Two years ago


“HAPPY birthday!”

He cracked his eyes open to see his lover standing over him, carrying a tray and wearing nothing but a smile. “You know I hate birthdays, and turning forty-five is nothing to celebrate,” Jonathon responded to Greg’s cheerful voice. “What are you doing here, anyway?” he added as sleep fell away and he remembered that Greg was supposed to be in Los Angeles on business, not standing in their bedroom with breakfast in bed. Sitting up, the covers pooling in his lap, Jonathon made room on their bed.

The mattress dipped as Greg sat down, placing the tray over Jonathon’s legs before slipping beneath the blankets next to his lover. “I’ve never missed your birthday, not in seventeen years together, and I don’t intend to start now. I finished the infernal meeting yesterday and even got Harry Jenkins, the world’s most persnickety actor, to sign the damned contract before catching the red-eye. I landed at Kennedy a few hours ago and drove right here.”

Jonathon smiled, reaching out as Greg leaned closer, their lips touching lightly.

“Happy Birthday, Boo.”

Jonathon sighed softly against those familiar and loved lips, the very private nickname Greg had for him warming his heart, just as it had for over a decade. Shortly after they met, Greg had found out that Jonathon’s middle name was Beauregard, and he’d loved it. Greg had started calling him his Beau and eventually shortened it to Boo, and it had been that way ever since.

“We have lunch with the kids today, and after that I’m off for the next three days. Where would you like to go?” Greg kissed him again before leaning back against the headboard with a smile.

Jonathon looked over the breakfast tray, pulling his gaze away from Greg. He’d been so sweet; he didn’t want to do anything to spoil it. “You know where I want to go,” was all he said, doing his best to push the thought of lunch with Greg’s three children out of his mind.

“I do, and after we finish breakfast”—Greg leaned close again, lips tugging on an ear; the sensation had Jonathon moaning again—“you can pack while I make sure everything is all set at the office. Then we can drive to the lake. I already called the service, and they said they’ll have the house opened up, stocked, and ready. We won’t have to leave the entire time unless we want to.”

Jonathon looked up from the tray, feeling a little choked up. “Thank you,” he replied softly.

“Boo.” Jonathon felt a finger slide under his chin. “I understand about the kids. I had a talk with all three of them and told them that they’re all adults now and it was time they started acting like it.”

Greg picked up one of the berries off the plate, bringing it to Jonathon’s mouth, and his lips opened automatically, sucking in the berry and one of Greg’s fingers as well.

“I love you, Jonathon Pfister, and I have almost since the day we first met—and nothing is going to change that. They need to realize it and get over it.” Jonathon heard Greg sigh softly. “I should have dealt with them a long time ago.”

“It’s not your fault, and you can’t make them like me.” Jonathon took a bite of egg, fluffy and light, before getting another forkful, feeding it to Greg with a slight leer. “I know they blame me for your divorce, and before you say it, I know it wasn’t my fault or their mother’s. I understand that, but they don’t or won’t.”

He’d have liked to say it didn’t matter, but it did. His one wish was that Adam, Eric, and Jeana would see that he truly loved their father and did everything he could to make him happy.

“That’s enough talk about the kids.” Jonathon ate another bite before drinking his orange juice and placing the tray on the floor beside the bed. “I have something much more important to talk about.”

“And what is that, pray tell?” Greg asked as Jonathon rolled into his lover’s thick arms, letting his head rest on Greg’s shoulder.

“You, Gregory Mansfield. I’d much rather talk about you,” Jonathon flirted as his fingers carded through the salt-and-pepper hair on his lover’s chest. “I missed you all week, and I’m glad you’re here.” Leaning forward, he let his tongue glaze around a nipple, the familiar musky saltiness of his lover’s skin bursting onto his tongue. Shifting on the bed, he threw back the covers, and Greg took him into his arms, pressing them together, starting a familiar, passionate dance they’d done together for going on two decades now. Of course, over the years, their flamenco had changed into more of a waltz, but that didn’t seem to matter. All that really did was the way they felt for each other.

“You’re still amazing, you know that?” Jonathon whispered as Greg held him tight, spooned to his back, his lover’s breathing already beginning to even out.

“So are you, Boo,” Greg responded sleepily as a hand slowly rubbed circles on Jonathon’s stomach.

