Prologue

 

RIVULETS of water cascaded down Carrick’s freshly showered skin. The slight breeze from the overhead fan, as well as the stifling ninety-degree heat, caused the droplets to dry quickly. Tossing the towel to the floor, he dressed in the lightweight linen jacket and matching slacks that had been set out for him. Carrick studied his reflection in the mirror, he curled his lips into a wry smile. His attire seemed so ironic, considering his mood and the planned activities for the afternoon. Tight leather pants combined with straps of wide leather in an X across his broad, muscular chest would have been more appropriate. A heavy crop and shitkickers would be the perfect accessories to complete his ensemble. Shaking his head at the peculiar choice of white, he turned away from his reflection. Taking the heavy cuffs from the dresser, he headed out to the back deck.

The view of St. Croix before him was magnificent. The stunning Caribbean Sea beyond his private pool was a visual feast of lush greens and spectacular shades of blue, and the warm breeze brought the ambrosial scents of hibiscus and bougainvilleas. Yet the naked man kneeling near the pool with his blond head bowed, hands clasped behind his trim back, was the most exquisite sight of all.

Without a word, he approached the man, letting his fingers gently brush through the silken blond locks. His touch elicited a shudder that rippled through the man at his feet. A shudder he felt surge through his own body. His cock went from half-mast to rock hard, pressing against his slacks in anticipation of ravishing this ethereal creature.

 “Stand and present for me, boy.”

“Yes, Sir,” the boy answered, following his command without hesitation. He went quickly to his feet and raised his head, keeping his eyes respectfully lowered. Back straight, chest pushed out, his hands clasped together at the small of his back. He shifted, took a deep breath, and settled into the perfect pose for Carrick’s inspection.

Carrick took a moment to enjoy the sight, letting his eyes roam appreciatively over the man’s body. Sun-kissed skin glistened in the afternoon sun, strong legs with well-built thighs, lean hips, and a tight, flat stomach. A smooth, slender chest rose and fell rapidly with each deep breath. Carrick’s mouth watered, and his own breath sped up in admiration of the long, slender shaft that stood proudly from its nest of pale curls. He hesitated a few moments, held enthralled as a pearly bead of pre-cum seeped from the slit. He wanted nothing more than to lean down and taste, but he held himself in check. Licking his dry lips, he forced himself to continue. 

Carrick brushed a whisper of a touch from the man’s navel up the smooth skin to his hairless chest. The dark brown discs and hard nubs called to him. A gasp passed his boy’s lips as Carrick reached up and pinched one hard nub between his finger and thumb. The gasp turned into a moan as Carrick leaned in and soothed the abused flesh with the tip of his tongue. Smiling at the response, he continued to place soft, open-mouthed kisses along the heated skin until he reached the side of the sun-warmed neck. The scent and taste of coconut oil, musk, and clean sweat was like an aphrodisiac, ratcheting his lust even further. “Very pretty, boy,” he praised as he took a step back.

“Thank you, Sir. I’m glad my body pleases you.”

Circling his boy slowly, he feasted his eyes on flawless skin. He ran a finger down the creamy globes of the boy’s ass, his eye drawn to the pale skin surrounded by the dark tanned flesh of his back and legs. The urge to grab onto it and take his pleasure was huge. Sighing in resignation, he moved on, reminding himself there was the little matter of discipline to be administered first.

As he continued his inspection, a thrill of power ran through Carrick. He loved how each of his touches caused his boy to jerk, how he tried to follow his touch when he pulled away. He let his finger tease down the sinew of the boy’s back, letting it rest against the crease of the sweet ass. When the pad of his finger made contact with the slick oil, Carrick’s prick twitched in appreciation. He let his boy hear his approval, growling from deep in his chest. He lingered briefly before resuming his exploration. He continued to touch softly yet randomly, keeping the man off balance. Once satisfied, he came to a halt directly in front of him. Placing his left hand against the firm chest and leaning in, he whispered, “You’ve been a very naughty boy today.”

The sweet man went up on tiptoes, pushing into Carrick’s touch. His hand reached out to grab onto the fabric of his jacket so he could steady himself. Their lips were a hair's breadth apart. “Yes, Sir, very naughty.”

Carrick’s tongue lightly slid across his boy’s lower lip, encouraging him to respond. Lips parted in an unstoppable gasp and he dove in, devouring his mouth. The kiss was hard and fast, a clash of lips, teeth, and tongue, just enough to leave his boy breathless. “Did I say you could touch?”

