Vince’s life has improved immeasurably since he moved to Bluewater Bay two years ago. He’s gone from working for a man he hated, to helping found a company he believes in. And he and his boyfriend, Pete, have built a delicate balance of power between them that keeps them both grounded and thriving.
It’s no surprise to either of them, then, that sparks fly when Vince’s coworker Lee enters the picture. Outwardly, Lee is tough and confident, but when a bad back confines him to Pete and Vince’s spare room, the cracks start to show and his desire for connection begins to peek through.
Pete and Vince both like what they see under Lee’s prickly outside, but now the three men must learn that love isn’t about beating the game—it’s about balance, trust, and letting each other in.
Lee moaned. Cool sheets and a too-soft mattress cushioned him. The constant, low hum of an air conditioner pried its way into his skull, and he rolled over to put a pillow over his head. The movement caused a rather more vocal groan as his back gave a heaving spasm.
“The fuck,” he mumbled, collapsing to a prone position. The heavy, ice-pick ache began mid-back and radiated downward until, his body tried to curl his hips up to relieve the pain, and he couldn’t quite breathe.
Not this again. What did you do this time, asshole? He wished he couldn’t still hear that voice in his head. Maybe it was his own by this time.
“Shhh!” Hasty footsteps approached, but Lee couldn’t bring himself to open his eyes to find out whose. “Don’t move.” A hand settled on his shoulder, holding him still, startling him tense, but the pressure remained firm, not rough.
“Too late,” he muttered, trying to subdue the automatic, defensive tension.
“Here. I got you some pain relief and a glass of water. They’ll make you drowsy, but that will help you stay still, and I’ll be here, so you’ll fine.”
Lee pried one eyelid up as best he could to see the base of a drinking glass with a straw. A well-manicured hand came into view with two little pills. He recognized them and knew they’d knock him out before long, but it was true. That would be a good thing right now. Feeling much like a helpless kitten, Lee opened his mouth. The hand placed the pills carefully on his tongue, then the drinking end of the straw came into view. He sipped and swallowed and closed his eye again.
A nervous silence stretched, underpinned by the continual rumble of the air conditioner wafting a slick of cooler breeze over his bed. Otherwise, the room was unnaturally silent. Like a sound-proofed hotel room. For an instant, he forgot his injury and tried to sit up.
“Nope!” That hand came back to his shoulder and urged him down. Not that he needed the urging. The pain took the last ounce of his strength, and he flopped with a tiny, pathetic mewl.
“The fuck?” he asked again after he’d managed to slow his shallowed breathing.
“You got a little . . . tipsy . . . last night,” his benefactor informed him. “Slipped off the curb coming out of the bar, and I guess wrecked something in your back. Blaire had to fly home this morning, but he paid for the room for another two nights and told me to let you sleep and return with you when you’re ready.”
Lee sighed and opened his eyes. About halfway through that spiel, he’d recognized Vince’s voice, and had started to recall the night before. The three of them, Lee, his office mate Vince, and their boss, Blaire, had flown to Vancouver to meet with some backers about an investment in their new company. The investor had wanted to meet all the players, so they had trouped across the border and sat down to dinner with the woman.
She’d turned out to be an enthusiastic patron of all things cosplay and video gaming, and an especially zealous fan of Wolf’s Landing. The trip had been worth their time. Her backing was going to pay for the additional filming they wanted to do for the Wolf’s Landing video game background, as well as some of the short CGI movies based on the game’s story that Blaire wanted to make for advertising. After their investor had said good night, the three of them had celebrated with a few drinks.
Lee hadn’t been that intoxicated. But he had been tired and his body already abused. The day before the trip, he’d finally pulled all his belongings from storage, where they had languished after his dismissal from Caruthers Industries and his eviction from the furnished company apartment eight months ago. His smaller, less glamorous, but more affordable apartment hadn’t even come with a kitchen sink. He’d had to get the plumbing fixed before he signed the lease. Then, he’d procrastinated for months getting the bulk of his things out of the storage unit and up to his place. The only upside was that it was closer to their new offices, but hauling all his boxes up four flights of stairs in one day, then jumping on a plane to Vancouver the next, had wrecked him. Air travel always left him nauseous and uninterested in food.
It did explain why a few drinks had shot him past his limit so much faster than normal. When they’d left the bar for the cab to the hotel, a curb had done him in.
His feet had flown out from under him, and he’d landed—hard—on his ass.
