Flash Fic Friday

**This week’s prompt is a fun one. A massage. Enjoy!**

I didn’t know why I let him talk me into this. Sure, I’d had a rough couple of weeks. The disasters at work alone–one problem after another–had made it so I was working twelve hour days. And spending that much time hunched over a computer had done a number on my back. That, combined with the stress that knotted my muscles, and I was moving like an eighty year old man. With arthritis. So in theory, a massage was a good idea. Carlos was just trying to help me relax when he booked this appointment.

But I was uncomfortable. Naked under the sheet, face down on the table, with ocean sounds playing on the stereo and the scent of incense in the air. It was supposed to be soothing, I supposed. But I was anything but soothed. In fact, lying there and waiting for the masseuse to come in was making things even worse. Just as I was about to get up and forget the whole thing, I heard the door open.

My tension ratcheted up another notch, and I was practically vibrating. The person who entered didn’t say a word, but I heard the steady footsteps walk closer. I waited, and after a long moment, I felt the drip of warmed oil hit my back. I jumped. But hands touched my back, keeping me in place. Keeping me from turning over and seeing who was there.

A moment later, the massage started. Still, the masseuse said nothing. Just used strong, capable hands to press and knead. Rub and dig in. Was it a man? A woman? I couldn’t tell. Once or twice I thought I caught a hint of aftershave–a familiar scent–but the incense was too strong and it was gone before I could figure it out.

Slowly, I relaxed. Not completely, but enough so that the massage started working. The knots in my back let go, and I groaned as most of the tension released. The masseuse never wandered too far, but my shoulders, arms, and back were worked until I felt better. A whisper of fabric caught my attention a second before breath washed over my ear. I went still, barely daring to breath.

“Turn over, baby.”

I pushed myself up fast, craning my neck to see my husband grinning down at me. I stared in shock, and he just smiled, his teeth glinting in the low overhead light.

“Hey there, Lou.”

I gaped. “What?”

“You know the owner is a friend of mine,” he said softly, pushing me gently until I turned onto my back and lay down again. “And you know I put myself through college doing this.”

I nodded mutely, but my brain was racing to catch up. When Carlos made this appointment, it had never occurred to me that I’d see him here. I’d even suggested he just give me a massage at home when he first suggested it, but he’d insisted he didn’t have a table and it wouldn’t be as good. The only reason I’d agreed was because he was adamant. But he’d been planning this the whole time.

“I knew you wouldn’t be comfortable with someone else’s hands on you, but I thought it might be fun if we…played a little.”

Suddenly, he agilely swung up onto the table and straddled my hips. I gasped, and his grin turned sensuous as he put his oil-slicked hands on my chest.

“Just relax,” he murmured, leaning down. “I’m going to take care of you.”

I smiled. “You always do.”

He laughed, a low, wicked sound.

“That’s right.” He waggled his eyebrows. “And if you’re very lucky, this massage will finish with a happy ending.”

Flash Fic Friday

**This week, we have a company picnic…and one last time with Wyatt and Tru. Enjoy!**

“You’re sure it’s okay that we brought the dogs?”

I chuckled and reached out to squeeze Tru’s knee. He’d been all worked up since we left the house this morning, and it only got more pronounced the closer we got to our destination.

“I’m sure, Tru. It’s a picnic. Outside. Our boys won’t be the only ones there.”

“It’s a company picnic, Wyatt. That changes the rules.” He glanced into the back seat where Aldo, Fawkes, and Chester were buckled in. Aldo was perfectly content to stare out the window, Chester was sleeping, and Fawkes, as usual, had enough of sitting still and trying to get down. Fortunately, his harness wouldn’t allow it. “Besides, that’s not what I meant.”

“No? What did you mean?” I signaled to turn off the road and into the park where my graphic design company had rented a pavilion for the annual barbecue. I’d only attended a handful of times before, but now that I’d moved and worked from home, it seemed prudent to make the trip and show my face.

“We’re staying with your mom while we’re in town. And you said she doesn’t have pets. Are you sure she doesn’t mind that we’re all invading her house?”

“I’m sure.” I glanced at him as I slowed even more. The narrow winding path required my concentration. “She loves the granddogs.”

