. And fuck, I loved him.

I sank to the floor and crashed my mouth over his in a searing kiss that left us both breathless. We stared at each other and smiled, surrounded by a forest of flowers in our own living room. Aaron grasped my left hand and glided the ring into place. Then he bent to kiss my fingers.

“Te amo, mi amor.”

“Te amo,” I repeated, caressing his cheek and gazing into his beautiful eyes.

A sharp knock startled us into action. Aaron gave me a panicky look as hopped to his feet. “How do you want to play this? I’ll just follow your lead. Unless you say something dumb. Then I may have to stop you, but—”

“Relax. And remember, no matter what they say or how they react, we’re getting married because we love each other…. and because we want the tax write-off.” I winced when he punched my arm and glowered at me.

“Not funny.”

I snickered and slung my arm over his shoulder. “Find humor in uncertain situations and stick to people who make you smile. I’m marrying my best friend. There’s no reason to worry.”

Aaron laid his head on my chest and grinned up at me. “Are you going to let them in?”

“They have my keys,” I replied.

The door opened on cue a moment later.

I tightened my hold around Aaron reassuringly when I heard my mother’s gasp. On one hand, I couldn’t blame her. It was a normal reaction from anyone walking into an indoor garden unexpectedly.

“What’s going on here?” My mom looked shell-shocked and pale. I waited for a tendril of dread to creep in and overshadow our joy. It didn’t come.

I held Aaron’s hand, brushing the platinum band on his finger as I stepped around the massive arrangement on the coffee table. “Welcome. What do you think?” I asked pleasantly.

No one said a word. They didn’t have to. Their flabbergasted expressions spoke for them. I let the moment linger. A cheerful Latin song was playing at a low volume through the speakers. I preferred it to the classic jazz he usually put on when parents visited because he thought they liked it. The happy melody unobtrusively declared this home was Aaron’s too.

“It smells good,” my dad said with a half-laugh as he set his hand on my mom’s shoulder.

“Thanks. We have something to tell you. We’re—”

“No!” My mom blurted. She moved toward the island, stopping to touch the petals on a red rose before continuing to the dining table.

I let go of Aaron’s hand and stood in front of him protectively as I turned to face her. “Mom, look at me. I have something to tell you and you’re going to listen.”

Her nostrils flared slightly, but she complied. “What is it?”

“Aaron and I are getting married.”

Silence.

No clapping. No tearful hugs and kisses. No questions about how it came to be or what our plans were. Just a little samba music in the background, straining to lighten the growing tension.

My dad moved to my side and clasped my shoulder before embracing my fiancé. “Congratulations. Welcome to the Sullivan family, Aaron. We’re happy for you both, right honey?”

“I— Does he know about the pretty girl at your office?” she asked in a faraway tone.

Aaron raised a brow and nodded. “Jana? I know all about her. She’s young and naïve and no offense to Matty, but she’s probably more infatuated with his job title than she is with him.”

“He didn’t push her away when she hugged him. I was there. I saw,” Mom insisted tightly.

“She was congratulating me, Mom. She knows I’m engaged to Aaron.”

“What do you mean, she knows? You told some intern you were marrying someone before you told your mother? Who else knows?”

“Everyone,” I answered simply. “Our friends, our co-workers, our doorman, Aaron’s family and… my sisters and my brother.”

She threw her hand over her mouth and fixed me with a horrified look. Once upon a time, I would have done anything in my power to erase her sorrow and quell her fear. But not now. I loved my mother but my heart and my future belonged to the man next to me.

“I can’t believe you would do such a thing,” she gasped.

“Be happy?” I shoved my hand through my hair in frustration and stepped toward my now teary-eyed mother. “You always told me you wanted me to be happy. You taught me that giving was more important than receiving and that love is the greatest gift you’ll ever have to offer anyone. It was you, Mom. You. So wise. So nurturing and so unselfish. You taught me the value of respect and that acts of kindness are infinitely more meaningful than sharp words. But now you want me to deny how I feel and I don’t understand.”

“Aaron is lovely man. I like him quite a bit but—”

“I love him!” I shouted. “He isn’t just a nice man. He’s the man I love, Mom. I’ve loved him for years. I’ve loved him for so long I can’t remember what it’s like not to love him. And I never want to. He is my heart. He is the only one I want. No one else even registers. I’ll never change my mind. I don’t notice people like Jana because I gave myself away a long time ago.

