Chapter One

 

 

“EVAN! Julia! Over here!”

Evan blinked in the August sunlight as he came through the main door of Oxford rail station, Julia close behind him. They turned their heads in the direction of the shout. Across the road Sean and Michael waved energetically, huge grins on their faces. Making sure he had a firm grip on his shoulder bag and suit bag, Evan crossed quickly, only to be grabbed in a fierce dual hug. Evan tried valiantly not to crush his suit bag.

“Hi there, lovebirds,” Evan said, greeting his two housemates with an equally huge grin, and kissed them both soundly on the cheek. Julia caught up with him and Michael immediately swung her around. Although she squealed loudly for him to put her down, she didn’t stop smiling once.

Sean whispered into Evan’s ear. “Hi there, love.”

Evan kissed him again, more tenderly this time. “Missed you, sweetie,” he whispered back.

Sean smiled warmly.

Evan’s belly fluttered happily at the sight of his housemates, who had briefly been his lovers earlier in the summer. Although they had all agreed a sexual relationship would ultimately ruin their friendship, Evan knew he loved Sean and Michael, and they in turn loved him. Sean released him to hug Julia, and all at once Evan found himself in Michael’s arms.

“Hello, sweetheart,” Michael whispered, kissing Evan lovingly on the cheek.

Evan blushed, putting his arms around Michael’s slim frame to pull him closer. “Oh, it’s so good to see you,” said Evan, smiling widely. It had been about four weeks since he’d seen his two favorite men, and he’d counted down the days until their wedding, now only forty-eight hours away.

Michael put his arm around Evan’s shoulders and steered him down the narrow lane that led to the car park. “Mum’s waiting with the car,” he explained.

Evan smiled, looking forward to seeing her again. He hadn’t seen Mary Mitchell since she’d visited during Michael’s recovery from a beating. A compassionate, caring, open-minded woman who had welcomed Sean unreservedly into her family, she’d provided him with a home after his father had rejected him upon discovering he was gay.

Michael continued, “We got a call from Daniel. He’ll be here tomorrow morning.”

Evan sighed. It had been a very long fortnight since he’d seen his boyfriend. The newness of their relationship hadn’t worn off before Daniel had left for a long visit home.

Michael caught the sigh. “What’s the matter, Evan? Is everything okay between you two?”

Evan sighed again. “I… I’ll tell you both later, all right? When we’re alone.” Michael nodded in agreement. Evan caught sight of Mary, who stood by the 4x4, and handing his bag and suit bag to Michael, marched quickly up to her, hugging her at once.

“Evan, darling.” Mary pulled him close. “Glad your train was on time.” As Michael moved to put Evan’s bags in the trunk, she whispered, “Did you have any luck with that club name I sent you by text?”

Evan nodded. “All sorted,” he replied, equally quietly.

Mary giggled gleefully. “Fantastic,” she said, beaming. Julia came into view, and Mary rushed to hug her, her smile wide, as Sean placed Julia’s bags with Evan’s. “Okay, everyone in the car. Let’s get home for some lunch—you lot can catch up later.”

 

 

AS IT was a lovely warm day, lunch took place in the garden, everyone sitting around on patio chairs or sun loungers. Evan and Julia finally got to meet Michael’s sisters, Izzy and Rachel. Once everyone had eaten their fill of quiche, cold meats, and salad, accompanied by white wine, the conversation finally turned to the arrangements for the wedding.

“Who else is coming?” asked Evan, sipping at the chilled wine.

“Just my parents,” replied Mary.

Sean looked down glumly. Evan leaned across to take hold of his hand, waiting until Sean finally looked up at him with a sigh.

“I sent Mum an e-mail,” Sean explained. “I told her about the wedding, and said I’d be really, really happy if she could make it… but I would understand if she couldn’t.” His eyes dropped again. “I haven’t heard from her.”

Evan squeezed his hand tightly. “Sean, if she can possibly get here, I’m sure she will come. She loves you.” He spoke quietly but with conviction.

Sean looked up once more, but this time he smiled.

“Thanks, love,” he said. “Michael’s other grandparents won’t be coming, however.” He grimaced. “Seems they think that such a wedding is… unnatural.”