“On Skype, maybe.” Tru’s knee started to bounce the closer we got. I pulled into the parking lot, and it didn’t take long to spot the banner with the company name stretched across the gate. I even recognized a few coworkers milling about.

“It’ll be fine. Come on.” Turning off the car, I shot him a smile. Then reached for the door handle.

“Wait!” Tru gripped my arm. “Maybe we should take the dogs to your moms first. That’d be better, right?”

I shoved the keys in my pocket, then turned as much as the seat would allow so I could look him over. Even though it had been more than a year, it was still strange to see him without his hat. And from the way he kept reaching up and tugging on his curls, I had to wonder if he missed it too.

“Okay, honey. What’s really up?”

Tru swallowed, cleared his throat, then swallowed again. Finally, he looked at me.

“This is where you work.” He rolled his eyes, and gave me a tiny, nervous looking smile. “I mean, not here, obviously. These are the people you work with. And you’re going to introduce me and the boys to them.”

Ah. I thought I finally understood.

“They’re going to love you, Tru. And the boys. Some of them have already met Al. But you don’t have to worry. No one is going to be mean or weird or say shit. Just be your usual charming self, and it’ll be fine.”

Tru stared at me, his brown eyes wide. “It’s a big deal. Introducing your boyfriend to work.”

I shrugged. “Well, maybe, yeah. But you’re not going anywhere. Why wouldn’t I want them to meet the man I love?” Aldo stuck his head over the seat, and when I reached up to scratch his ears, Fawkes gave a plaintive whine that said he wanted attention too. I smiled down at him, then turned back to Tru. I held out my hand, and Tru took it at once.

“I love you. I want my coworkers to meet you. I want to show off our family, and have them all be insanely jealous.” I gave him a leer and he laughed. That was better.

“Okay.” He blew out a breath. “Okay. Let’s go make them jealous.”


Three hours later, I’d caught up with all my coworkers, ate two hamburgers and broke up two more for the boys. Tru was surrounded by a flock of people, and when I’d wandered by earlier, he was giving tips about dog care and making everyone laugh. I knew he needn’t have worried. He had the biggest heart of anyone I’d ever met, and people  were drawn to him.

I still was and he’d been mine for more than a year.

“You know, our insurance covers same-sex partners.”

I startled at the voice and turned to find my boss down on his haunches and petting Chester. Aldo and Fawkes were with Tru, soaking up all the attention they were getting. Chester was still skittish around too many people for too long.

“I know, Mr. Danbury.”

He looked up and smiled. “It’s good to see you happy, Wyatt. And if that man is the reason your productivity has been so high, I’m going to demand you keep him forever.”

I laughed. “I’m keeping him forever anyway.”

“Good.” Mr. Danbury stood up. “Think he’ll mind if I ask him for some tips about my Shiba Inu? Little girl is stubborn as anything.”

“He’d be delighted to help,” I assured Mr. Danbury. I watched as he walked over, and then insinuated him into the conversation. Whatever Mr. Danbury said had Tru looking at me and giving me the most radiant smile.

Yep. I was definitely keeping him.

Flash Fic Friday

**Tru and Wyatt are out in the world and you can find buy links here. And because Alder suggested it, here’s Tru’s mom getting a dog. Enjoy!**

“She’s beautiful, honey. Where did you get her?” Lucy Rackley stroked the fur of the dog at her feet, a glorious golden retriever named Tessa. “And are you sure you can take on another dog? I’m not trying to judge, really. But you already have three.”

Tru caught my eye, and grimaced just a little. I shrugged. This had been his idea, and though I supported him completely, it was his show.

“Well, Mom.” Tru glanced my way again, then focused on his mother. “Tessa is actually for you.”

“I…what?” Lucy looked up at her son, blinking uncomprehendingly. Then she looked at me, seemingly wanting confirmation.

Tru sighed, squeezed my hand, then pushed off the wall where we had been standing and crossed the room to sink onto the couch next to Lucy. She looked at him, confusion evident on her face.

“I don’t understand,” she said quietly. “I don’t think I’m in a place where I can take care of a dog.”

“See, here’s the thing….” Tru looked up at me. He’d kept his search a secret because he wasn’t sure it would work out. And because he’d known his mom would resist if he brought it up to her, reject the idea out of hand. I agreed with him, and so did his counselor. We’d all thought this was the best approach. But now he was questioning everything. His mother had been through so much, they both had, and they’d come out the other side. Tru wanted to do this for his mom, but now he was worried.

