The woman we called Mam shivered like she did, not from cold, but more like it was a thing that crept along the edges, fearsome in ways me ‘n Sammie ne’er could comprehend.

Not by a lick.

What Pa seen in the ole hag escaped me, even with my newfound knowing the way of things. Pa’d made do but I wasn’t him, I had standards now.

Sammie, well I wasn’t sure about her, not being right in the head ‘n all.

“Your chores done, boy, or do ya think ya gots all day long to tend to ‘em?” She brandished the willow stick, the one what cuts sharpish. We both had our fair share, Sammie more on her behind than me, her being broad beamed, like our boat useta be. Back when we lived by the sea and Pa still laughed and joked and teased.

I asked, like I did most days, “Will he be home soon, do ya think?” That got a shrug. The ole bat didn’t much care. She had a roof and a fire and us to tend to her whims, of which she had aplenty.

I’m coming seventeen so they’d be after me next. Cannon fodder Pa’d called it, but he’d gone to do his duty, leaving me to see to my sister.

Our ridge was prickly with skinny shadows that laced the fresh snow, dark, light, dark. Sammie was at the rear window, looking out to the sun like it was a promise.

She smiled so bright it hurt to look and nodded to the tracks.

He’d come again. To give her hope and that gentle bulge to her belly.

I fingered the blade, content now that he’d see to her, mayhap bring back light to her eyes.

For that, I need do just this last thing…

Posted in Spindles | Tagged , short fiction, Spindles | Leave a comment

Silver Lining, It’s About Time

10802050_891802227520152_8521341873120266785_nYes, the ceiling wallboard is hanging by a thread thanks to copious applications of duct tape. Help has been summoned, though the work will be delayed until after the holidays.

A downer: Medicare supplement charges have skyrocketed – mine by 62%. For someone like me, always tiptoeing on the edge of financial disaster, aka “fixed income”, that’s not such good news. Where to find an extra $70/month in an already lean budget?

Should I Kickstarter something or just get on my creaky old knees and beg…


Cole in His Stocking ebook #2Like this one… Cole in His Stocking. It’s sweet, it’s got a feel-good vibe, and the characters are both just guys trying to work it all out.

As for the cheery news?

It’s #2 Highest Rated Short Story on All Romance Ebooks.

So that’s a woohoo.

And it’s just 99c (25659 words, 79 pages for those looking to get their money’s worth)


It’s available on AMAZON and All Romance Ebooks (OmniLit).

If you buy it and like it, a review would be lovely and most appreciated.


Posted in It's About Time, Silver Lining | Tagged begging, need reviews, shameless promotion, silver lining | 2 Comments

2014: Going out with a bang?

pessimistRoof leaks. Water pipes bust in walls. Water line to barn breaks.

Truck: tires, brake system, transmission, electrical system, fuel line…

Subaru: engine croaks, tires, brakes…

Horse trailer: multiple tires blow up.


Today, around 11am. Roofer shows up to look at the area where it’s leaking. He and firstborn head to the attic to check it out. I hear them walking up there and then…


Ro’s foot slips off the beam and down she comes, right through the ceiling. The beam caught her leg, halted the fall enough she grabbed hold and pulled herself back up.

This is what we’ve got in the living room:

I consider her lucky. If she’d fallen all the way, she could have been badly injured.

Clean-up has been a bitch as you might expect. We’re being careful with the insulation, of course. Hand picked the big clumps, shop vac’d the rest, then vacuumed. Scrubbed surfaces, washed throws.

Le sigh. I’m ready for a bracing libation and a fresh start.

woman_beggingSo, honestly, 2014… ENOUGH! PLEASE!

I give up. Just go away and leave us alone.

Posted in Blog | Tagged coulda been worse, disasters, near miss | Leave a comment

The Day After…

112-940A-I-H3The Holidays were warm and wet but that didn’t keep us from enjoying the day and finding all the blessings of the season right here at home.

IMG_0013We don’t decorate because of Little Miss Mayhem … but then again, isn’t she decoration enough?

After a couple medical near misses, I wasn’t sure I’d be seeing another year turn over, but now I’m happily anticipating 2015 and all the surprises it has in store (I’d like some good ones for a change, selfish me!).


White Angel WingsI want to give a huge Thank You to my readers who quite literally put the wind beneath my wings and encourage me to give the characters who live in my head a voice.



silent_winter_cottage_wallpaperI’ve put a few things on limited time special for your reading pleasure (some are free).

Blessings to all of you.



The Ultimate Crow Creek Box Set (5 books) 50% off:  ARe/OmniLit

The Bad Boyfriends Box Set (99c): Amazon   ARe/OmniLit

The Strigoi Chronicles (30% off): ARe/OmniLit

The Holiday Toast Duo (in KU for free read): Amazon

Ash & Oak (99c): Amazon   ARe/OmniLit   B&N/Nook

Dance Macabre (Free, the love it or hate it noir piece): ARe/OmniLit

Glasses of wine in front of Christmas tree


Posted in The Day After... | Tagged giving thanks, Limited time specials | Leave a comment

Cole in His Stocking: Chapter 9 – Christmas Eve

Chapter 1    Chapter 2    Chapter 3    Chapter 4

Chapter 5   Chapter 6    Chapter 7    Chapter 8

Chapter Nine: Christmas Eve

silent_winter_cottage_wallpaperCole unwrapped his snow-covered outerwear and draped it over an old rocker that had seen better days. The promised white Christmas was looking like a major snow event, though in his neck of the woods, major was measured in feet, not the eight or so inches on the ground. He had taken the ancient Ford tractor up and down the long driveway a few times, carving out a one-car-width with the blade, though it was still deep in spots where the dirt lane undulated and trapped snow in the gulleys.

He thought, It’s not like I need to be anywhere…

Slipping on a pair of flannel-lined slippers, he padded into the kitchen and put the kettle on to boil. He’d been up early as usual, doing chores, and had yet to have breakfast. Looking up at the clock over the refrigerator he shook his head, wondering how he’d managed to blow four hours of the day already.

The knock on the door startled him into shouting, “Dammit, Tom, the mail could’ve waited on a day like this.” He muttered under his breath as he made his way through the labyrinth of rooms toward the front porch.

Pulling the door open, he barked, “Good thing I plowed the damn…” and stopped dead, his mouth hanging open. When he finally regained his wits, he whispered, “Jake?” Not believing his eyes, he stood, blocking the door, asking stupidly, “How did you…?”

The last person he ever expected to see, the only person he wanted to see, stood shivering and explaining, “The cab driver dropped me off at the driveway. I walked…”

“You walked a quarter mile in this?”

Jake shrugged. “I’m u-used t-t-to w-walking.”

“Oh Christ, you’re shaking like a leaf. Get inside.”

Cole pulled Jake through the doorway and shushed him down the narrow entryway. Almost as an afterthought, he grabbed the duffel bag and set it inside the door before turning to herd his lover toward the parlor and the wood burning stove.

“Go left, I’ll be right with you.” Cole pulled a wool blanket from a chest next to the stairwell and raced after Jake. “Get out of those wet clothes and wrap yourself up in this.” He tossed the blanket on the couch and reached to help Jake’s frozen fingers work the buttons on his long wool coat. Jake muttered, “Got it,” so Cole said, “I’ve got the kettle on for tea. You want sugar and milk or lemon and honey?”

“Whatever, just so long as it’s hot. God, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this cold in my whole damn life.” He shrugged off the coat and bent down to unlace his boots.

Cole waited long enough to make sure Jake was settled, then raced to the kitchen and the welcoming sound of the teakettle whistling a merry tune. A thousand million questions flooded Cole’s mind…

Jake had brought only a small duffel bag. Did that mean he was there for Christmas Eve, just a quick I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by and say hi, and then he’d head back? As unlikely as that scenario was, if it was true and Cole was really lucky, Jake would stay over until the next day. All Cole wanted was this night, just this one, to get right with Jake, to tell him how he felt. Maybe even ask him…

What? Ask him what?

It was Christmas Eve. Sometimes magic happened, sometimes the best gift was the one that arrived on your doorstep shivering, with a face of an angel and a body made for sin—a body made for him.

On the other hand, he could have made the trip with the idea of having it out with Cole, then giving him the middle finger salute and going on his way.

Whichever it was, Cole decided Jake Richardson was either going to say yes right off, or Cole was going to tie him to the bedpost and make love to him until he did. Talk about having a fantasy…

Cole set the mugs on a tray and found a tin of cookies Uncle Ray’s partner had baked for him in case he had a visitor and needed something to offer his guest. Cole often thought Ray’s husband was psychic because he’d used those exact words—a visitor and a guest. One, just the one.

Damn you, Roy…

Jake sat with his feet curled under him. Cole noticed he’d placed the wet clothes and sodden boots in the hallway. Blushing, he said, “Sorry, I made a bit of a mess. I didn’t exactly dress for the weather.”

Setting the tray on the coffee table, Cole offered a mug to Jake, then picked his up and paced uncertainly between the couch and the well-worn recliner next to the wood burner, not sure what to do, how to behave, let alone what to say.

Of course, not talking had been what got them both into this pickle, so Cole decided to take point and get it out in the open, but before the words even formed in the back of his throat, Jake asked, “Did you mean it?”

That stumped Cole, and brought him up short. Mean what? What had he said that made Jake question him like that? Confused and feeling desperation claw at his innards, he said, “What, what did I say?”

Jake clutched the mug with both hands, staring down into the fragrant brew for an interminable period of time, weighing his options and finally latching onto, “Um, about coming for a visit?”

Nearly giddy with trepidation, Cole tried reading between the lines, desperate to unravel the subtext and knowing the next move was his, not that he wanted to move or say anything to rock the boat.

Be happy he’s here, O’Neil. Take it slow, remember this is Jake…

Cole mumbled, “Of course I meant it, why wouldn’t I?” and instantly regretted the hint of irritation in his voice. There was so much riding on this moment that it was almost impossible to act natural, as if everything was normal, and not like the fate of their futures might just rest on who said what next.

Jake answered, “Right,” as he set the mug on the end table and swung his bare feet to the floor. Out of the blue, he said, “I love old farmhouses. Did you want to show me the rest of it?”

