Straight in. See the realtor and straight out. No stopping for so much as a coffee. Mark could go through the drive through on his way back to the interstate.
Certainly no hanging around on the off chance he might see—
It was over. They were getting married. Trey was getting married. But not to him. Who would ever marry him? Of course he’d have to ask someone first, but he didn’t believe in it. Just because something was legal now didn’t mean you had to do it, and he’d tried to explain how watching his mom and dad’s disastrous marriage had put him off for life and he was sure Trey understood.
The image of the cute table arrangement in their favorite restaurant would be forever burned in his brain. The candles. The balloons. Trey had even got him flowers. He’d thought—he’d actually been completely convinced it was because of his birthday until Trey had damn well gone down on one knee and every single person in the place had stopped talking.
And he’d wanted to die.
And as much as he’d tried to apologize and explain getting married wasn’t something he wanted things had never been the same since. Then Trey had joined a gym. Not that Mark had thought he needed to. He loved Trey’s body. Liked he had something to get hold of first thing on a morning and last thing at night—and every minute in between. But gradually Trey had changed. Not just on the outside, but on the inside. Mark had known he was losing him and even though he’d tried to hang on with his fingernails it had been no use.
He’d even offered to get married and Trey had fixed him with such a hurt look he’d never mentioned it again.
Nine months after the disastrous proposal Trey had packed and gone. Mark had immediately changed his job and headed in the other direction. They’d leased their cute cottage that nearly sat on the sand, but Mark had never returned. Until now. Nearly two years later he’d gotten an email from Trey saying he was getting married and would he mind if they sold because he really wanted the cash for a deposit on his new place.
So Mark had to come back one last time. And yes, he could have gone to the office to sign the contract but something—something clearly masochistic—had made him come here. He was just looking out from the bedroom window when he heard the noise downstairs and he turned to go down and meet the realtor.
Mark froze at the shocked whisper. A bare step into the kitchen to see Trey stood there looking…apologetic almost? “What are you doing here?”
And Trey winced so Mark immediately felt like shit. “Not that you don’t have every right,” he rushed out. “I just wasn’t expecting it.”
And Trey didn’t reply just kept staring at Mark like he had two heads or something. Then Trey seemed to realize what he was doing and held out a letter. “This came. I’ve been keeping an eye on the mail and for some reason it wasn’t redirected to you.”
“I thought I’d changed everything.” Mark frowned and reached out just as Trey seemed to change his mind.
And their fingers brushed. Trey jumped like he’d gotten an electrical shock but Mark felt it too. And suddenly he didn’t care about whatever was in the letter. “You’re getting married,” Mark choked out. “Congratulations.”
Trey shook his head. “No. No I’m not.”
Mark’s heart beat a tattoo. “You’re not?”
Trey turned and walked into the lounge. And straight to the doors looking out to the beach where Mark had built a deck. Or tried. It was still a little wonky and it badly needed re-staining now. Mark had followed him and took in the slumped shoulders and the bowed head.
“I’m sorry,” he offered knowing how important marriage had always been to him. Growing up in group homes and never being fostered had—Mark knew—made Trey want to cling on to every bit of security he could.
He knew that. Of course, he knew that. So why couldn’t he have just smiled and let him put that damn ring on his finger? It wasn’t like he’d ever been interested in anyone else. Trey had been it for him since high school. It was Mark’s stubbornness that had driven them apart.
He wondered if the other guy had met someone else, but he didn’t like asking. And the idea that anyone would ditch Trey for another was so ridiculous it was insane. Trey was perfect.
“I ended it,” Trey said softly as if Mark had asked, and he turned around. “I worked out—just in time thank goodness—that I was more in love with the idea of getting married than in getting married to Sean.”
Stunned, Mark took a step forward then stilled. It wasn’t up to Mark to offer comfort. He’d lost that right.
Lost that a long time ago.
Trey turned back around and gazed at the beach. “What are you doing now?”
Mark turned the question over in his mind. He knew it had been a casual enquiry as to work, where he lived, who he might be seeing, but—
Was there a chance? He had to know.
“Wondering how I was insane enough to let go the best thing that ever happened to me?”