“And I made an effort to let you know when I first figured out that I’m not straight. I was scared and unsure so I went to the one person who always had my back. You were the first to know. You said all the right things. You told me nothing changed and that you’d always support me. If that’s true, you shouldn’t be surprised because I haven’t stopped being me and I sure as hell haven’t stopped loving Aaron. If you can’t accept it… it might be best for you to leave.”

Her look of utter anguish sliced me to the bone. But I wasn’t backing down and I wasn’t going to change any part of my life to please her. This was non-negotiable.

“You don’t mean that,” she whispered.

“I do. This is my life and Aaron is the biggest part of it. I won’t tolerate you or anyone else coming into the home we share and being careless and disrespectful. I won’t let anyone hurt him. Especially not the people who claim they love me.”

“I do love you, Matthew. I love you so very much,” she sobbed.

“Then stop this now. Don’t ever tell me you like him but want me to meet a nice girl. Don’t ever refer to him as my roommate or my buddy. Don’t ever make him feel like he’s anything less than my equal.” My voice hitched as my emotions bubbled and spilled to the surface. “The best day of my life happened less than a week ago when Aaron agreed to marry me. He’s going to be my husband but he’s already my family. You need to understand this is forever.”

Aaron threaded his fingers through mine and squeezed them. I looked at our joined hands and then at his face, alarmed at the tears clinging to his eyelashes. I kissed his temple and then glanced back at my dad.

“Give your mom a minute, Matt. She’s going to be okay,” he said.

She sniffed loudly and held up her hand. “No. I don’t need a minute.”

“Mom…”

She shook her head wearily before reaching for her purse and pulling out a tissue. She dabbed at her eyes and sniffled. “I’m sorry. I’m terribly sorry. Please forgive me. Your dad suspected you had news like this but—”

“How? I didn’t say anything.”

“I didn’t know for sure,” Dad corrected. “I just had a feeling you were getting ready to settle down…get married, start a family. You have a calmness about you that wasn’t always there. Like you know where you’re going and you can’t wait to start the next chapter.”

“Your dad saw it and I…panicked. But he’s right, I’m being horribly selfish. I apologize. I knew you were serious about Aaron and that what you felt for him wasn’t ordinary. It scared me. The mother in me wants to protect you. But here you are telling me you’ll protect him from me if you must. God, that breaks me in half.”

She turned to Aaron with a sorrowful look. “I’ve always liked you, Aaron. Even when I didn’t want to. I’m terribly sorry. I hope you can forgive me. But more than anything, please take care of him because… he loves you. And if I know my son, I can assure you he’ll be a wonderful husband to you and some day, the best dad in the world to your children.”

Aaron swept my mother in his arms and held her close. I took a cleansing gulp of air and fought the urge to dog pile on their hug and give in to the well of emotion that had me upside down for days. My dad bumped my shoulder companionably before pulling me into a fierce embrace. He stepped backward and rubbed his hand over his nose.

“You good?” he asked with a sniff.

“Yeah. Thanks.” I cast my gaze at Aaron and my mother still holding each other a few feet away. “So, you’re really okay with everything?”

“Of course. You’re good together. You balance each other out. Mom knows it too. In her heart, she has no doubts. But she loves you so much she can’t see straight sometimes. She lets her fears get the best of her and says things she ends up regretting. I know that wasn’t easy, but she needed you to tell her how you feel. You were gut-wrenchingly honest. That hurts. But she’ll be fine. She knows you love him and he loves you. You have a strong foundation for good head start.”

“I have a feeling we can do better than good.”

Honestly, I was sure of it. Loving Aaron was the easy part. We’d been together long enough to know relationships required absolute trust, unconditional respect, and a willingness to compromise. We knew it wasn’t always hearts and roses, but we also knew what we had was worth fighting for and protecting. He was my partner in the adventure of a lifetime. And personally, I couldn’t wait for the journey to begin.

Epilogue:

Aaron burrowed into my side and hooked his leg around mine. We were covered in sweat and my body was still humming in the afterglow as my breathing returned to normal. If it wasn’t so cold in our bedroom, I might actually be able to fall asleep just like this. I brushed his hair out of his eyes and kissed his brow.

“Aar, grab the blankets. It’s freezing in here.”

“Mmm.” He pulled the duvet over us and settled back, resting his head on my heart. “Better?”