“Fuck me,” he muttered.
The bed dipped and he whimpered again.
“So I called the nurse hotline,” Vince said.
“The whatnow?” Lee covered his eyes with his arm, but lifted it just enough to peer at the younger man’s earnest face.
Vince consulted a pamphlet in his hand. “HealthLink BC, actually. They have a sort of hotline to answer questions and advise you if you need to see a doctor in person. The nurse didn’t seem to think it was crucial until you get home. But he did recommend you ice the muscles in your back to get some of the swelling down. He said it should hurt less once you’d iced it, but if it didn’t, you should go to a clinic.”
“I am not going to any clinic.”
“Well, we’ll see.” Vince pushed his glasses more firmly onto his nose with a thumb at the bridge. “Right now, I need you to roll a bit so I can get the ice pack under you.”
“I’m not moving.”
“You have to. A tiny bit. I can help.”
“I don’t need your fucking help.”
“Lee, this is important. If you want to hurt less, you have to do this.”
“I don’t have to do fuck all. Maybe I like pain.”
“I know you like being a pain. But no one likes to be in agony. So here. Take my hand.” Vince held out a hand to Lee. “Use your stomach and arm as much as you can. Roll toward me, and I’ll slide the ice pack under you.”
Lee glared at him. “I’m not six.”
Vince stared back, lips pursed.
“Go away. Fly home, little mouse.”
Vince’s brows drew together, displacing his glasses a bit, and he tilted his head to one side, but he didn’t lower his arm or rescind the offer of his hand. “Mice don’t fly. What kind of metaphor is that?”
“Bird, then,” Lee snapped. “Fly away home, little fucking bird.”
“You swear a lot, you know. Maybe think about that.” Vince curled his lips to one side and thumbed his glasses.
This time, Lee stared at Vince, scowling as hard as he could. But Vince remained where he was. The stalemate lasted a good two minutes before Lee finally caved.
“Fine.” He pushed himself onto his side, the pain making a gray haze crowd his vision from all sides. Vince hastily stuffed the ice pack under him, and Lee flopped back. Dark spots swam over the room, and he huffed, sweating and panting as the pain tore up and down his back in waves of flame and lava.
“That would have hurt less if you’d let me help.”
“And it’s official. You make a lousy patient.”
“Nice bedside manner.”
Vince smiled sweetly. “Kill them with kindness, my mom always said.” He got up and wandered to the table near the window. “We’re supposed to leave the ice for no more than ten minutes, then keep it off for twenty or so. If you aren’t asleep by then, we can reapply.”
“Reapply this,” Lee muttered, tossing Vince a middle-finger salute, then throwing his arm over his eyes. He must have fallen asleep fairly quickly, because he wasn’t aware of Vince removing the ice.Chapter Two
Vince settled at the table after he’d pulled the ice pack out from under Lee. He was careful not to wake him. The more Lee slept, the less likely he was to overstress the injury. And the less he talked, which was good because Vince only had so much patience.
He knew he’d always been regarded as the office mouse. In his defense, neither Lee nor Blaire had bothered to get to know him outside of work. He wasn’t a mouse at all. He was a nice guy, so he didn’t complain about being the office gofer, but he had other qualities they knew nothing about. He liked to dance and have a good time. He also knew when control was called for. And he didn’t take shit from people. Not when he had a choice, and now that he was out from under Oscar Caruthers’s thumb, he had choices. It was time to break out of that old, mousy mold.
Blaire Caruthers was a good boss. Fair and honest. Nothing at all like his father, Oscar, who had seemed to hold all the cards of Vince’s career when he’d first started out. He’d been young and inexperienced then, and thought walking away from Oscar’s ultimatums would be the end of his job prospects. He hadn’t counted on Blaire or Bluewater Bay, though. It turned out neither New York nor LA were the be-all and end-all of the industry, and Vince had skills that had nothing to do with corporate ladder-climbing or spying.
Smiling to himself, Vince opened his computer and logged on to the hotel wi-fi. Within five minutes, he had a chat window open and Pete’s little green dot in his sights.
Hey Babe. You really there?
Hey V. Yeah.
Meh. Set is a clusterfuck today. An extra knocked over a light stand. It fell on a PA. Eric is freaking. The. Hell. Out.
PA okay? That was alarming. Normally, Pete complained about how boring it was waiting around on set for things to happen.
Yeah, she’s fine. The light stand, though. Not so much. Eric’s just . . . Eric.
