Chapter One

 

 

MINE TO protect.

Mine to love.

These were the words I had thought so fiercely about half a year ago. I meant them then. I still do. Even though life has changed in the last months.

Expelling a breath, I did my best to lie still in Alex’s small bed.

“Can’t sleep anymore?”

So much for me acting all considerate. “This bed isn’t made for two grown men. I’m not sure it’s even built for one grown man.”

“What about two grown men and a little boy?”

“That’s a recipe for disaster.”

Alex chuckled. I loved that sound—carefree and happy. I pressed a kiss on his neck, then rubbed my nose behind his ear. Alex tried to suppress a gasp as a heavy shiver rolled through him.

“Don’t,” he whispered.

“I’m kissing your neck, what’s so bad about that?”

“I’ll have a massive boner in about thirty seconds, and we can’t do anything about it. And that’s really bad.”

“So I can’t even give you an innocent kiss?” I tsked.

Alex pushed his ass against my groin, sliding it up and down several times. My cock took notice immediately. Hissing, I laid a hand on his hip to stop him from moving around. “Okay, okay, I get it.”

Alex awkwardly wound a hand between us and fingered my erection. “Yep, you definitely got something there.”

A grunt followed by a shrill trill caused Alex to snatch his hand away as if he’d been burned. Of all the moments for Sean to wake up.

“Hey, baby, how are you feeling? Sleep well?”

“No, I didn’t. I know I’m kind of repeating myself but… this bed really is too small,” I replied as I sat up.

“I wasn’t talking to you.” Alex rolled backward, so he ended up half sprawled across me. “I was talking to Sean.”

“I know, but I can’t let pass an opportunity to rant about this fucking bed!”

“Jeff!”

“What?”

“Sean’s still here.”

“And?”

“Don’t be an ass, okay? You know I don’t like it when you cuss around him,” Alex answered softly. He peered up at me, his white blond hair fanned around his head.

He had changed in the last half year in his behavior, as well as in his appearance. His hair was way too long and fell in waves over his shoulders. On any other man, I’d have hated this look. I can’t say I was overly keen on it, but I understood Alex. If necessary, he could hide behind a curtain of hair.

I cupped my hands around his face before I bent forward and kissed him. Afterward, I continued to whine. “But I really hate this bed!”

Alex rolled his eyes and groaned. Sean squeaked something. Alex’s eyes shone with happiness, and for a short moment, I could even pretend there weren’t black and purple circles under them. Since Winston Bernard’s attack on his life, Sean hadn’t slept through one night. Not one single night—which translated into as many sleepless nights for Alex and me.

Yawning, I lifted Alex from me and got out of bed. “I’ll make breakfast while you get Sean ready.”

It was a ritual by now. Alex took Sean to the bathroom, cleaned and dressed him, and then they came to the kitchen. We ate breakfast, which took about thirty minutes when Sean was not hungry, up to one hour when Sean had trouble swallowing or whatever else. I usually got up from the breakfast table after half an hour, then hit the shower. Sometimes Sean was still eating when I finished, sometimes not.

Today, he was still chewing on a piece of bread as I reentered the kitchen, freshly showered and ready for the day. Walking up to Sean’s wheelchair—a new one—I bent down, tousled his hair, and kissed his temple. His temples were usually saliva-free and therefore quite kissable. If anyone had told me that I’d enjoy these mundane family moments, I’d’ve clocked him. How times changed.

After wishing Sean a good day at school, which he answered with a sullen look, I made my way over to Alex. He got up from his chair and threw himself into my open arms.

I held him tight, felt him tremble slightly. He whispered, “I don’t want him to make a fuss when the school bus arrives. I can’t handle this shit anymore.”

He was almost sobbing the last sentence. Sean had given him hell since school had started. We both understood Sean’s refusal, but St. Christopherus School was the only one available for him.

Sean never wanted to get on his school bus, which he showed everyone in no uncertain terms. He screamed and cried and thrashed around in his wheelchair so violently that he’d managed to flip the wheelchair onto its side on several occasions.

His new bus driver, an elderly woman named Patricia Cornell, was an incredibly patient person. Somehow she always convinced Sean she’d take care of him and got him on the bus. By the time the bus left, Alex was either crying or close to tears. I’d witnessed all of this several times in the past weeks and generally sat with Alex afterward while he tried to compose himself.

Today he’d be on his own.

Tightening my grip, I whispered back, “He’ll get over it eventually. His therapist said as much.”

Alex snorted. “Yeah, Burnes also said he’d get over his nightmares eventually. Do you see that happening? Because I damn well don’t.”

His trembles increased and fast puffs of breath tickled my throat. Not a good sign. Helplessly, I murmured his name.

Sean whistled sharply, obviously not happy about being excluded from the conversation. Alex jumped in my arms and tried to push away from me. I held on, keeping him crushed to my chest.

“Jeff, I need—”

“No, you don’t,” I cut him off. “Sean will survive not being the center of your attention for a moment. Relax.”

“Relax?” Alex snapped, again struggling to get free from me.

Lifting him off his feet, I carried him over to his chair, plonked down on it, and settled him on my lap, all the while ignoring his protests. “Hush now, I’m in charge here.”