Taking a deep breath and happy for the respite from the pending awkwardness, Cole nodded and motioned Jake toward the stairs leading to the second floor. On the way, he grabbed the duffel bag and took the steps two at a time out of habit. On the landing he pointed to a room at the rear of the house and said, “That used to be my bedroom.”

Jake took the duffel bag from Cole and walked into the small room. Making the usual comment that it was nice, he took in the single bed and the chifferobe doing double duty as a closet and dresser. Cole hadn’t made any alterations to his old room other than freshening the bedding and tossing a few area rugs around. Decorating had never been his strong suit. If it was reasonably clean and functional, he was good with that.

Jake nodded as though Cole had asked him a question and placed his duffel bag on the bed. With a small smile, he said, “Makes for a nice guest room now. This’ll be fine.”

That answered that question … the one about whether or not Jake planned to stay overnight. But it wasn’t getting them any closer to the real reason why they were here, in Cole’s old bedroom, staring at each other like starving men with a banquet just out of reach.

Stalking to the bed, Cole picked up Jake’s duffel bag and announced, “Our room is down the hall, this way,” and hoped he wouldn’t pass out since all the blood in his head seemed to have headed south, which made walking difficult, let alone breathing.

Although his parents’ bedroom hardly qualified for the term “master” at least it had a view of the pond and overgrown garden, not that you could see any of that under the mounds of snow. When he turned around to see if Jake had followed him, he found a man wearing his heart on his sleeve, his expression frozen into a giddy mix of hope and terror that mirrored Cole’s own roiling feelings.

Cole pointed to the bag. “Where’s the rest of your stuff?”

Blushing furiously, Jake stuttered, “I-I-I, um, left it in a locker at the b-b-bus s-station.” He squeezed his eyes shut tight and asked again, “Did you mean it?”

Did he? It was one thing to say you wanted someone in your life. That could be taken a lot of different ways, but what Cole hoped for was the for-better-or-worse lifetime together that came with loving someone more than life itself.

Was Jake that person? Was he? There were no guarantees, no magic bullets, but that didn’t mean magic didn’t exist. Cole had proof positive of that standing in his bedroom doorway.

Closing the distance between them, Cole cupped Jake’s face with his hands and said, “If you’re asking, do I mean I love you, then yes. Yes, I do. If you’re asking what that means… Hell, I don’t know any more than you, but what I do know is that the only way we’re going to find out is if we do this thing together. You and me.”

The room burnt incandescent with Jake’s smile. He asked, his throat raspy with emotion, “All in?”

Cole leaned down and drew Jake into his arms, crooning, “Yeah, babe, all in,” as he gently ran his lips and tongue over Jake’s mouth, whispering, “Merry Christmas, kid.”

Jake pulled away, grinning like a naughty elf, and said, “You’re the best stocking stuffer I ever had. Merry Christmas, Cole.”

And to all a good night…

The End


Posted in Cole in His Stocking: Chapter 9 - Christmas Eve | Tagged Chapter 9, Christmas Eve, | 1 Comment

Cole in His Stocking: Chapter 8: Snow Is Glistening

Chapter 1    Chapter 2    Chapter 3    Chapter 4

Chapter 5   Chapter 6   Chapter 7

Chapter Eight: Snow Is Glistening

new-york-city-winter-night-vivienne-gucwaIt was odd how easily all Cole’s plans fell by the wayside. He’d planned on spending his last two days in the city wandering around, taking in the sights he’d missed, being a tourist. He’d thought it would make for a nice memory, New York City aglow with lights and window displays, the sidewalks jam-packed with people hustling to find the perfect gift. Maybe there’d be a snowstorm to put icing on that fantasy cake.

He’d gotten the fantasy part right, but not much else. Instead of filling his head with flashes of holiday spirit, he’d hidden in the bowels of the stables, cleaning harness or mucking out stalls while the horses were away. When they returned, he groomed them, one-by-one, checking shoes, topping off water buckets—all the chores that had been re-allocated since he was no longer officially involved with the organization.

Now he was just killing time, or maybe time was killing him. He’d made two runs to the Port Authority bus terminal, sending off most of his clothes and the bits and bobs of trinkets he’d collected during his months interning with the carriage trade. His uncle would pick them up and see that everything got to the farmhouse. That left him light on crap to lug around, but it did little to relieve the burden of regret and sorrow that was eating him alive.

Despite Sam’s good advice, he hadn’t expressed how he really felt, not directly, and no sane person would fault him on that. Had it really been less than a week since his life had spun out of control and he’d lost his heart to the curly-haired kid with a wide smile and eyes so crystal clear, so green, he’d fallen into them and never wanted to escape?

The naysayers, the ones who pontificated that there was no such thing as love at first sight, they would proclaim he and Jake knew very little about each other—certainly none of the small secrets and dreams and fantasies, the make-or-break stuff that took a lifetime to learn and to savor. And yet, in less than a day, Cole had awakened to the fact he didn’t have to face life alone anymore, and that the chance meeting with Jake had blown wide the barricades he’d erected to protect himself.

Now, what amounted to a sea change was him realizing that, while he’d been carefully shielding himself from investing his emotions in another, he’d only managed to create a void in his life. All those years he’d spent trying to figure out how he could make a difference? He’d been going at it the wrong way, turning inward and seeing just the empty shell of loneliness yawning into his future.

When he’d finally had enough, he’d taken the first steps to put his life back on track. His uncle agreeing to the proposal to set up the satellite clinic and hospice for unwanted equines had seemed the answer to his prayers. But fate had intervened with other considerations, other options—none of them clear-cut or easy.

How could he ask Jake to share his life in the middle of nowhere, with just him, the animals and an ancient farmhouse … with no take-out or theater or the heartbeat of a city with endless diversions? What right did he have to even consider putting that question out there?

Jake had a job, he had his own ambitions—the theater, the university, who knew what else? They hadn’t gotten much beyond exploring each other’s bodies, let alone unwrapping the layers of what made each of them tick. At times it had seemed like they’d been a single being, one in ways that defied his ability to express it in words, like they knew the other’s thoughts and feelings without having to say it out loud.

Maybe that had been his mistake—his unwillingness to speak what was in his heart, to say the one word that was the game-changer for both of them.

Cole couldn’t shake the suspicion that the turmoil and sadness he felt was just him being a selfish idiot, wanting more than his due and assuming Jake would be ready and willing to hop on board, give up everything he’d established in his own life and merrily attach his caboose to Cole’s dream train.

How naive, how stupid could he be? It simply didn’t work that way, despite how much he wished it were so.

He had no idea how two people could ever get to that point in their lives where his and mine became ours, how you evaluated separate paths and made the choice—this one, not that one. He ached to ask Jake about that, to explore the possibilities, to see if it was all in his own head. To find out if he’d been hallucinating all along, or was it real, real enough to lay it out and say yes, this … I want this for us. Not me. Not you. For us.

Will you? Do you want to?

The more he thought about it, the more questions he had, questions that only Jake could answer. And although he could wish and hope and pray all he wanted, the truth was those answers might not be what he wanted to hear—the sweet rejection of we can still be friends, it wasn’t meant to be, it was fun while it lasted. Cole wasn’t sure he was ready for that. Perhaps he’d been right all along to keep his mouth shut and not impose an impossible situation on a man who deserved better than a lovesick declaration on the eve of Cole’s departure.

“Right, too fucking right, O’Neil.” The words popped out, the sound echoing hollowly in the nearly empty stable. He mumbled, “Crap, get a grip,” and breathed a sigh of relief that no one was there to witness his meltdown.

The right thing was for him to suck it up and make their last night together something special, not a drama queen sob fest that would only embarrass both of them and make it that much easier for Jake to say goodbye.

The problem was, he sucked at saying goodbye…

To make matters worse, Jake had been forced to return to his own place to change and get ready for work. It shouldn’t have been that way, not at all. In a perfect world, Jake would have brought clothes over to share the few hooks on the wall and a dresser drawer. He’d have added his toothbrush and shaving supplies to the narrow lip on the porcelain sink. They’d have played bumper cars with their hips, jostling for a spot in front of the mirror. Perfection would have had them taking turns, showering quickly to conserve the hot water, or maybe shower together and find another way to drive each other insane.

But they hadn’t done any of that, making the pending farewell, have a nice life, keep in touch easier to bear, for both of them.

He climbed the steps to the loft he’d called home for nearly nine months. That evening it was stripped bare of everything that was Cole O’Neil, scrubbed down to pristine and ready to welcome the next inhabitant.

Cole showered and shaved, taking care about his appearance, then donned his only sport coat and hefted the backpack onto his shoulder. With a final look around, he headed out to meet Jake at the store and then take him to dinner to celebrate his birthday.

He’d entertained getting flowers or candy—some birthday token—but that seemed too romantic and needy, though he knew in his heart Jake would have loved the gesture. Maybe in another time or another place…

Gabe met him at the back door. They exchanged nods and smiles, Gabe’s not quite touching his eyes, the man’s expression assessing and not altogether friendly. He said, “He’ll be out in a minute.”

They both stared up at the flakes falling lazily from the dark maw barely discernible between the looming buildings. Cole shivered and mumbled, “Looks like snow.”

Gabe hummed, “Uh-huh.” He fidgeted on the step for a few seconds, then asked, “Going out?”

Cole swallowed back his discomfort, unsure how to react to the interrogation and the assessment that had him not measuring up. He could guess why but all he said was the obvious, “Dinner,” and followed it up with, “Maria’s?” He felt and sounded like an idiot.

Gabe pursed his lips and reluctantly said, “Nice place. He’ll like that.” Then the man pierced him with a look that cut Cole to the quick. “He deserves nice…”

Before Cole could bolt and put them all out of their misery, Jake appeared, the smile on his handsome face bright enough to light a room. Gabe leaned down and whispered something in his ear—Cole imagined it was something along the lines of say the word and he’s a dead man—but Jake just smiled and joined Cole in the alley. It wasn’t until he and Jake had turned the corner and joined the evening crowd that Cole noticed Jake’s eyes were puffy, and his normally ruddy complexion seemed even more so in the wash of streetlights and store displays.