Dazed pale-blue eyes met his briefly before he released his hold on Carrick’s jacket and lowered his eyes. “Sorry, Sir.” Disappointment registered in the slump of his shoulders as Carrick took a step back. 

Carrick slid a finger along his own aching shaft as he spoke. “Tell me, my beauty, what is to be your punishment for being so naughty?” He was thankful that his voice sounded steady, not giving away how affected he’d been by the kiss. His boy watched the movement of his hand. Feeling positively evil, Carrick began to blatantly fondle himself as his boy returned to his display position and tried to speak. 

“I….” He swallowed hard, licking at his dry lips, eyes glued to the movement of Carrick’s hand. “I am to be bound to learn to focus. Something I did not do when I was shaving your scalp. My loss of focus caused me to mar the perfection of your skin. I am to feel the sting of your hand for getting distracted—taking liberties I should not have taken—while I shaved your groin.” His boy shivered visibly. Delight was obvious in his voice as he continued, “And, if I might be so bold to add, Sir, what a magnificent distraction you have.”

Carrick hid his grin at his boy’s cheeky praise. “Boy,” he chastised. He hid the laughter he was holding onto behind a harsh scowl.

“Sorry, Master,” he said, not sounding the least bit apologetic.

Oh, someone is begging to be put over my knee. Carrick rubbed his fingers along the leather of the cuffs he held. Oh yeah, I can give this cheeky boy exactly what he’s begging for. “Continue, boy. What else shall be your punishment?”

“I have prepared my body as you instructed, Sir, so that you may take your pleasure from it. My own release will be denied, because I denied you pleasure by not assisting you in dressing when I was sent away to reflect upon my lack of focus.”

Jesus! He was harder than granite. Just the thought of his boy stretching and oiling his passage had his cock weeping. He couldn’t hold back the moan that escaped him at the image. Carrick fought to slow his racing heart as he stepped up close once again, his body vibrating with need.

“Very good, boy. Give me your hands.” 

The smaller man held out his hands, and Carrick quickly fastened the heavy cuffs into place. If he didn’t get control of his libido, this was going to be over way too quickly. To Carrick, that was completely unacceptable. He had grand plans and intended to enjoy his boy to the fullest. He took a few calming breaths, and once he was better under control, he spoke against his boy’s ear. “You may earn your release if you are a very good boy.”

“Thank you, Master.” The boy beamed. “I will be a very good boy.”

“We shall see.” Carrick turned and made his way to a wide deck chair. Lying back onto the heated and terrycloth-covered chair, he began to stroke his rigid shaft through the soft linen of his slacks. The material felt coarse and abrasive on his overly sensitive flesh.

“Come here and stand at the end of my chair, boy. I wish to watch you as I pleasure myself.” He popped the button on his slacks. His hard cock sprang free as he eased the zipper down. Eyes fixed on his boy, Carrick wrapped his hand around his engorged member and slowly stroked up from base to tip.

Groaning, his boy broke his stance and moved quickly, taking up the position as instructed. His eyes roamed over Carrick’s body, and the velvety voice caressed him like a lover’s touch. “You’re so beautiful, Sir. Wouldn’t you like to take your pleasure in me, Sir?” His voice became lower and huskier as he spoke. Each word was like a jolt of electricity aimed directly at Carrick’s cock. “Wouldn’t you like the feel of my mouth wrapped around you, Sir? The wet heat of my tongue as it worships your beautiful cock?”

“Jesus.” Carrick hissed as he felt a tingle start at the base of his skull and begin working its way down his spine. His boy’s pleas were pushing him close to the edge. He tightened his grip on his shaft, loving the way it pulsed against the damp skin of his hand as he worked to control his breathing. “You can please me by focusing on me. Watching. Learning how I like to be touched.” He stroked his prick lightly, not trying to build his orgasm further, just enjoying the sensation of riding the edge as his boy devoured him with his eyes. 

In no time, the combination began to be too much. Though his touch was light, he could feel his balls begin to ache with need. He would have liked to think of himself as perfectly controlled, but his threatening release proved him wrong. His boy was so beautiful and ablaze with desire that he made it difficult for Carrick to keep a rein on his arousal.

“Come closer, boy.” His voice was deep and harsh-sounding as he continued to struggle with tempering his need.