“Lucy,” I said softly. “Tessa is a trained service dog.”

“Okay, but–”

“She’s been trained for people with anxiety and depression,” I said as gently as possible. After all the work Lucy had put in, she could say the words, own her diagnoses and know there was no shame in it. But I still wanted to treat it with the respect it deserved.

Lucy took that all in, not saying a word, as she stroked Tessa’s sleek fur. Tru’s face was calm, but I knew from the tight set of his shoulders that he was nervous and worried. I wanted to soothe him, but that would have to wait.

“How does that work, exactly?” She asked after a very long, very thick silence.

Tru relaxed a fraction. “Well, mostly she gives you something to focus on. She needs your care, right? But also, she’ll learn to sense your moods. Be there to calm you when you get anxious, and love you when you’re sad. Plus, you can take her out with you–I have her vest and harness in the Jeep–and she can ease you when you need to be out in public.” Tru placed a hand on his mother’s arm, and Lucy finally looked up from the dog. Tru smiled. “I can’t be here all the time, and I’ll still come whenever you need me. But Tessa will be here all the time.”

Lucy still didn’t say anything for another long moment. And then finally, quietly, she said, “That sounds nice.”

Tru blew out a silent breath. “We can try it for a couple of weeks. See if it helps. And Mom, I really think it will. Will you try?”

“Yes,” she said after only a moment’s hesitation. “We can try.”

“Great! I have everything you need for her in the Jeep. Let me go get it, and we can talk about some stuff. Wyatt, help me?”

I stood straight and followed him outside. The moment we set foot on the porch, he threw himself into my arms. I hugged him tightly, letting him shake as he got himself together. Eventually, he blew out a hot breath against my skin, and then pulled back.

“That went better than I thought.”

I nodded, rubbing his back. “I know you worried. I did too. But it’s going to be okay. And having that beautiful dog right there didn’t hurt either. No one could turn down that face.”

Tru chuckled, and pulled away. He was good now, and he didn’t need to lean on me. I was always happy to hold him up, but I loved it just as much when he stood on his own. God, I loved this man.

“I love you too,” Tru said as he stepped off the porch.

I blinked, knowing I hadn’t said that out loud. Tru laughed.

“It was all over your face, sweetheart. And I never get tired of seeing it. You get the dog food, while I grab the rest, okay?”

I grinned and followed him. Whatever he wanted.

Flash Fic Friday

**One in Vermilion is out now, and you can go here to get buy links. This week’s prompt is a continuation of Wyatt and Tru’s story. So join me and the boys as they adopt a new member of their household. Enjoy!**

Aldo was up and racing for the door a second before the sound of the RV’s engine reached my ears. I smiled and followed my poodle toward the front of the house, glad that Tru was finally home. He’d had long days all week–early training session and late grooming appointments–so we hadn’t gotten to spend as much time together as either of us was used to. I knew Aldo was missing his little buddy too. Fawkes the Corgi had wormed his way into Aldo’s heart just as surely as Tru had settled into mine.


Tru’s slightly panicked voice jolted me out of my musings, and I didn’t even bother to grab Aldo’s leash when I wrenched open the front door. My boyfriend was hanging out the side door of the grooming RV, and Aldo raced right for him. I was right behind the dog, not even caring when a rock bit into the bottom of my bare foot.

“What’s the matter?”

Tru shook his head and disappeared into the RV. I followed up the steps. Fawkes was in his kennel, pawing at the bars, and Aldo went right over to him, pushing his nose against Fawkes’s. I had only a second to wonder why Fawkes was in the kennel, when Tru grabbed my hand and tugged me to the tub. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing as I peered down into it. It looked like a dirty mop. But then the mop shivered and huffed a breath, and I realized I was looking at a very dirty, very matted dog.


“I found him.” Tru was breathing very fast, and I could see the worry in the lines around his eyes and mouth. I wrapped an arm around his shoulders, and Tru instantly relaxed. Not completely, but some of the tension left is body.

“What happened?”