They held hands, striding comfortably together as flakes drifted lazily and reflected off the glare of headlights, softening and muting the background melody of a city switching gears as it headed into an alternate dimension of relaxation and predation. At the restaurant, Cole guided Jake down the steps and through the rustic door into a quaint Italian setting, the interior walls rough brick with pine flooring and waiters ramrod straight sporting brilliant white cloths over their forearms.

The maître d eased Jake’s jacket off and hung it on the rack. Someone held a chair for Cole. He sat, his eyes never leaving Jake’s face—the sharp cheekbones accenting the slant to his impossibly beautiful eyes, lips quirked at the edges, flirting with a smile that never quite emerged.

Jake murmured, “This is nice,” and glanced away to take in his surroundings, giving Cole a chance to memorize the shape of Jake’s head, how his finely-corded neck stretched thin and temptingly sensual, almost close enough for him to taste and savor.

Gabe’s words haunted him. He deserves nice…

After they had placed their order and the Pinot Grigio had been decanted, Cole held up his glass and said, “Happy twenty-fifth birthday, Jake.”

Jake took a sip and nodded his appreciation. With a smirk, he said, “I guess you’re going to have to stop calling me ‘kid’ now.”

“I like calling you ‘kid’ … kid.” Scooting his chair closer to Jake, Cole whispered, “When we’re done here, I’m taking you someplace where you can give me a reason to call you something else.”

With feigned innocence, Jake asked, “What did you have in mind?”

Cole reached under the table and ran his thumb the length of Jake’s erection and whispered, “Nothing good…


Cole and Jake left the hotel suite with awkward, shuffling steps, both of them half-ashamed by what they’d done in the wee hours of the morning, both of them walking sore and bone-weary and heartbreakingly sensitive inside and out.

Unlike the night before, when they’d meandered the streets like lovers, the icy fog and urgency of Cole’s imminent departure had them dog trotting the nearly empty sidewalks as they cut their way from the Sheraton to 8th Avenue and the ten long blocks to the bus station.

When they arrived at their destination, the Port Authority Bus Terminal was packed with commuters disgorging for their humpday love/hate affair with the Big Apple. Jake followed Cole down the escalator to the lower level, both of them sweating and breathing hard from the frantic pace they’d set. There were only a half dozen people in line, the hour achingly early. Cole settled the backpack on his left shoulder and pulled Jake in close. They stood apart from the others in line, ignoring their stares and the occasional sneer. There wasn’t much to say. They had let their bodies, their passion and lust and every emotion that remained unnamed, speak for them that night.

When the line moved, Cole backed away and fished in his jacket pocket. He pulled out an envelope and held it out.

Jake asked, “What’s this?” and reached for it warily.

“Don’t open it now. Wait until…” Cole paused, wanting to say it’s nothing, but that wasn’t right because it truly was everything. He said a silent prayer that Jake would understand what he was trying to say when he looked at the contents.

Silently he palmed Jake’s cheek, then joined the other passengers shuffling through the door. He found a seat near the front and slid to the window, hoping for one last glimpse of the man he loved. Jake had moved to the glass divider and placed his palm on the window, his eyes darting frantically up and down the length of the bus.

Cole mirrored him, though he was certain Jake wouldn’t see him through the darkened window. He stayed that way for a long time, not caring about the tears leaving a trail of misery and despair down his cheeks. The sensation he’d died inside but his body had yet to grasp that fundamental truth nearly consumed him.

It wasn’t until the Greyhound bus hit I-80 and began the seven hour journey back to his home and to the future he’d once looked forward to, that he realized how little any of it mattered. Leaning back in the seat, Cole closed his eyes and tried to block out all the reasons why he’d gotten it wrong—completely, abso-fucking-lutely wrong.

He wondered if he’d be able to cope with a one year expiration date…


Jake leaned on his elbows, weary to the core and his veins pumping ice as he contemplated the piece of white paper resting on the glass-topped counter. They were in the dinner hour lull, and instead of tidying up and refolding the mountain of scarves and gloves that were his bailiwick, he’d shoved them aside in order to give the inevitable bad news pride of place.

“What’s that?” Gabe tapped the envelope. “Is that our Christmas bonus?”

Jake barked, “Don’t,” and reached for the envelope, only to have Gabe pull it closer to his edge of the counter. He growled, “It’s nothing.”

“Doesn’t look like nothing to me, girlfriend.” Gabe shoved it toward Jake and asked, “You going to open it?”

“No, yes… I don’t know.”

Gabe’s teasing expression morphed into concern. “It’s from him, isn’t it?” Jake nodded. Gabe made a rude sound and huffed, “Well, no rush then.”

Jake’s curiosity overrode his gut’s churning anticipation of the ultimate brush-off. He said, “No time like the present. Might as well get it over with.” He ripped a strip off the end, tipped it over and shook it until a piece of paper fluttered to the counter.

Gabe tilted his head and said, “What the hell?” He picked it up, turned it over a few times and set it down.

Jake nearly gagged on the question, “What is it?”

Gabe held it up to the fluorescent light and sneered. “It’s a bus ticket. To Watertown? Who the fuck wants to go to Watertown?” He turned it over and stared at the back and muttered, “One way, a one way bus ticket.” He looked up and asked, “Where the hell is Watertown, anyway?”

Jake’s brain had nearly shut down, but he managed to answer Gabe. “It’s upstate New York.”

“So, what’s in upstate New York worth going to?”

Jake grinned. “Not what, dipshit. Who.”

Gabe’s eyes bugged out. “No, no way, sweetie. Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

Removing the ticket from Gabe’s hand, Jake tucked it back in the envelope, then put the offer in his shirt pocket—the one next to his heart.


Posted in Cole in His Stocking: Chapter 8: Snow Is Glistening | Tagged Chapter 8, , Snow Is Glistening | 1 Comment

Cole in His Stocking: Chapter 7 – In the Lane

Chapter 1    Chapter 2    Chapter 3    Chapter 4    Chapter 5   Chapter 6

Chapter Seven: In the Lane


Guy Carleton Wiggins

Jake trotted up the steps of the Cathedral, using Cole’s huge body like a Sherman tank to clear a path. Despite the renovations, the church was already packed, standing room only.

Cole glanced at the brochure and mumbled, “No confessions on Sunday.” Jake snorted, then clapped a hand over his mouth. Cole continued as if he hadn’t heard anything, “Too bad, I really would have liked to count the Hail Marys on that one.”

Jake’s face flamed because he was pretty sure there weren’t enough beads on a standard rosary to accommodate that penance.

Cole leaned down and muttered, “You look cute when you’re guilty.” Jake punched his arm and told him to shut up.

They found a spot near the annex and squeezed themselves into the corner with a gaggle of tourists. Jake tucked himself into the protection of Cole’s arm and said a silent prayer of thanks as the choir filled the cathedral with sound that took his breathe away.

When the service concluded, Cole said, “Come on, I know a place serves the best pizza, if you don’t mind walking.”

“I’ve got the whole day.”

“Good, because I plan on making it memorable.”

Jake doubted anything could be as memorable as what they’d done last night, the way Cole had torn him apart, molecule by molecule, and put him back together, brand new inside. He’d been branded with Cole’s tenderness, with his passion and with his care.

If anyone asked him what love was, he’d say … that, that’s how love feels and tastes. It drives you insane, it turns you inside out, the pleasure so raw it hurts, hurts bad until it doesn’t hurt at all, and he and Cole had melted into each other’s skin.

Neither of them had said words to that effect, neither was going to make that mistake, not now. Not with Cole leaving and the offer still vague, still floating like a what if bubble between them. Cole had gone into more detail about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, how he wanted to make a difference. Jake had obsessed over each and every word, prying for details, trying to find chinks in that armor where someone like him—with no skills, nothing to bring to the table—where he could finally fit in and be part of someone’s life.

It was dangerous, him even thinking that way. It was too wild, too insane to think Cole would even consider the possibility, but it seemed he had. He kept dropping hints, but never coming out and saying it directly. And why would he? This was day three, date three. Nobody in his right mind thought about forever after just because they’d taken each other’s virginity, found that common ground most people spent a lifetime seeking, and now—every time they touched—it was like a volcano erupting.

There’s an explanation for all this, you idiot, and it’s simple…

He and Cole were in lust, nothing else. And that was fine. Nothing wrong with that. Cole was leaving in less than forty-eight hours. They’d exchange come visit me whenever, I’m just a bus ride away open-ended invitations, trading numbers, trading promises, and it might last a week or two or three, but then the call wouldn’t come, one of them would be busy or have to work. He’d feel bad for that, for missing the call. He’d feel even worse making excuses about the weather or not feeling good. Guilt would follow. They’d learn to live with that and it might hurt at first, but later it wouldn’t hurt as much, and even if they never found anyone else, they’d have that memory.

Cole took his hand, holding it like a boyfriend would, swinging it back and forth as they carved a lane through the crowds milling around Radio City Music Hall. He pulled his cell phone out and checked the time.

“You ever see the Christmas show?” Jake shook his head no. “Want to?” Without waiting for a reply, Cole tapped on his phone, then scrolled through whatever had his undivided attention. Satisfied, he said, “It’s not sold out, but all that’s left is the nose bleed section.” He glanced up, eyes the color of blue ice, crinkled with hope, the thin lines webbing at the corners and giving him a please say yes, please please please look Jake couldn’t resist if he tried, so he nodded and Cole whooped as he clicked the phone shut.

Skirting the line circling around 50th Street, Cole dragged Jake inside to the Will Call window. Once they had their tickets, they joined the throngs outside and settled against the wooden barricades to wait for the doors to open.

As if they each knew the other’s thoughts, they bantered back and forth like old friends who’d grown up together, who knew the other’s foibles and hot buttons, knew when to lighten up and just enjoy the other’s company. If that was denial, Jake was all for it. He needed to forget the ache building inside his chest, to put aside the coming departure that could very well bring him to his knees, because he knew that was a separation that was going to rip him in half.

When he least expected it, Cole kissed his lips, just like that, as if he’d been reading Jake’s mind, sensing his inner turmoil and assuring him it would be fine, they’d work it out.

Jake had been given a gift, he knew that now. For the first time in years, he was celebrating the season with someone he cared about. It might not be Christmas exactly, but that didn’t matter because what did was having Cole O’Neil in his life. And just because Cole wasn’t a gift he could keep, that didn’t make it any less special or important.