His boy’s breath hitched as he took slow, deliberate steps toward him. The sway of his hips entranced Carrick as surely as a hypnotist’s pendulum. 

“Thank you, Master,” the boy said as he moved into position next to Carrick’s chair. “How may I please you, Sir?” His mouth turned up into a wicked grin.

Carrick felt as if his body were being tortured by lust. His skin was tight, palms beginning to sweat, and the constant ache in his cock was driving him mindless. However, he could dish out a little torture of his own before he gave in to the demands of his body. The wicked grin gave his boy away. He knew exactly the effect he was having on Carrick and was enjoying himself far too much. He’d have to curb that brassy attitude. Oh yeah, my boy has earned a little payback.

Reaching up, Carrick grabbed on to his boy’s engorged shaft and began pumping it lightly, loving the way it felt against his palm as the silken skin slid over the hard steel beneath. Even more, he loved the way his boy moved into his touch. Whimpers and moans mingled with the sounds of the ocean waves in the distance to create a unique form of music. 

“Very pretty,” Carrick purred as he continued to stroke the long, slender shaft, increasing the pressure of his grip. With his free hand, he retrieved the leather strap from his pocket, snapped the ring on, and stroked the heavy shaft rapidly a few times. 

His boy’s eyes settled on the dark band and he appeared to be grateful for the ring. “Thank… thank you, Sir,” he panted, hips jerking.

“You’re not to come until I think you’ve earned it. Rather, if you earn it, is that understood, boy?” 

“Yes, Sir, I understand, Sir.” His boy seemed to relax at the thought of being able to earn his release. 

“Mmm. When I redden your sweet ass, it will be nearly as pretty as this.” He leaned forward and placed a kiss to the tip of the pretty prick in question, groaning as his tongue snaked out, tasting the salty musk that had dampened his lips. The spicy taste exploding across his tongue was intoxicating.

The man began to tremble, shaft throbbing hard in Carrick’s tight fist. “Oh… ah, God. Sir… please, Sir.”

Carrick continued to kiss, lick, and nibble at his erection. “Please what, boy? More?” he whispered, moving down to lick his boy’s sac while his hand held the engorged shaft, pumping eagerly. His tongue happily lapped at the soft skin. “More, I can do.” Grabbing the lean hips, Carrick pulled them hard toward him and, in a deft move, sucked the hard shaft into his mouth. Hollowing out his cheeks, he sucked in earnest on the flared head, letting out a growl from deep in his chest. He wanted his boy to hear it as well as feel it.

“Won’t be able to hold it long, Sir. God! Your mouth feels so good, Sir.”

The taste and feel of the heavy cock on his tongue were potent, a double punch of lust to his gut, and he showed his boy with mouth, hands, and sounds just how much he appreciated his feast. He ignored his own aching need and went on an extended tour, his tongue dipping into the slit, seeking out more of the rich, unique flavor of his boy.

“Oh! Ah… fuck!” Whole body going rigid, the boy took in harsh panting breaths before he tried again. “No, I… Master… I…,” he sobbed out.

Carrick pulled off his boy’s prick, clamping down hard on the base of it with his hand. “Breathe. Focus on me, only on me. Put my pleasure before your own.” Leaning back, he watched his boy try to stop the orgasm that was sitting just under the surface, ready to explode.

The boy panted harshly, taking in great gasps of air. “Ah…,” he groaned, body trembling as he took in a few more gasping breaths. “Jesus, that was close.”

Carrick worked on slowing his own panting breath, his whole body aching with need as his boy got himself back under control. “Good boy.” 

Shifting his stance, the boy tilted his head and puffed out a deep breath. “Okay, better now, I think, Sir.”

“Very impressive, boy, well done,” he praised as he released his boy’s wet and leaking shaft. “Bend over and rest your head on my thighs.” He helped maneuver the man until he was bent across Carrick, bound hands holding on to the far side of the chair, his sculpted ass within reach of Carrick’s hand.

“Thank you, Master.” His feverish skin deepened to a darker hue with excitement and anticipation.

Carrick’s hand slid over the firm ass. “So fine.” This was going to be hard and fast. There was simply no way he’d be able to control himself for long with the glorious sight draped over him. It was a temptation he couldn’t deny himself from sampling. His restraint was unfortunately not limitless. His cock pulsed hard in approval of speeding things along.