“And wondering if I begged with everything in me if my best friend would give me another chance?”
Trey still didn’t move.
“And wondering if I told him how much I loved him, how I’d always loved him, how he owns my heart, if he might ever consider turning around and letting me convince him of that?”
Not so much as a flicker. Mark closed his eyes against the sudden sting. He’d tried. It was too late. He knew that really.
“He might,” Trey whispered, and Mark’s eyes flew open. Trey had turned and was looking at him, eyes shining. “On one condition?”
“Anything,” Mark promised. Anything.
“You have to promise never to ask me to marry you.”
Mark blinked. “But—”
“No.” Trey shook his head. “I want more than that. I want you to never to let me go, and I don’t need a piece of paper that tells me that. I thought I did. For a long time I thought that being together in the eyes of the law was more important that what is in your heart. And—”
But Trey never got to finish because Mark couldn’t stay still any longer. He lunged for Trey and Trey made that special little sound in the back of his throat as Mark wrapped his arms around him and brought their lips together.
The sound that Mark had missed so much that told him Mark was home. Loved.
He never gave the letter another thought. If he had he might have been surprised at the empty envelope that Trey had stuffed into his pocket as soon as he had gotten the call from the realtor telling him where Mark was going to be.
He’d cancelled the listing anyway.
They were home to stay.
“What are we going to do on Saturday?”
Jake looked up at Gael. The question had been casual, but he knew it was anything but. Saturday was Derrick’s birthday party. The first birthday since Derrick had come to live with Gael and Jake. Jake eyed his lover knowing this was important to him. “I think we have to work out what Derrick would enjoy.”
“That’s what worries me,” Gael rushed out. “I know all our friends would come but you know he hates being with more than two or three people at a time.” Like Gael, thought Jake.
It was true. Derrick would be fourteen, but he wasn’t what anyone would call a regular fourteen-year-old. He was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and immediately taken into care. His mother had died sometime later. Add that to his enhanced abilities and Derrick was definitely a challenge.
Not that Jake would have it any other way. Derrick was partially deaf and blind and the doctors considered him somewhere on the autism spectrum but no one really knew. Add the communication challenges to his abilities and it was an amazing mix.
“Why don’t you ask him?” Jake brightened. Gael could communicate with him through a child’s version of an I-Pad, but only when it had no visible power source. Derrick would make the tablet work somehow on its own.
“I did,” Gael admitted.
“And?” he didn’t see the problem.
“I tried to explain what a party was and I don’t think he understood.”
“We can ask the team? He knows them.”
“The team is a party all on its own,” Gael cautioned. “I think it will be too much for him. I think we just get him a cake and maybe grill some chicken outside. We’ll explain to everyone it will be too much for him.”
Which was all very good and a plan until they got to work the next day and the first words out of Finn’s mouth were, “What’s Derrick doing for his birthday?” and Vance’s ears pricked up.
“It’s Derrick’s birthday?”
Jake hushed him hoping Gael hadn’t heard.
“What’s the matter?” Finn whispered which was totally a waste with enhanced hearing but luckily Gael had just stepped outside with Doc Natalie.
And of course, everyone crowded around.
Jake squirmed. “It’s Derrick’s birthday on Saturday.”
“Great,” Talon said. “I saw this electric powered race car I bet he’d love.”
Adam chuckled. “You’d have to take the batteries out.”
“That would be amazing,” Sawyer said. Jake sighed. It would be. Derrick could only work his tablet with the battery out. They’d never tried it on anything else though.
“Maybe you can call in for five minutes?” Jake said weakly hoping Gael would talk to him afterward.
Of course, it was rarely that simple. The phone call he got later gave him the first clue. “Jake,” Connie’s voice came through loud and clear. Connie was officially Vance’s mom but she had taken them all under her wing. “I understand it’s a special birthday on Saturday, what can I bring?”
Jake stifled the groan. His life would not be worth living if he upset Connie. “A cake?” he asked weakly. He’d told Gael he would order the cake so technically…
“Jake,” Pete’s voice rang out from the phone later that afternoon. Jake did groan out loud that time. The chuckle he got back was sympathetic.
“You messed up buddy, didn’t you? Finn was here an hour ago and he kind of let the cat out of the bag.”
