NOEL MUROHY made that choking noise that Dan associated with really good sex—when you want to speak, but all your brain functions are totally scrambled.
Dan Young looked up from his e-reader to see Noel staring at the screen of the laptop. “Are you all right, babe?” Dan asked, concerned at the glassy-eyed expression on his husband’s face. He’d been reading while Noel scrolled yet again through the listings on one of the realtors’ sites.
“This is it. The one. This is the fucking one.”
To Dan’s consternation Noel slammed his hand on the table, making the laptop leap into the air.
“Noel, babe, what’s going on?” Dan rolled off the sofa. “You’re scaring the shit outta me.”
Noel pointed to the screen. “I’ve found the house we’re going to buy. This is it. Our Forever Home.” As usual, his voice rose an octave in his excitement.
Dan didn’t rush over to the laptop. There had been other forever homes. At least six in Maine, if he remembered correctly, and a couple out of state. Noel had been just as enthusiastic about each one, although they hadn’t provoked the choked sex noise. Still, Dan wasn’t going to go into raptures about yet more bricks and mortar. Location, location, location. That’s what everyone kept telling them. If they were going to find their forever home, it wasn’t enough that the place was big or it was in a gated community. The next house had to be everything they had been looking for all wrapped up in one neat package. Their forever home, because they both hated moving, and the next time was going to be the last time as far as they were concerned.
Dan dropped his chin onto Noel’s shoulder. “Show me the fucking one. Let me see what’s got you all worked up.”
Noel pointed again, and there it was. Barnacles Cottage, three bedrooms, with an attic or a garage that Noel could use as his studio. Painted a deep blue, the cottage seemed to blend in with its surroundings. Ocean-fronted in a thriving rural community, and a place that was within their price range. Even to Dan, it seemed perfect and close enough to Portland that Dan could still travel to work.
“Thank you, Granddad,” Dan murmured.
Noel reached back and stroked Dan’s head. The only reason they could afford a place like Barnacles Cottage at their age was the sizeable inheritance from Dan’s grandfather, who had died earlier in the year. Otherwise, they lived on Dan’s just about okay salary and Noel’s bar money. Once in a while Noel sold a picture, and then they really celebrated.
“It has a pool,” Noel said, as he read the details.
They shouted it out simultaneously, and Noel started giggling as Dan blushed.
“Look at you. Your mind slipped straight into the gutter. I’m so proud.” Noel said.
Dan gave Noel a shove. “I was innocent before I met you.”
Noel gave a derisive snort. “Sure you were. And where did I meet you?”
“I told you. It was an accident.”
“You mean you just happened to be passing by the pole in the strip club and your clothes fell off?”
“With a little help from you,” Dan agreed, burying his burning face in the back of Noel’s neck.
The truth was not far from that. He had been innocent, and starving, and desperate to supplement his student income. His friend had mentioned that they were looking for dancers at a local club. Still new to the city and unaware of the nature of Hot Wired, he’d visited the club during the day. The club had been dark and empty. The only person in sight had been the barman, a gorgeous man, probably a couple of years older than him, with black, wavy hair, dark eyes, and a filthy mind. Once he had stopped laughing at Dan’s youthful innocence, Noel initiated him into what exactly he’d be doing. Noel had laughed even harder as Dan’s face heated up. But needs must, and Dan was sick of being hungry. Once he’d gotten past the shame and embarrassment of taking his clothes off and wriggling around a pole, Dan discovered he enjoyed his new life, and he enjoyed the barman even more.
Noel was an artist. Every second he wasn’t serving overpriced drinks, he was painting huge canvases with the verve and passion he brought to everything, especially initiating Dan into the art of making love. Dan had been as innocent about that as everything else. Eight years on, the passion hadn’t decreased. Noel loved his young lover, and Dan returned it tenfold. That didn’t mean they wouldn’t look at hot pool boys, though.
Still buried in Noel’s neck, Dan closed his eyes, his eyelashes teasing the sensitive skin below Noel’s hairline.
“You’re doing that deliberately,” Noel murmured.
Dan smiled, pressing a kiss into Noel’s skin. “Yeah,” he agreed. “I like touching you.”
“Hmmm.” Noel leaned back against Dan. “So are we going to buy Barnacles Cottage?”
“It’s probably already gone,” Dan said, practical as ever.
“Then it’s gone. But there’s no harm in checking, is there?”
Dan straightened up and took another look at the cottage. It was amazing, and it seemed to have everything they were looking for. “Give them a call, babe. Don’t get too excited, yeah?”
Noel had been devastated at the loss of some of the other potential buys.
