Chapter 1

 

BRYCE’S APARTMENT on Lakeshore Drive was nothing short of spectacular. Seth had been expecting a typical bachelor pad with a worn-out recliner, a wall-to-wall flat-screen TV, mismatched tables and chairs, and a utilitarian kitchen where the most valued appliance was the microwave. He had to stop his jaw from dropping when Bryce unlocked the front door and he first laid eyes on the gleaming hardwood floors and the understatedly elegant but comfortable furniture.

The entry opened directly into the combination living and dining room. Seth’s older Lincoln Park home felt antiquated and claustrophobic compared to this well-lit and functional space. It was a corner unit with Lake Michigan easily visible out of one set of windows and the cityscape from the others. Sunlight poured in through the thick panes of glass, and Seth liked the window coverings Bryce had chosen. They were honeycomb shades in the palest taupe. At the moment, they were raised to reveal the views, but he knew they could be lowered for privacy whenever Bryce felt the need.

Bryce turned to him expectantly, and Seth could sense a bit of anxiety in the normally confident man. Was he worried Seth would disapprove of his home and decide not to move in? Eager to set him at ease as soon as possible, Seth threw his arms around Bryce’s neck, and kissed him.

“Your place is gorgeous,” Seth said after they broke apart. “Did you hire an interior designer?”

“Yeah,” Bryce confirmed, looking visibly relieved. “Grier Dilorio. He’s the other half of Lampert and Dilorio, an architectural firm I work with a lot. Nice guy.”

“I like the ambiance,” Seth said, moving into the room. “Minimalist but warm. The brown sectional works great with the red dining room chairs. Your designer must have an eye for color.”

“Colors are his thing,” Bryce said. “You should see his tats.”

“Seriously?”

“Oh yeah. First time we met at a job site, he drove up on a Harley in a black beater showing off full-sleeve tats on one arm. For a minute I thought he was lost.”

Seth giggled. “He sounds hot. Is he gay?”

“You bet. He’s married to the architect, Lil Lampert, and they have a teenage son who’s also gay. Don’t ask me how that happened because I don’t know the whole story.”

“Maybe I’ll hire him to spruce up my house before I put it on the market. It can certainly use a makeover.”

“Yeah, he’s really creative. Watch this,” Bryce said, pulling a round gizmo out of a drawer on the narrow table behind the sofa. He pointed it at the shades and they slid down the window silently. Within seconds the sunny apartment had turned dark and private.

“That’s great,” Seth exclaimed. “You’ll have to give me his number.”

Bryce hit the controller again, and the shades lifted, letting in the sunlight. “I see him and his hub all the time. I’ll set up a meeting if you want.”

“I’d like your opinion on my house before we go that far. Talk about what’s really necessary and what’s not. That way I’m a bit more informed when we sit down with the guy.”

Bryce nodded. “Makes sense. Let me show you the office.” He took Seth by the hand and led him down a hallway, past the kitchen, which was also accessible through the dining room. Seth got a quick glimpse of gleaming stainless steel appliances and a butcher block workstation with an overhead pot rack. Shiny copper pans dangled off the hooks.

“Hold on,” Seth said, stopping dead. “I want to see your kitchen.”

“Later,” Bryce said, practically dragging him back down the hallway. “I’m excited to show you where you’ll be penning your next novel.”

Seth rolled his eyes. “I haven’t written a thing since we went away.”

Bryce turned back to him and grinned. “We’ve been too busy exploring.”

“Is that what you’re calling fucking nowadays?”

“Come here,” Bryce said, pressing him close. He leaned his forehead against Seth’s and whispered, “I thought we were making love.”

“Every time.” Seth settled on Bryce’s warm mouth with a satisfied moan. Bryce tasted like toothpaste and coffee, a strange combination Seth had come to recognize after sharing kisses with him every morning for the last three weeks. His craving for the unique flavor hadn’t diminished one iota; in fact, it had increased with his feelings. Although the words had never been exchanged, he was well and truly in love with Bryce.

What started out as an incongruous friendship had blossomed into a shipboard romance. Their “love boat” had been a cruise liner that traversed the waters around the UK. Bryce’s decision to go on the trip had been a last-minute thing, a charitable offer made to Seth when his partner of twenty years, Mark, committed suicide two weeks before the planned vacation. Now, a little over a month later, they had begun a relationship of sorts based on mutual respect and a solid friendship that had weathered several stormy days.