So for the next few hours, for whatever time they had left together, Jake vowed to make the most of it. If this was his one and only chance to feel love, then damn it he was all in.

Cole whispered in his ear, “What’s going through that head of yours, babe? Should I be worried?”

That was a loaded question and the anxiety Jake detected in Cole’s voice grounded him, took his head out of the clouds and reminded him they were both floundering with what was happening between them. Cole stared down at him, his expression as confused and conflicted, as uncertain and as filled with hope as Jake felt inside.

The last thing Jake wanted was to erect a wall of insecurity between them, one that eventually would get so high neither of them would be able to breach it. That’s what happened when you forgot that the imaginary bridge between your past and your future was called living. It was time to give it a try, that living bit, so Jake grinned and held out two fists, knuckle side up. “Red pill or blue pill, Neo?” He leaned in close so no one else could hear and murmured, “Your choice, farm boy, saint or sinner.”

Cole looked like he was going to swallow his tongue, but before he could collect his wits, the line moved, and they followed the throng, arms wrapped around each other. Like lovers.

Just like lovers.


Jake helped Cole feed and water the horses that had finished their shifts for the day. They exchanged a few words with Sam, waved off the late evening crew and then climbed the stairs to Cole’s loft. They’d stopped for Thai takeout but left the containers on the counter and headed for the bedroom peeling off their clothes and dropping them like bread crumbs as they staggered single file through the door.

Cole suggested, “Nap first? I don’t know about you, but I’m beat.” He rolled onto the bed and held out his arms. “Come here, babe. All I want is to hold you for a few before I conk out.”

Jake was happy to oblige. As he curled into the big man’s arms he said, “Thanks for today,” and twisted his head to place a kiss on Cole’s cheek. Soft snores huffed onto his mouth. Jake smiled and relaxed into the embrace, waiting for sleep to claim him too.


Awareness was a hat trick, churning and boiling until sensation ceased to be this or that or the other, and it simply vanished into a single point, consumed by a gentle touch or a sharp nip to remind him to hold on tight because he was riding a wave, surfing it, skirting inside the tube…

His body curled and twisted as his fingers grappled with the soft bedding. Jake ached for an anchor to hold him tight so he could focus and savor and make it last—the ultimate conflict. His cock, his balls screamed for release at the same time his heart pleaded … not yet, not yet, not yet.

Cole hissed, “Relax, I’ve got you,” and proved it by driving him insane with long, slow strokes, stretching and teasing, then withdrawing until Jake mewled and begged and his hips jerked in agony for more. “Bear down, there… There, I’ve got you, love, I’ve got you.”

Two fingers this time, gliding and scissoring until lightning lit him ass to cock and it was good, but he knew better, so much better was coming when Cole filled him completely. Best was the naked intimacy, the total submission, the exposure of their release and the sweet a cappella chorus of folding into each other’s skins, flesh inside flesh.

Jake wanted to apologize, to own up to being a wanton slut, to admit he’d do anything, say anything to get Cole to release him, to give him what he wanted, but the man tortured him, controlled him and played him like an instrument. Using blunt force, he battered at Jake’s defenses, transitioning his rigid skeleton into a puddle of desperation and back.

Rough hands cupped his neck, thumbs pressuring at the notch, harsh rasping laying siege to his senses, the sounds of his own moans… The fire, the burn lit him from the inside out as Cole struggled to be careful, and Jake fought back with greedy lust and cries of, “Do it, damn it, Cole, just do it,” and he wrapped his heels and pulled until Cole’s cock seated deep, and they breathed in synch, afraid to move, afraid to break the spell.

I love, love, love… it, I love it, I love what you do to me, how you make me feel. Say it, tell him, say the words…

Cole reared back, nearly withdrew, his hands slipping along the contours of Jake’s ribs, then lifting, lifting with warm, rough, sweaty palms, and Jake moaned inside his head, “Don’t, please don’t. Don’t leave. Don’t, don’t leave me.”

In the dim light, Cole’s sky blue eyes glistened and glazed over with lust. The scent of sweat and musk and sex filled Jake’s nostrils. He inhaled and moaned as Cole rocked forward and away, hiking Jake’s hips to drive deep on a slow penetration and an even slower retreat, until Jake’s throat closed and he fought against the exquisite punishment of pain and pleasure, forever locked in mortal combat.

Jake would have either, or both, it made little difference, because what he possessed was ultimately more precious—he had Cole O’Neil, and nothing and no one could take this moment away from him.

The familiar tightness rocketed from Jake’s spine through his ass to his cock, and he screamed in silent ecstasy as Cole pumped hard, driving Jake past the point of no return. Hot cum sprayed Jake’s chest as his muscles clenched around Cole’s cock and the howl, “Oh, fuuuuck,” echoed in the night.

Jake’s heels slid down the mound of Cole’s ass, caressing the outside length of his lover’s tree-trunk thighs, and finally coming to rest on the tangle of bedding. His body twitched in boneless spasms of post-coital rapture. Cole hovered over him, his lungs sucking air for all they were worth. When his lover withdrew and rolled to the side, the sense of loss was so profound, tears sprang to Jake’s eyes and he turned away to hide his despair.

Cole crawled to the edge of the bed, said, “I’ll get something to clean us up,” and disappeared into the bathroom. When he returned, Cole crouched next to the mattress and gently ran the warm, wet towel over Jake’s body, using slow sweeps to gentle and caress flesh so sensitized to the man’s touch that it was both heaven and hell.

Cole dropped the towel on the floor and lay next to Jake, face-to-face, his cheeks puckered as if he had something to say, but the words wouldn’t come. Jake recognized the emotion, saw his own hesitation and self-flagellation in the perfect reflection of himself in Cole’s eyes.

Cole’s words, when they came, were haunting whispers in the night. “We’ll work it out. Somehow.”

Jake burrowed under the chin and the growth of beard that was sandpaper rough and soft as sin. Biting back the sob choking his throat, he hissed, “How?”

Cole gathered him once more into his protective embrace and murmured, “I don’t know, love, I don’t know.” He nuzzled Jake’s forehead and swore under his breath, “Because we fucking have to…”


Posted in Cole in His Stocking: Chapter 7 - In the Lane | Tagged Chapter 7, In the Lane | 2 Comments

Cole in His Stocking: Chapter 6 – Is He Listening?

Chapter 1    Chapter 2    Chapter 3    Chapter 4    Chapter 5

Chapter Six: Is He Listening?

central-park-in-winterCole suppressed the urge to gather Jake in his arms and hustle him toward the surprise. But one thing he’d learned was to go slow with Jake, to give him the space he needed to process his feelings. So Cole stepped back and waited while the smaller man continued toward the carriage where the smiling driver held out a hand to help him into the rear seat.

Grinning at Jake’s “no way,” Cole breathed a sigh of relief he’d done at least one thing right that day.

The driver bowed and said, “It’s a mite on the chill side tonight. Sure you want the top down, Mr. O’Neil?”

Cole glanced at Jake, vigorously shaking his head no, and replied, “We’re sure, Sam.”

“Fine, sir. You know where the blankets are.”

Cole waited for the driver to walk around the carriage, removing the chocks and checking the harness on the grey mare contentedly licking up the last bit of grain from her feedbag. When they were ready to move out, Cole climbed on board and slid next to Jake who was vibrating with excitement.

Jake said, “I’ve been here in the city coming three years. I always wanted to do this.” He blushed, his ruddy cheeks turning a deeper shade in the diffuse glow of the streetlights. “I don’t know what to say.”

Cole wrapped an arm around Jake’s shoulder and pulled him close, tucking the auburn curls under his chin as the carriage jerked forward and entered the stream of traffic. When they turned onto Center Drive, Cole reached down and pulled the heavy wool blanket from its slot under the seat. Awkwardly he tucked it around the man shivering in his arms. Jake wasn’t helping because he had his hands stuffed in Cole’s coat pockets, the fingers fisted in the deep recesses of the down jacket.

“That better?” Jake umphed something into Cole’s chest. He took that as a yes, then asked, “You hungry, you want the sandwich?” hoping the answer was no because he didn’t want to disturb the closeness, the sensation of complete togetherness they’d established in such a short time.

A wave of unease threatened to highjack his contentment. Cole fought it down, determined to make this night special, to make it one they would both remember … that he would remember.

Jake lifted his head and looked around. There wasn’t much to see on that stretch, other than the fanciful lanterns casting shadows and the occasional glimpse of lights from the skating rink. Their driver, Sam, sat quietly, shoulders hunched, eyes forward. The flaps on his cap were pulled down over his ears, but Cole knew he listened to everything going on around him, keeping tabs on their progress.


They were making an abbreviated loop given the lateness of the hour. As it was, Cole owed Sam more than a thank you for offering to stay late on his behalf. When he’d approached the group just before they headed out for the evening shift, he’d had to endure curious stares and some sly smiles. Apparently someone had seen Jake leave that morning and word had gotten around.

Why he should feel like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar escaped Cole, but that was exactly how it felt. So he never had company, so what? That he’d had a stupid grin plastered on his ugly mug for most of the afternoon wasn’t a reason for any of them to put two and two together and come up with the wrong idea.

Not that they were wrong, far from it. Cole had been wracking his brain for hours trying to come up with the perfect plan for the evening. Telling Jake to meet him at the Food Court had popped without conscious thought. From thinking a nice walk on the footpaths in the park to window gazing at the displays to maybe even strapping on ice skates and risking life and limb, he’d run the gamet of all the possibilities, discarding one after the other. None of them felt right, whatever that meant.

It wasn’t until Sam had approached him and asked, “What do you need, son?” that his dismay and inability to make a decision translated into him stuttering out his dilemma and asking men twice his age what the fuck people did on dates.

Someone asked, “Is this the first date?”

“Um, no. It’s the second.”

Sam frowned. “Hmm, that’s too bad.”

Cole’s eyebrows shoot to his hairline. “Too bad? What’s too bad?”

A voice behind him asked, “How’d the first one go?” He didn’t need to turn around and look at the man, he could hear the smirk in his tone of voice.

Cole blushed crimson, the heat flooding his earlobes and cheeks. Sam laughed and said, “That good, huh? Well, seems to me you’re gonna have to come up with a real showstopper to top that, dontcha think, boys?”