Not your fault. Hey. You back in town? A tiny winky face appeared, and Vince smiled.
Sadly, no. Lee torqued his back. Blaire set us up in a room to wait for him to be mobile again.
*sigh* He’s half jackass and half Adonis. I hate him.
That was answered with a dozen winky faces from Pete. We both know that isn’t true, babe. Any idea when you’ll be back?
Miss you more.
Want me to pick you up at the airport?
Vince sighed, because yes, he’d love that, but Pete had other things to worry about, and Vince wasn’t going to ask him to be on call for whenever Vince managed to get back. Nah. He texted, I’ll cab it. Make sure Lee gets home. You, I want on your back and plugged.
There was a pause in the texting, then, Dude. At work here. You trying to get me fired?
Fuck. I can’t even stand right now.
Wait until I get there. You won’t be walking for days.
Promises promises. Shit. Gotta go. Eric = dick deflator. <3 you
There was no reply to the last text. Not that Vince expected there to be. Once Pete’s boss Eric called, there never was.
Vince chuckled just the same, and glanced to the bed where Lee still slept. Too bad they only had the one double room. Would have been nice to enjoy a beat-off session to the idea of Pete on his back, legs wide, ass plugged and ready for Vince. Better yet, wouldn’t that be a nice view if Lee was between Pete’s legs, sucking him off, and Vince was pounding Lee instead? Or first, then Pete.
“Shit.” This was not a good road to go down. No one had made any rules about fraternizing in the office, but then, there were only the three of them, and Blaire had won his chef. There was little chance either Blaire or Lee figured on a reason to worry about it. It wasn’t like Vince advertised his fantasies. Well. Except to Pete, but then, they shared everything.
“Not getting your work done, Ascott. Get your head out of your pants.”
Still. He spent more than a few minutes watching Lee sleep and wondering how Pete might feel about Vince’s thoughts. Pete had only met Lee a few times in passing, but was theoretically on board with the idea.
“But they have to get to know each other first.” It could only work if Pete was in for his own reasons, and not just to make Vince happy.
Lee’s lashes fluttered, and Vince clamped his mouth shut. Lee’s legs shifted, like he was going to roll, but he only moaned. A line appeared between his brows, then he was still again.
Vince’s attention caught on the slight slant of Lee’s lashes across his cheekbones, and the flop of straight, brown-black hair drifting crosswise over his forehead. In sleep, his prominent bone structure seemed less sharp, and his lips, not pursed into a cross frown, had a plumper curve to them. A very kissable plump curve.
All right. Enough ogling the man while he’s asleep, perv. Vince shook himself and turned to his laptop.
Taking a few minutes to do some breathing, then to make himself a cup of hotel room coffee, Vince managed to get his head back on track and dove into company spreadsheets, redistributing their current assets and incorporating the newly available cash into the most pressing projects.
Hey, he typed into Pete’s chat window a few hours later. FYI, I think we have the cash for the filming. We can meet your crew’s costs. Think they’re still interested? Ping me when you have time to talk about it.
He didn’t expect an answer now. Pete would be running his ass off for a few hours still. But the prospect of getting a step closer to a product they could actually show people was almost enough to wake Lee for. Almost.
He glanced over at the bed again. Lee continued to sleep, but seemed restless. Probably, the pain was seeping through and he’d be awake soon. Vince shut down his laptop and perused the room service menu.
When Lee did wake, surly and clearly in pain, the soup and sandwiches Vince had ordered for them had arrived.
“Someone’s at the door,” Lee grumbled.
“Lunch. I’ll get it.”
“Not like I’m getting up.”
Vince said nothing. He collected the food, tipped the staff, and closed the door again. “Well,” he said as he wheeled the cart to the space between their beds, “you can’t eat lying on your back.”
“You can’t have any more pain killers until you put some food in your stomach.” Vince stood next to the bed, hands on his hips.
“Fuck off, little mouse.”
“Lee, I am so over your shit. You’re right. When I started working for Blaire, I was the office mouse. I worked under Oscar for the first five years of my career, and he almost broke me.” Vince stepped closer to the bed. “But I didn’t break. I learned. You want to order me around in the office?” He gave a little shrug. “We’ll see. But, right now, I’m not your underling. This isn’t office politics, it’s you and me, and I would appreciate some respect.”
Lee glared at him.
“Is that a problem?”
“Would you look who has a backbone after all.”