“Yeah, yeah,” Noel said, sounding distracted.
Dan sighed as he sat back down on the sofa and picked up his e-reader. It was like talking to a brick wall sometimes. He’d be there to pick up the pieces when the sale fell through.
THE move into Barnacles Cottage was as smooth as grating nails across a chalkboard. Dan felt he had aged twenty years by the time he fitted the key into the lock and stepped across the threshold. What had seemed like a good idea had turned into the inevitable delays while realtors and lawyers danced around the long, slow process. Just as Dan and Noel were on the point of giving up their dream of moving to a place with a seafront, the call had come and the place was theirs.
A noise behind Dan made him look over his shoulder. Noel was hard on his heels, struggling with a huge packing case in his arms.
“Move, lover boy,” Noel ordered, “or I’m going to drop this box, and all Granny Maura’s Sunday china will be dust.”
Dan obediently stepped to one side to allow Noel to deposit his box in the kitchen.
Noel grunted with relief as he placed the box on the table, stretching his back as he stood up. “I swear Granny Maura gave us the china deliberately.”
“Of course she did. She didn’t want to take it to her retirement condo.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Noel said as he rubbed at his lower back. “God, my back hurts.”
Dan raised his eyebrow. “You think she wanted you to slip a disc?”
“If it would stop us indulging in ‘that disgusting behavior’, you know she would.” Noel waggled his eyebrows mischievously.
“Disgusting behavior?” Dan moved forward to pull Noel into his arms, frowning as Noel winced at the sudden movement. “Why, whatever do you mean, Mr. Murohy? Do you mean the disgusting behavior that you introduced me to?”
“That’s the one,” Noel agreed, “although I don’t remember you objecting at the time. God, I’m getting old.”
Dan massaged Noel’s lower back, digging his fingers in when he found a knotted muscle. “Thirty-three is hardly old. Is this very painful?”
Noel groaned and slumped forward to rest his head on Dan’s shoulder. “Hurts like hell, but a little back pain won’t stop me having my wicked way with you.”
“I hope not. I fully plan to christen our new house by bending you over every flat surface I can find.”
“Before or after we’ve unpacked?” Noel asked.
Dan stroked Noel’s long, dark hair. “Before, during and after,” he suggested. “We could do it now, over the kitchen table before we fill it with trash.”
Noel pushed into Dan’s body and, despite his next words, the hardening shaft against Dan’s thigh made it very clear to Dan that he was willing. “We’ve got so much to do.”
“Hmmm. Stay there.”
Dan left Noel in the kitchen while he went to close up the car. The cottage was secluded enough not to be overlooked by the neighbors, but he checked around to make sure no one could possible peer into the house and see what disgusting behavior they were about to indulge in.
Noel was exactly where he had left him, staring out the kitchen window at the view of the bay.
“Good boy,” Dan purred and manhandled him over to the table. “Sit on here,” he said, patting the pine table they had bought along with the house.
“Why, Mr. Young, whatever do you have in mind?” Noel asked, even as he did as he was told.
“There is a flat surface, and you are about to be bent over it,” Dan told him, guiding Noel to lie on the table, his butt at the very edge.
“This is actually lying down,” Noel pointed out, but he didn’t resist as Dan pulled off his Chuck Taylors and his sweats. “And it was my turn last time to… oh!” His complaint trailed off as Dan sucked him down.
Dan smiled around Noel’s cock. Noel was so easily diverted. He held Noel’s hips down and sucked his dick until Noel was hard and straining in his mouth.
“Fuck, Dan!” Noel’s fingers tugged on Dan’s short hair. “Gonna come.”
Pulling off, Dan said, “Already? Can’t you hang on?” but it was too late as Noel gasped out a warning and come pulsed across Dan’s lips and cheeks.
“Thanks,” Dan said drily as he got up to wash his face.
He looked down at Noel, who was lying with one arm slung across his eyes, looking debauched and wanton as his flaccid cock lay on his stomach and his sweats halfway down his thighs.
“My pleasure,” Noel managed.
“Ah-hmm. What about me?” Dan tapped Noel’s leg.
Noel didn’t budge an inch. “Give me a minute and then you can fuck me.”
Dan looked at Noel. “Right,” he said cynically. “You’ll be asleep if I leave you like this. I can wait. Come on. Time and tide wait for no man.”
“Dude, we’re not going to sea.” Noel groaned as he sat up. “Are you sure you don’t want me to blow you or something?”
“I’ll have the or something, but later on.”
Noel’s eyes brightened. “I can’t wait to see you all laid out like a sacrifice for me on our brand-new bed.”