“Much better. Are you sore?” I kneaded his bare ass, wishing I could be inside him again. God, he felt so good.
“I might be in the morning, but I’m fine now. After two days with no sex, I don’t mind at all. It was a nice visit, but I’m glad we have our place to ourselves again.”

“Just us and five dozen flowers.”

“More like eight,” he chuckled. “We made a few important choices this weekend though. Roses, sunflowers and tulips. Shades of yellow, red and orange… perfect, don’t you think?”

“Sure. Thanks for involving my mom. I know you’re going to things your way but it was cool of you made her feel like you needed her advice. Especially since she started the weekend acting like a raving maniac.”

“She loves you, Matty. Besides, she apologized and was on her very best behavior, saying all the right things about being happy for us. I think she meant it at the end.”

“I hope so. You’re so patient with her, which is funny because you’re not patient otherwise.”

“It’s my Catholic guilt. You don’t mess with momma where I’m from,” he joked. “She’s trying. That’s what counts. And when she asked me to take care of you… it got me. I think it was her way of passing a baton. It’s super old-fashioned, but I kinda liked the sentiment. Just so you know…I’m going to be the best husband you ever had.”

I snickered as I reached for his left hand to examine the simple band on his finger. “You’re my only husband.”

“Not yet. Six more months.”

“Yeah, but in a way we’re already married. The title is nice but the truth is… the only thing we’re missing is a piece of paper.”

“And a kickass party. There’s so much to plan, Matty! Band or DJ? Traditional cake or cupcakes or both? What about a seating chart?”

I widened my eyes theatrically then pulled the duvet over my head. “Wake me up in six months.”

Aaron giggled as he flung the cover back. “No chance. I’ll do most of the work, but I have a request to make.”

“What is it?”

“I want you to play our song at the wedding.”

“”Your Song” by Elton John?” I waited for his nod of agreement before adding, “And sing?”

“Yeah. Will you? I know it’s personal. If you really don’t want to, that’s ok—”

“I’ll do it.” I ran my fingers over his flat stomach. “But I’m a little rusty. I haven’t been playing much lately.”

Aaron rolled off the bed and headed for the door buck naked. “I’ll be right back.”

He returned a minute later with my guitar. I sat cross-legged and gently took the instrument from him, propping it on my lap. Aaron mirrored my pose so we sat with our knees touching. I strummed a few chords before humming the first few notes of the melody, then I looked at him and began to sing.

“It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside…”

I missed a couple chords and I fumbled the lyrics once, but when I reached the last line, “How wonderful life is while you’re in the world”, Aaron threw his arms over my neck and kissed me.

“It’s my favorite.”

“Then it’s yours.”

“Thank you.”

I held his gaze as I set the guitar aside. I was tempted to fill the quiet, but I let it go. I wondered what was going on in his head. I wondered if he thought that song was our beginning and if he ever dreamed in a million years he’d ask me to play it for our wedding. Maybe someday I’d ask, but for now, I let the moment be. It was good the way it was. In fact…it was better than good.

Leaning Into the Fall Blog Tour Stops & a Prayer for London…

IMG_2447There are three stops on the Leaning Into the Fall blog tour, including a post about Napa Valley wine country where part of the story is located and a deleted scene from the book. A deleted what? Yep. It’s a sad truth that not every scene makes the final cut. It especially hurts the author to hit delete when the dialogue is fun and the words roll easily. But ultimately, if it doesn’t drive the story, the scene is fluff. LOL *Btw, the photo above was taken in Napa. 😉

3/23 Prism Book Alliance (Napa post)
3/23 Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews (*Deleted Scene)
3/23 BFD Book Blog

A huge thanks to everyone who’s stopped by the tour and signed up for the Rafflecopter giveaway. And a ginormous thank you to those who’ve taken the time to let me know they’ve enjoyed Nick and Wes’s story. You’ve inspired me to write the Eric and Zane shorts I talked about in a recent post. Personally, I love getting “fluffy” glimpses into established characters’ lives. Trips to the laundry mat or fighting over who left the cap off the toothpaste? Sign me up! My goal is to have a EZ short out this summer before book #3 in the series is out. 🙂UnknownOn a serious note, my thoughts and prayers are with London. I was devastated to hear about the terror attack yesterday. The senseless crimes against innocent people are counterintuitive. Hate breeds hate. It cures nothing and is a breeding ground for fear. I love that this meme was released almost immediately following the attack. It evokes a powerful message to mourn and pray but never to bend to terror. #We are not afraid. #prayforLondon

Much love, Lane xo