“He was just huddled under the picnic table at the dog park. I don’t know where he came from, but he’s been outside for a while. Weeks maybe. He was scared, but he let me get close enough to grab him.” Tru looked down at the dog. “He’s a mess, so I came straight home. I need help to clean him up and see if there’s anything wrong with him.”

I wasn’t surprised that my bighearted man had not only found a lost pup, but had instantly taken him in. It was exactly the kind of thing Tru would do, taking the step above. Where as other people might have ignored the dog completely, or perhaps just called animal control, my boyfriend had coaxed the dog out with the intent to provide the care the dog needed himself. It was one of the reasons I loved him.

“Tell me what you need.” I may have been a dog owner for the better part of my adult life, but Tru was a trained vet tech and all around dog whisperer. I was happy to follow his directions.

Tru worked as quickly and methodically as he could, gently cleaning the dog while I did my best to keep the little guy calm. He was shaking in our hands, but as we worked, he seemed to relax somewhat. It took more than a half an hour to get the dirty, burrs, and other detritus out of his fur.

“He’s too matted,” Tru murmured as he shut off the water. Now that the dog was clean, he was an off white grayish color. “That’s gotta hurt so badly. I’m going to have to shave him down.”

It took another hour, with Tru working slowly and carefully to cut out the mats and shave the dog. All the while, the dog didn’t make a noise, nor did he snap or try to bite. I chalked that up to Tru’s gentle hand and melodic voice. I did what I could to keep the dog calm, but Tru had a real talent.

“I think he’s part Puli. Mixed with something, or maybe multiple somethings, but look at this,” Tru muttered, holding up a scrap of fur he’d just cut. I squinted at it while still rubbing the dog between the eyes. It definitely looked like the fur had corded.

“Do you think he was someone’s pet?” I asked softly.

For a long moment, Tru didn’t answer. He’d finished clipping and shaving–the dog looked overly skinny now, and not as tall as I first thought–and he was checking the dog over. Eventually he straightened up.

“Probably. But I think they might have abandoned him.” Tru moved toward a cupboard on the other side of the RV. “There was no collar under all that fur.”

“It could have gotten caught somewhere and he could have pulled out of it.”

“Maybe,” Tru answered absently. He returned a moment later with a microchip reader and ran it over the dog’s back several times. “Nothing.”

“So, what do we do?”

“I’ll take him to see Rayna in the morning.” Tru ran his hands gently over the dog. With a sigh, the pup laid down and closed his eyes. I was sure he was exhausted. “His skin looks good. A little red in places where the mats pulled, but no lasting damage. Surprisingly, I don’t see any fleas or flea dirt. And I didn’t find any ticks. He doesn’t have mange, so that’s good. But Rayna will do the the full work up. Make sure he’s not carrying anything deadly, and give him his vaccines.”

I looked down at the dog, who was resting, and the way Tru kept running his hands over the dog’s fur.

“So,” I began, drawing the word out. “What should we name him?”

Tru’s gaze jerked to mine. “What? We can’t…Wyatt, we should….shouldn’t we…”

“Honey, I know you. I know me. If the dog doesn’t have a home already, can we really let him go?”

Tru opened his mouth, shut it again, then looked down at the dog. Shaking his head, Tru shot me a smile. “No. He needs a fighting chance after everything he’s been through. Who better to give it to him then us?”


“I love you.”

I grinned. “And I, you.” I leaned far enough to drop a kiss on his cheek, then straightened. “So. Name?”

“Chester,” Tru said decisively.

I gave Chester another pat, then stepped away to let Fawkes out of his kennel and take both him and Aldo into the house. “We’ll set Chester up in the guest room until he gets a clean bill of health.” I bent to attach Fawkes’s leash, and called Aldo to heel. “Come on, Tru. Let’s get our boys settled.”

As we all trouped into the house, I couldn’t help thinking that one more addition to our family was exactly what we needed.

Flash Fic Friday

**The ever delicious prompt for today: irritation. Enjoy!**

Cole took one look at his desk, dropped his bag to the floor, and cursed. Well, silently cursed, as he was in the office and the sorts of words he wanted to say would definitely get him in trouble. For the third day in a row, his pen holder was on the wrong side of his desk. The mouse pad was turned the wrong way. The phone was moved, the chair was lowered, his monitor was off center,  and his stapler and tape dispenser were set askew.