“Yeah, yeah. Come on.” Dan threw Noel his clothes. “You need to get dressed, love. The movers will be here soon.” He’d timed it carefully. They’d had enough time for sex before the house descended into chaos. Oh well, best laid plans and all that.
Noel made a scoffing noise. “I bet they’ve seen it all before.”
“I expect they have, but my days of public exhibitionism are behind me.”
Noel gave him the look. The one that started at Dan’s toes, lingered at his groin, and slowly swept all the way to his head. As always, it left Dan breathless, and his cock, which had subsided in disappointment, zinged back to life.
“Noel, we don’t have time for this,” Dan warned.
The bastard licked his lips. That wasn’t fair. Noel knew Dan went weak at the knees when he did that.
Dan watched as Noel stalked toward him, still half naked. “Truck. Men. Here. Remember?” Oh shit, he was reduced to babbling.
“I know.” Noel agreed and sank to his knees in front of Dan. “Better come quick, then.”
Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. It was a litany in Dan’s head as Noel gave him a filthy, messy blowjob that melted his mind and his muscles.
Afterward, sated and unwilling to move despite the imminent arrival of all their furniture and a lot of men, Dan lay on the flagstone floor with Noel curled into his side. “I hate you,” he said without heat.
“Sure you do,” Noel agreed, and Dan could hear the smug self-satisfaction in his voice.
“I’ll hate you forever,” Dan assured him.
Noel leaned up to kiss Dan’s cheek. “Sounds about long enough.”
The sound of a large vehicle outside made them scramble up.
“Oh shit, where are my pants?” Noel looked around frantically.
Dan grinned at him. “What’s it worth, Murohy?”
Noel glared at him. “Tell me where my pants are or you won’t get fucked for a month.”
“You’re supposed to offer me an inducement, not threaten me,” Dan said as he calmly tucked away his flaccid cock.
“I’ll make you breakfast tomorrow and fuck you senseless afterward,” Noel promised.
“That’s better.” Dan smiled at Noel’s twitch at the sound of voices outside. “They’re over there.” He pointed to the pair of black sweats Noel had dropped earlier.
The voices got closer. Noel whimpered and threw himself at his clothes, almost falling over as he tried to get both legs into one leg of the pants. Dan watched his frantic efforts with growing amusement, but he was kind enough to wait until Noel was decent before he opened the kitchen door to the moving van men.
“Thought you’d got lost.” The short, stocky man who’d identified himself as Mick looked distinctly unimpressed.
“Yeah, sorry about that. We were… busy exploring.” Dan was determined not to blush.
“Sure you were. We’ll get this lot in here.” Mick turned to the van. “Come on, they’re dressed now.”
Behind him hidden by the door, Dan heard Noel whimper, “Oh God!”
Dan grinned at him. “Told you we didn’t have enough time.”
“Next time I’ll listen to you,” Noel promised as the men started to bring in their furniture.
Dan saw the amused looks the men gave him. Dan had picked the firm on the recommendation of his best friend for their efficiency and friendliness, and the fact that they didn’t have issues dealing with gays. Certainly none of these men seemed to be bothered by the fact their clients were two guys.
The movers knew their business, and once Noel had been induced to come out of hiding, he directed the men with each box that came into the house. Dan found himself providing tea, coffee, and soda for the crew, after he offered to help and it was politely suggested he stay out of the way—well out the way.
About one in the afternoon, everyone stopped for sandwiches made by Dan, having been warned by others to feed the crew. Filling the battered old table on the deck with sandwiches, chips, and cookies, he called to the movers to eat. He piled up two plates with the same food and took them down to the steps to the beach, where Noel was looking out at the ocean. He stopped for a moment, taking pleasure in way the sun caught the red glints in Noel’s hair.
“You’re staring at me.” Noel said without turning around.
“I know.” Dan handed him one of the plates. “I like staring at you.”
“It’s amazing here. Have you seen the light? I’m going to spend hours out here.” Noel turned his attention back to the ocean. “Have you seen the colors in the sea? I’m going to need to find a store that sells decent oils. All those blues. And I need some more canvases. Smaller ones this time.”
Dan sat down on one of the wooden steps. “I didn’t know you knew small canvases existed.” Ignoring Noel’s “Ha, ha,” Dan took a large bite out of his sandwich and chewed for a minute. “I used to see the way you look at the world and envy you. Now I see it through your eyes.”
“You old softie.” Noel sat next to him, not as close as they would be if they’d been on their own but close enough to warm up Dan’s side. “I think we’ve made a good move here, baby. This is our forever home.”
“It is worth all the cursing at the lawyers?” Dan teased.
“Every single curse word,” Noel agreed.