“Who to?” If it was just Terry he might have a chance.
“Everyone,” Pete supplied the humor loud in his voice. “I’m bringing them all around for five.”
Jake bashed his cell phone against his forehead. Pete ran a foster home for enhanced kids. Everyone meant seven of them. He swallowed. He’d better get Connie to build a bigger cake.
“Jake?” Michael Ramsay’s voice on the end of the phone made him smile. But this time he’d made the call. Michael was the principle of the special school Derrick attended and he and his wife had three special needs children themselves. Above all else, he had taught Jake to sign when he asked Gael and Derrick to be his forever family. Jake blurted out what he’d done. That instead of there just being three for Derrick’s birthday it was twenty and counting. “What am I going to do?” he wailed.
He heard the chuckle down the line. “Thanks for asking,” Michael laughed. “The kids, Emma and I will be around for five. I’ll bring sausages and you know Emma will bring her special dip.”
“Nooo,” Jake laughed despite himself. Add five more.
In the end, Jake decided to just go big and it seemed like he invited everyone on the planet. He bought a ton of food and he was outside on their deck counting chicken breasts when Gael came downstairs with Derrick after his bath.
Gael took one look at the mountain of food and narrowed his eyes. “What did you do?”
Two hours later when nearly forty people had consumed enough food to feed an army, Derrick opened his presents. Or Gael did it for him. Jake had watched the pair of them get quieter. Derrick had withdrawn into himself and Gael had beaten himself up because of it. Jake had spent the last thirty minutes trying to frame an apology, but he felt shit. Gael had been right. Derrick had been overwhelmed and miserable which made Gael miserable. Talon stepped up. “I think we should open mine next.”
Jake waved a defeated hand. If he was lucky, he would just get relegated to the couch tonight.
But Talon didn’t give the toy to Derrick. He gave it to Liam. He gave it to their fifteen-year-old enhanced superstar because despite Derrick’s challenges he was still a child and it was still a fast car.
Liam unwrapped the car, all the while telling Derrick he had brought his Mustang GT because it was better than Derrick’s Pontiac Firebird and that he really had better concede now. Derrick tilted his head and watched Liam make sure the batteries were out of the Firebird. He placed the controller in Derrick’s lap and put the two cars side by side. “To the fence line and back.”
Everyone was quiet. Jake wanted to die. It was going to be awful when Derrick didn’t even look at Liam’s car or even his own. Gael would kill him. Jake would probably save him the bother and do it himself.
“Are you ready?” Liam yelled and all the kids crowded around them. Liam’s car sped off hurtling towards the fence. Derrick’s never moved. Gael shot Jake a look of utter sadness and Jake wanted to cry.
“Come on Derrick. Or are you afraid your lousy car has no engine?”
Jake bristled. That wasn’t like Liam. Liam was normally the kindest— The Firebird jerked and seemed to lift off the ground. Gael stared at Jake his eyes round in surprise, and then the little car was off.
Screaming, cheering. Everyone joined in to yell their favorite home. Jake was completely convinced he saw dollar bills change hands at one point when the Firebird zoomed past the GT. The entire yard erupted in laughter when the Firebird beat the GT. Gael was laughing along with everyone else when Liam solemnly picked up both cars and bent down to where Derrick was sat.
“That was awesome.” He pronounced solemnly and looked expectantly at Derrick’s screen. Gael opened his mouth. Jake knew he was going to explain that Derrick wouldn’t understand. That he could only talk to Gael and Jake through Gael’s ability and he’d never communicated with anyone else.
But then the screen lit up.
“Derrick wants to go again.”
Everyone agreed it was the best birthday party ever.
And of course it was raining.
Bo picked up the last box from his empty apartment and groaned at the stiffness in his muscles. Gavin had cleared out last night. They’d even argued over that. Debated who was going to hand back the keys. Gavin had offered but then Bo had insisted as he’d said the apartment was in his name, so it should be him.
Gavin had shaken his head and swallowed. “It’s handing over an envelope to Mrs. Chen, Bo. It’s not exactly a huge responsibility.”