“Are you feeling all right?” Jonathon asked, rolling over in Greg’s embrace, stroking a hand over his forehead, petting him lightly while surreptitiously checking for a temperature.

“I’m fine.” Greg tightened his grip, winding a leg between Jonathon’s. “The flight was just long, and I didn’t get much sleep. I’m not as young as I used to be.” Greg paused, his eyes opening. “Or as handsome.”

“Stop it.” Jonathon smiled. “You’re just as handsome at sixty-two as you were the day I met you, and don’t you dare think otherwise for a second.” Jonathon saw Greg’s eyes close, and he slowly got out of bed, dressing quietly before leaving the room to let Greg sleep for a few hours.

Wandering through the house, he stopped dead in his tracks in the kitchen—or what had once passed as the kitchen. It looked as though a bomb had gone off. How anyone could dirty every pan in the house as well as every inch of the granite countertops making eggs, toast, berries, and juice was beyond him, but somehow Greg had managed. Checking out the sink, he picked up a saucepan with congealed oatmeal in the bottom and began to laugh. The man was a wizard in the courtroom, arguments a model of logic and order, and he could write a contract so ironclad an atomic bomb couldn’t break it, but in the kitchen, the man could make a chaotic mess faster than a two-year-old on a sugar high. But none of that mattered as Jonathon opened the dishwasher and began placing the pans in their racks after scraping out the remains.

Closing the dishwasher door, he reached for the phone just as it began ringing. Snatching it from the cradle, he answered it fast so it wouldn’t wake Greg. “Hello.”

“Is Greg there?” He recognized Doreen’s voice instantly, wishing he’d checked the caller ID and sent it right to the answering machine.

“He is home, but he flew all night, so he’s resting,” Jonathon said evenly to the Wicked Witch of Westchester. How Greg had ever seen enough in her to marry her was completely beyond him. Jonathon wanted desperately to tell her to jump on her broom and fly back to Oz, but it would only make trouble for Greg, so he held his tongue.

“Well,” her affected accent rang through the line, “I need to speak to him right away.” Jonathon knew what that tone and urgency meant.

“You can’t,” Jonathon said flatly. “He’s asleep, and I won’t wake him except in an emergency, and your needing money isn’t an emergency.” He heard her sputter, and he knew he’d hit the nail on the head. “I’ll tell him you called and why.” Pressing the disconnect button, Jonathon turned off the ringer—it would be just like her to keep calling—and placed the phone back in the charger. Wandering into the living room, he pulled open the patio doors and stepped out onto the deck, looking out over the ocean, listening to the waves crash on the rocks below.

“Who was that?” Greg asked from behind him, and Jonathon turned to see Greg rubbing his eyes like a little boy just waking from a nap, a pair of boxers hanging from his hips. Walking back inside, leaving the doors open to let in the breeze, Jonathon poured Greg a cup of coffee and handed it to him.

“Doreen. She wanted money.”

Greg took the cup but just set it on the counter. “Oh.” Greg moved closer.

“You need to sleep,” Jonathon chided gently as he took Greg’s hand, leading him back to the bedroom.

“Can’t sleep without you,” Greg pouted playfully, and Jonathon climbed back into bed after him, hugging Greg close as he listened to his lover’s soft breathing. An hour or so later, Jonathon closed his book, placing it on the bedside table, Greg’s arm still resting over his stomach.

“We should get up if we’re going to have lunch in the city,” Jonathon said softly, kissing Greg’s temple, feeling the other man stir, brown eyes fluttering open. “Are you feeling better?”

Greg’s answer was to pull Jonathon into a kiss before running his fingers over sensitive ribs. Jonathan giggled and squirmed, trying to get away while at the same time enjoying the touch. “Greg,” he cried out through giggles as he tried to tickle his lover back. “We have to get dressed,” he managed to say through fits of laughter. “And this family lunch was your idea.” As much as he disliked the thought of having lunch with Greg’s kids, he’d do it without complaint. Greg did plenty for him and asked for very little.

The fingers stopped, leaving both men lying on their backs, trying to catch their breath. Getting out of bed, Greg walked into the bathroom while Jonathon made the bed and carried the dishes into the kitchen, putting everything away before starting the dishwasher and returning to the bathroom. Cracking the door, he heard Greg’s off-key singing and smiled. Entering the room, he shaved before pushing back the curtain and joining his lover under the spray.