Vince curled a lip. “Now, do you want help sitting up, or are you good?”
Lee considered this. “Help,” he said at last, slanting his glare away from Vince.
“Happy to.” Vince exercised the utmost care helping Lee to sit. He set out the lap tray he’d asked for and served a bowl of soup and a plate with a sandwich, pickles, and a cucumber salad onto the tray, then poured Lee water. “Anything else you need?”
Lee stared at the food. “Is this cream of broccoli?”
He peeked under the top slice of multigrain bread at his sandwich innards. “And roast beef?”
“Yes. With Dijon and Havarti cheese.”
Finally, Lee looked up at him. “I never told you what I liked.”
“You didn’t have to.” Vince settled on his own bed and took the dome off his leek and potato soup. “I pay attention.”
It was hard, holding back the urge to tell Lee to eat. But the man was stubborn. Vince had to take his time. Let Lee make up his own mind. He dug into his own meal, and after a few minutes, Lee picked up his spoon.
Vince hid a satisfied twitch of a smile behind his sandwich.
The set echoed with the soft thwap of Pete’s Dockers on the concrete as he paced. It seemed cavernous now that nearly everyone had gone home. Once the postproduction of the season’s last episode was done in a few weeks, the place would stay empty for the better part of a month. The adrenaline junkie in him mourned the quiet.
He smiled to himself. That junkie was in recovery. Mostly.
“Hey.” Alicia jogged over to him, wiping her hands on her jeans. “Matty said you wanted to see me?” Her pretty eyes took on a troubled expression. “I thought shooting went pretty smoothly today.”
He knew why she was nervous. The light stand fiasco had in no way been her or Matty’s fault. But the director, Eric, was jumpy lately, quick to snap heads off necks, and she had been in the line of fire. Matty had almost lost his job over the light stand, but Pete had stepped in—admittedly, he might have overstepped—to distract attention away from him, and they managed to salvage the rest of the shoot without too much lost time.
“Shooting went great,” he assured her. “And don’t worry about the other day. Shit happens. We finished mostly on schedule, so it’s all good.”
“Are they going to let Matty and me help you guys out?”
“Soon as you’re off the clock on post, your time is your own. The game shoot is tied to Wolf’s Landing now, so my understanding is it’s union. If you want to pick it up as freelance work, and you’re off Wolf’s Landing’s clock, who’s to say no?”
“So you’re still doing it.”
Pete grinned. “You’re seriously asking me that?”
“Well. I mean, you, they could pull back in.”
“Nope. I’ve booked my time off already.” And part of that time would definitely be spent helping the fledgling Three Player Game Productions get their game off the ground. If he had to put up with Vince being out of town for going on a week now, he would damn well make sure the flagship project of the company keeping him away was successful.
“You okay, Mr. Doyle?”
Pete blinked at her. He never got used to people calling him Mr. anything. “Pete. Please. Mr. Doyle is my dad. Or my uncle.” Bosses. He was just Pete. Or Little Pete when he went home to the LA suburb where he’d grown up. But not Mr. Doyle.
Alicia scrutinized him. “You look . . . tired, I guess.”
He’d thought she was going to say piqued, or ragged, or at the end of his last fucking tether. He rubbed at the back of his neck and stuck his other hand in his pocket. The warm, heavy weight of the danburite crystal in his pocket let him breathe out, reminded him Vince was just a text away. Everything was fine. He was fine. Not squirrely around the edges at all.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I am tired.”
“When’s Vince coming back? Frederic’s been dancing on clouds since Blaire came home.”
“Tomorrow, I think. Depends on Lee.” And how that rankled. It shouldn’t. He didn’t mind Vince’s interest in Lee. He shared it, even. But he missed his lover more than he liked to admit. Vince had a way of filing away the sharp points that herding a bunch of temperamental artist types chiseled into his soul on a daily basis.
“Well. You should meditate tonight. Clear your head a bit.” Alicia smiled at him. “You know what Fjóla says. Meditation ma—”
“Makes your day. Yeah.” He smiled at her as they finished the catch phrase together. “I know. And I will. Promise.” He enjoyed the yoga classes Fjóla held at her tiny studio on Main, and though they rarely spoke outside of work, he’d often seen Alicia there.
“Good. Because tired bosses make for grumpy bosses, and while you might not be my boss, the set is a teensy-tiny little place some days.”
Pete nodded. “It spreads,” he agreed, thinking of Eric’s vibes trickling down to him through the chain-of-command runoff.