Michael clasped his free hand. “Sean,” he began softly, “it’s all right. Everyone we love will be there—Mum, Izzy, Rachel, Julia, Grandma and Granddad, and Evan and Daniel. They’re the only ones who matter… right?” He tickled Sean’s ribs, eliciting a brief chortle. “Right?” He kept it up until Sean held up both hands, breathing erratically and giggling hopelessly.

“Stop, I surrender!” Sean gasped.

Michael chuckled.

“So what are the arrangements?” asked Evan.

Sean and Michael pointed to Mary, who laughed.

“I’m the lucky person who got to do all the arrangements,” she explained, but Sean interrupted her.

“And you’re sooooo good at it!” he teased, fluttering his eyelashes.

Mary laughed, swatting his shoulder with a flat hand. “Flattery will get you nowhere fast, Sean darling!” she said. Evan could hear in her tone how much she cared for her future son-in-law. “Tonight we’re all staying here. I’ve put Julia in the spare room in the loft, and you three naughty boys will be sharing Michael and Sean’s room. Evan, you’ll be sleeping on their new sofa bed. Is that okay?”

Evan swallowed briefly. “That’s fine, Mary,” he replied, not looking at either Sean or Michael as he spoke.

Mary caught hold of his hand and gave him a loving, sympathetic look. Suddenly it hit him: she knew. Evan blushed, and Mary nodded almost imperceptibly, giving him another warm smile before speaking. “But tomorrow morning Daniel will be here, so we’ll have two cars going to the hotel where the wedding is taking place. I’ve booked enough rooms for all of us—Izzy and Rachel are sharing, as are the bridegrooms.” Michael and Sean shared a quick glance. “Everyone else has their own room.”

Evan sagged back into his seat, exhaling shakily. No one expected him to share with Daniel, which came as something of a relief. Sean and Michael must have mentioned something to Mary. A thought occurred to him. “Mary, this must be costing you a fortune!”

Michael and Sean laughed quietly, as did Izzy and Rachel. Evan looked puzzled. “What’s the joke?”

Michael took his hand. “Evan, money is the last thing you should be worried about.” On seeing his blank look, Michael sighed. “Have you ever known me to talk about money worries? In all the time that we were in the house?”

Evan thought about it for a moment. “Actually, now you come to mention it…,” he began.

Michael smiled. “Mum,” he explained patiently, “is a barrister. A well-paid job in anyone’s book, but she was well-off before she became a barrister. Dad came from money too. Trust me, sweetheart, money isn’t an issue.” Evan nodded, slightly surprised.

Michael said, “Now then, best man—well, one of them, anyway—what do you have planned for our last night of freedom?” Michael smirked until Sean hit him on the arm.

“What do you mean, Michael Mitchell?” Sean exclaimed in mock indignation. “You regretting marrying me already?”

Michael leaned across to kiss his husband-to-be slowly and thoroughly, not caring they had an audience.

“I love you, baby,” he said in a low voice, locking eyes with Sean, who blushed deeply. “Can’t wait to be your husband.” The love in every word was there for all to hear. Izzy, Rachel, and Julia let out simultaneous sighs, which caused everyone to burst out laughing.

Evan took his cue. “Have no fear. Everything is ready for our big night out tomorrow.”

“Oooh!” exclaimed Sean, bouncing slightly on his chair. “Where are we going?”

Evan shook his head. “It’s a surprise,” he explained to Sean’s loud groans. “And no, I won’t tell you. You’ll just have to be patient until then.”

Everyone laughed again, this time at Sean. He really did hate surprises.

 

 

THEY spent the evening playing Sean’s favorite game, Pictionary, and Evan hadn’t laughed so much in ages. As the evening came to an end and everyone drifted off to their rooms, Evan followed Sean and Michael to their room.

“Guys, this… this is great!” he exclaimed, gazing around their bedroom.

Sean smiled, clearly pleased to hear his appreciation. “Mary did a lot of work on it before we came home this summer,” he explained. “She took that part of the room”—he indicated the far corner—“and had an en suite bathroom built for us. Come take a look!” He dragged Evan to the door, then switched on the lights to reveal a room equipped with a toilet, bidet, washbasin… and a large walk-in shower with two shower heads behind a glass screen.