“Ready, boy?” he asked, and without further warning, he began peppering his boy’s ass with rapid smacks. At first his blows were light, just enough to warm the sweet ass. When a steady stream of moans poured from the smaller man and he began to push back into his hand with each swat, Carrick added a little more strength to his blows. His boy responded wantonly, going up on his toes as he started to rock, swaying as if he were dancing in response to the sting.

“Ah, God. So good to me, Sir,” he grunted from under the force of Carrick’s hand, whimpering pitifully when Carrick pulled his arm back, hesitating before bringing it down again.

Carrick felt a shudder roll through his body as he began to unravel. The desire to see his boy riding him, to sheathe himself in that tight, slick heat, was beginning to consume all his thoughts. Undoubtedly, his boy could have endured more, but he couldn’t. His own need to be buried in his boy was too great. He slowed the movements of his hand, bringing his boy down slowly until his hand lay against the heated flesh. The fire radiating off the muscular mounds burned through him, sending molten lava surging through his veins. Fuck, he had to have him. Now!

Carrick tangled his hand in his boy’s hair and tugged slightly, encouraging him to move. “So gorgeous when you give in to pleasure,” he purred as he urged his boy to move. “Now come straddle me and let me take my pleasure from you.”

The man moved quickly, his trembling muscles making his movements jerky. Carrick lifted his hips slightly, easing his slacks down to his knees before helping his boy move into position. Goosebumps bloomed across his skin at the contact of blazing skin against his thighs. His boy’s mouth moved, his throat working as if he were about to speak, but he was so lost in his desire the only sound to pass his lips was the whoosh of panting air and soft mewls. 

“Your passion makes you glow. Tell me, my boy.” Carrick stroked his cock as he spoke, spreading the steady flow of pre-cum along his shaft. “Who does all this passion belong to?” He grabbed his boy’s hips, pulling him forward, positioning his prick at his entrance.

“You!” he cried out as he bore down, taking Carrick in to the hilt in one swift movement. He threw his head back as he arched hard. The smooth, sweat-slick skin of his chest reflected the sun, casting brilliant rays of light. 

“Christ,” Carrick hissed as his cock was engulfed. The effect was stunning and immediate, and he responded by thrusting up hard and fast as he stabbed into his boy, those bound hands pushing into his chest. Fingers tugging at the slight curls, sending sparks of delicious pain to spread out across his chest. 

Had anything ever felt so good? His entire focus narrowed down to the tight channel contracting around his cock. “God, so tight.” Again and again he thrust, hips snapping, the fast, graceless rhythm making his words come out in a harsh, stuttering tone. “Mine… all mine… only mine.”

“Yes!” His boy’s body began to flow like music, a sweet, addicting hum of visual symphony, fusing with the sounds of melodic pleas. Pressing his hips up to meet each downward movement, Carrick found the perfect tempo, hitting that sweet spot deep inside his boy. 

“Master!” he screamed as he arched back, driving that tight ass down onto Carrick’s prick. “Please, please, please.” He sobbed. “I need to come. Can’t… oh fuck!”

He wanted the feeling to last, but he couldn’t hold back, knew his boy wouldn’t last. He felt his sac draw up tight. The beauty in the way his boy begged and the feel of his tight passage contracting around his cock worked in sync to undo his control. “Look at me,” Carrick grunted as he wrapped his fist around his boy’s shaft, pulling hard in harmony with the thrust of his hips. He thrust up brutally, once, twice. “Come for me,” he ordered as he unsnapped the cock ring that was binding his boy. It was his last coherent thought before amazing ice-blue eyes locked with his. 

Carrick exploded. 

His muscles went bow-tight as he pressed himself as deep as he could. Blinding, white-hot light surrounded Carrick as he shot his release deep inside his boy, his voice rising over the screams of his boy’s own release. “Oh God, Ed. Love you so fucking much,” he roared as his orgasm ripped through him, forced out of his body in a triumphant rush, taking him out of his body, each convulsion sending him higher and higher. He gave in to it, letting go, and soared.

A chuckle of rapid breath brought him back to earth. Ed’s soft lips were warm against his own as he spoke. “You kind of lost it there at the end, hon.”

With the last of his strength, Carrick hit the quick release on his lover’s restraints, throwing them to the side and pulling him tight to his chest. “Your fault. Jesus, you make me lose control.”

Ed pushed at Carrick’s linen jacket, snuggling into his exposed chest as he melted in the afterglow. They held each other as their hearts began to slow and their breathing returned to normal. 

“Mission complete, Dr. Masters. I live to make you lose control.”

