STEPPING off of the plane in Ontario was the second hardest thing he had ever done in his life. The first had been getting on the plane to start with. He could have been curled up around the man of his dreams. Instead, he was standing in a busy airport hoping that no one had remembered to pick him up so he could just go straight home. And possibly drink away his pain. Unfortunately, it seemed as though fate was against him.
She was easy to spot in the airport arrivals lounge. She was the only one in leather with visible tattoos. Her red hair was in two braids that hung down over her shoulders. There were several airport security officers looking at her. It seemed as though they weren’t sure what to think. She really did look like the type to make trouble. She blew one a kiss as he walked closer. The unfortunate security officer actually blushed.
He shook his head as she motioned to the suitcase by her feet. He had no idea how she had managed to get his suitcase, but he was grateful. It meant that he would be able to get home sooner. All he had to do was to convince her that he was too tired to have a visit.
The convincing didn’t take as long as he had thought it would. Apparently, he looked as bad as he felt. She drove him home and made him promise to call later before she left. Entering his empty house, he was suddenly aware of how lonely it seemed. His entire life was empty. There was nothing in it. He had left his heart in Alberta. With a sigh, he reached into his pocket and pulled out what he had purchased at the airport in Alberta.
Sinking into his favorite chair, Detective Patrick Hawkins lit up the first cigarette from the first new package he had purchased in three years. Inhaling the smoke, he felt the first bite of nicotine enter his system. He hoped that it would help to dull the pain of his broken heart.
THE rhythmic sound of the weights being lifted and settled once again was a familiar and soothing sound to Patrick. Chatter from the other cops faded into background noise as he continued doing sit-ups on the floor. It was a familiar routine, and Patrick easily settled into his own headspace. He was so focused on what he was doing that he didn’t realize that someone wanted his attention until a wet nose pressed against his cheek. Patrick turned his head to one side and found himself staring into the brown eyes of a German Shepherd. The dog licked his cheek.
“Hey there, Bingo. Where’s your person?”
“Standing right over here,” a deep voice remarked. Patrick turned his head to the other side and looked up. Way up.
Sergeant Bryce MacDonald of the K-9 unit was standing next to him. His large, muscled frame was encased in a department T-shirt and sweats, both of which were straining at the seams. His red hair was neatly trimmed, but that didn’t stop bits of it from falling into his hazel eyes. There were freckles on his face, but his large size kept people from teasing him. Bryce was one of the sweetest guys Patrick had ever met, but he had seen him toss a suspect into a car with just one hand. It was a sight that he would never forget.
“Hey, Bryce, good to see you.”
“You too. You’re looking better.”
Patrick hoisted himself into a sitting position. Bingo dropped down next to him and put her head in his lap. He reached out and absently scratched her ears. “I’m feeling better. Doesn’t hurt to move anymore.”
“That’s good. I missed seeing you around here.” Bryce dropped himself onto the ground next to Patrick. “It was too quiet without you here.”
Patrick laughed. “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever been told that. Usually people can’t wait to tell me to shut up.” Feeling a lick to his hand, Patrick resumed the scratching that he had stopped. “I see that you have Bingo back.”
Bryce sighed, and his eyes lost some of their happiness. “I need to find a new home for her.”
“We just came from the vet. Her hip is too messed up to keep her on active duty. Doc’s worried that if someone were to take a shot at her, the hip would come out of joint again. So if she can’t be on active duty, I need a new dog, and I can’t keep her at home when I get a new one. It wouldn’t be fair to either of them.”
“That sucks.” Patrick looked down into the trusting doggie eyes in his lap. Poor dog, being abandoned, even if Bryce didn’t mean it. Staring at Bingo, Patrick felt a sudden sense of kinship. Oh my God, I’m identifying with a dog. “I’ll take her.”
Patrick turned his attention from Bingo back to Bryce. “I said that I’ll take her. You know how much I like her, and she seems to like me.”
“Like you? Shit, Pat, that dog fucking loves you. Sometimes I think she likes you more than she likes me.” Bryce looked pointedly at where Bingo had her head in Patrick’s lap instead of his.
“She has good taste.” Patrick leaned down and gave Bingo a good rub. She lifted her head and licked his chin. He smirked at Bryce over Bingo’s head.