She was halfway to the door when he remembered why he’d wanted to talk to her in the first place. “Oh, hey. Alicia?”
“Yeah?” She turned, but kept walking backward. He didn’t blame her. He wanted out of there too.
“Mind if I snag your number from the files so I can text about the Three Player job?”
“Be my guest. I’m not going anywhere. Matty either. He told me to tell you. Just, you know, we sort of come as a matched set these days. He’s gotten good at reading my mind and all that.”
She waved and was out the door in another second. Pete didn’t have to wait long for the stragglers to make their getaways. It was nice to tell the security company they could lock up, then head home himself.
Once there, it was another matter, though. His little house was tidy, as he liked it, but empty. Normally, he liked the quiet neighborhood. It was a perfect contrast to his hectic job, and better for him than living in downtown LA had ever been. He needed to turn off sometimes. The quiet street; tidy, minimalist house; and Vince all helped him do that.
Only now, the street was too quiet. The house too bare. And Vince too far away.
Follow routine. Routine always made him feel better, so Pete checked his phone for a message one last time, then got himself a glass of milk and a slice of bologna from the fridge. He left a handful of precooked shrimp in a bowl in the sink to defrost for later, and rinsed his glass. He tried texting Vince, but wasn’t surprised when the text went unanswered. He might still be jazzed from work, but it was close to midnight. Vince and Lee were probably asleep.
Together? Lee was hot. Pete wouldn’t deny that. But Vince wouldn’t. Not without talking to Pete first. Would he?
“I need to get out of my head.”
What would Vince have him do?
“Shower first.” Always shower first, rinse the day off. Clean himself, inside and out, even if Vince wasn’t there to use the inside. Act as though he were, and there would never be any surprises.
Pete took his time in the shower, washing from head to toe methodically, letting the gentle spray of the rain shower lull him. When he was done, soft and warm, he wrapped himself in a robe and headed for his meditation space. It was just a tiny spare bedroom, but in the far corner he had set it up with a yoga mat, some candles, and a cabinet to house his various meditation aids. A tall screen shielded his quiet corner from the rest of the room.
On the door side of the screen was a single bed on which he always had clean sheets. A second cabinet held other kinds of relaxation paraphernalia, but those things he didn’t use without Vince there to supervise. As he passed the cabinet, he paused. Vince had locked it with a thin chain and tiny padlock, but he had given Pete the key.
In case you ever need something. You can take it out and put it on the bed. I’ll know you need it. The idea was that having to physically unlock the cabinet made it a conscious thought process, but the simple act of leaving what he longed for on the bed was a freedom of sorts. The actual decision on when and how they would play could be left up to Vince.
Now, Pete stooped, unlocked the cabinet, and perused the contents. There wasn’t anything terribly hard-core. A soft flogger, various sizes of plugs and dildos, a blindfold, a ball gag, silk ties for restraint. He removed a silicone dildo and the flogger, placed them neatly, side by side, on the foot of the bed, then locked up the cabinet and proceeded to his meditation area.
A white taper candle, a crystal bowl with water, and his danburite crystal set out on a plank of cedar wood helped him focus. It took a long time, but for a little while, he managed to quiet the endless list-making monster in his head.
It took him even longer to get to sleep. He couldn’t stop thinking about the various scenarios that might ensue when Vince finally got back. His imagination combined the flogger, dildo, and Vince’s promised plug with too many variations to list, not a few of which included Lee and his pretty, angular features and lean body, and Pete ended up having to beat off to get some relief.
On the plus side, the exertion helped to exhaust his brain enough to let him sleep.
* * * * * * *
The door slamming woke Pete, and he all but vaulted from the bed, not bothering with clothes or glasses as he rushed out of the bedroom toward the front of the house.
“Well.” Not Vince’s voice. “That’s a view and a half.” A fuzzy Lee leered at him from the threshold.
“Fuck!” Pete whirled and dashed back to the bedroom, slamming the door in his wake.
“Kitchen, Lee. Now.” Vince issued the order from just inside the kitchen door, but Pete wasn’t looking back to find out if Lee followed it. He didn’t seem the type.
Humiliated, Pete sank to the bed and stared at the spot of carpet between his feet. He heard voices and footsteps, but didn’t bother trying to sort out what was going on. Had Vince texted him to say he’d be home tonight? He was sure he hadn’t. He’d been checking obsessively all day. His phone was in the kitchen, though, so he couldn’t check now. At least, he thought it was. He remembered checking for messages before getting himself a glass of milk when he’d made it home.