Carrick kissed the top of his partner’s head. “Bravo in your success, Mr. Boyd. This was the best Christmas vacation yet. Thank you. I can’t wait to see what your wicked mind comes up with for next year. Perhaps an English castle where I can be your duke and you my naughty kitchen boy?”

“Oh, that does sound tempting. How about an Egyptian Christmas? You can be my pharaoh and I your devoted concubine.”

“Anywhere you wish. As long as I’m with you, it will be a very Merry Christmas, my love.”

Ed placed a soft, loving kiss to his chest. “Merry Christmas.” He let Carrick slip from his body with a moan and a sigh, snuggling in. “I love you.”

“And I love you,” Carrick whispered, his Boyd wrapped around him. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

April

Two years earlier

 

THE opulent ruby-red décor glimmered softly under the glow of two huge open fireplaces. A quintuplet of dazzling crystal chandeliers looming majestically overhead reflected the light, causing it to dance in the intimate two-tiered dining space. Swirling the dark purple wine around in his glass, Edward Boyd inhaled deeply, taking in the aromas of blackberry, plum, licorice, and spice. Raising the glass to his lips, he took a small sip. Concentrated berry and pepper flavors with a silky feel danced across his tongue. Delicious.

No matter how wonderful the atmosphere at Acapella, how impeccable the staff or how perfect the wine, Ed simply couldn’t enjoy it with his heavy heart. Three years he’d been with Carrick Masters. Three years of living, loving, and building a strong and solid relationship. Tonight was to be their celebration of those three wonderful years, and yet here he sat alone. 

Ed had made the reservations, confirmed schedules, and made sure every minute detail was taken care of. He’d even laid out Carrick’s attire for the evening on their king-size bed: a dark blue Armani suit, a blue jacquard monogrammed French-cuffed dress shirt, Carrick’s favorite gold and sapphire cuff links, black Ferragamo lace-up shoes with a matching belt, and a gold-and-navy silk tie. In addition, since all finely dressed men wore T-shirts under their dress shirts, and Carrick would be looking fine, he had remembered to lay out silk boxers and a T-shirt to keep him looking fresh. His lover had been working himself to exhaustion, and Ed had hoped that by planning everything right on down to Carrick’s attire for the evening, there would be nothing for Carrick to worry about.

Ed’s chest tightened painfully as he glanced down at his watch. He’d been waiting for Carrick for forty-five minutes and finally had to admit that worrying about Carrick’s ensemble should have been the least of his problems. Insignificant worry compared to why my husband stood me up on our anniversary.

After paying for his wine and leaving a sizeable tip, Ed gathered up the small box and card he’d placed on Carrick’s salad plate and made his way out of the restaurant. He waved off the door attendant, who had opened the rear door to a waiting taxi.

“Thanks, Carl, but I think I’ll walk home tonight.”

“Very well, sir. Have a good evening, Mr. Boyd.”

Ed waved his goodbye without turning back and headed down the nearly deserted sidewalk. There was a chill in the air, and he hoped that the quiet walk and cool evening temperatures would help clear his head, though he doubted that any amount of walking would relieve the heaviness in his chest or the sting in his eyes. Christ, had it only been three years since he married Carrick Masters? It seemed like just last week that the most stunning man he’d ever seen had taken the seat next to him on a bench outside St. Mary’s Hospital and met his gaze with twinkling hazel-green eyes. As he walked, his mind traveled back in time.

 

“Mind if I have a seat?”

Ed’s breath caught as he looked up. “Umm… no. I mean, I don’t mind,” he stammered. 

Good Lord, the man was gorgeous. His disheveled short brown hair stood out in a hundred different directions as if he’d been repeatedly running his hands through it. The stranger had a strong square jaw with dark stubble, high cheekbones, and thin lips. Wide shoulders filled out the blue surgical scrub top, tapering down to lean waist, the bright red drawstrings of his scrub pants catching Ed’s attention. One little tug of the string….

Ed gathered his wayward thoughts, cheeks heating as the man took the seat next to him and extended his large hand. “I’m Carrick.”

“Ed,” he replied, accepting the offered hand. 