The physical attraction between them had begun almost immediately and hadn’t waned in the least. Seth had experienced new sensual highs he’d only written about in the past, and each encounter increased his desire. Bryce had become an addiction that upended his orderly and predictable life. Writing habits he’d cultivated for years had been shoved aside, and participating in shipboard activities and taking advantage of as many land tours as possible seemed far more important than sticking to his schedule. Now, though, it was time to hunker down and get on with the business of earning a living.

Toward the end of their trip, Seth had confided that he wanted to sell the house he’d shared with Mark. There were too many memories in the solid brick structure built in the eighties, and although most had been good, they were overshadowed by Mark’s suicide, which had taken place in their bedroom. Seth hadn’t slept there since, and the idea of selling had become more and more appealing—actually, he could think of nothing else. Not surprisingly, Bryce had insisted Seth move into his place and even offered his own home office as Seth’s new writing cave.

Breaking their kiss, Bryce suggested, “Let’s pause while we can, or I’ll have to show you our bedroom first.”

Seth would have gladly skipped the apartment tour and gone straight to bed, but he knew Bryce was excited to show him his office so he gave in. “Okay, hot stuff. Let’s put this on the back burner.”

“I promise to make it up to you tenfold,” Bryce teased.

“Yeah? Care to elaborate?”

“We’ll get sidetracked if I tell you what I have in mind.”

Seth grinned and reached down to adjust himself. “As you can see, your words aren’t falling on deaf ears.”

Bryce laughed. “Tuck that chub away and concentrate on what I’m about to show you.”

“All right already,” Seth said, choking back a laugh. He followed Bryce into a room with a window facing Lake Michigan. It was also bright and cheerful like the rest of the apartment. Seth couldn’t help comparing his own depressing home office to this room. He’d been using it for years and didn’t see much beyond his desktop and IKEA bookcases crammed with reference material. His printer with combination scanner and fax sat on a shelf above his monitor, along with a ream of paper and a cupful of pens and pencils. There were no windows in the room, and the only things hanging on the walls were his book covers in wooden frames. He collected them, and the cover artists he worked with routinely sent him signed originals.

In contrast, Bryce’s cheery home office had custom-made oak shelves lining one wall, and on the opposite side, there was a long wooden bureau with pullout drawers on the bottom and the usual small office equipment on top. The massive oak desk with a computer, phone, and calculator was directly in front of the bureau with a convenient rolling chair, in case he needed to find something in the drawers or use the fax. The third wall had three large windows and a comfy two-seat leather sofa in buttery yellow with a narrow cocktail table in front. Seth assumed Bryce occasionally met with clients here at home, and the comfortable but practical room seemed like a great place to study blueprints and pricing while sharing a good cup of coffee.

“This is lovely,” Seth exclaimed. “But it’s yours. There’s really no room for me in here.”

“We’ll make room,” Bryce said. “I don’t use this as often as you might think, and most of the time when I need to get in here, it’s at night. Didn’t you tell me you like to write in the morning?”

“Very early in the morning,” Seth said. “Of course, you’d never know it since I’ve been slacking off the last few weeks.”

“Do you use a lap or desktop?” Bryce asked.

“Laptop, but I like to write at my desk.”

“This desk is big enough for two. We’ll push my monitor to one side to make room for your laptop. Sync to my printer and you’ll be good to go.”

Frowning, Seth turned to Bryce. “Are you sure? I hate to inconvenience you.”

“Inconvenience is worrying about you alone in your old house. I like the idea of leaving you here in the morning, looking adorably rumpled and thoroughly sated because of our morning lovemaking,” he said, making air quotes around his new synonym for fucking. “If you weren’t here, I’d have to stop at your place, and then one thing would lead to another, and neither of us would get anything done.”

“You’re very persuasive, Mr. McFarland.”

“I want you to be happy and productive, babe. Don’t you feel the good vibes in this room?” Bryce asked. “In the winter, you can sit on the sofa and watch the snow falling while enjoying a cup of warm cocoa.”

“With marshmallows?” Seth asked, sounding hopeful.

“Anything you want.”

“Why are you so good to me?” Seth asked.

“I told you,” Bryce reminded him. “You bring out the gentleman in me, and making sure you’re comfortable and inspired is a top priority.”

“Why?” Seth asked again.

“Do I really have to say it?” Bryce asked, getting red in the face.

“It would go a long way to making me feel like I fit in your world.”

“How about I show you instead?” Bryce asked.

“I’ll never turn down good sex, but I’d like to hear what you have to say as well.”