The boys all nodded their heads in unison. That’s when they hammered him with questions he had no answers for—what Jake liked, what he wanted to do, was he adventurous or the quiet type…

Cole kept muttering, “I don’t know, I guess, maybe, sure, fuck if I know…” until it boiled down to Sam waving the others off and taking Cole by the arm and leading him into the bowels of the stables.

When they’d finally found a nook where they could speak privately, Sam said, “I take it you like your young man.”

“Well, yeah, but—”

“No, son, I mean you like him, am I right?”

Cole wavered, not sure he wanted to admit he understood what Sam implied. Instead he countered with, “How do you know it’s a young man?” hoping to divert the conversation away from the risks of admitting he’d already jumped into an emotional sand trap and had no idea how he was going to deal with it.

“Didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, boy. My eyes might be old, but they still see just fine. Seems to me you gots it bad. Am I right?”

Cole ducked his head in defeat. Sam had indeed got it right. But right, wrong or indifferent, he still had to come up with a plan, a setting that would make it possible for him to talk plainly, to tell Jake…

What the hell was he going to tell Jake? The truth? Yeah, that would make for a real cheerful topic and it would show him up to be the selfish asshole he was.

Right. Good plan.

“Seems to me you’re overthinking this thing, son. Tell me, what is it you want to show him tonight? What is it you want to say to your young man?”

Cole knocked his head against the wall and jammed his hands in his pockets in frustration. He had no doubt he was overthinking it, but he’d painted himself into a corner and time was running out.

Sam said, “You like him, right?’ Cole twitched his agreement, “And he likes you.” That wasn’t a question. “Seems easy from where I’m standing, boy. Just tell him. Before it’s too late.”

Too late. Before it’s too late?

Cole straightened. The weight on his shoulders was still there. So was the inevitability of what he’d put in place. It complicated things, made it difficult to see a way out of his dilemma but if he didn’t try, he’d have to live with knowing he’d maybe passed up the one thing he’d been missing for so many years.

And if the answer was no, then he’d deal. He always did.

Sam grinned. “Looks to me you made your decision.” They moved toward the garage doors and the lone horse and carriage, the rest of the crew already making their slow, ambling way toward Central Park and the gaggle of tourists. He pulled Cole to a halt. “If you don’t mind a suggestion?”


“There’s nothing quite like a spin through the park at night to put you in the right frame of mind, know what I mean?”

Sam gazed down at the elf-sized man. The top of his thinning grey head barely reached Cole’s mid-chest, his body wizened and bent over with age and infirmity, but at that moment all Cole saw was compassion and a good heart. He said, “Don’t know how to thank you…”

“Never mind that. You go and call the office and see to a reservation. They’ll take care of everything.” He swung onto the bench seat and picked up the reins, whistled to the mare and tilted his head in Cole’s direction. “See you later.”


Jake was the one who reached down for the bag with the sandwiches. He pulled one out, unwrapped it, then folded the waxed paper to make an envelope around the thick concoction of pastrami, cole slaw, swiss and Russian dressing on rye. Handing it to Cole, he said, “This shit’s to die for.” Cole agreed and took a huge mouthful, chewing with contentment.

When they finished, Cole fished the large container of coffee out and opened the lid, allowing the steam to escape. He took a sip, passed it over and placed his arm around Jake’s shoulders again. He closed his eyes, losing himself to the chill and the motion of the carriage and the feeling he’d found something special, something so damn near perfect he was having a hard time believing this was him, Cole O’Neil, falling…

Not just falling. He’d taken the express elevator to a place he hadn’t even dreamt about because he wasn’t aware such a state existed. Not for him, anyway.

Jake shifted, making himself more comfortable. He said, “Did I tell you we had a couple horses when I was a kid?”

“No, you didn’t.” Cole nuzzled Jake’s forehead, encouraging him to continue.

“We lived … live … in south Jersey, near Cape May. Pretty much country, though if all you’ve seen is the northern part of the state, you might be surprised at how rural it is.” He sipped the coffee, offered it to Cole who shook his head no. “Dad had a hardware store. Mom was a nurse. I was the youngest, the surprise baby.”

“So they had you late in life?”

“Yeah. My two sisters are ten and eight years older than me. They were the ones who were crazy for the horses. Showed them, all the usual shit. But when they left home and got married, the old geldings became mine.”

“Did you ride?”

“Nah, not really. Just hopped on them bareback, rode around the pasture. We mostly just kept each other company. It helped…” Jake paused and chewed on his lower lip. Cole had already figured out it was a nervous habit. His voice dropping so low, Cole had to lean in to catch the words, Jake said, “The horses were there for me during high school. My sisters knew and supported me, but you know how it is. Small school, smaller minds.” He shrugged.

Cole squeezed his shoulder. “I think we’ve all been through that at one time or another. Doesn’t make it any easier, though.” Jake had only mentioned his sisters, so he asked, “What about your parents?”

“Mom knew I think. Dad didn’t have a clue, but he was so busy keeping the store going, I doubt anything much registered other than his inventory. When he died of a heart attack, Mom passed within about six months.”

“How old were you?”

“Nineteen. Dad always assumed I’d take over the store. He left it to me and the girls, but I was the only one who tried to keep it going.”

“What happened?”

Jake pulled away, his spine rigid, chin tucked into his wool coat. His mouth in a grim line, Jake spat out, “As usual, I fucked up. I’m no good with numbers. I suck at details, counting beans, and managing people. My sisters finally decided to take matters in their own hands. Trish and her family moved back to the house and her husband took over the store.” Jake stared down at the floorboards of the carriage for a long time.

Finally Cole asked, “What about you, what did you do?”

Jake huffed a breath into the frigid air. “I followed a dream.” Before Cole could press him, he answered the unspoken question. “I fancied being on the stage. I had no experience—it was just a fly-by-night asinine idea that got stuck in my head. It refused to let go so I decided, why the hell not, so I packed my bags, ended up here. That was nearly three years ago.”

Cole knew he was stepping on thin ice, but he went ahead and asked, “Do you always follow your dreams?”

“If that one time counts, then yeah, I guess I do.”

The space between them yawned like a canyon. Cole wasn’t sure what to do with what Jake had shared. He felt like a priest in a confessional, but unlike that cleric, he didn’t have a handy recipe for soothing a damaged soul or removing residual guilt.

One thing he wasn’t good at was connecting the dots unless he had almost all the pieces of the puzzle, so he asked a question that sounded, even to his own ears like it came out of the blue. “Do you like it here?” He motioned with his hand in the direction of the approaching line of brightly lit store fronts.

Jake shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. It’s okay.”

Encouraged and not sure why, Cole said, “Same for me. But I grew up on a farm. I’ve only been here a few months, but the city makes me antsy, you know?”

“Yeah, yeah, I do know. It’s like you can’t breathe, like everything is coming at you all at once. And…” The words stalled in Jake’s mouth once again, although, this time, he rested his hand on the seat while he still stared off into the distance.

Cole wanted to pull Jake back into his embrace, but he sensed the time wasn’t right, so instead he simply wrapped his left hand around Jake’s and left it there, hoping the weight of the contact was enough. They sat in awkward silence as the carriage wound its way through lightening traffic back toward the garage and stalls on 38th.

Say it before it’s too late…

Clearing his throat, Cole squeezed Jake’s hand and took the first step. “What’s been hardest for me is dealing with how lonely you can be surrounded by…” he paused and waved his right hand in the air for emphasis, “…all this. Mobs of people. None of them giving a shit about you. And even when you want to be alone, it’s like you can’t get away from them. Ever. It’s… It’s like you’re—”

“Like you’re suffocating?”

“Exactly like that.”

Jake finally turned toward Cole, his mouth trembling as he asked, “Do you ever feel like you’re dying here?”

Before he could respond, the carriage pulled to the curb and stopped. Sam jumped out and held the door open. He made eye contact with Cole and nodded just once. To Jake he said, “The best to you, son,” then turned away to take care of the old mare.

Cole led Jake to his loft, took the coats and hung them on the hooks, then guided him into the bedroom. They stripped, their backs to each other, the sudden bout of mutual shyness so palpable Cole could taste it.  By the time Cole had set aside his clothing on the folding chair, Jake had crawled into bed and pulled the sheets to his chin. As he had in the carriage, he stared at a spot in the distance, his body sharing Cole’s space but his mind a million miles away.

Mimicking what Jake had said the night before, the night when magic had happened and Cole had lost his heart and soul, he said, “We don’t have to, if you don’t want to.”

“Yes, we do, Cole. Say what you need. I’ll listen. I promise.”

Sliding between the sheets, Cole propped himself on an elbow and began his own story, of growing up in upstate New York, on a farm with his brother and sister, of him struggling to come to grips with who and what he was. How he’d floundered his way through life, never quite fitting in. He spoke of the intervention with his father’s brother who was gay.

“Uncle Ray took me in, gave me the tough love my parents couldn’t.” When Jake went wide-eyed at that, Cole hastened to add, “It’s not their fault. I was being a total shithead and they had enough on their plates with trying to keep food on the table without dealing with a juvie feeling sorry for himself and blaming everything that went wrong on them and everybody else.”

“So what did he do?”

“Uncle Ray’s a veterinarian. He got me in the community college vet tech program. He paid the tuition. And he beat the living crap out of me when I ducked classes and acted out.”

Jake snorted. “What is he, Godzilla, he could take you on?”

“Not hardly. He’s five-eight, strong as an ox.” Cole smiled, remembering how much the thought of his uncle intimidated him even today. “He had a favorite saying… ‘It’s not how much dog’s in the fight, it’s how much fight’s in the dog.’ I’ve had a few occasions to think on that over the years.”

“He sounds like somebody I’d like to meet.”

Cole’s heart skipped a beat, but he had yet to get to the bad parts, the make-or-break shit, so he steeled himself for the coming storm and said, “My parents passed. Uncle Ray and Sis didn’t want the farm so it went to me. Thing was, I wasn’t ready. I needed to find myself, to learn about who I was. Maybe see if there was somebody worth living with inside all the bluster and the insecurity. I read about the carriage horses on a journalist’s blog, decided to come see for myself what it was about. Ended up here. That was nearly eight months ago.”