The afternoon sun was pleasantly warm, and Dan was reluctant to move, but heavy footsteps behind them disturbed the peace. Dan looked over his shoulder to see Mick stomping down the steps.
“We’re going to finish up. Do you want to tell us where the bed is going?”
Seeing Noel’s reluctance to move, Dan said, “I’ll do it. The artist here has some more communing to do.”
Noel smiled at him gratefully. “Sure you don’t want me to help?”
“Stay there for a while. You did most of the work this morning.” As Mick’s back was turned, he dropped a light kiss on Noel’s head. He stood, brushed the sand off the seat of his pants, and followed Mick up the steps.
They finally got the men out of the house in time for a late barbeque on the deck. Dan had bought steaks the day before, and with the cold beers waiting for them in the fridge, he was looking forward to sharing his first evening in their new home with his husband.
And the mosquitos.
Hundreds of them. At least, it felt like hundreds to Dan. Or a squadron of mosquitos on a mission from hell.
“So much for lying out under the moonlight and making love to the sounds of the waves,” Dan said ruefully as they retreated into the house, then shut the windows to stop the evil critters from sucking any more of their blood.
Noel gave him a wry smile. “We’ll do that soon. I’m so tired, I’d be asleep before we got to the fun part.”
“Me too,” Dan admitted as he slumped down onto the sofa.
“Why don’t we try our new bed?”
“You mean the huge bed that has never been slept in, that’s waiting for us in our brand new bedroom?”
“That’s the one.” Noel held out his hand to Dan. “Come on, sweetheart. Let’s go to sleep in our new bed, and when we wake up you can fuck me senseless.”
Dan could get on board with that idea. He let Noel pull him to his feet. Hand in hand, they walked to their new bedroom, a huge room overlooking the bay. The open window let in a warm breeze, but the screens prevented any invasion of mosquitos. Dan didn’t feel much like talking, and from the way Noel went silently about his usual routine, it seemed the same mood had infected him.
Dan paused to appreciate the moon casting a subtle glow over the water, and then slipped into their new bed. He sighed in contentment as Noel laid his head on Dan’s chest and snuggled around him.
Noel mumbled something Dan couldn’t decipher.
“What did you say?” Dan asked, carding his fingers through Noel’s hair.
“I said, this is it,” Noel said more clearly.
Dan pressed a kiss to the top of Noel’s head. “Yes, it is,” he agreed. “We’re here in our forever home.” He closed his eyes, falling asleep to the sound of Noel’s breathing and the gentle lapping of the waves.
The following day, Dan was head down in a large packing box of miscellaneous rubbish when Noel walked into the kitchen, a frown on his face.
“I though this place was meant to be empty in preparation for our arrival.” Noel said.
“It was,” Dan agreed, pulling out a broken ornament. “Why did we bring this?” he asked, holding out what looked like the rear end of a small, brown china dog.
“Mom made it, well, she painted it,” Noel said. “She took me out to a craft shop. We spent the afternoon painting the dog and a car.”
Dan saw Noel’s face change as it always did when he was talking about his parents. Noel had not had the easiest of relationships with his parents since he came out, and it was rare for him to talk about his childhood, which had been happy up until he mentioned he was gay. It was like remembering the good times made the bad times more painful.
“Where would you like this stuff to go?” Dan said, poking around in the box to see similar objects, all missing ears, legs, or tails.
“I’d say the attic, but that is full of someone else’s junk.”
“What?” Dan’s frown matched Noel’s. “Why didn’t they empty the attic?”
“Hell knows.” Noel scrubbed at his hair, now covered in a fine layer of dust.
“How bad it is?” Dan asked, remembering all the attics he had ever been in.
“Could be worse, but we’re going to have to hire a dumpster. Come and look.”
Dan stared around the attic in bewilderment. Noel was right. The space wasn’t full to the rafters, but it was more than they could manage in their car. The large expanse of the mainly boarded room looked like it hadn’t been touched in years. A child’s rocking horse sat in one corner, next to a box with a baseball mitt sticking out. Decaying mattresses emitted a distinctly moldy smell, not helped by piles of newspapers and magazines.
“We’ll look for someone to take the trash away later,” Dan promised.
“Good.” Noel looked around him. “I’m not going to paint up here but I don’t like the idea of living with the previous owner’s crap.” He narrowed his eyes. “What’s that?”
“What?” Dan followed his gaze. In the far corner, in one of the few parts of the attic not boarded up, Dan saw a large square something or other between the rafters.
Noel hummed and went to investigate, Dan following on his heels. It proved to be a canvas rammed in between the wooden rafters. Despite both men tugging on it, the canvas was jammed tightly, and they couldn’t pry it free of its prison.