He grumbled, trying to keep it quiet. Three days these childish pranks had been been going on. Now he had to spend time–time he should be working–straightening his desk just so he could work. He knew if he made a big deal about it, then the jerk or jerks would had done this would feel as if they succeeded. Cole didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing they got to him,. But frankly, it was more than a little irritating.

Once his desk was set to rights, he logged in and began working. It was only an hour, when the columns of numbers were starting to swim before his eyes, that he realized he hadn’t gotten his usual coffee from the break room. Too distracted by finding his desk messed with, he’d forgotten to make a cup. That rankled even more. Whoever had done this was messing with his entire day now. Aggravated, he grabbed his favorite mug and went to get his much needed caffeine.

“You okay?”

Cole jerked his head around to see Mason loitering by the coffee pot. Cole tried not to scowl. Mason always seemed to be well put together. More than that, he had a relaxed and jovial attitude that Cole found irksome. Everyone in the office adored Mason. Cole couldn’t say that he disliked the man, but he didn’t find him as charming as everyone else seemed to.

“Yes. I’m fine,” Cole snapped.

“You sure?” Mason gave a slow blink, and then a small smile. “You seem kind of…irritated.”

“I’m sure.” Cole would not admit that he was beyond irritated. Instead, he poured himself a mug of coffee and all but stomped from the break room.

With sufficient caffeine flowing in his system, Cole was able to focus. Before too long, he was so absorbed in his work he’d all but forgotten about his the state of his desk when he’d arrived. At twelve-thirty precisely, he clocked out for lunch and headed down to the cafeteria to eat his turkey sandwich on whole wheat. Then he headed back upstairs.

To find a purplish colored smoothie sitting on his desk, conscientiously placed on a napkin so the condensation from the plastic glass didn’t mar his desk top. Cole glanced around, but no one was paying him any attention. he sat at his desk, and noticed the note propped up against the side of his cup.

It’s blueberry-strawberry-banana. Supposed to be good for energy. 

I’m sorry.

Odd, but Cole took a cautious sip anyway. It was delicious. And Cole had to admit, a few hours later, he didn’t hit the late afternoon slump he usually did.

Six o’clock rolled around faster than normal. Cole was surprised when he heard his coworkers calling out their goodbyes. He started shutting down his computer and packing up, already dreading what state his desk would be in when he arrived in the morning. Perhaps he should put everything away in the drawers and lock them?

“I’m sorry I messed with your stuff.”

Cole spun around to see Mason standing in his cubicle entrance, a look of sincere remorse on his pretty face. Cole shook his head, then narrowed his eyes.

“You did it?”

Mason nodded and dropped his gaze. He took a deep breath and looked back up. “I was trying to get your attention.”

“That seems…rather childish, yes?” The words were out of Cole’s mouth and he racked his brain for a way to diminish the accusation, but Mason was already nodding.

“Yes. Definitely. But every time I try to talk to you, you blow me off. I was getting desperate.” Mason offered him a hint of a grin. “I’m sorry though. I didn’t think about how it would piss you off. That really wasn’t nice of me.”

“No,” Cole agreed. He sighed, and shouldered his bag. “But if you wanted my attention, you could have just said ‘Hey, Cole, want to meet me for a drink sometime?’ That would have worked rather well.”

Mason bit his lip, and his smile grew. He pushed an errant lock of hair out of his eyes. “Hey, Cole. Want to meet me for a drink sometime?”

Cole had always found Mason attractive, but Cole never thought Mason would be interested in a somewhat staid introvert like himself. Clearly, he’d been wrong. And what was the harm in a drink? If it didn’t work out, they could part ways.

“Does Friday work for you?”

Mason’s wide grin was all the answer Cole needed.

Flash Fic Friday

**Today’s prompt: pulled over for speeding by a cop who was once his boyfriend, but cheated on him ten years before. Enjoy!**

I saw the flashing lights in my rear view mirror, so I immediately slowed down and pulled to the side so the cop car could zoom by me in pursuit of whoever they were after. I was so focused on that, it took me a moment to realize the car was not passing me by, but instead, pulling in behind me. The lights still going, the officer in his dark blue uniform pushed open his door and stepped out.