An hour later, dressed, packed, and ready, the two men left the house, with Greg locking the door as Jonathon carried the last of their bags. “Would you like me to drive?” Jonathon asked, and Greg nodded but motioned toward his blue Mercedes. “You mean we’re taking your new baby?” He hadn’t paid attention to which car Greg had loaded.

“Well, I was thinking that your car is getting old, and if you like it, we’ll get you one.” Greg grinned before opening the passenger door.

Jonathon walked around to the driver’s side, opening the door and sliding into the seat, soft, saddle-colored leather surrounding him. “Greg, didn’t your car have black seats?”

Greg grinned and handed him a set of keys. “Happy Birthday, Boo.”

Jonathon sat stunned for a second before hugging Greg tightly. “Thank you. I….”

“It was the only way I could think of that you’d let me get it for you,” Greg chided lightly.

“You know how I feel about paying my own way,” Jonathon replied, and he started the engine before pulling out of the driveway and onto the street.

“I’ve told you before, it’s not mine or yours, but ours, and I’ve meant it.”

Jonathon turned out onto the main road, en route to the expressway. “I know you do.” Even after all these years, he couldn’t think of Greg’s money as his as well. “And you know how I feel.”

Jonathon felt Greg’s hand on his leg, squeezing lightly. “That’s one of the reasons I love you so much. I never had to worry if you loved me or my money, because you almost never let me spend any of it on you.”

Jonathon glanced over and saw Greg relax back in the seat as they entered the expressway, heading into the city. The drive took over an hour, and as they got closer, the traffic got worse. Jonathon normally hated driving in the city, but with Greg tired, he was glad to do it. Pulling up to the restaurant, he handed the keys to the valet, and together they walked into the fine restaurant.

Jonathon immediately saw Greg’s children, already seated, and as they approached, he heard their conversation cut out. One by one, they stood and hugged their father and said hello to him, with only Jeana hugging him as well as she wished him a happy birthday. Of Greg’s children, she was the spark of life. It had always surprised him that, as the youngest, she was the one who paid the least attention to their mother’s rantings about him. “Thank you for inviting us, Dad,” she said as she pulled up her chair, reaching for a menu, excitement filling her voice. “Are you doing anything special for your birthday?” she asked, looking to Jonathon.

“We’re going to the lake for a few days,” Jonathon answered, his own excitement coming through regardless of the boys’ stony expressions.

“Lake George? I always love going there in the summer. This is the perfect time to be there.”

“No,” her father corrected lightly, “we’re going to Raquette Lake for a few days.”

“Must be nice,” Adam grumbled, glowering at Jonathon.

“That’s enough,” Greg interrupted. “All three of you spent your summers at camp on Raquette Lake, and none of you were deprived of anything. As I told you on the phone, you’re all adults, and I expect you to start acting like it.”

Jonathon saw Eric’s expression soften into shame, and even Adam looked contrite, at least for a few minutes.

“So, Dad, did you actually get to meet Harry Jenkins, All-American?” Adam sounded almost skeptical, but he continued. “Is he as cool in person as he is in on television?”

Jonathon could see the conflict on Greg’s face, knowing he wanted to make his son happy but couldn’t say much about the man without breaking any confidences.

“He was pretty nice.”

Jonathon knew Greg wasn’t telling the truth, but it was what his kids wanted to hear. No one wanted to know that someone you admired was the biggest pain in the ass on earth in real life.

The server arrived and they placed their orders; then the conversation turned to school and the classes each of the kids would be taking in the fall. All through lunch, Jonathon kept watching the boys, wondering when something was going to happen, waiting for some barb to be thrown his way, but nothing came. After they’d eaten, Greg excused himself.

“So Jonathon, how’s the mining coming?” Adam asked, and Eric snickered into his water.

“Excuse me?” Jonathon put down his fork, telling himself it had been too good to be true.

“Well, since Dad’s getting older, we figured you must be digging for gold in the back yard. After all, you’re not getting any younger either,” Adam commented before adding, “Your looks are definitely fading, so you better get what you can, fast.”