Jake’s arms curled around his knees. He asked, hesitantly, as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer, “So what did you learn?”

Cole took a deep breath, then another and another. Finally he said, “It’s in my blood, the farm. And the horses. Being a vet tech, working with animals—all of them, large, small, it doesn’t much matter.”

“So what are you going to do about it?”

That was the million dollar question, and the answer was one that Cole had worked on for months. Just over twenty-four hours ago, he’d been clear on his decision. Now? Now, he wasn’t so sure.

“I put a proposition to Uncle Ray. He’s going to help me set up a satellite clinic at the farm. I’m also planning to turn it into a retirement home for working horses. If the city decides to shut them down here, I don’t want those horses going to slaughter or to strange homes with people who don’t know shit about how to care for them.” Gritting his teeth, Cole barked, “They’ve worked hard, they deserve some dignity. I plan on finding a way to provide that.”

Cole turned his head to find Jake staring at him, his expression unreadable. After a while he asked, “When do you leave?”

Swallowing back the disappointment, the regret, the feeling he was saying goodbye to the one person who could help him make all his wishes and dreams a reality, he whispered, “Wednesday,” and counted out the heartbeats echoing in his empty chest.

“Can I ask you something?”

Cole blinked, unable to form words, his throat so choked he feared he was drowning in sorrow. Eventually he managed to say, “Sure,” but there was nothing sure in his life at that moment.

“Will you go to St. Pat’s with me tomorrow?” Since that came out of nowhere, Cole was sure his face registered surprise, so Jake quickly explained, “I’ve always wanted to attend mass during the holidays, but I never had anyone to go with me.” He brushed at the corner of his eye with the heel of his hand. “I know it’s not exactly Christmas, but…”

Cole stopped him by tracing a finger along Jake’s chin. “Are you asking me on a date?”

“Um, no… yes. I dunno, sort of?”

Cole gathered his young man into his arms and nuzzled the silken hair.

My young man…

With wandering fingers, he continued the sensual exploration he’d only begun the night before. And this time, he was going slow and easy.


Jake straddled him, his eyes bright and lips in a pout. “You know what I want, O’Neil?”

Cole blinked, processing the possibilities, slow and easy taking a back seat to others that immediately popped.

“What I want…” His voice dropped a sultry octave as he leaned in and tongued Cole’s ear. “What I want is a sin worth taking to confession.”

Cole broke into a sweat and groaned, “Oh, fuck me.”

Jake smirked. “We’ll start there, then I’ll tell you what else I have in mind…”



Posted in Cole in His Stocking: Chapter 6 - Is He Listening? | Tagged Chapter 6, , Is He Listening | 1 Comment

Cole in His Stocking: Chapter 5 – Sleigh Bells Ring

Chapter 1     Chapter 2     Chapter 3     Chapter 4

Chapter Five: Sleigh Bells Ring

3a1ac44a98c2de92b694be7432d24595Gabe pursed his lips in consternation. “Dayyum, girlfriend, tell me I should have kept that one for myself!” He held up the remains of the leather pants, fingered the destroyed zipper and then tossed it into the returns bin. Waggling his eyebrows, he said, “You are going to tell me all about it, aren’t you?”

The answer to Gabe’s questions? No and hell, no.

Skirting around why he’d managed to make such a damn mess of things, Jake muttered, “The tag’s still attached. Do you think I can get away with it?”

The designer pants ran close to six hundred bucks, leg warmer attachments included. No way was he able to pony up that kind of currency if the big boss should get wind of his indiscretion. He smoothed the soft cashmere of the turtleneck with the flat of his hand. He’d forgotten to ask Gabe to bring a shirt or substitute top so he was stuck wearing his ill-gotten goods for the time being. Fortunately, there wasn’t anything about the damn sweater to mark it as designer, other than the price, so he felt reasonably sure no one would know the difference.

The vest, the final fashion statement, had disappeared back into the bowels of the store, thanks to Gabe’s quick thinking. Jake decided don’t ask, don’t tell was a good enough policy to follow. He had assumed Gabe grabbed the outfit out of the damaged goods and discard piles. He had a strong suspicion he’d assumed wrong. And wrong was a whisker away from a shoplifting charge if the boss’ boyfriend decided to follow through on his threats that if he ever caught anyone with light fingers… Never mind they all did it at one time or another—rifling through the returns bin, borrowing and returning items that would either be shuffled back to the manufacturer or to a big box store to sell at ninety percent off.

The thought of shuffling, him in leg irons and a hideous orange jumpsuit, had Jake stuttering, “W-what if they f-f-find out?”

“Sweety, we work at a high end men’s clothing store in one of the most fashion conscious shopping districts in the known universe. Besides, we’re supposed to present just the right appearance of metrosexual chic, yes?” He preened and spun on his pointy-toed Italian knock-offs.

“I guess.”

Gabe put the finishing touch on the argument with, “For fucking minimum wage. So, babe, it’s a benefit. Don’t worry about it. You’ll be fine.”

Jake didn’t think he’d be fine any time soon, especially not after the emotional rollercoaster he’d experienced back at Cole’s loft. The whole way in on the subway, he’d mulled over what the hell had happened to make it go from something so special he’d near died of happiness, to the usual this is a mistake brush-off.

And then Cole had asked him out. Again. Second date. For tonight. He’d had pity fucks before, but not pity second dates. That never happened to him. Rule of thumb, if the first one didn’t knock it out of the park, then the second date wasn’t going down … no way, no how. Losers got a once and done, if they were lucky. In the cold light of morning, Jake had thought maybe he’d hit the Power Ball until Cole O’Neil had given him that look.

If the man had run him through with a damn sword, he couldn’t have made it hurt any worse. But then… then he’d done that thing, that weird, magical thing of opening the door and inviting hope to slither in, just a ray of it, not the full deal, but enough it had made his guts churn and his heart stop.

Hope did that. Cole O’Neil did that. And so did the pain of a man walking away. It sucked that you couldn’t tell the difference, but this time, once and for all, Jake was determined to fight for hope, fight for the promise of something he had no words for. But he would. Eventually the words would come, and they’d be the right words.

Just once, he wanted it to be right

Gabe gave him one of those looks, the one where Jake spilled his guts without meaning to, without saying a single damn word, just him and his pathetic face mirroring every thought, every feeling.

To distract Gabe from prying, Jake chirped, “Um, tell Paul thanks for the jeans. That was nice of him.” He pulled them on under Gabe’s intense scrutiny. They were the right waist size and four inches too long. Gabe crouched and rolled up the hems until they just edged the top of Jake’s worn Redwings.

Gabe sucked a forefinger, nodding his head and mumbled, “Not bad, not bad at all.” He twirled a finger. Jake spun around. “I’ve changed my mind, dearest.”

“About what?”

“That fuckall hideous infinity scarf?” He paused, waiting for Jake to get on board. “The pinkish-orange monstrosity.”

“Um, yeah, but…” The mention of “orange” recalled jumpsuits, iron bars and the slow descent into twink hell. Jake swallowed. “You mean the chenille one?” He cringed, along with Gabe.

He wasn’t a snob but a man had to draw the line somewhere. That line was located in aisle three, one counter down from Jake’s station. It was the last line of defense before tourists, paling at the three figure price tags, could secure a bargain for under fifty bucks and leave happy they’d scored something from the tony 5th Avenue shop without melting their Visa cards.

Gabe grabbed Jake’s hand. “Come on, it’s time we got out there before His Lordship notices.”

They stopped at the counter nearest the double door. Gabe pulled the questionable fashion accessory from a pile of similar train wrecks and made a huge fuss arranging it around Jake’s neck.

From behind Jake, a voice purred, “And exactly what are you two doing?” His belly churned. The last man he wanted to see at that moment was the floor supervisor, the boss’ squeeze and an all-around asshole.

Gabe did a tah-dah and stepped back. Jake imagined a hole opening underneath him. The floor walker grunted, “Hmmm.”

“Am I right, Adrian, am I? Does this not rock?” Gabe grabbed Jake’s hips and twisted until Jake was forced to face his boss’ toady and the man who held the keys to his immediate future.

Adrian squinted, his eyes raking Jake head-to-toe. “I’m not sure about the boots…”

Holding up two fingers, Gabe said, “Points of interest. One, no one’s going to see them unless our boy sashays from behind the counter.” Adrian nodded, but looked unconvinced. Gabe continued, “And two? Think longshoreman chic. Think … slumming?”

While Gabe and Adrian oohed and aahed over his new “look,” Jake fought back the urge to throw up. When they finished, Jake’s counter sported a new display with the chenille infinity scarves sporting a special sale price of seventy-nine ninety-five, and the wool blends had migrated to the last chance basket at the end of the counter.

It took exactly an hour and forty minutes for Jake to sell out, including the offending pinkish-orange bit of fluff that clashed with his ruddy complexion and auburn curls. That left him more than enough time to rearrange the displays and ruminate on what Cole had planned for their date.

The Plaza food court sat right across from Central Park. He could see Cole and him grabbing a quick bite, then maybe strolling through the park hand-in-hand. Jake tried to recall if they’d actually held hands like that, like boyfriends would. When they’d shaken hands out there on the street, it had been like slow motion torture feeling the ridges on their fingers doing bumper cars until their thumbs had nestled into the notches, and they’d gripped tight enough to notice, but not so much as to make it seem like a challenge.

That pause, that temptation to look him in the eye and take the measure of the man, was like the moment of suspension at the top of the slope on the roller coaster. That moment when anticipation and fear and the sheer insanity of letting go made his eyes roll up in his head, made him scream like a little girl. It had been that kind of thrill.

But then Cole had let go. Bam, just like that. So abruptly he acted like a snake had bitten him, and that had sent Jake plummeting in freefall down the first incline.

The second freefall was him coming so hard, he’d thought he was having a stroke. It hurt so much he could barely stand the pleasure, and nothing and no one had ever done that to him. But it hadn’t stopped there. O’Neil had done the unthinkable, he’d gathered Jake into his arms, wrapping him in warmth, flesh-to-flesh, muscle-to-muscle, and they’d shared heartbeats until Jake heard, felt, lived his impossible fantasy.

Two as one.