“She’s barking up the wrong tree. I happen to know that you aren’t a ladies’ man,” Bryce commented. His comment turned Patrick’s smirk into a rather dirty leer. Bryce had once walked in on him and Keith when they had still been dating. It had made for a very awkward introduction for Keith. Bryce had blushed almost the same color as his hair, and Patrick hadn’t been that far behind him.
“Hey, don’t pick on Bingo. She happens to be one of my favorite ladies.”
“Let me guess, because unlike Justine, she doesn’t talk back?”
“Don’t let Justine hear you say that.” Patrick flashed Bryce something that felt more like his usual grin. He knew it was at least better than the look he had been sporting when Bryce had first arrived. Patrick didn’t want everyone to know exactly how depressed he was.
Bryce raised his hands in a placating gesture. “Hey, I never said that out loud. That partner of yours scares me.” Bryce lowered his arms back to his lap. “So, when did you get back into town?”
Patrick sighed as all of the happiness that he had been feeling fled. “Yesterday.”
“Are you sure that your shoulder is up to what you’re putting it through?” Bryce shifted so he was leaning comfortably against the wall. “It still looks a little tender.”
“You should have seen it before. It looks a whole hell of a lot better now. I had a good physiotherapist while I was away.”
“That’s good. Although I’m kind of concerned that you said it looked worse. You really should take better care of yourself.”
“Yeah.” Patrick could hear the dejected tone to his voice. He was hoping that Bryce would at least avoid the hard questions. He knew that the moment his friends got him cornered, he would be forced to answer those. He just didn’t want to start with Bryce. And he really didn’t want to have a serious conversation while he was in the precinct gym. If he did, everyone would know by the end of the day. Cops were worse gossips than little old ladies.
“Pat, tell me if I’m prying, but… did something happen while you were gone?”
“Sorry, man.” Bryce reached out and gave his shoulder a squeeze. “If you need someone to take you out drinking and then carry your drunk ass home, give me a call.”
Patrick laughed dryly. “Thanks, man, you’re a good friend.”
“You sure you want to take Bingo?”
“Okay, I’ll bring her and all of her stuff by later.”
“Do I need to get anything for her?”
“We’ll go over it when I bring her by. I should have enough stuff for you that you’ll be fine until you can pick up stuff on your own.” Bryce climbed to his feet. “I really appreciate this, Patrick. She needs a good home.”
“I’ll try and give her one.”
“You’ll do a good job. So, I’ll stop by when my shift is over. Is that good for you?”
“I’m off at four, so, after that?”
“That’ll be fine. It’ll give me time to put away the shit I brought home with me.”
“You still haven’t unpacked yet?”
“No. There were clean clothes in the closet.” Patrick sighed. “Plus, I didn’t really feel like looking at the stuff from my trip.”
Sympathetic hazel eyes looked into his. “You sure that you don’t want to talk about it?”
“I’m not ready to talk about it.”
“Okay. My drinking offer still stands.” Bryce gave a light whistle, and Bingo gave Patrick’s hand one last lick before moving to Bryce’s side. The redhead gave him a nod before he walked out of the gym with Bingo at his side.
Watching them go, Patrick sighed as the melancholy feelings that he had been fighting overtook him once again. He’d only been home for a day, and it just kept getting worse. Sure, his shoulder was better, but the rest of him felt like complete and utter shit. Patrick sighed and tossed himself back onto the floor, starting to do sit-ups once again. His lungs gave a slight wheeze, but that could have been from the half a pack of cigarettes he’d consumed since his return. He was starting to feel a pull in his abdominal muscles, but his shoulder wasn’t bothering him, so he didn’t stop.
Patrick had barely slept the night before. Dreams had turned into nightmares. After the third time he woke in a cold sweat, he had given up on getting back to sleep. Instead, he had grabbed his cigarettes and gone to sit on the balcony outside of his room. Patrick had watched the sun come up, attempting to think of nothing. It hadn’t worked. His thoughts were what had sent him running to the precinct gym in an attempt to work out until he was too exhausted to think. It had been working until Bryce had shown up.
Trying to get back to the place where he was too tired to think, Patrick pushed himself until his muscles were shaking. He flopped back against the floor, panting for breath. Several of the other officers were watching him, but no one else came over to talk. Apparently Bryce was the only brave one among them. Patrick stared at the beige ceiling as he sucked in deep lungfuls of air. Maybe I am pushing myself too hard.