I put down the window, and then sat stock still, both hands on the steering wheel, gaze fixed straight ahead. When the cop came close, he bent down to peer inside my car, and didn’t say anything for a long moment.

“License and registration.”

I took a deep breath, then slowly lifted my hands off the wheel. “I’m going to reach into the glove box for the registration, then into my back pocket for my license.”

“It seems I taught you well.”

My gaze snapped to the officer, whose eyes were hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. There was something in his voice, the way he held himself, that gave me pause. I studied what I could see of his face, then moved my attention to his chest. The name tag said it all. Reyes.

“Angel.” I said, my voice cold. I knew he couldn’t mistake the tone, and the tiny jolt that went through his body let me know he had heard it. And that he knew exactly why I’d used it.

“License and registration, please, Cooper.”

I did as he asked, purposefully keeping my gaze averted. Officer Reyes took them and sauntered back to his car. I watched his ass in my side mirror. It was still the most perfect ass I’d ever seen. Even if I hadn’t laid eyes, or hands, on it in ten years. But back then, I hadn’t been the only one touching him, which is why I’d walked away without a backward glance. If he’d been honest about the others, that would have been one thing. But he’d told me he was all for monogamy, that he wanted that with me, and then screwed around on the side.

The ass.

I was still stewing, all that hurt and anger from so long ago making a resurgence even though I’d been sure I put it behind me, when he handed back my license, registration, and a ticket.

“Really?” I squinted at him.

He shrugged one shoulder. “You were going fifty in a thirty, Cooper. I can’t just let that go.”

“Fine.” I tucked the registration back into the glove box, and tossed the ticket and license with my wallet on the passenger seat. “Am I free to go, officer?”

Angel opened his mouth, shut it, shook his head, and then nodded. “Yeah. Be careful.”

“Absolutely, sir.”

I pulled away and made sure I drove exactly the speed limit all the way home.


I called my brother about the ticket, because he was a lawyer and I wanted him to handle it. Or, at least get it reduced. I was pretty sure twenty miles over the speed limit would carry a hefty fine. After that was done, I settled in front of the couch with a local micro brew, and flicked on the TV.

The knock on the door was unexpected, and I took my beer with me to answer it. Maybe it was girl scouts. Was it cookie season? I pulled open the door with a smile on my face. Which promptly fell off when I saw who was standing there.

“What are you doing here?” I hissed at Angel.

He’d grown up, that was for sure. Ten years ago, he’d been twenty-two to my twenty-four, fresh out of the academy, and arrogant as hell. I’d adored him. Until I found out about the cheating, that was. But in the intervening years he  packed on more than twenty pounds of muscle, I could swear he was at least two inches taller,  and filled out. His face was older too, with tiny creases around his mouth and eyes, but in the good way. The way that made him look distinguished and worldly. He looked amazing, actually. But I would not dwell on that.

“I got your address from your license.” His grin was unapologetic.

“Isn’t that illegal? I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.” I squinted at him. “Lachlan is a lawyer now. I can call him with a push of a button.”

Angel’s smile didn’t falter. “I just need a minute of your time.”

I crossed my arms and leaned against the doorjamb. No way I was letting him into my house. He stared me down, or tried to, but when I wouldn’t budge, he sighed.

“I was a stupid, arrogant fool. Back then. I want to apologize for the way I treated you. For the the things I did and the way I lied.” His smile turned rueful. “You leaving, disappearing, was a wake up call for me. It took me a little while, but I’m not the asshole I was back then. At least not about relationships. So I wanted to apologize. And say thank you.”

The sincerity poured off him in waves, and it was clear to see he meant it. Whether he’d actually changed or not, I couldn’t say. But it was big of him to apologize, and that was something the Angel of ten years ago never would have done. He was making the gesture, and the least I could do was accept the overture for what it was.

I held up the bottle in my hand. “Want to come in for a beer?”

He went still, and his smile slipped a tiny fraction. I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been staring so intently.

“Won’t your boyfriend…or partner or husband…mind?”

I sighed and turned, leaving the door open. “I don’t have one of those.”

I heard the door shut behind me, then Angel’s footsteps as he followed me into the kitchen.

“Excellent,” he murmured.

I handed him a beer, then gestured to the couch. “Just sit. Drink your beer. Tell me what’s been going on with you.”