“Wow!” exclaimed Evan. He looked back at the room. The focal point was a large dark oak four-poster bed covered in cushions and pillows. “That bed is gorgeous.” He ran a hand up one of the posts, stroking the wood. “What would I do with a four-poster bed?” He gave them a mischievous glance.

Sean grinned. “Whatever you’re thinking of, we’ve probably already done it,” he said, blushing slightly. He reached under the mattress to reveal a set of fur-lined handcuffs, some long black fabric ties, and a roll of shiny black… bondage tape.

Evan let out a low whistle. “You naughty, kinky boys!” he exclaimed in mock horror.

Sean blushed even more deeply.

Michael laughed. “Evan, you’re fooling no one, sweetheart,” he said, a huge grin on his face. Instantly, his expression became more sober, and he pulled Evan down on the bed beside him. “We’re alone now—talk to us. What’s going on with Daniel?”

Sean came to sit on his other side, taking hold of his hand.

When Evan didn’t speak, Michael pulled him roughly into the center of the bed, he and Sean on either side, propped up on pillows. “That’s better. Now talk to us, sweetheart.”

Evan sighed. “I’m not sure where to begin.” He paused. Both men watched him intently with similar expressions of concern, offering him their hands, which he clasped without hesitation. Evan took a deep breath.

“You guys came back here in July, and Daniel moved all his stuff into Adam’s old room.” Michael stiffened slightly at the mention of Adam’s name. Evan tightened his grip on Michael’s hand slightly, and Michael’s tension eased. “We didn’t spend that much time together, as I went home for a few weeks. We kept in touch by phone and e-mail, though.” He took another breath. “By the time I got back to the house, he was about to go home for a while—which is where he is right now.”

“So apart from not really spending much time together, what’s the problem?” asked Sean, stroking Evan’s hand affectionately.

Evan sighed again. “Not really sure I can explain.”

Michael leaned across to stroke Evan’s cheek. “How are things physically between you?” Evan tensed up briefly. “When we saw you last, you’d kissed him, at least.”

“And that’s as far as it’s gone,” said Evan. “I mean, we’ve been alone in my room, kissing, but nothing heavy.”

“Is that the problem—you want to do more?” Sean asked.

“No!” Evan said vehemently. “Well, yes. Oh, I don’t know!”

Michael spoke quietly. “You do know he’s a virgin, right?”

Evan looked at him in amazement.

Michael blushed. “We had a chat the day after I proposed to Sean,” he explained. “Maybe he’s really nervous of the physical stuff, Evan.”

Evan looked up at the ceiling and sighed. “So I should take it really slowly?”

Sean smiled. “I can remember someone telling me to simply let things happen in their own time.”

Evan blushed.

“Yeah, love… after all, you still want to be with him, don’t you?”

Evan nodded. “Oh yeah,” he sighed. “I was actually of two minds when Mary said we had our own rooms at the hotel. Half of me was pleased because Daniel would probably be more comfortable like that; the other half just wanted to have the opportunity to… to….”

“To have your wicked way with him?” suggested Sean, grinning. “Or at least get to see that luscious body he’s hiding?”

“Sean!” Michael sounded scandalized. Sean laughed. It was plainly all too easy to get a rise out of his fiancé. “And how do you know Daniel’s even got a luscious body?”

Sean sighed dramatically. “A guy can use his imagination, can’t he?” He giggled and then reached across Evan to pull Michael into a kiss, which started out fairly innocently but then heated up as he darted his tongue to lick at Michael’s lips, then paused to dip inside briefly.

Evan stared up at the two lovers, keeping his hands firmly in place on the bed, letting escape the tiniest of moans as Sean made love to Michael’s mouth and stroked Michael’s shiny black curls.

Sean broke off the kiss to glance down at Evan, smiling. “And now you can go climb into that really comfy-looking sofa bed over there,” he said, his smile growing wider. He gave Evan a fond glance. “We’re really glad you’re here, love.”

“Yeah, we are,” echoed Michael. “It means so much to have you share our wedding day. After all, you were instrumental in bringing us together.”

Evan went still, gazing up at the couple. Watching them kiss reminded him so much of that summer—and he realized he didn’t want them to begin their married life with unfinished business between the three of them. Pushing himself to sit upright, he reached for their hands once more, and after clearing his throat, he took a deep breath.

“There’s something important I need to say to you both.”