Cole had released the inhibitions Jake forever hid behind, inhibitions that had always saved him from caring, protecting him from the hope that always got derailed before he’d even begun to map its boundaries. With Cole, Jake sensed there were no boundaries. Cole was either all in, or not at all.

That made the mixed signals in the morning so damned confusing and so hurtful. They’d left Jake’s feelings in tatters, smashed his ability to handle the rapid changes of direction. He was used to hurt, but this…

This was something else entirely.

It was dangerous. Wonderful. Beautiful. It was going to beat him to an emotional pulp and leave him not just wounded but scarred for eternity.

Cole O’Neil was going to force Jake Richardson to do the one thing he’d avoided all his life…

Cole O’Neil was going to force Jake to live.


Jake wished the staff a good evening and locked up. In the employee lounge, he carefully folded the loaner sweat shirt and sweat pants and placed them in a shopping bag. He felt silly returning it to Cole on their second date, mostly because he’d spent the bulk of the afternoon and evening building up the pending meeting to monumental, make-or-break proportions. He hoped they would end up back at Cole’s loft for a repeat of the previous night, but there was no guarantee of that. Nor was there a guarantee that date number three was in the cards.

As much as Jake hated playing that numbers game, the sad fact was … he wasn’t in control. Not of Cole’s intentions, or his feelings. All he had was his own set of wishes and dreams, all of which threatened to careen into chaos.

If he left the bag behind, would that send the wrong message? Would it tell Cole he didn’t care enough about the man’s generosity to return his clothing, or did it imply he’d withheld them because he assumed there would be another time, another opportunity—a date or maybe a simple friends hanging out together or a hey, wanna grab a bite with me…?

Jake nearly jumped out of his skin when Adrian barked from the doorway, “What’s in the bag, Richardson?”

My future? The man of my dreams? My biggest fucking mistake ever?

Jerking out the sweatshirt, he held it up and stammered, “Workout clothes?”

The man wrinkled his nose and sneered, “Right.” Jake breathed a sigh of relief and tucked the garment back in the bag. The respite was short-lived when Adrian said, “I’ve got my eye on you, mister. Just remember that.”

Jake mumbled, “Yes, sir,” and choked back an expletive. The man had always hated him, and this wasn’t the first time he’d laid a veiled threat on him, but it was the first time Jake was guilty as charged. The sleek softness of the purloined turtleneck felt like it had grown a barbed wire lining.

Jake shrugged into his commuter coat, wrapped his fingers around the shopping bag handles and bolted for the rear door. He murmured, “Have a good evening,” and prepared to make a run for it.

Adrian barked, “Be sure you’re on time Tuesday, asshole. It’s your turn to open.”

Jake stumbled on the slick iron steps leading to the alley behind the store.

“Um, that’s my birthday. I’ve got the day off. Remember?” Somehow he’d made it to the macadam without breaking his neck. He turned and looked up at the featureless man backlit by the weak overhead floodlight.

“Nine sharp, buttercup.” Adrian flashed an evil grin. “Or don’t come in at all.” With that he slammed the door. Jake heard the locks click into place and shuddered.

He knows, I know he knows. Fuck, fuck, fuck…

With guilt weighing him down, Jake turned left and power-walked toward the end of the block. If he was lucky, he’d catch the subway home in time to run into the deli and have Mario make up a pastrami hero. He hadn’t eaten all day, his nerves about the date…

Oh shit, oh fucking hell…

The date!

He’d told Cole quitting time was nine o’clock, but the job of locking up had been dumped on him out of the blue. Then he’d wasted more precious time dithering about the sweats—the sweats in the bag that Adrian was sure contained half the inventory from the store. And finally the interrogation, and the final blow leaving him reeling from the disappointment of having his day off taken away just because the asshat could.

Jake checked his cell phone. It was nine forty-five. Cole would guess, rightly, that he’d been stood up. He’d be long gone and date number two would vanish into the mist. Cole O’Neil would be a pleasant memory, and Jake could go back to same old, same old … but with a difference.

He’d been booted from his supporting role, and he didn’t have enough money for tuition at NYU, on the course-a-semester plan. So same old, same old had narrowed down to why the fuck am I bothering to stay here?

Good question.

Bad answer… He had nowhere else to go.

The deli closed at ten. The Plaza was open until midnight or later on the weekend. First order of survival, eat. He wondered if Cole would get the reference. He suspected he would. Too bad he’d never see the guy to ask.

Jake turned and trotted through the night, the bag slapping his knee as he wound his way around the merry shoppers. Central Park loomed behind him as he joined the mob flowing through the doors. The odors from a dozen vendors selling everything from Pad Thai to grilled vegan burgers assaulted his nostrils and made his mouth water, despite the fact he doubted he’d be able to choke down a bite of anything. He waded through the crowd, knocking against tables and chairs, murmuring, “Sorry, sorry, excuse me,” into the surrounding din. No one looked his way. No one cared enough to notice the man with the bag of lost dreams dog-paddling as if his life depended on it.

The weight of disappointment was a heavy burden to bear. Had he deliberately set himself up for this? Had he unconsciously created the opportunity for failure? It wouldn’t be the first time, but somehow he’d never considered the possibility of it happening again.

How stupid could he be?

With his chest aching and his eyes watering, Jake grasped the bag with Cole O’Neil’s clothing, with his scent and his memory doing a tap dance in his head. He let the crowds flow around him as he stared at the ceiling, lost to his misery, lost to Cole, lost to himself.

Jake’s body quaked as arms wrapped around him. A warm tongue darted in and out of his ear as the chuckle of the man who shouldn’t be there caressed his heart with a lifeline.

Cole whispered, “I was getting worried.” The grip tightened. Jake leaned into it, uncertain if it was real or if he was hallucinating. A voice saturated with sin said, “You taste so fucking good,” and followed that with a long, slow, torturous exploration of Jake’s neck and chin, ending with a nip at his bottom lip.

The din, the crowds, all of it evaporated, leaving him and Cole in a private bubble of lust that had Jake’s knees go weak and his insides flutter.

When Cole released him, the deep chuckle returned as Jake wavered, unsteady on his feet. Cole reached down and grabbed a bag, waved it in front of Jake, and asked, “Pastrami okay?”

Jake murmured, “Perfect,” and scanned the area for a place to sit.

Cole took his left hand and said, “Nuh-unh, I have somewhere special for us. Come on, I think you’re gonna like this.”

Jake already did. He liked holding the big man’s hand; he liked having his neck and chin and lip mauled, right there in front of everyone. Jake liked the way Cole draped himself around his body, like he and only he had the right to do that. He liked how Cole knew what Jake preferred without even asking. He liked that Cole had waited when he didn’t have to, that Cole knew he’d be there. He liked Cole’s hand on his back, guiding him through the crowds, opening the door and then putting an arm around his shoulder as they took the steps two-by-two.

But mostly what he liked was how hope sat a little more easily inside his chest. With Cole, he felt lighter, protected, and desired.

As they waited at the curb to cross the avenue, Jake held up his own shopping bag. “I’ve got your sweats.”

“Huh, that’s disappointing.” Jake’s stomach clenched, but Cole smirked and said, “I thought maybe you were late ’cause you stopped to buy condoms.”

Jake responded with, “Shit,” and twisted his hips. At Cole’s questioning stare, he sighed, “Jeans are too fucking tight.”

“Are they now? Well, I’m pretty sure I can help you out with that. But first things first.”

Curious about the secrecy, Jake asked, “Where are we going?”

“To meet a very good friend of mine…”


Posted in Cole in His Stocking: Chapter 5 - Sleigh Bells Ring | Tagged Chapter 5, , Sleigh Bells Ring | 2 Comments

Cole in His Stocking: Chapter 4 – The Morning After

Chapter 1     Chapter 2     Chapter 3

Chapter Four: The Morning After

1780620_10204332516609804_399228793646281044_nCole wasn’t used to après sex snuggling, so when Jake drifted back to sleep after they had both carved yet another notch on the imaginary bedpost, he eased off the mattress, happy for once he had a reason to regret getting out of bed at the asscrack of dawn. But he had to feed his charges and make sure the stable hands got stalls cleaned and laid fresh bedding down. It was the weekend and they always had visitors, mostly nosy tourists without a clue, but it was a good idea to present the best possible appearance to a public on high alert after the mayor threatened to shut down the city’s carriage trade.

Though he relied mostly on moral authority to back up his because I say so management style, the fact was … the people in the facility below had voluntarily accepted him into their inner circle and relied on him to see that everything ran smoothly while the media and protestors from every political spectrum hashed out the future of a Big Apple tradition.

Uncertainty about their futures—the drivers’ livelihoods, the fate of the horses—all that weighed heavily on his mind. He’d been cooking an idea for a long time, and it had taken a tsunami of events to finally prod him into going proactive. All he needed to do was iron out some details, pack his bag and head north to set in motion what he’d hoped was the start to the rest of his life.


It was funny how the earth’s axis could shift when you least expected it. The notion of curve balls, being in the right place at the wrong time, finding the wrong person at the right time… hell, finding anyone at all … none of that had mattered twenty-four hours ago. And maybe funny wasn’t quite the term he was going for. Annoying, stupid, damned inconvenient seemed a better fit.

Why now? Why me?

Cole used his hip to move the stocky Belgian cross out of the way. The big gelding huffed a complaint, then stepped aside, allowing Cole access to the water bucket. He hefted the half-full five gallon container and sneered, “How do you do it, you stinker, huh?” The gelding was a dunker, taking a mouthful of hay, depositing it in the water and then leaving it to marinate. Sometimes there was more than just hay in there. Cole wrinkled his nose. This was one of those days.

Exiting the stall, Cole took care to give the horse a wide berth. Toby was a sweetheart but he was also clueless about his edges and where he put his size four, studded horseshoes. After a lifetime with horses, he knew enough to wear steel-toed boots, but that didn’t mean a sixteen-hundred-pound gentle giant couldn’t do damage just by accidentally taking a step in the wrong direction.

After scrubbing the bucket and refilling it with fresh water, he returned to the stall. A now familiar figure shuffled nervously at the far end of the aisle, the door braced open as if, just in case, he needed a quick escape.