Patrick groaned as he rolled to his feet. He could feel the muscles in his back pull as he stretched. The sweat that was drying on his body was starting to make him shiver. Time for a shower. Patrick groaned once more as he headed for the locker room. He nodded to the other cops as he walked but kept his eyes averted. He didn’t want anyone to stop him and ask how his trip was. He just wanted to shower and go home.
Bypassing the other men in the locker room, Patrick grabbed his shower stuff from his locker. With a towel wrapped around his waist, Patrick headed to the rows of showers. He quickly stepped under one and turned on the water. He was instantly hit with a pounding spray of hot water. The showers at the station always came on hot with enough water pressure to bruise. Patrick wasn’t sure why, but it was nice on the muscles after a workout. Patrick moaned as the water pounded against the sore muscles in his shoulders. He’d been nothing but one giant sore muscle since the last time he had seen Brad.
Brad. Thinking about Brad instantly brought back all of the tension that the shower had removed. Patrick felt his muscles lock up, and the shower suddenly became annoying rather than soothing. All he wanted was a smoke. Growling in frustration and anger, Patrick shut off the water, wrapped his towel around his waist, and stalked to his locker. He could feel the water dripping down his back as he hunted through his locker for clean clothes. Finding his jeans, he dropped the towel to the floor and started to pull them on.
“Nice ass, Hawkins.” The comment was followed by a very loud wolf whistle. “Just seeing it makes me want to take a bite out of it.”
Patrick did up his jeans before he turned. Standing behind him was Officer Burt Holland and two of his cronies. He was ten years older than Patrick but still hadn’t been able to pass the Detective’s exam, and with his attitude, Patrick doubted that he ever would. His dirty-blond hair was starting to recede from his wide forehead. Beady brown eyes were slightly sunken into a face that looked as if it had been flattened. Burt had been a powerfully built man, but he was starting to go soft around the middle. He was not an attractive man.
The comments had started just after Patrick joined the force and had increased in frequency when he had been promoted to detective. Patrick wasn’t sure if Burt was really attracted to him or just wanted to get a rise out of him. He got a bad vibe off of the man and tried to avoid him as much as possible. Unfortunately, it was starting to seem like Burt was seeking him out.
“Fuck off, Holland.”
“Oh come on, Hawkins. Wouldn’t you rather I fuck on?” Burt licked his lips and leered at Patrick. One of the men standing with him snickered.
“I’d rather fuck an angry raccoon.” Patrick gave him a slow once-over. “Although, I can’t see much of a difference.”
“Filthy faggot whore!”
“Oh, bring it on, shithead.” Patrick’s fists clenched as he took a step forward. He wasn’t sure who threw the first punch, but suddenly he and Burt were fighting. Instead of trying to break them up, Burt’s cronies were egging him on. It seemed as though Burt thought that Patrick wouldn’t be as strong, since he was still in recovery. That just proved how much of an idiot Burt actually was.
Patrick was only too happy to prove him wrong. He tossed himself into the fight with all of the anger that he was feeling. Every time his fists connected, he felt a small surge of glee. Patrick saw Burt’s eyes drop to his nipple ring and knew that the other man was going to play dirty, when a slender hand landed on his chest and shoved him out of the way.
“What the fuck is going on in here?” Justine demanded. Burt tried to push past her, and Justine delivered a punch to his solar plexus that had him doubling over to catch air. Her angry eyes fastened on Patrick once more. “Don’t make me fucking repeat myself.”
Patrick knew that the sparks in her green eyes were a bad sign, but he couldn’t get over the fact that she was standing in the men’s locker room. “What are you doing in here? This is the men’s locker room.”
“Someone came out and grabbed me because everyone else was too chickenshit to break up the fight.” She crossed her arms over her chest, and the action caused the material of her white dress shirt to press closely enough to her arms that faint hints of her tattoos were visible. “Now, tell me what the fuck happened.”
“Holland was running his mouth off.”
“So you punched him? He always runs his mouth off. What made this time so special?”
“I guess I’m just touchier than I normally am.” Patrick wiped a hand across his mouth and was surprised to find a smear of blood along it. He looked from his bloodied hand to Burt and glared. Burt attempted to glare back, but the effect was ruined by the eye that was swelling shut.
“Patrick, you are still on medical leave. You can’t go around beating the shit out of people until you’ve had your review.”