 

He’d never forget that first moment when his and Carrick’s hands had touched. A jolt had shot through him as the skin of their palms met, each man’s grip tightening as sure as the tightening in his groin and their gazes locking. His dad’s mishap with a circular saw—okay, so nearly cutting off a hand was probably a little more than a mishap, but thanks to dear ol’ Dad’s carelessness, he’d met the man of his dreams while sitting out in front of St. Mary’s Hospital as the surgeons worked to save Jonathon Boyd’s hand. To this day, one touch from Carrick still sent a jolt through him.

Their lives had been crazy back then, Carrick in his third year of residency in the surgical program and Ed in his final year of his Juris Doctorate degree. Yet no matter how busy, they always seemed to find time for each other. Some days their time together was measured in minutes rather than hours, but they had always been thankful for each occasion and cherished each opportunity, giving each other their sole focus while they were together, counting the minutes until they could be together again. Even in the limited amount of free time Ed had, Carrick always made him feel special.

Ed rubbed absently at his chest as he made his way down Seventh Avenue. Their lives were still busy—his husband was in the fellowship program, specializing in pediatric orthopedics. Carrick only had a few months left. He’d soon be joining a very well-known and successful orthopedic group, and Ed was now a junior partner in his dad’s law firm. Soon school would be behind them and their lives would become more manageable, time-wise, and yet Ed wasn’t so sure anymore that their relationship had endured the stresses. He certainly didn’t feel special anymore.

Reaching the row house he shared with Carrick, Ed ran a finger along the black wrought iron railing as he took the steps up to their front door. A smile crossed his face as he remembered a happier time, the way his much larger lover had lifted him into his arms and carried him up these very steps the night of their commitment ceremony. If he concentrated hard enough, Ed could still hear their laughter, could still see the love and happiness that had shone in his lover’s eyes. His chest tightened. God, I miss that look

As he stood on the steps of his home, the cool April wind chilled him, yet the memories of that night exactly three years ago warmed him deep inside. We belong together. He didn’t doubt the soundness of that belief; they just needed to get back to the basics of what made them such a great couple. No way in hell was he going to allow them to give up now when many of the obstacles they had faced were about to be behind them. Especially after they had survived everything that had been thrown their way these past years. Somehow, some way, they would get it back again. Anything less was simply unacceptable!

Carrick was still in the same spot he’d left him earlier. Ed leaned against the doorway of the study, taking in the slumped shoulders and frantic hands running through soft brown hair as Carrick studied the open textbook in front of him. Dark-brown coffee stains marred the once-white papers spread out on the desk as well as the wrinkled, pale-yellow shirt stretched tight across Carrick’s chest. Understanding and tenderness replaced the unease he’d been feeling as he watched his exhausted husband struggle to comprehend what he was reading, his difficulty evidenced by the teeth worrying his bottom lip and the deep frown marring his handsome face. Poor guy! Carrick didn’t need a lecture on how to be a better partner. What he needed was a back rub and a little affection. To be shown how much he was loved and a little sleep wouldn’t hurt. Sighing, Ed stepped further into the study.

 

 

ARTHROCENTESIS may help ascertain the inflammatory arthropathies from the crystal arthritides or osteoarthritis.

“Carrick?”

If a hemarthrosis is discovered after trauma, it can indicate the presence of a fracture or other anatomic disruption.

“Um, sweetheart?”

“What the fuck do you want now?” Carrick roared as he slammed his textbook closed and ran a hand through his short brown hair in frustration. “Jesus, Ed. What part of ‘I have to study’ didn’t you quite understand?”

His brain had turned to mush long ago, but he had to figure out some way to keep adding information to an already filled-to-capacity brain. For over thirteen years, he’d been shoving more and more shit into his head, and now, within months of finally being able to put the title of doctor-in-training behind him, his brain decided to take a vacation. Well, too fucking bad! If I don’t get a vacation, neither do you! So suck it up and concentrate, God dammit. 

Carrick ran another hand through his hair, fighting against the urge to rip it out of his head, and rolled his tense shoulders. What the hell was wrong with Ed lately? Normally he was considerate and never complained when Carrick needed to study or had late nights at the hospital. Lately, it seemed as if Ed was constantly interrupting him. Why couldn’t he understand how important this was and just give him an hour of uninterrupted studying time? His partner should understand above all others what Carrick needed. Ed had worked his ass off to prepare for his bar exam, and Carrick hadn’t given him grief about it. Even though he’d had some down time and would rather have taken Ed on vacation or kept him in bed all day long, he just hugged him when he could and let him know quietly he was there for him if he needed anything. Carrick had spent the entire long week alone, waiting for Ed to have a moment to share with