A soft knock sounded on the bedroom door.
Pete ignored it.
“I’m coming in, Pete.” The edge to Vince’s voice brooked no argument, so Pete remained where he was and said nothing.
The door latch clicked, the hinges creaked, and the floorboard right inside the threshold squawked as Vince stepped into the room. More creaking of the hinges, then the door latch snicked closed.
“Hey.” Vince sat next to him. “That was something.” He held out Pete’s phone to him. “This was in the fridge.”
“Really?” Pete glared at the phone. It had been a while since he’d done something quite that airheaded.
“A little distracted, were you?” Vince retrieved Pete’s glasses for him from the bedstand and handed them over.
“Must have been.” He settled his glasses on his face, then took the device and unlocked it. A string of texts greeted him.
Leaving for airport now. Flight to Victoria, Ferry to PortA.
Landed. Lee’s in pain and feeling green around the gills. Ferry in 1/2 hr. travel sucks 🙁
Blaire sent car to meet us. Don’t want to leave Lee alone, so bringing him with. Home soon. He’s bitchy, so brace yourself.
Just got to town. CU in 10
The texts had started around seven that morning, and continued while he’d been laying awake for so long, fantasizing then masturbating, and then—eventually—sleeping. It had been light out when he’d finally dozed off.
“Sorry.” Pete glanced at the time. Almost one in the afternoon. “Overslept I guess.”
“Lee must think—”
“Hey.” Vince swiveled around to face him better. “Don’t worry about what Lee thinks. Are you okay?”
“Besides being humiliated?”
Vince slid a hand under his chin and lifted his face. “Hey. Nothing to be embarrassed about. If he says anything, I’ll shut him up. Don’t worry.”
Pete searched his eyes. “Welcome home,” he offered with a little shrug.
Vince smiled his crooked half a smile at him. Instantly, everything else fell away.
“Come here.” Using the grip on his chin, Vince pulled at him until their lips met.
Pete let his eyes drift closed and Vince’s warmth steal over him. Despite being naked, the shivers melted under Vince’s teasing touches.
Pete lifted a hand to Vince’s face. Slight stubble greeted his fingertips, dancing a spray of delight down his synapses. Vince’s soft lips caressed his, his hand on Pete’s chin held him steady, but not tight. Calm washed over him.
“Better,” Vince said. He wasn’t asking.
Pete dipped his chin. “Yeah.”
“Good.” Vince pulled his robe over Pete’s shoulders, stood, and held out a hand. “Come on.”
“Out there. We have a house guest.”
Pete nodded and got to his feet. He was being silly. Sex didn’t faze him. It never had, really. He’d just been caught off guard, and he’d been a bit on edge already, and Lee was Vince’s work colleague, not someone to be showing off his morning wood to. Not that it matters, Doyle. Get over yourself.
“Okay.” Pete smiled. “Big boy shorts.”
They walked out hand in hand.
Lee would have made more of the brief, intriguing show he’d gotten when they walked in the door, but he was in too much pain. Getting on and off the plane had been the worst part, though he was grateful Blaire had sprung for first-class when he’d rebooked for them. That had helped. Lee would save the lecture on stripping their budget for creature comforts for when it wouldn’t make him sound like an ingrate. Thankfully, the ferry had been more comfortable, but by the time they’d gotten to the car ride from Port Angeles to Bluewater Bay, he’d been so done.
All he’d been able to do, sitting there for that long, horrendous ride, was wish he had one box unpacked or his bed put together, but he hadn’t bothered to unpack even the stuff he’d had for months at the new place, and his bed was just the box spring and mattress on the floor, with the expensive teak frame leaning against the wall. He’d been lazy. Now the thought of all the boxes there, mocking his laziness, made his stomach churn.
Vince had disappeared after his little piece of ass fifteen minutes ago, leaving Lee pining after more pain killers. He picked at the cheese dippers Vince had tossed on the table before he’d vanished into the bedroom and closed the door in his wake.
“And what might they be doing in there?” Lee wondered aloud. He could imagine a lot of things. Things that took his mind off his aching back, so that was something. Before he could decide which of the younger men would top, though, the bedroom door squeaked open and they were back.
“That’s too bad,” he mused, running an appraising gaze up and down Vince’s boyfriend, who was, sadly, now clad in a well-loved bath robe.