“Good job I’m not asking you to do it then,” Bo snapped back immediately. The distress in Gavin’s eyes immediately made him regret the dig. It had been a stupid mistake. A fucking birthday card; that’s all it was. Bo had been working late, again… and had asked Gavin to mail his gran’s birthday card, and he’d forgotten.
Gavin had realized two days later and had immediately told Bo and apologized over and over, even offering to call his gran and explain but Bo had snapped and called him irresponsible. He’d been chasing a promotion and he’d just found out it had been given to Alan suck -up Wainwright an hour before Gavin had told him he’d forgotten to post the card.
Disappointment, tiredness, frustration, yes, but none of those had been an excuse for the unforgivable low shot he’d fired at Gavin. That he understood family didn’t mean anything to Gavin, but that it was important to Bo. He’d hated himself as soon as the words were out and seen the hurt on Gavin’s face because it was true. Gavin didn’t know what a family was because he’d been brought up in seven different foster homes.
Bo had reached for him immediately, but Gavin had turned away, slamming the door as he ran out, and he hadn’t come home that night.
He’d finally got a text from Gavin the next morning saying he was moving out and would be gone the next day. Bo had volleyed one back saying it was good timing because he’d been offered a room with one of his co-workers in the city and it would be less of a commute. He hadn’t gotten a reply to that text at all.
It had been totally dumb. Just like all their arguments over the past couple of months. Something had rattled Gavin and Bo had been too caught up in work to really find out what. It was probably a good job they were splitting up. He was a selfish asshole who didn’t deserve someone as sweet as Gavin anyway.
The ache that accompanied that thought was worse than the one in his shoulders because that hurt was in his heart. Ignoring the rain that was pelting his face he turned around after loading his last box into his car and stared back at the old house. It was split into three apartments, but Mrs. Chen wanted to retire and he and Gavin had talked about putting in an offer for it and turning it back into one big house. It even had a small yard at the back—totally private—that they could deck out properly and turn into a lovely space.
At least Gavin would have been able to. Gavin was good with his hands. The thought of how good Gavin was with his hands…his lips…his teeth, had the ache in his chest doubling, and because Bo was a masochist instead of getting in his car he ducked around the building and entered the small enclosed yard through the tiny gate at the back.
He’d known somehow it wouldn’t have been as empty as he thought.
For a second he stared into the brown eyes of the man getting as soaked as he was as he stood in the middle of the empty yard.
“What are you doing?” Gavin croaked out, and Bo knew by his voice that not all the water on Gavin’s face was from the rain.
“The same as you,” Bo replied and walked up to Gavin.
Gavin laughed shortly, the hollow sound still heard even above the noise of the downpour. “I doubt it,” he whispered.
Bo’s eyes raked Gavin’s face. So expressive as always. The hurt, disappointment was there, but it was the longing that made Bo’s breath catch. “What I said was unforgivable.”
Gavin swallowed. “I got a letter,” he blurted out. “About a month ago from an old social worker I used to have when I was a kid.” He paused. “Some guy’s come forward saying he’s my dad.”
Bo gasped. The delight for Gavin was immediately tempered with the crushing realization that Gavin didn’t feel he could tell him. And guilt, because that was all on him. “That’s fabulous,” he said infusing his voice with as much excitement as he could muster. Gavin didn’t look excited though, he looked scared to death, and clarity was a punch to Bo’s gut.
He gathered the smaller man in his arms trying to keep as much rain off him as possible. “There are a million reasons why he never stepped forward before, not least that he might not have even known you existed.” Bo was thrilled when Gavin didn’t try and pull away from him but just lowered his chin into the crook of Bo’s neck. They used to stand like this and just sway when one of Bo’s favorite tunes came on when they were making breakfast together.
He couldn’t remember the last time they had eaten breakfast together. Chasing the promotion had made him go into work early and come home late. He had made a shit ton of mistakes and at the end of the day work never mattered, not really. He’d lost the only thing that really did. The man he held in his arms and was about to walk away from. “I made a decision,” he said, finally.
Gavin raised his head to look at Bo.
“I’m going back to school. You know I want to be a realtor, but I was too afraid to lose the steady wage and go commission only. You hate working for Cormicks. We talked about flipping houses together so many times, and we both have a bit of money saved up. I think we should try.”