“Okay,” Bryce said, drawing out the word. “We’ve just come back from a magical vacation. We were sort of living in our own little bubble, and now the real world is going to crash down on us with a thud. According to the boyfriend handbook—”

“Which you’re making up as we go,” Seth interrupted.

“Babe, listen to me. We need to live together to figure out if this thing we’ve got going is the real deal.”

“I’m not arguing that part.”

“Then what do you want to know?” Bryce asked.

“What are your feelings toward me? On a scale from one to ten, how do I rate?” Seth asked.

“You go first,” Bryce said.

“A ten,” Seth said without flinching.

Bryce flushed even brighter. “That high?”

“Yes.”

“Thank God,” Bryce said, letting out a huge breath. He wrapped Seth in a tight embrace and whispered. “I thought it was all me wanting to do the U-Haul thing.”

“No,” Seth said. “I’m just as eager to find out if we’re compatible on the daily, even if we are acting like a couple of lesbians.”

“Right? We’re moving at lightning speed.”

“You haven’t answered me, Bryce.”

“You’re way up there, babe. Ten all the way.”

“Have we graduated from the juvenile I like you?”

“Yes,” Bryce conceded. “I care about you much more than I thought I would when we started the trip. You’re constantly on my mind.”

“Is that Bryce-speak for I might actually be falling in love?”

Bryce grinned. “You do that so well.”

“What?” Seth asked.

“Read my mind.”

“You can show me your bedroom now.”

“Our bedroom,” Bryce corrected.

“Whatever you say.”

Like the rest of the apartment, Bryce’s bedroom didn’t disappoint. It had the best view of Lake Michigan with a small balcony accessed through a sliding glass door. Seth was instantly reminded of their balcony on board the cruise ship. They’d spent many pleasant hours entwined on a chaise longue, enjoying the sea breeze and listening to the rhythmic sound of the waves as the ship plowed through the waters of the North Sea, English Channel, and Atlantic. It was easy to envision sitting on one of the two Adirondack chairs outside, typing away on his laptop. Unfortunately, winter was just around the corner, and he doubted they’d be using this lovely spot for much longer.

“How often do you sit out here?” Seth asked, pulling the slider open.

“On the weekends, weather permitting.”

There were a few diehard sailors out on the lake, determined to enjoy the last of the good weather before dry-docking for the winter. The strong wind coming in from the east penetrated Seth’s cotton tee, and he wrapped his arms around himself trying to stay warm.

“It’ll be six months or more before we can enjoy the full benefits of this balcony,” Bryce commented. “Come back inside, babe.”

“Okay,” Seth said.

Bryce shut and locked the slider once Seth was in the room. As he was steered toward the bed, Seth barely had time to take in the rest of the tasteful appointments. He caught the corner fireplace with a faux fur rug directly in front, and a glimpse of the en suite bathroom gleaming with bronze fixtures, but his main focus was the king-size bed draped with a similar fur in pale gray. The entire room was a study in black and gray, with splashes of fuchsia to break up the severity.

“Your designer did a nice job in this room,” Seth said. They were at the foot of the bed, and Bryce was methodically unwrapping him. First his shirt, then his belt, pants, and boxer briefs. While Seth toed off his shoes and socks, Bryce ditched his own clothes.

“I’ve been saving the best for last,” he said huskily, guiding Seth gently onto the mattress. Lying on his back, Seth felt Bryce’s full weight as he settled on top of Seth. His eyes closed when Bryce began kissing him, and he lost himself in the familiar sensation.

“Open your eyes,” Bryce ordered softly.

Seth’s lids fluttered open.

“Look up.”

He sucked in a shocked breath when he saw the reflection of Bryce’s sculpted back hovering over his torso. The erotic vision of naked limbs wrapped around each other flooded him with desire, coalescing in a hot ball of need deep in his groin.

“Bryce,” Seth exclaimed faintly. “Oh my God. Who thought of the mirror?”

“It’s hot, isn’t it?”

“I’ve never watched myself fucking.”

“Making love,” Bryce corrected him.

“That.” Seth began to roll his hips sensuously.

“Grier Dilorio has a kinky streak,” Bryce said.

“I’ve got to meet this guy.”

“Eventually.” Bryce reached for a condom and the lube he kept close by and got them both ready. “Open up, babe. I want in.”

Seth held his knees and drew them up to his chest, never taking his eyes off the image reflecting back at him. He grunted slightly when Bryce entered him, then relaxed and wrapped his arms and legs around Bryce as he began to move. It was like watching his very own porn flick with the two of them featured in the lead roles. It added a whole new dimension to the act, one he could get used to with hardly any persuasion.