**Ready to see what’s going on in Ben and Zack’s life since we left them last? Good! I’m so glad to hear it. Because I’m telling you, the Admiral has outdone himself with the challenges, and I only hope I can do them justice. Enjoy!**
“My parent’s never let me have a dog.”
“What’s that now?”
I grinned, knowing I shouldn’t have just shouted that out from two rooms away. I stood and traipsed off to find Ben. He was in his office, sitting it his rolling chair and contemplating the bookshelf with a seriousness that was surprising. I leaned a shoulder against the doorjamb and smiled.
“What’re you doing?”
“Deciding what to pack and what to get rid of. I’m only going to take the ones that will be of help to me.” Ben let out a small sigh, and the swiveled to smile me. “What was it you were saying?”
I walked farther into the room and then parked my ass on the edge of his desk. It was a beautiful piece of furniture. Big, heavy, made from cherry and stained a deep, rich color. I had a feeling I’d have to insist on Ben bringing it along. But I had no idea where we would put it. Truth was, I had no idea where we were going to fit most of his stuff. My duplex wasn’t that big, and while I was happy to get rid of just about anything I needed to in order to make room for Ben’s things, I knew it wasn’t going to be that easy. We would probably have to get a bigger house. Anxiety started to bubble in my gut. I’d lived there for five years, right next door to my sister, having moved from her place when the adjoining home became vacant. I couldn’t imagine not being so close to her. We had our own space, our privacy, but she was literally seconds away if either one of us needed anything and—
“Zack?” Ben cocked his head to the side. He looked at me with concern, and then slid a little closer so he could put his hands on my hips.
I forced a smile. “My parents never let me have a dog,” I repeated, faking a lightness in my tone. “I never got one after I lived on my own because it didn’t seem like the right time. I thought maybe we could get one, when we got back home.” I swallowed hard.
Ben rolled even closer, and wrapped his arms around my waist. I spread my knees so he could fit between them. “I guess we could. Something small and not too yappy maybe? Or a cat would be better. I didn’t have pets growing up. Mother thought they were too messy.”
Oh hell, his mother. His father had passed years before, and I had lost my own parents, but Ben’s mother was still alive. Not that he had much to do with her. The occasional phone call just to check in, but nothing more. She had problems with his chosen profession, his sexual orientation, and where he’d bought his home. Ben always tried to sound like it wasn’t that big a deal when he spoke of her, but I thought she was a judgmental bitch. I hadn’t met her, and I didn’t know if I would. And despite the fact that Ben didn’t get along with his mother, I couldn’t help but suddenly worry that he would regret moving so far away from her. She was his mother after all, and in her seventies. Surely that was enough to make Ben rethink moving to the other side of the country.
I wanted him with me, and I agreed that it made sense for him to come to New York, but suddenly I couldn’t see how it would work. It was too big and too much to change. There was no way he could be happy, not in my tiny little duplex on the opposite side of the country where it snowed. Hell, he wanted a cat, not a dog, and as much as I loved him there just couldn’t be—
Soft kisses to the bare skin of my belly distracted me, and I looked down into Ben’s warm brown eyes. Then he took a deep breath, and blew a raspberry on my skin. I laughed and shied away, unable to help the ingrained reaction. Ben’s laugh was rich, and he grabbed my hips tightly to keep me from moving.
“Stop thinking,” he said softly but firmly, tugging me down onto his lap. I was too big to fit, but a few minutes wouldn’t be a problem.
“Ben,” I said quietly, reaching up and pushing my fingers into his thick hair. “Are you sure you want to give up your life here for me?”
His face turned serious, and I knew by the way he looked at me that he wanted my full attention. I gave it to him, and his smile was warm and reassuring.
“I’m not giving anything up,” he said, his tone full of conviction. “I’m readjusting. There’s a marked difference. Yes?”
I nodded face, and Ben’s smile grew. He pulled me in, and hugged me tightly.
“I love you,” he whispered against my ear.
“I love you back,” I said in the same tone. And then pulled back far enough to glare. “But I’m not getting a cat.”
Ben threw his head back and laughed. “Once we get settled, we’ll revisit the dog discussion then.”
I nodded, and grinned. I would win. I wasn’t above resorting to using sex to my advantage if I needed to. In fact, there was no reason we couldn’t indulge a little right now. I stood and took his hand, pulling him up and tugging. I loved him and he loved me. Everything else could wait.