Gavin’s eyes widened. “But why would you want to go into business with me when we’re splitting up?”
Bo pressed their foreheads together. “I’m an idiot. I’m impatient and a stubborn ass. I don’t think there’s ever anyone that could stand working with me.” His breath hitched. “Or living with me.”
Gavin looked up. The brown eyes shimmering again. “I think you would have a line of guys wanting the job.”
“I don’t want a line of guys,” Bo croaked out. “I’m only interested in one.” The rain must be coming down harder because torrents seemed to be pouring down his face. “That’s if he’ll ever forgive me.”
Gavin reached out and put his palm onto Bo’s cheek. “And what other qualifications are you looking for?”
“Eating breakfast together every day. Dancing to the radio.” He looked up at the dark sky. “Making out in the rain.”
“I want to apply,” Gavin said breathlessly.
“No need,” Bo said as he took him in his arms. “You already got the job,” and he bent Gavin back and sealed their promise with a toe-curling kiss.
It was still raining but he didn’t care.
“You want me to go where?”
“Don’t say it like you didn’t hear exactly what I just said.” Gael arched an eyebrow at Talon’s incredulous tone.
“But he’s nearly fifteen,” Talon carried on ignoring the look.
“Fifteen year old’s do not have show and tell,” Talon hissed. “I mean that’s something first graders do.” They were waiting outside Tampa Science Academy on the corner of North Boulevard and Waters Ave. It was a little far from Vance’s mom and dad’s where Liam lived but Liam had just transferred here after a friend of the lieutenant had recommended the school.
It was supposed to be perfect for the budding science geek that Liam now was.
Talon sighed. “Tell me again from the beginning.”
“Connie’s worried Liam’s not settling in.”
“Because he’s done a personality one-eighty in the space of four weeks since the semester started.”
“Meaning what?” Talon asked sharply. He hadn’t seen Vance or Sam for what seemed like ages, as much to Talon’s disgust, Gregory had loaned them out to the DEA. They were due back very soon though.
“Meaning he’s gone from being crazy excited about everything to spending most of the time holed up in his room. Connie’s real worried.”
Talon gazed at the stream of students that had just burst out of the building. “Which I don’t like obviously, but what the hell has that got to do with show and tell or more importantly me?”
“He’s not making friends apparently, according to Finn.”
Talon brightened. “Exactly. Finn would know what to do.” It was only he was doing a school visit this afternoon that he wasn’t in the car.
Gael shook his head. “Nope, it needs to be you.”
Talon glanced at Gael. “Would that be because I have a mark on my face and Finn doesn’t?”
Gael beamed. “You’re getting the idea, boss.”
Talon growled. “You still didn’t explain.”
“School science project, right?”
Talon groaned. He had hated those.
“All the kids have to get together into small groups and work on a project for the advancement of humanity.” Gael used finger quotes. Talon scoffed.
“Not much, then.”
“I know, Connie says the teacher is quite… earnest.” It sounded a complete load of crap to Talon, but what did he know.
“Anyway most of the class have gone for things like recycling etcetera. You know the type of thing—”
“Because if we don’t look after the planet there will be no humanity?”
“But why does that involve us?”
“Because,” Gael said dropping his voice lower even though they were on their own. “Liam hasn’t been asked to join in any groups.”
Talon shot a look at Gael. “Are you telling me he’s being deliberately excluded by the other kids?”
Gael just looked at him resignedly. “And I’m sure you can imagine why.”
“And the teacher hasn’t said anything?”
“Connie says not. Liam was put in a group but the others have made it more than obvious he isn’t welcome. Liam begged her not to tell the teacher because he thinks it will make things worse.”
“Which it may do,” Talon agreed. “Are there any other enhanced kids there?”
Gael shook his head.
Talon blew out a breath wishing Finn was here. Finn would know exactly what to say to Liam. “He’s coming.” Talon saw Liam break away from the kids heading towards the buses. Connie had told him this morning they were picking him up from school. “So I’m guessing you want us to help Liam come up with some sort of project? When’s it due?” Talon asked his eyes taking in the way Liam kept his head down even though he knew he’d seen the car.