Jonathon didn’t know how to react, but he could figure out where this idea had come from. “I’ve never wanted anything from your father except his love,” he answered truthfully.

“Yeah, right,” Eric scoffed as he slouched in his chair, his lack of backbone becoming a physical as well as emotional characteristic.

“That’s enough, you two,” Jeana interrupted. “Neither of you have the brains to think for yourself, so you let Mom do all your thinking for you. You’re both pathetic.” She shook her head. “Jonathon and Dad have been together for seventeen years. We were just babies when Mom and Dad divorced, and you keep carrying on as though it were yesterday. And why? Because Mom’s a mental case.”

Thankfully, Greg returned, and the meal ended without further incident. After saying good-bye to their father and ignoring Jonathon, the boys hurried off. Jeana stayed behind for a few minutes while Greg paid the check, giving them each a hug before saying her own good-byes and wishing Jonathon a happy birthday.

“Well, that wasn’t bad, was it?” Greg asked as he placed his napkin on the table before standing up.

Jonathon pushed back his chair. “Only if you don’t consider that, while you were gone, my profession changed from school teacher to miner, or more specifically, gold digger.” Jonathon stood up, throwing his napkin on the chair. He looked to Greg, his face white, body literally shaking.

“The little shits. I’ll kill all three of them.” Greg glared at the door his children had passed through a few minutes earlier.

Jonathon touched Greg’s arm. “It wasn’t Jeana, and don’t let it upset you.”

“You’re way too forgiving.” Greg’s body relaxed, and the glare died out of his eyes. “I suppose I should learn that, as much as I’d like to, I can’t undo years of Doreen’s poison.”

“I wish you could.” Jonathan walked toward the door with Greg following after him. “Let’s put it behind us.” Already he could envision the view from the lake house, the loons and ducks calling from the water. “They aren’t going to change, and I won’t let them spoil the occasion.” Stepping outside, he handed the card to the valet, and his car was brought around.

It took a while to get through the tunnels and out of the city, but soon the dense population gave way to suburbs, and then woods and fields. “I love the car,” he told Greg. “It drives like a dream.” His answer was a soft snore, and Jonathon smiled as he continued driving. Around Albany and then further north into the Adirondacks, Greg remained asleep as they continued north, past lakes and through forested roads where the trees grew together overhead.

“Where are we?” Greg stirred, stretching within the confines of the car.

“Almost there,” Jonathon answered as he made the final turn onto Route 8. “We’re only about twenty minutes away.”

“I slept that long? You should have woken me.”

“It’s okay. You know I love this drive, and you needed your rest.” Jonathon reached across the seat, stroking Greg’s leg, and felt his lover’s hand take his. They rode in silence—words weren’t needed—and Jonathon could feel the muscles in Greg’s body relax the closer they got to the lake and the farther they got from civilization. Greg’s cell phone chirped softly, and he turned it off; there was no cell phone service at the lake. Making the last turn, Jonathon drove into the small village and parked the car. Getting out, he stood by the door, breathing deeply, letting the scent of the woods and lake fill his senses. “Let’s go into the store.”

“You just want doughnuts for tomorrow,” Greg teased, but he followed right behind.

Pulling open the screen door, they walked into the general store and were instantly transported back in time. The shelves were wooden, probably built in the forties, canned goods standing on them in small pyramids, wooden floors scuffed with the feet of generations of Raquette Lakers. The entire place was steeped in the smell of freshly made doughnuts with cinnamon sugar, as well as cookies and bread. They’d definitely left the city behind, and damn if it didn’t feel good.

“Hey, Jonathon, hey, Greg, how long are you staying?” the girl behind the counter asked as she walked to the doughnut case.

“Just through the weekend, Lila,” Jonathan answered with a smile. “How’s the weather been up here?”

“A little cool. You’ll need a sweatshirt or jacket after dark, but otherwise it’s been darned nice. You want your usual half dozen?” She inclined her head toward the case.

“You bet, and a few of those cookies your mother makes would be great too.” He looked over at Greg, who was picking up sweatshirts. “You need one?”

“Yeah, Boo, I do.” He brought one over and placed it on the counter.

“Is there anything else?”

“Not right now, but we’ll see you for more goodies.” Jonathan paid, and after saying good-bye, they headed out.