Cole thought, my lover’s here, and grinned, he couldn’t help it. Every time he looked at Jake, every time he’d touched him, inhaled his scent, felt his heart beating double time, sucking in air and tensing when he convulsed in ecstasy… all that had peeled away another layer of Cole’s resistance, leaving him exposed and greedy for more.

At some point during the night and into the early morning hours, they’d given up frantic for slow and easy, traded hot for tender, turned taking into sharing, and morphed raw sensation into exquisite sensuality. Now, when he drank in the sight of the curly-haired ragamuffin in sweats three sizes too big waiting for him, all he could do was thank his lucky stars for giving him a taste of the kind of intimacy he’d always craved but never managed to experience except in his fertile imagination.

The problem with that kind of a taste, it so easily turned from simple temptation into a craving. Eventually it would become an addiction, a glorious, all-consuming answer to his prayers.

Your timing sucks, O’Neil.

Cole held up the bucket and said, “Let me put this in the stall. Be right with you.” When he finished, he secured the latch, grabbed a lead robe off the hook and nearly galloped down the aisle to reach Jake. When he came close enough to get a really good look at him, Cole nearly exploded with laughter.

The loaner clothes hung like burlap sacks on the ginger’s lean frame. Jake had rolled the pants’ legs up enough he wouldn’t trip over them, but there wasn’t much he could do to keep the waistband from slipping down his slim hips and pooling on the floor. To solve that problem, he’d tried tucking the lot under a sweatshirt, making him look like a miniature version of the Michelin Man.

Using the lead rope as a belt, Cole made quick work of securing the garments, then stepped back and said, “There, that should work.” Jake had come down without his coat so Cole took his off and slipped the jacket around the boy’s shoulders.

He’s not a boy, he’s a man, a damned attractive one. What’s he doing with a lug like you O’Neil? He deserves better…

Jake watched him closely, saw that moment of hesitation and asked, “What?” There was no smirk, no teasing tone, no insult thrown back tit-for-tat. Just the “what” and an acknowledgement in the man’s eyes that there was more than a superficial exchange happening between them.

Again, it circled round to intimacy, to latching onto the subtext, the real meaning behind the words and the get-to-know-you two-step, the dance that never came with instructions or a coach, the one where you either tripped over your two left feet or you moved together like it was choreographed by a celestial host.

To Cole, it seemed they’d spent a lifetime practicing and were settling into steps that came as natural as breathing. And that scared the shit out of him. It made it as unnatural as you could get.

Except, except, except…

When he met a horse for the first time, he looked it in the eye and knew, he just fucking knew if it was right, if they’d be a team. He looked for a kind eye or how the animal moved, how it carried itself. Was it with power and easy grace, or ponderous and rough? Was he timid, needing Cole’s reassurance, or did he command that look of eagles—dominant and assertive—acquiescing to Cole simply because it pleased them both, not because Cole demanded it?

But people weren’t horses—they weren’t that honest, that transparent, that trusting. Sometimes a horse disappointed, or you asked the wrong questions and got the wrong answers in return, or it simply needed more time for the bond to develop, to flourish. With people, it simply didn’t work that way. You could ask all the right questions and never once receive an honest or direct answer.

Last night, he and Jake had done more than just grapple and couple in their sweat and lust. They’d connected somehow, beyond the physical, though Cole had nothing to point to, no signs, no specific words or shared secrets that counted as hard evidence. All he had was a gut-level feeling, and a hope he was wrong, because being right had the unfortunate consequence of turning everything upside down.

Jake sighed and ran a hand through his unruly mop of auburn hair. His eyes darted around the dimly lit space, then finally settled on a spot over Cole’s shoulder. Muttering, “Awkward,” he turned and pushed the door open, disappearing into the storage area. Cole waited a heartbeat or two, wondering if it was best to just let him go, let him disappear into the bowels of the city, never to be seen again.

Slapping his fist into the wall, he growled, “Fuck,” as if the expletive could release him from the responsibility of the good manners his mom and his aunt had pounded into his thick skull when he was growing up. At the very least, he owed Jake Richardson a goodbye, though he wouldn’t insult him with a thank you because that made him needy, and he’d be damned if he’d admit to that.

So much for truth in advertising, boyo.

Frustrated at his own stupidity, Cole took the steps two at a time. He burst through the door and nearly tripped over Jake’s crouching form. Thinking he might have stopped to tie a boot lace, Cole detoured around him and continued toward his living quarters. He had his hand on the door when his synapses fired, alerting him to the sensation that something wasn’t right. Jake wasn’t right.

There was no tell—no sound of distress, no rubbing his eyes to brush away tears—but the set to Jake’s shoulders, the way he’d folded in half, making himself small and insignificant, was all Cole needed to know.

Jake pushed off, using his fists as leverage. Approaching with his head down, he avoided looking Cole in the eyes, his focus turned completely inward. Cole knew that posture well, and he didn’t need to see Jake’s face to interpret what was going through his head. Hell, he’d been there often enough himself when all he had left was a pocket of pride he kept on reserve for when the hurt threatened to overwhelm him.

The voice echoed in his head, the one keeping him on the straight and narrow, the one protecting him from entanglements like this—entanglements with sea-green eyes and freckles on his nose, with cheeks so baby-smooth it was all Cole could do to keep from stroking and kissing and licking up the salty sweetness. Jake’s skin was soft, completely different from his own cratered texture, from the scarring and weathering, the deep lines and rough beard that made him look older than his years.

Jake was a boy in looks and demeanor. But he was also a man, with a man’s lust and passion and an ability to take Cole places he’d never been, to experience such pleasure even now his body still vibrated with the memory of what they’d done last night.

The strain of wanting, of not wanting, of being afraid and cautious and headstrong was a tether drawing them so close, Cole could taste Jake, his nostrils filling with the burst of cum and musk and testosterone, and overlaid with fear and disappointment.

What Cole tasted was how right they could be…

When Jake finally tilted his head up, his eyes were filled with such sadness it nearly broke Cole. Jake said, “I’m sorry. I’ll go…” but Cole barred the way, shaking his head, the words forming thick and raspy on his tongue.

He finally spit out, “I’m not.” Jake squinted, not understanding. Cole had his attention, if only for an instant, so he decided to ask a question. “What are you doing after work?”

A dozen possibilities floated across Jake’s face—an infinite number of what’s it to you, none of your business, fuck off, asshole… Instead, he said, “Are you asking me on a date?”

Cole grimaced. This was hard, people were hard. His heart and head both agreed, Tell him fuckwad, tell him you can’t get involved. Tell him he’s a great guy, it’s not him, it’s you. Tell him.

The lie that wasn’t a lie, just a non-admission of the truth, cut lazy patterns across his tongue. It was wrong, he knew it was, but he said it anyway, “I already did.”

He waited while Jake processed and debated and decided how to respond, his face so expressive that nothing was hidden. Every thought, every emotion was right there for Cole to see. The eyes, silvery in the dim light, bared with startling transparency who Jake Richardson was. And how much he cared.

His voice thin and reedy, Jake whispered, “I get off at eight?” the admission ending on an uptick, revealing his uncertainty.

Cole knew where Jake worked so he said, “Meet me at the Plaza, okay?” It was the closest food court, but Cole’s plan wasn’t tied to an elaborate meal. He had other thoughts on how to spend their time together, and as selfish as that was, as unfair as it was to both of them, there was no way Cole could stop wanting to caress the ginger curls or chew on Jake’s lower lip or whisper things in his lover’s ear—private things, dirty things, pure things.

Jake nodded and mumbled, “Yeah, sure.”

“What time do you have to be at work?”

“Shit, what time is it?”

Cole moved into the apartment and looked up at the clock on the wall. “Nearly ten thirty.” At Jake’s groan, he asked, “Why, are you late?”

“I will be, dammit.” Jake tugged at the lead rope, releasing it to fall to the floor. The sweatpants promised to follow suit. Jake yanked the garment back into place and chuckled, but the mirth didn’t reach his eyes. He explained, “I didn’t plan on coming here. I need to get to my place, change and then be at work by noon.” On Saturday, ten days before Christmas, mid-town awash with tourists and last minute gift shoppers, the odds of making that trip in the time available were zero to none.

Although he could guess the answer, Cole still asked, “What happens if you’re not on time?” Jake made a slicing motion across his throat. Cole grimaced. “Um, how about what you were wearing last night?”

“You’re kidding, right?” Unconsciously, Jake cupped his package and moaned. “Busted the zipper, swelling. Any of that ringing a bell?”

Cole nearly went ballistic. Blood rushed to his cock and he barely suppressed the urge to field strip Jake in the kitchen, sit his gorgeous butt on the counter, and suck his cock until his lover came so hard he passed out.

With a wide-eyed look, Jake said, “Down, boy. I’ll call Gabe and ask him to raid his roommate’s closet. We’re about the same size. It’ll be fine.” He tugged at the sweats and shuffled off to find his cell phone.

When he returned, Jake said, “Gabe’s gonna bring a pair of jeans. So long as I have the cashmere turtleneck and vest, I think I can get away with it. It’s not like anybody looks at me anyway.”

The way Jake said that, with such a note of sadness and resignation, tore at Cole’s heart. He wanted, more than anything, to reassure Jake, but about what he wasn’t quite clear. So much for being soul mates and dance partners and all the hopeless romantic drivel he’d embraced over the last few hours, building up a one-night-stand into an event of epic proportions.

Jake Robertson wasn’t the only one being fooled. Cole had done a damn good job of fooling himself, donning the blinders that hid all the ugly realities, masked all the harsh facts, and sugar-coated the inevitability of him spending his life alone. In a world filled with conflict and mixed messages, that single fact was becoming abundantly clear.

Before Cole could take it all back, cancel his plans for the evening, and bid a final farewell to the man who had captured both his heart and soul in the space of a single twenty-four-hour period, Jake stood on tiptoes and gently brushed his lips against the base of Cole’s throat.

Cole silently watched the man who would forever be his lover gather his things. At the door Jake paused, his hand on the handle, head down and shoulders hunched under the weight of the worn wool coat. He looked so young and so lost, but his voice rang clear and strong.


It wasn’t a question.


Posted in Cole in His Stocking: Chapter 4 - The Morning After | Tagged , The Morning After | 2 Comments