Dan swore as a splinter dug beneath his nail.
“Let me kiss it better, then I think we could both do with sweet tea and cookies,” Noel suggested. Holding out his injured finger, Dan waited for his kiss, but Noel paused on the way to his lips. “I think we need to get that splinter out first,” he said. At Dan’s pout, he said, “We can play doctor and patient.”
Dan liked that idea—very much. “Kiss first, and then you can perform surgery on my nail.”
Noel leaned forward and kissed Dan on the lips. “Come with me and I’ll examine your… finger,” he said, leering at Dan.
“I don’t think my finger is exactly what you’ve got in mind to examine.”
“Oh, I have,” Noel assured him. “Pain first, then a thorough examination. I do like to be thorough.”
Dan wasn’t so keen on the idea of pain. Perhaps he could distract Noel long enough to avoid that part of the game.
Ten minutes later, he was white-knuckled as he clutched the edge of the kitchen sink while Noel dug under his nail with a rusty sewing needle.
“It’s not rusty,” Noel said, pooh-poohing his concerns. “Now hold still like a good boy.”
Dan gritted his teeth. “You’re digging a fucking needle into my finger. Of course I’m fucking holding still.”
“Your poor mother would be cringing to hear your potty mouth,” Noel scolded.
“Where do you think I got it from? Jesus!” Dan trailed off with a yelp as Noel made a particularly deep stab into his finger. “I need my hand, babe.”
“Not if it’s going to fall off and go gangrenous.”
“I think it’ll go gangrenous before it falls off,” Dan argued.
“Does it matter which way ’round when the end result is death?” Noel muttered as he inspected the wound.
Dan inspected it too, concerned for his poor finger. The nail was bloodied, but the splinter out was out, thank God.
“You need to wash it clean, and I’ll put some antiseptic cream around the nail,” Noel said.
“Will that hurt?” Dan asked suspiciously, holding his injured hand protectively.
“You are such a baby. Here.” Noel grabbed Dan’s hand and rinsed the finger. He gently patted it dry and covered the area in antiseptic cream. “There, all done.”
Dan inspected his throbbing finger, disappointed to find a tiny scratch. “Okay.” For the amount of pain he’d just endured, he should at least have had a decent wound.
“Do you want to play now?” Noel cleaned the needle and put away the cream.
“Can I have my tea first?” Dan was feeling a bit fragile, although he’d never have admitted it.
Noel patted him on the back. “Sure you can. Go sit out by the pool.”
Dan brightened at the thought. They hadn’t had a chance to use the swimming pool yet. The previous owners had left them the phone number of the company that maintained the pool, but they hadn’t called them to find out when was the last time they had visited.
A few minutes later, sipping iced tea and munching on cookies left by the previous owner, Dan sighed happily. The pool definitely needed cleaning. Dan could see the layer of scum on the top. He said as much to Noel, who nodded in agreement.
“I called the company while I was pouring the tea. They’re going to send someone ’round today to take a look at it.”
Dan settled back in the Adirondack chair and closed his eyes. “You’re very good to me.”
“I know, but don’t get too comfy. I’m handing over the task of cleaning out the attic to you. I’ve got a meeting with the gallery to plan the next exhibition.” At Dan’s groan, Noel said, “I’m sorry, but everything is ready. I just want to go through the lighting with Cale. You know he always gets it wrong.”
“Why didn’t I know about this meeting? Does this mean you have to drive back to the city? Couldn’t you do it next week?”
Noel nodded. “Just overnight. I’m sorry, babe. He called me about an hour ago. He and Tonya are going to Italy for a month.”
“So that’s why you’ve been so nice to me. I should have guessed.” Dan couldn’t manage to hide the hurt in his voice. He should have realized something was up when Noel suggested he take a break. It wasn’t that Noel wasn’t solicitous of Dan’s needs, but sometimes he needed prompting.
“I’m sorry.” Noel knelt by the chair, reaching out to hold Dan’s hand.
Dan turned his head away. “When are you leaving?”
“In about an hour.”
“Jesus. You can’t wait to get away.” Dan knew he was being petty, but honestly, he felt like he was being deserted.
“You know that’s not true, babe. I’ll only be gone overnight, and I’ll be back by lunchtime. Hey, come on. Next week, I promise, nothing will drag me away from your side.”
Dan got up, ignoring Noel’s outstretched hand. “I have to go back to work next week,” he pointed out. “Not all of us can set our own hours. See you tomorrow.” He knew it was petty, but he walked away, leaving Noel kneeling by the empty chair.