“Excuse me?” Vince’s boyfriend squeaked slightly, and pushed at black-rimmed glasses, face a mask of indignation.
“Manners,” Vince snapped at Lee. “You’re his guest.”
“And who’s idea was that?”
“Shall I take you to your place? I’m sure it’s comfortable. You certainly went on a bit after the investor left our meeting, bitching about the boxes and the plumbing.”
Lee ground his teeth. He would have argued more if Vince hadn’t been right. He glared at the cheese dippers. “Is this supper, then?”
“If you don’t behave.” Vince moved closer, standing over him, arms crossed over his chest. He glared down at Lee, eyes dark, mouth a grim line.
For a prolonged moment, silence reigned, before Lee finally snorted. “Whatever, little man.” You don’t intimidate me in the least. He pushed off against the table, intent on getting to his feet. He almost made it too, before the muscles spasmed, and a sharp cry escaped despite his best efforts.
Instantly, Vince was at his side, arm around his waist, taking his weight. “Stubborn,” Vince muttered. “Pete, get his other side.”
“I don’t need your pet to—”
“Enough!” Vince’s voice cracked like a whip.
Pete gasped and covered his mouth with a hand.
Lee gaped, a tingle of ancient trepidation spiraling up around his spine. He shivered and goose bumps rose on his arms.
“Close your mouth and let us help you to the couch,” Vince said, calm underpinning the steel of his tone. “You will lie down and ice your back. Pete and I will make some food and come get you in a half hour or so. Remember, ten minutes on, twenty off. Yes?”
Lee growled. He had enough people telling him what to do. Oscar had tried to run his life, then had taken his job, his home, and almost his livelihood. Now he had Blaire breathing down his neck, inspecting every last thing he did, dictating his every move, leaving his hands tied when it came to everyday decisions he used to make without issue. No chance was he letting Vince order him around just because he couldn’t get up and walk away.
That’s not happening again. I won’t let it.
“Lee.” Vince swiveled to get in front of him, though he was careful not to withdraw his support, which was good, because Lee wasn’t sure he could hold his own weight quite yet. He couldn’t even straighten all the way until his muscles loosened.
“Lee,” Vince said more forcefully.
“Yes! Fine. Whatever.”
Vince didn’t move.
“Is there an issue with the plan?”
Lee stared at him. “You’re giving me a choice?” He didn’t want to sound as surprised as that had come out.
Vince blinked, then narrowed his eyes. “Do you need one?”
Did he? Icing his back was a good idea. And he needed a warm meal. He needed rest. Not having to go home to an empty house littered with unpacked cardboard boxes sounded nicer than he wanted to admit.
Not offering an alternative to Vince’s plan was the same as saying he didn’t need—maybe even didn’t want—a choice in the matter, though. There went that spiraling tingle down his spine again. He tried to ignore it.
“Is the couch the best you have to offer?” Too petty? But it was something. Assertion of his own will.
Vince pursed his lips. “Stubborn,” he muttered. “You can lie down on the spare bed, then.”
“Fine.” There was a moment in which Vince seemed to un-puff, and Lee let out a breath of his own, tension draining out with the air. “You need help?” Vince asked.
Slowly, Lee straightened and took a breath. “I can manage.”
“You’ll feel better once you flatten out,” Vince assured him. “And some home-cooked soup will do you good.”
“Sure. Whatever.” Lee started off in the direction of the hallway. “Which is it?”
“First door on the right,” Vince called after him. “Pete, we have ice packs?”
As Pete jumped to do Vince’s bidding, Lee shuffled down the hallway to the first door on the right. He pushed it open and stepped inside.
Lying on the end of the bed was an impressive dildo and a quite nice flogger.
“Oh.” Pete’s voice behind him was faint. “I’ll . . . just . . .” He scurried around Lee and scooped the items up off the bed. “Sorry.”
Lee harrumphed, covering the tension sheering through his body with the heavy grunt. Carefully, he lowered himself to the edge of the bed, then considered for a long time how to get his feet up and himself onto his back without another spasm.
“You want help?” Pete asked, voice soft.
“I don’t need help.”
Pete shuffled his feet. “It’s not because you can’t do it alone.” He straightened. “Maybe because you don’t have to do it by yourself.” He hurriedly placed the ice pack on the bed, covered it with a thin towel, and crouched at Lee’s feet. Without asking, he loosened the laces of Lee’s shoes and pried first one, then the other off his feet.