“Tomorrow?” Talon said incredulously. “How the hell are we gonna come up with a project for tomorrow?”
Gael grinned just as Liam got to the car door. “Really Talon? The Advancement of Humanity?” Gael chuckled. “We’re not going to come up with a project. You’re actually gonna be the project.”
Talon had no idea whether to look intimidating towards the little shits that had given Liam hell for four weeks or just to stand there and look like he even knew half of what Finn was talking about. Genetic Determinism. Finn and Liam were just warming up and he had twenty-five fifteen year olds and their teacher—Miss Kelly—completely spellbound.
It might have been the science—that was certainly impressive—but Talon personally thought it was the flames dancing from his finger tips as he held his hand up that was tipping the balance in Liam’s favor.
Finn was happy to answer questions but had directed the first few towards Liam who probably knew far too much about their unit than he should. No, scratch that. He absolutely knew far more than he should, but they all trusted Liam to keep quiet. Eli’s abilities were documented and the fact that Talon now had some of their team’s had also been reported. It was impossible to hide when he had been present when some nutcase decided he was going to bring a gun to a fist fight outside a high school Finn had been visiting. Talon was picking him up afterwards because his car was in the shop and had seen the guy pull his weapon over a stupid ass fight about parking spaces of all things. The weapon had been metallic shavings a few seconds later but at least thirty parents and students had seen what Talon did. He was just very careful never to demonstrate Sawyer’s other ability. Being able to walk through brick walls wasn’t something he really wanted to see on Fox News.
“It’s not a project, though,” some kid sat at the back mumbled to his buddy.
The other kid nodded. “He’s a foster kid. His old man was some psycho I heard that was put away for killing someone.”
“Liam?” Talon interrupted. “You missed the question that,” he quirked an eyebrow at Miss Kelly and pointed to the two students who were sat at the back.
“Philip and Tomas,” she supplied as both kids sat bolt upright hearing their names.
“That Philip and Tomas asked,” Talon carried on not missing a beat as both their eyes grew wide at the spotlight shining on them. He glanced at Liam. “They have heard that your dad made great discoveries with tectonic energy and wondered how that came about?”
Liam practically lit up with enthusiasm and while being careful not to mention his own ability, went to great lengths in describing how to harness the power of the earth. Even Talon was impressed despite hearing it all before. And then when they were winding down, because the whole point of Talon being here was so Liam could make friends—not so he could score points with children, satisfying though it may be—he bent towards Liam while Finn was talking. “Go with me on this, Liam.”
He cleared his throat as Finn finished. “Liam actually asked me if he was allowed to arrange a small tour to the facilities we have at the FBI headquarters. I can allow maybe a couple of students and I suggested we made it a competition for the best question. Liam says, and I agree, that Tomas and Philip can come and two more.” He looked at Liam who was looking back at him with far more understanding—he thought—than any fifteen year old should have, and shrugged.
The teacher immediately perked up even more and suggested two more students who both smiled eagerly at Liam.
An hour later and Liam was given permission to show the class the Lenco which obviously Talon had made sure they rocked up in. It was nearly lunchtime before everyone was done and Talon had been very satisfied to hear Liam asked by a few of the kids if he was going to sit with them at lunch. Miss Kelly directed them all back inside and gave Liam permission to say goodbye on his own.
“Thank you,” Liam whispered and flung his arms around Talon’s waist. Finn beamed and Talon rolled his eyes pretending it was no big deal but he hugged Liam back just as hard.
He shoved Liam back and looked at him. “So what did we learn?”
Liam smirked. “That enhanced have exceptional hearing?”
“No!” Finn scolded, laughing.
Liam broke off from Talon and gave Finn a hug. “That if I have any problems I should just tell you guys,” he added quietly.
“Exactly,” Finn sighed with relief and they both watched as Liam hurried to join his new friends that were waiting for him.
“You big softy,” he said and prodded Talon’s bicep.
“Mmm,” Talon replied noncommittally turned to the Lenco. “I could get on board with this school thing.”
“You could?” Finn asked looking hopeful.
He nodded trying not to grin. They didn’t have to be back at the office for an hour and he definitely had some homework he thought Finn could help him with.