“You should listen to Mommy,” Burt sneered.
Justine spun to face him. “Don’t start with me. I’m not the one on medical leave, and I have no problem finishing the beating that my partner started.” She raised an arm and pointed to the door. “Out.”
Patrick smirked as he watched Burt slink out of the locker room with his cronies behind him. The smirk vanished as Justine turned back to face him. She still looked incredibly angry. “Hey, Sparky.”
“Don’t you ‘Hey, Sparky’ me, you ingrate. I’m mad at you.”
“I picked you up at the airport yesterday. Yesterday, Patrick. You’ve been back for a day and you get in a fight in the locker room. What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Patrick’s eyes narrowed in anger. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Patrick, honey, you’re hitting people. At work. That’s not normal. Even for you.” Her crossed arms were doing a good job of highlighting her cleavage, but they did nothing to distract from her irritation. Of course, that might have been different if Patrick hadn’t been gay. He was fairly certain that most men would’ve been staring at her breasts, not the angry green eyes.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I said that I don’t want to fucking talk about it!” He snarled and took a step toward her. A sharp finger stabbed into his chest with enough force to make him back up again.
“You do not get to snap at me, Patrick Samuel Hawkins! I am your friend, and I care about you.”
Patrick sighed and ran a hand over his face. “I know. I’m sorry that I snapped.”
Justine moved into his personal space and placed a hand over his now-crossed arms. “Pat, hon, I’m worried about you. You’ve come back from a month-long vacation more stressed than when you left.”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Sparky. Please, just leave it alone.” Patrick gave her what he hoped was a convincing pleading stare.
“Fine, I’ll let it go.” Justine gave him a steady stare. “For now.”
“I’m going home. I told Bryce that I’d take Bingo, so I have to go and get things ready.”
“You’re getting a dog?” There was surprise and what looked like a faint hint of approval on Justine’s face.
“Good for you. You need someone to look after you.”
“And you think a dog is going to be able to do that?”
Justine snorted. “You sure as hell aren’t doing a good job of looking after yourself. If you were, you wouldn’t have gotten your annoying ass shot.”
“I didn’t get my ass shot, I got my shoulder shot.”
“You know what I mean, you jackass.”
Patrick managed to give Justine a slight smile. “I just might.” Patrick leaned down slightly and pressed a kiss to her cheek. “I’ll see you later.”
“You better.” Justine gave him a partially mollified look before she turned and strutted out of the locker room.
Once sure that she was gone, Patrick let out a sigh and fell back against the lockers. The chill from the metal seeped into his skin, causing a twinge in his injured shoulder. He grimaced and pushed away from the bank of lockers and headed back to his still open one. Reaching inside, he grabbed a clean shirt and pulled it on. His shoulder throbbed as he forced it first into the T-shirt and then into his jacket. Grabbing his gym bag, Patrick closed his locker and left the locker room.
Patrick managed to avoid running into anyone as he left the station. He was starting to feel like an idiot for picking a fight with Burt. Justine was right. He really needed to get his head on straight. Maybe having Bingo in the house would help. Patrick was running out of ways to keep his mind off the pain of being without Brad. It felt like a part of him was missing. And that, more than anything else, was what had Patrick so scared.
PATRICK groaned as he stepped into his empty house. His abs hurt. Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to get a tattoo after he had tormented himself with sit-ups, but he just hadn’t been able to bear the idea of going home to an empty house. A house that didn’t have Brad in it. But it would soon have a dog in it. Although one couldn’t really replace the other. Patrick just hoped that Bingo would be able to help fill the void that Brad had left.
Tossing his keys on the table by the door, Patrick headed to the couch. He tugged at his shirt as he sat down. Not only was his stomach sore, but the shirt he was wearing kept dragging against his newly pierced nipple. He was starting to understand the weird look Keegan had given him when he had shown up at the tattoo parlor and demanded the tattoo and the piercing. Patrick groaned when his phone started to ring. Stretching for it wasn’t going to be fun.
Patrick grabbed the phone with a hiss of discomfort. “Hello?”
“Hey, Pat, it’s Jeremy.”
“Goldilocks, what’s going on?” Patrick settled back against the couch with a wince.
“Are you busy?”
“Not really. Why?”
“Can you do me a favor?”
Patrick frowned at the phone. “You want me to do you a favor?”