His grin was radiant. “I’d be happy to.”

Flash Fic Friday

**I do love the flash fics, and this week’s prompt is a fun one. A love confession. Enjoy!**

This was it. The final moment. Everything the last few weeks had been leading up to. Hell, the last few years. When I agreed to take this job, got this crazy harebrained idea, I knew it was make or break. I’d drawn it out as long as I possibly could, and since Seth was my best friend, and he knew I was working this job in between all the others, he hadn’t minded that it had taken so long. The fact that I was only charging him cost for the supplies helped too.

When Seth bought this house, the backyard had been a hot mess of weeds, gravel, and just a bit of grass. I’d transformed it into an outdoor oasis. Sod now took up the better part of the area and a brick patio with a fire pit led into the space from the back door. But the shining focal point was the koi pond, slightly off center, with it’s bubbling fountain and the creeping phlox, sedge grass, day lilies, and verbena surrounding it. I’d spent the most time on the pond, digging it by hand and getting it just right.

The pond had been my idea. The design had been mine. And it was the reason I was so nervous.

“Holy shit, Clay! This looks fantastic!”

Seth’s voice, the delighted praise in it, warmed my insides but my heart was pounding too. Because he was home earlier than I anticipated, and I wasn’t ready. I’d just finish putting down the last of the mulch, and though I’d cleaned up the yard, I was still covered in dirt and bits of bark.

I almost chickened out. I’d had the whole things planned, exactly how I was going to reveal it, but Seth had blown that out of the water. I could just pretend there wasn’t anything important. Take his praise and his check, and then have a beer on the patio with him. I was sure that’s what he expected to happen.

But he looked so good in his suit, and his eyes sparkled as he took everything in. And I…I needed to man up and do the thing. It was now or never.

“You should see it from above.” My voice shook a little, but that couldn’t be help. “Go upstairs and look down at it from your bedroom window.”

Seth eyed me, but he was excited at the prospect, I could tell. He laughed, and then jogged into the house. I could practically picture him as he climbed the stairs, and with every imaginary step, my heart crawled further up my throat until I could barely breathe. I almost ran, but before I could get my feet to move, his face appeared at the window.

He was grinning as he surveyed his land. And then his eyes went wide. The smile fell off his face. And then he was gone.

Fuck. Fucking fuck. I’d messed everything up.

I had to go, now. Before he got back. But just as I moved, he ran out onto the patio, his eyes still wide, all the color drained from his face.

“It’s a heart.”

“Uh, yes.” Christ, was that my voice? I cleared my throat.

“Clay, the pond is a heart. And all the flowers make it look…it’s a heart.” Seth shifted his gaze to the pond as if he could discern it’s shape on the ground, and then slid back to me. “Something you want to tell me?”

No way I could play it off as just a fun shape, because he knew. I could tell he knew. I took a deep breath. Cleared my throat again. Breathed again.

This was it.

“I love you.”

Seth went utterly and complete stock still. I wanted to laugh it off, pretend it wasn’t real. But I’d been in love with my best friend for years, and it was time I admitted the truth. If that ended things between us, then it did. But I couldn’t go on this way.

“I love you,” I said again, surer this time, voice strong. “And I wanted you to know.”

“Jesus Christ. Clay.”

Double fuck.

And then Seth threw himself at me, and I had no choice but to catch him, dirt stained hands and all.

“I’m gonna get you dirty,” I muttered because he wasn’t saying anything. Just clutching my shoulders, his breathing ragged, jagged little puffs against my skin.

“I thought it was just me.” His voice was breathy, and a little shaky. Was he crying? I tried to pull back to see, but he just clung harder.

“No, baby,” I soothed, no longer caring about the suit. I’d buy him a new one if I had too. How long had I imagined him being in my arms? How long had he been my baby, but I couldn’t say it out loud? Seemed like forever.

“I love you too,” he whispered, then pressed his lips to my neck. Finally, he pulled back, and I saw the happy all over his face. “And that is the single most romantic thing anyone has ever done for me.”

“Just wait till your birthday. Baby, I got plans!”

He laughed, and kissed me, and I fell into it, tasting his mouth and loving the flavor. He was everything I wanted, and now I had him.

Guess my harebrained scheme wasn’t so crazy after all.