Sean straightened up, focusing his attention on Evan immediately, and Michael followed suit. “We’re listening,” Sean said simply, tightening his grip around Evan’s hand.

Evan released his pent-up breath shakily. “I… I need to apologize for what happened in the summer.” He watched as Michael’s brow wrinkled. Evan pressed on. “For what happened between the three of us that night.” Seeing Sean open his mouth to interrupt, Evan shook his head. “You need to hear me out before you say anything, all right?” Sean closed his mouth abruptly, and Evan gave him a grateful glance. He’d carried out this conversation so many times in his head since that night, and now the moment had actually arrived, he found himself trembling.

Michael nodded encouragingly. “Go on,” he said earnestly.

Evan couldn’t look either of them in the eye. He lowered his gaze, his voice dropping to almost a whisper. “I knew it was wrong, coming on to you both like that. And as soon as you suggested… well, I should’ve said something there and then.” He swallowed. “The truth is, I was lonely.” Evan heard Sean catch his breath, but there was no way he was stopping now. “I wanted to share in your warmth, your love…. You were so in love with each other, and so clearly meant to be together, and I’d never loved anyone like that. And I knew I shouldn’t have pushed the two of you, but fuck, it felt so good to be included in that, even for a short while. That still doesn’t excuse what I did, though. I knew it was wrong,” he repeated.

Michael touched two fingers to Evan’s lips, cutting off any further utterances. Once he had Evan’s attention, he slipped those same fingers under Evan’s chin, forcing Evan to meet his gaze. “Do you think I didn’t know how you felt?” Michael asked. “And it’s as much my fault as it is yours, Evan. I knew what you were doing, sweetheart. Don’t you remember what I said that night? ’Cause I do. I said that if we got it out of our systems, maybe that would be an end to it. I’d always intended it to be a one-time thing.” He laughed, shaking his head slowly. “I actually thought I was helping you.” Evan was surprised to see sadness in those warm brown eyes.

Sean exhaled quietly. “I felt the same way,” he admitted, the tilt of his chin reassuring. “But I’m really glad you brought it up, love. You’re right. We needed to get this out into the open before tomorrow. That’s it now, over with.” He rubbed his palms together as if dusting off dirt.

The ball of tension sitting on each of Evan’s shoulders fell away, and he took a big, relieved breath.

Michael leaned down to kiss his forehead. “Love you, sweetheart.”

Evan regarded the pair fondly. “I love you too. Both of you.”

 

 

EVAN awoke in the darkened room, unsure of his surroundings until he remembered where he was—Michael and Sean’s bedroom. He had no idea of the time, but there was no evidence of daylight. The only noise he could hear was the regular sounds of the couple fast asleep in the bed across the room. Evan grabbed one of the thick pillows and hugged it to him, listening to the hypnotic rhythm of their breathing. As he lay there in the inky blackness, Evan’s thoughts took a familiar path as they turned to Daniel. He closed his eyes tightly in an effort to concentrate on the image in his head—Daniel lying stretched out on Evan’s bed, his head resting in his hand, laughing at something Evan had just uttered. Daniel was relaxed, his long black hair loose, falling over his shoulders in silken strands. Daniel’s warm brown eyes regarded him with obvious amusement, his lips curved into a knowing smile.

He had so few memories of time shared with Daniel that the rare brief moments had become very important to him. He hung onto them, clung to them, hoping they were a promise of things to come. Despite his initial certainty that Daniel was the one for him, Evan was beset with doubt. There had been so little time to speak of his feelings. What if Daniel had doubts of his own? The longer they were apart, the more Evan fretted this enforced split would drive a wedge between them. He knew it was illogical, yet somehow he couldn’t help thinking there was something waiting in the wings, looking for an opportunity to come between them.

Evan shook himself. He knew he’d feel totally different in the morning when Daniel arrived. And yet… he couldn’t quite shake the feeling something was coming right at him, at both of them. Despite the temperature of the warm August night, Evan shivered, and he pulled at the sheet, snuggling it around him like a soft cocoon. It was a while before sleep finally claimed him, and his last thoughts were disturbingly of Daniel’s face, eyes wide, shining with unshed tears. Why would I imagine Daniel crying? What is my brain trying to do to me? The unease plagued him until at last, exhausted, he drifted into a restless sleep.