“That’s why I called.”
“This is new. You don’t usually ask me for favors. Is it sexual?” Please God say no, ’cause I don’t think I’m up for anything.
“No, you perv. I need you to do something for me.”
“I need you to go and pick Caleb up at the hospital.”
There was an annoyed sigh on the other side of the phone. “Caleb Bradshaw, the guy who helps out at the Humane Society.”
“The tall guy with the nice ass?”
“Yes, that would be him.”
“His name is Caleb?”
“You and Justine were the arresting officers on the drug case with the guard dogs that he rescued. How the hell do you not know his name?”
“I was just calling him ‘Hot Animal Rescue Guy’ in my head.”
“Sometimes I just want to smack you.” Jeremy’s exasperation was clear even over the phone.
“Kinky. So, why is he in the hospital?”
“He was bitten.”
“By a dog?”
“No, by a person.”
“I didn’t realize that you ran that kind of place, Goldilocks.”
“Shut up.” Jeremy gave an annoyed sigh. “Look, the Humane Society sent over a bunch of abused animals that they found at some guy’s house. Caleb was helping to unload them here when this guy came roaring up, jumped out of his car, and started screaming how the animals all belonged to him and we shouldn’t be allowed to take them. Caleb tried to get him to back down, and the guy bit him.”
“What type of guy bites someone?”
“Yes, but I do it during sex, not on the street. Now get to the part where you need me to go and pick him up.”
“When he left in the ambulance, I told him that I’d go pick him up and bring him back. I talked him into leaving his car here. Some of these animals are a lot worse off than we thought, and now I can’t leave.”
“And why can’t Cam get him?”
“Cam has decided that today is a wonderful day to wander around in the woods and take photos.”
“We still have woods around here?” Patrick glanced at the clock. It was only two. “I can go and get him, but I have to be home by four.”
“Why, hot date?”
“No, I’m taking Bingo, and Bryce is bringing her over when he gets off work.”
“You’re taking Bingo?” Jeremy sounded surprised.
Patrick glared at the phone. “Yes, I’m taking Bingo. Is that a problem?”
“No. I think you and Bingo will be a good fit.”
“Thanks. So, is there anything else that you want from me, or can I leave and go get your friend now?”
“You can leave. Thanks for this, Patrick.”
“It’s not a problem, Goldilocks. I’ll talk to you later.” Patrick hung up the phone with another small wince. Moving hurt. He really was starting to think that getting the tattoo after torturing his abdominal muscles was a stupid idea.
Groaning as he lurched to his feet, Patrick slowly moved back to the table where he had dropped his keys. Thankfully, he still had his jacket on. He didn’t want to think about how much it would have hurt to put it back on. He snatched up his keys and made his way back to his car. At least this was a way for him to get out of his empty house for a bit longer.
The drive to the hospital was quick, and one that he could do in his sleep. With all of the appointments that he had had after his back injury three years previously, Patrick was pretty sure that he could make the drive with his eyes closed. Numerous checkups after a bullet in a spine tended to imprint the drive in one’s memory. Finding a spot in the crowded parking lot took a bit longer than Patrick had expected. Apparently Caleb wasn’t the only one with an emergency.
Patrick slipped into the hospital while pushing his sunglasses to the top of his head. Waving at a nurse that he knew, Patrick navigated through the chaos and into the emergency exam area. He let his eyes travel around the rather busy room until they landed on a familiar tall figure. As he made his way closer, Patrick was finally able to get a good look at the nurse who was helping Caleb.
Keith looked incredibly small next to Caleb’s rather astounding height. He was sitting on an exam table and Keith’s blond head still only came up to the middle of his chest. As Patrick dodged a rather harried-looking nurse, he was able to finally hear the other two men.
“I don’t understand how you managed to let a person bite you.” There was a hint of annoyance in Keith’s voice.
“It’s not like I did it on purpose.”
“A giant like you can’t keep some crazy animal abuser from taking a chunk out of your arm? That’s pretty sad, Caleb.” Keith’s head was bent over Caleb’s injured arm, so he didn’t see the blush that started on the other man’s face.
“Aw, come on, Frisky, give the poor guy a break.”
Keith’s head snapped up, and a bright smile spread over his face. “Hey, Trick!” Keith leaned away from Caleb long enough to rise on his toes and give Patrick a brief kiss. “When did you get back?”