“What are you doing?”
Pete glanced up at him “Helping.”
“Shh. I know.” He turned his attention to Lee’s socks and peeled one off. “Just like I don’t need a flogging session to relax.” The quicksilver glance he shot at the items he’d left on the cabinet beside the bed might have been easy to miss if Lee hadn’t been watching him so closely. “I can do it myself.” He sat back on his heels and rolled the sock into a small enough bundle to stick into Lee’s shoe. “I can meditate, take long baths, read a good book. But not having all the responsibility every second is the quickest, surest way to clear my mind. Vince is good at taking the reins. I can feel . . . relieved of it, you know? Not helpless or useless, just . . . he takes charge so I let it all go for a while.”
“That so?” But as Pete pulled off Lee’s other sock and helped him to lie down, all Lee could think about was the way Vince had looked after him from the moment he’d woken with the twinged back, and hadn’t even stopped when they’d arrived at Pete’s doorstep. Those memories calmed the shimmy of nerves and carried him past the deeper memories he didn’t want to dwell on.
“He’s good at it, Lee.”
“Isn’t he just.” Even when he’s not in the fucking room.
“And he likes doing it, so don’t be so afraid to let him.”
“Not afraid,” Lee growled, ignoring the memories with a force of will.
The cool of the ice pack seeped into his muscles as he lay there, watching as Pete unlocked the cabinet next to the bed and stowed the dildo and flogger inside.
“Toy chest?” he asked.
“Yes.” Pete replaced the chain and padlock, then dropped the key into his pocket.
“Why do you have the key?” If Pete was the submissive partner, that didn’t make sense. Lee had never had such— Well. It hadn’t been his experience, had it? He shied away from those thoughts. Again.
“It’s not that formal.” Pete turned and rested his ass on the edge of the cabinet. “He tops.” He grinned, though he was staring at his hands and wouldn’t look at Lee. “He’s pretty good at that too, by the way. When he’s up for it.”
“You wouldn’t think it, would you?”
“Are you supposed to be talking about this with a stranger?” God, please stop talking about it. His pits were wet with sweat, and he wished he could control the shivery heat rising in his body. The mixed reaction he always had to this pissed him off.
Pete shrugged, straightened, and stuck his hands into his pockets. “You should know how we are. So you understand why he doesn’t always ask me to do things, and why that’s no big deal. Some people don’t get it, and that’s okay, but I like to give them all the information. At least if they’re going to judge, that way they know exactly what they’re judging.” He shot Lee an almost sweet grin. “Relax. I’ll be back in a few minutes to take the ice.”
“Thanks.” Lee furrowed his brow. “I think?”
“You should know how we are.” What had he wandered into, exactly? He was here to recover. Nothing else. All he wanted was the strength to get out of bed on his own. He didn’t know or care what mousy little Vince and his wild-haired partner got up to in theirs. Now if only his back would stop seizing and his body would quit its shivering. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on breathing and not thinking. No thinking, and definitely no remembering a past he was well and truly over.
Welcome to Bluewater Bay! This quiet little logging town on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula has been stagnating for decades, on the verge of ghost town status. Until a television crew moves in to film Wolf’s Landing, a soon-to-be cult hit based on the wildly successful shifter novels penned by local author Hunter Easton.
Wolf’s Landing’s success spawns everything from merchandise to movie talks, and Bluewater Bay explodes into a mecca for fans and tourists alike. The locals still aren’t quite sure what to make of all this—the town is rejuvenated, but at what cost? And the Hollywood-based production crew is out of their element in this small, mossy seaside locale. Needless to say, sparks fly.
Jaime has been writing for various publishers since the fall of 2008, although she’s been writing for herself far longer. Her Stories about men falling in love are the stories that she loves to read, so it seemed to make sense if she was going to write, they would also be the stories she wrote.
These days, you can find plenty of free reading on her website. She also writes for Various Publishers.
Spare time, when it can be found rolled into a ball at the back of the dryer or cavorting with the dust bunnies in the corners, is spent crocheting, drawing, gardening (weather permitting, of course, since she is Canadian!), or watching movies. She has a day job, as well, which she loves, and two kids, but thankfully, also a wonderful husband who shoulders more than his fair share of household and child-care responsibilities.
She graduated some time ago from college with a fine arts diploma, and a major in textile arts, which basically qualifies her to draw pictures and create things with string and fabric. One always needs an official slip of paper to fall back on after all . . .