At the docks, Jonathan removed the cover from their small boat. When they’d first bought the cabin, they had just had a fishing boat with a motor. After the first time they’d gotten caught in the rain, Greg had bought a larger boat with a Bimini top. After transferring their gear from the car to the boat, Greg parked the car while Jonathon started the boat motor, and soon they were skimming over the surface of the water, Greg at the wheel, Jonathan sitting next to him.

Greg took his time, like he usually did, keeping the speed down and letting the peacefulness of the lake, trees, and sky work their magic. A few homes could be seen, but most of them sat back far enough that most of the lake looked like the trees came right to the water, like they were in the middle of nowhere.

Almost at the far north end of the lake, Greg slowed the motor and eased the boat against the dock. Jumping out, Jonathan secured the craft, and Greg cut the engine. The sound echoed for a split second and then faded away. There was nothing to replace it except the slosh of the water on the shore and the birds calling from the trees.

The sun was already starting to set by the time they’d hauled everything up from the dock to the four-room log cabin. Outside and in, the place was rustic domesticity at its best. Carrying the suitcases inside, Jonathan placed them in their bedroom, the larger of the two. He loved this room, with its log walls, pine plank ceiling, pine windowsills, and rough beams.

“Would you like me to unpack in here while you check out your kitchen?”

“Okay,” Jonathan answered, “but I’ll meet you on the porch in twenty minutes.”

“Deal.”

Jonathan checked out what had been provided and smiled when he saw fresh steaks, chicken, and a foil packet marked “use first” in rough script. “Looks like lake trout for supper.” God bless their caretaker, Winston, a lifelong laker and their neighbor one cove up.

Grabbing two beers from the fridge, Jonathon carried them to the porch, setting them on a table before standing at the birch-branch railing, looking out over the water. It wasn’t long before a pair of arms snaked around his waist and a head rested on his shoulder. “When you asked to buy this place ten years ago, I didn’t understand why.” Greg’s breath tickled his ear.

“Do you know now?” Jonathon leaned into the touch as a loon called to its mate from the lake below.

“The peace and quiet gets into the soul. I didn’t know how much I needed it.”

“That’s why I bought it, but not why this place is so important now.” Jonathan turned in Greg’s embrace. “This place is important now because when we’re here, you’re mine and mine alone.” Jonathan couldn’t help hugging Greg tightly. “There are no phones, no office, no kids, no courts, no lawyers,” he whispered in his lover’s ear, “and before you say it, you don’t count. You’re not a lawyer when you’re here. You’re just my lover. That’s why this place is so important. I would have sold everything I owned to have a place like this with you.” Jonathon felt a hand on his hair, petting softly. His emotions were very close to the surface, and he didn’t look up.

“I love you too, Boo.” He heard a slight break in Greg’s voice.

After they had stood together for a while, holding each other, Jonathon finally stepped back. “I need to make some dinner. Why don’t you relax a while and we’ll eat out here? It’s a perfect night.” He leaned toward Greg, and they shared a kiss before he moved inside.

Jonathon made a simple dinner of pan-seared trout in butter with a light salad. Carrying the plates onto the porch, he found the small table set between their chairs, two candles in the middle. They ate quietly, their eyes traveling from each other to the now-moonlit expanse of water to the canopy of stars that seemed so close they could reach out and touch them. “There’s ice cream for dessert, if you want it,” Jonathon commented as he carried the plates inside, returning with two more open beers.

“No thanks,” Greg answered softly, and then Jonathan found himself pulled across his lover’s legs. “There’s only one thing I need for dessert, and it certainly isn’t ice cream.” Greg swigged his beer, holding him tightly, and Jonathon leaned against Greg’s warmth as the chill of the night crept around them on its way into the cabin.

When the beers were finished and the candles sputtering, Jonathon blew them out, standing at the railing once again. This time, Greg didn’t hug him like he had earlier. Instead, Jonathon felt a tug at the hem of his shirt just before it was lifted and tugged over his head. “Come inside, Boo.”