“Yesterday.” Patrick leaned over Keith’s shoulder to take a good look at Caleb’s arm. “Damn, Stretch, how the hell did you manage to let some freak do that to your arm?”
“He latched on. Kind of like a pit bull.”
“That doesn’t sound pleasant.” Patrick rested his chin on Keith’s shoulder as the other man continued cleaning Caleb’s arm.
“No, it hurt like hell.”
“Don’t worry. Frisky here will stitch you up good.” Patrick gave Keith a brief squeeze.
“Um, thanks.” Caleb’s voice was starting to sound uncomfortable. Patrick watched the way his eyes kept shifting between his injured arm and where Patrick had his arm wrapped around Keith’s waist.
“Trick, man, do you think you could let go of me? I don’t want to stitch Caleb’s arm to my scrubs.”
“You sure about that? He’s kinda cute. If you stitch him to your scrubs you can take him home with you.”
“You do have a point,” Keith agreed. He pulled away from Patrick’s arms and focused on Caleb. “So, not that I don’t like seeing you, but why are you here?”
“Jeremy sent me to get Caleb.”
Caleb looked up and met Patrick’s eyes. “Is everything okay?”
“Apparently, he’s swamped.”
Keith snorted in amusement. “And he thought you would be a suitable replacement?”
“Hey, I can drive.”
“You’ll probably try and molest him in the car.”
“I can behave myself.”
“Uh-huh,” Keith muttered. He put one final stitch in Caleb’s arm and then straightened. Grabbing the gauze off of the tray next to him, Keith started to wrap up the stitched wound. “You need to keep this clean.”
“I will,” Caleb replied.
“And make sure to take all of the antibiotics the doctor gave you. The human mouth is full of bacteria. You don’t want to get an infection.”
“Wow, your lecture is almost as scary as the one Julian gave me.”
Keith turned, and Patrick found himself staring down into angry hazel eyes. “Julian gave you a lecture because you’re an idiot and you let your bullet wound get infected.”
“How do you know it was infected? I don’t remember telling you.”
“I know it was infected because the last time you had to take antibiotics I had to mash them up and put them in your food to make sure you took them.”
“I was wondering why you kept feeding me.”
“This may be a stupid question,” Caleb interjected, “but are the two of you dating?”
“No,” Patrick replied. He felt a tad guilty for how quickly the denial had come out, but he couldn’t bear the idea of dating someone who wasn’t Brad. As depression crashed back over him, Patrick could feel the pain in his freshly decorated skin once again. The teasing had been a nice distraction.
“No,” Keith agreed, “but we used to date.”
“You still seem really close.”
“We are really close, aren’t we, Trick?”
“Yeah, we are,” Patrick replied. He ran his hand down Keith’s back in a silent apology for the way that he had snapped out his denial. When Keith pressed back into the touch, he knew that he was forgiven. That was the one thing he could count on Keith for: the young man knew how to read his moods better than most. It was probably due to how much time they had spent together when Patrick was in the hospital. Keith was the one who had had to deal with Patrick’s many mood swings.
“Well, Caleb, I’m all done with you. If you head over to the nurses’ station, they’ll give you the papers that you need to sign before you can leave.”
“Thanks.” Caleb slid off the bed and onto his feet. Once his full height was revealed, he towered over Keith’s small form. He was even taller than Patrick’s six foot two. He nodded at Keith, then turned to Patrick with a small smile. “So, is my personal chauffeur coming to the desk with me?”
“He’ll catch up,” Keith answered for him. “I need to talk to him for a minute.”
“Okay.” Caleb smiled and made his way over to the nurses’ station.
“So, what is it that you need to talk to me about?”
“How are you?”
Looking into the concerned hazel eyes of his friend, Patrick felt the walls he had slammed up to hide his pain start to crumble. “I can’t—”
“I can’t talk about this now, Keith. I just can’t.”
“Okay.” Keith reached out and grabbed his hand. “You know that I’m here for you, right?”
“I know.” Patrick pulled him close and kissed the top of his head. “I’ve got to take Caleb back to the animal clinic.”
“I will.” Patrick gave his hand a brief squeeze before making his way over to the waiting Caleb. “Come on, Stretch.”
“Why do you call me that?”
“I like nicknames.” Patrick paused to look Caleb over from head to toe. “Plus, you are freakishly tall.”