“No, you’re not.”

“But yes, of course I am. Who else could be in charge here other than me?”

Sean laughed from the other side of the table. I winked at him. Alex finally stopped struggling and leaned against me instead.

“How about me?” he asked.

“You?” I countered, doing my best to sound sufficiently horrified.

Alex bumped a fist against my chest, smiling a bit. “Yes.”

“Well, for one, I like to be in charge and you don’t.”

“That’s not true!”

“Don’t interrupt me,” I said. The corners of my mouth curved upward, even though I tried to keep a straight face. “I’m having a really good daydream right now.”

“Really? What’s it about?”

“Oh, just that you’re acknowledging my awesomeness and—”

“All right, all right, you’re awesome and in charge and I was short of having a meltdown. Yet again.” He sighed.

“Hah! I knew someday you’d say it!”

“Yeah, yeah, don’t let it go to your head. We don’t want you to be distracted while you’re on your way to work,” Alex muttered.

And that was the real problem, or at least part of it. Alex feared something could happen to me—on my way to work, at work, on my way back, anywhere.

I couldn’t blame him. Resting my cheek on top of his head, I pulled him closer to me. Alex shuddered, then trailed a finger over my shirt, tracing the large scar hidden under it.

I had known not everyone on the force would take kindly to me being gay. It hadn’t been my choice to be outed, but I had thought I could deal with it. Never did it occur to me that a wannabe murderer would take offense at my sexuality and make certain I’d remember him forever. Obviously even society’s vermin had qualms about getting arrested by a gay detective. I could have done without him stabbing me, but what was done was done.

Stopping Alex’s finger above my belt, I lifted my head from his. Alex looked up, his dark eyes seeming even darker than normal—usually a sign he was close to tears. I watched him swallow heavily before he averted his gaze.

“I hate this,” he murmured.

“Hate what?”

“You know what.”

“And if I don’t?” I challenged.

Alex sure wasn’t keen on talking about his anxiety. Maybe because I stayed silent every time he tried. It wasn’t so much that I minded him getting his worries off his chest; rather I had no fucking clue how to react. Was I supposed to make soothing noises? Kiss him? Fuck him into oblivion?

He interrupted my musings when he replied, “You do, and I’m not in the mood to talk about my feelings right now.”

I put him on his feet, patted his ass lightly, and said, “Don’t tell David.”

Alex stuck his tongue out. David was Parker’s boyfriend. Parker and I had been partners; now we were just friends, good friends. David had become one, too, even though he creeped me out sometimes.

David insisted on talking—a lot. He claimed everything could be talked about. Alex, Parker, and I disagreed frequently. Parker tended to change his mind whenever David talked to him in private for a few minutes. Theirs was an odd relationship, but I was grateful to call them friends as they’d helped us a lot.

Alex put our dirty dishes in the dishwasher and told Sean to stop crumbling his bread into tiny pieces. Sean grunted and scowled at his brother. He slammed the last piece of his breakfast onto the table, making his plate and glass clang.

Cringing at the noise, I gazed at Alex. He had his back turned to us. I watched him draw in a breath before he expelled it sharply. Nope, not a happy Alex. I darted my gaze between Alex’s taut back and Sean’s enraged face.

Alex materialized next to me, looking tired. After pecking my cheek, he said, “Go on. Run before the shit hits the fan.”

“You think he’s gonna flip badly, huh?”

“I do, but I’ll survive,” he replied, putting on a brave facade. In a lower voice, he added, “At least I hope I will.”

“Do you n—”

“No,” Alex cut me off. Jutting his chin out, he glared at Sean. “I can deal with my brother on my own.”

“I know you can.”

Alex took my hands in his, then gazed at me. “Seeing that you’re the only one holding a job at the moment, you should probably get to work now.”

Heroically, I fought the impulse to tell him he’d find a new job soon. Platitudes had no place in our lives. Everything had changed six months ago. Not every change had been a positive one. Come to think of it, most of them downright sucked. But—and that was a but in capital letters—we had found something great: we had found each other.

A light thump to my chest forced me to focus on Alex.

“You were thinking corny stuff, admit it,” he crooned, smiling.

I shrugged. “You got me.”

“I know because you get that silly look on your face.”

“Oh, you didn’t just say that!”

I whirled him around, tucked him into my body, then tickled him. I stopped when he started screeching and gasping, certain I’d made my point. Alex looked much more at ease, and even Sean had stopped scowling.

After giving Alex a hard kiss and whispering into his ear what I’d do to him in the evening, I walked over to Sean. While I ruffled his blond hair, I said to him, “Promise me you won’t throw a tantrum when the bus comes to pick you up.”

Sean just stared at me. I sighed, pretended to mull something over, then added, “If you do, I’ll help you build a farm later.”

Sean’s face lit up. His favorite toy at the moment was a big farm with lots of animals. He nodded enthusiastically.

“What did you two just agree on?” Alex asked.

I straightened up and smiled at him. “Nothing.”

“Right.”

“Really.”

“Whatever,” Alex scoffed. “Have a good day at work.”

“See ya,” I called over my shoulder as I grabbed my backpack and headed out the front door.