The cool air raised goose bumps on his arms, and Greg held him close as they moved indoors and into the bedroom. Greg pulled back the hand-sewn quilt Jonathon had purchased years before. Hands felt for his belt, opening it before parting his pants and slipping them down his legs. Climbing onto the bed, Jonathon watched as Greg stripped in the moonshine reflecting off the lake and through the open windows. First that barrel chest, strong and full; then the hips and waist, wider than they used to be but still trim; legs, thick and strong. The bed dipped and Greg curled next to him, pulling the blanket up over them both, the lake breeze providing fresh air and coziness.

Greg shifted adeptly and Jonathon found himself on his back, his lover on top of him, eyes shining. “Happy birthday.” Greg kissed him, hard and with a deep, abiding passion that Jonathon felt swell in his heart.

“Best birthday I can remember,” Jonathon sighed as Greg dipped his head, circling a nipple with his tongue. “And I remember each and every one.” He groaned, back arching, mashing his chest to Greg’s lips.

Greg held him tight as they kissed like their lives depended upon it, the intensity surprising Jonathon as he let himself get swept up in Greg’s wave of passion. They made love regularly, always had, but as the years went by, it had definitely become more sedate, more familiar and expected. Not tonight. “Love my Boo,” Greg gasped against his lips as Jonathon cupped his beefy butt, kneading the cheeks, fingers sliding to tease and caress.

Legs parted his, and Jonathon pushed the covers down, locking his ankles around Greg’s waist. “Want the best birthday present possible.”

“You sure? Don’t want you to be sore tomorrow when we’re on the lake all day.” There was nothing but concern in Greg’s voice.

“Yes,” Jonathon hissed as a finger breached him, “that’s it!” There was no way he was going to turn down a second time today with Greg. As his lover had aged, lovemaking once a day was all they could expect, but with him raring to go, Jonathon was more than ready and willing. “Make me yours again. Show me!”

He felt Greg shift and knew he was reaching to the nightstand. Jonathon closed his eyes, watching Greg in his mind, seeing him as he always did—young and virile. The bed shifted again and Jonathon parted his eyelids, seeing the same young Greg looking back at him. No matter what, those deep, rich eyes never changed, always looking on him just like they had when they first met.

Blunt and full, Greg pressed into him. “I’ll be slow, Boo.”

“Don’t want slow, want you.” Jonathon pressed forward, taking Greg’s thickness in a rush that drove the breath from his lungs, filling him with love. “That’s it,” Jonathon cooed softly, muscles squeezing, that familiar burn fading quickly. Greg slid out, pressing back inside, slowly at first, but picking up speed. “Just want you,” Jonathon murmured as he stroked his hands over his lover’s warm skin.

“Want you too,” Greg cried softly as he thrust deep, joining them together body and soul.

Jonathon stroked himself in time to Greg’s thrusts, watching every movement of his lover’s body in the reflected moonlight, hair mussed, mouth open, eyes shining. He knew every inch of that body as though it were his own—from the appendix scar on his side, to the way his butt indented on the sides, to the little mark on his chin that no one but he ever noticed—and every inch of it was stunningly beautiful. “So close,” Jonathon cried, knowing from his breathing that Greg was right there as well. Stroking a few more times, Jonathon felt the fullness inside him thicken as they went over the precipice together, adding their cries to the sounds of the lake.

Jonathon felt Greg’s hands on his cheeks, caressing softly as they remained joined together. Greg kissed him gently, softly, communicating the love they both felt for each other even as Jonathon gasped and shivered when Greg slipped from his body. Getting up, Jonathon got a cloth from the small bathroom, cleaning them both up before rejoining Greg in the bed. The cool night left the room chilly, and Greg’s warmth felt heavenly. Curling next to him, Jonathon could already hear Greg’s even breathing as he, too, succumbed to the natural calm of this place.

When he awoke to the sound of water birds and small animals skittering through dry leaves, Jonathon felt like he could tackle the world. Stepping onto the cool, wood floors, he did a familiar dance as he rushed to the bathroom. By the time he returned, Greg was stirring. “The lake awaits,” Jonathon whispered in Greg’s ear, and his lover came instantly awake. A quick dressing and an even faster breakfast later, they saw the sun peeking over the trees, ringing the water as they walked to the boat, Greg carrying the fishing equipment, Jonathon carrying the food. Stowing the gear, Greg turned the key, and the motor roared to life. They were off, traveling to Greg’s “secret” fishing spot. Camps and cabins passed as th