“Do you even know my real name?”
“Yes, Caleb Bradshaw, I know your real name.” Patrick grinned at him. Sometimes he really loved being a smartass. “Ready to go now?”
“You’re a cocky shit, aren’t you?”
“I can be.” Patrick nodded toward the exit and started walking. It only took a few steps for Caleb’s long legs to catch up with him. Once they were outside, Patrick pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and quickly lit up. He sighed as the first bite of nicotine hit his system.
“I didn’t know that you smoked,” Caleb commented.
Patrick turned slightly and gave the taller man a dirty look. “Problem?”
“Those things will kill you.”
“Don’t make me light you on fire after Keith spent so long fixing your bitten arm.”
“Um, okay.” Caleb held up his hands in defeat and motioned for Patrick to lead him to the car. Keeping the glower in place, Patrick stalked toward his car. Caleb easily kept pace with him. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Yes, you did. You think you can say anything you want and get away with it just because you have a nice ass and big puppy eyes.”
“Um, thank you?” Caleb gave a weak smile and slowed his pace, so he ended up walking slightly behind Patrick. Patrick shook his head as he felt a smile cross his face. Nervous attractive men were so much fun.
“You know, just because Keith and I aren’t dating and I think you have a nice ass doesn’t mean I’m going to toss you across the backseat and have my wicked way with you.”
“You know, I could walk home.”
“Just shut up and get in the car.” Patrick unlocked the doors and winced as he climbed in. Bending hurt. Stupid new tattoo.
“Are you okay? You look like you’re in a bit of pain. Do you need to go back inside?”
“You know, I’m starting to think that you might be a bit too nice for your own good. I’m fine. It’s just a tattoo. Hurts when I bend.”
“You got a tattoo on your stomach?”
“Yes. And I pierced my nipple. Wanna see?”
Caleb turned red all the way to his ears. “No, that’s okay.”
“Just thought that I’d offer.” Patrick smoothly pulled into traffic and headed toward the clinic. He lowered his window so the smoke wouldn’t bother Caleb. “So, are you dating anyone?”
“You asked if Keith and I were dating, so now I want to know if you’re dating anyone. It’s polite to answer the same question that you asked.”
“No, I’m not seeing anyone.”
“So what are you doing this weekend?”
“Not going out with you.”
“Ouch. You sure know how to wound a man’s pride.” Patrick glanced over at the passenger seat and gave Caleb a pout. It was the same pout that had helped him get laid through most of university. Not that he was trying to get laid. He was just having fun teasing Caleb.
“It’s not that I don’t think you’re attractive.”
“You think I’m attractive?”
Caleb snorted. “You know that you’re attractive. You’re just not my type.”
“I take it your type is non-male?”
“If I say yes, will you leave me alone, or will you just try harder?”
Patrick laughed as he pulled the car to a stop in front of the animal clinic. He turned in his seat so he could look directly at Caleb. Staring into Caleb’s hazel eyes, Patrick attempted to read him. Underneath the nonchalance that Caleb was apparently going for, Patrick could see a rather large amount of nervousness. “I won’t push, Caleb. Hell, I’m just picking on you ’cause I like the shade of red you turn when you’re embarrassed.”
“You’re kind of a shithead, aren’t you?”
“Little bit, yeah.”
“Definitely no on the date, then,” Caleb replied. Looking at the relaxed smile that he had on his face, Patrick leaned across the space between them and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. When he pulled back, Caleb was staring at him in surprise. “What was that for?”
“For giving me twenty minutes where I didn’t feel like shit.” Patrick grinned at him. “Now get out of my car.”
Patrick watched as Caleb climbed out of the car and made his way over to one of the vehicles parked in the lot. He tried to make a show of ogling his ass, especially when the other man wiggled his hips for him, but his heart just wasn’t in it. Patrick managed to force a smile to his face when Caleb glanced over his shoulder with a grin, but he could feel his stomach churning. He stayed parked in his car while Caleb pulled out of the lot. Once the other man had waved as he passed, Patrick dropped his forehead to the steering wheel. He took a few deep breaths and tried to push back the rising anguish.
Groaning, Patrick sat back up. He felt like he had a hole in his chest. Checking the traffic, Patrick pulled onto the street and headed home. He had a new family member to welcome to his house. Hopefully, Bingo wouldn’t mind living with a heartbroken man.