Chapter One

 

A LONG night was proving to be an even longer one by the conspicuous absence of Trey Donovan’s work relief.

His entire crew had been relieved by their counterparts on B shift. All except for him, of course. A quick check of the shift calendar online had shown that the firefighter due to relieve him was coming off an overtime day from a station across town, so of course he was late.

Trey made a face at the screen and prayed they wouldn’t get a call before Scott Halloran got there, but the way things were going, it was a faint hope at best.

“Still waiting,” Trey texted. He wondered if Deuce was still at home or if he’d given up and gone to work.

It was a couple of minutes before the reply came through. “Again? This is twice in the last four shifts.”

Trey sighed. He hated being held up in the mornings just for this reason. It made both of them cranky. “I know,” he typed back. “Can’t help it, sorry. :(” Maybe the sad face would adequately express what he was feeling.

The next reply took even longer to arrive. “I know. Going to work now, call me later. Dinner defrosting in fridge.”

Damn. “Okay, thanks. Call you when I get home.” Trey tossed his phone down on the desk and spun around in the swivel chair. Come on, come on, come on, he silently prayed. I just want to go the fuck home.

It was another twenty minutes before Scott showed up with a shrug and a “Sorry, man,” but Trey couldn’t really hold it against him. Trey had been on the other end before, and it was nobody’s fault. Just the way things were.

Deuce, however, seemed to need more convincing. Trey drove home with his window down and the radio up loud in the crisp winter morning. Well, as crisp as it got in Southern California, anyway. The cold breeze helped to make him a little more alert. It had been a rough night.

He finally arrived in his own driveway and hauled his gear bag out of the cab of his truck. A hot shower and a two-hour nap sounded like the best thing in the world right now. His only regret was that it wasn’t a weekend day and Deuce couldn’t do either of those things with him.

After dumping his dirty clothes on top of the washing machine, Trey opened the back door and whistled. Deuce would have put the dogs out there before he left for work, and sure enough, the two puppies came bounding over at once. Their mother, Q, followed at a more dignified pace, though her tail waved in welcome.

Pi and Six, tongues lolling, romped at Trey’s feet. They had grown considerably in the past six months. Deuce claimed they wouldn’t be full-grown for another year. Trey had apprehension about that, considering they were already weighing forty-five pounds each and had at least another fifteen to go. He bent down to give them pats and ear scratches, and they both whined with eagerness.

When Trey turned to go back in the house, all three dogs followed him. They were allowed more freedom now that they’d been housebroken, but the puppies were still chewers and had to be closely supervised. In this case, “supervised” would mean he’d shut them in the bedroom with him while he napped.

The shower could wait until later. Trey toed off his tennis shoes and shed his jeans in favor of comfortable sweats. He dropped onto the bed and picked up the phone on the nightstand, dialing Deuce’s work number by heart.

It rang three times before Deuce picked up, sounding harried and busy. Not a good sign before nine a.m.

“Good morning, this is Nathaniel.” Distracted, as well as busy. “How can I help you?”

“Hi, I’m home. And in bed. I wish you were here.”

“That would be nice, yes.” The distracted part was gone, and Deuce sounded like he was paying at least most of his attention to Trey. “How was your night?”

“Busy. You know those false chimney things on the side of a house? A cat fell into one and kept the family awake with its howling at one in the morning. Then there was some drunk who wrecked his car, but not himself.” Trey yawned and rubbed his eyes. “I’m about to nap with the dogs.”

“Tell Pi not to get on the bed. He’s being sneaky about it. He tries to get on in slow motion, like we won’t notice if he’s suddenly there.”

Trey eyed the dog that had already crept onto the bed and was lying with his head on Trey’s shin. Q and Six, being good dogs were in the corner where their pillows lay.

“I’ll tell him,” Trey mused.

“He’s on the bed already, isn’t he?” Deuce didn’t sigh, exactly, but he did sound resigned.

“Yeah. He looks pretty comfortable.” Trey grinned and reached down to pet Pi’s silky head. He didn’t mind if the dogs were on the furniture, but Deuce was forever shooing them off. “I’ll get him on his pillow instead.”

“All right.” Deuce laughed quietly. “Don’t forget that dinner is in the fridge, okay? I’ll be home on time tonight. You can make it up to me for not being able to give me my morning kiss.”

“I will.” Trey smiled into the phone. “See you later.” He put the cordless handset back on the cradle and shoved at Pi with his foot. “Off,” he ordered.

Pi sighed morosely and jumped off the bed. He made his way to the pillows in the corner but chose to share Six’s bed instead of taking his own.

“Fine by me,” Trey said. “I’d rather share too.” He turned over and hugged one of the bed pillows to him. It took about forty-five seconds for sleep to find him.

 

 

HIS INTENDED two-hour nap was closer to three and a half hours, and when Trey finally dragged himself out of bed and into the shower, he was still groggy.

Even a cool shower didn’t wake him up as much as he would have liked. He was hungry, though. Maybe food would do the trick and offer him some energy. Trey toweled off and dressed in clean, soft track pants and T-shirt. He made his way to the kitchen, with the dogs trailing behind. All three of them sat down at the back door and waited patiently to be let out.

Trey put them out into the yard, then managed to throw together a tuna sandwich with avocado. He sat alone in the quiet kitchen while munching it. Trey really hated days like this when work took so much out of him that he was practically useless. Hopefully he’d be more alert by the time Deuce got home.

Thoughts of Deuce reminded Trey that dinner was in the fridge. A quick check showed that chicken breasts were marinating, so Trey left them to do their thing. He’d grill kabobs for supper and put them over rice or something.

Trey chilled out in front of the television and thought about doing some laundry, but couldn’t quite motivate himself. He was tired and really just wanted Deuce to come home. Around four thirty he wandered into the kitchen and started chopping bell peppers and mushrooms for the kabobs. The dogs milled at his feet, sniffing the floor and waiting for scraps.

He didn’t realize how intently he was listening for the door until he heard Deuce’s key in the lock. Trey immediately dropped the knife on the cutting board and went to the front door, wiping his hands on a dish towel.

Deuce came in, looking almost as tired as Trey felt. Even so, he was still the best thing Trey had laid eyes on all day.

“Finally.” Trey grinned and stepped up to kiss Deuce.

Deuce kissed him back, and then again. “Hey, you.” His smile was warm, if a little weary. “How’s dinner coming along? Kiss me again.” He laughed as the dogs wiggled between them. “Hello, you three. Easy, I’m still dressed for the office. Paws off.”

Trey pulled the puppies back by the collar and shooed Q away with a foot. “I’d say I’ll undress you from the office, but you look like you could use a beer and food first. Right or wrong?”

“Right.” Deuce gave him another quick kiss and went to the fridge, followed by Pi. “Beer first. Some days are just longer than others. How was your day? Did you get some rest?”

“Yeah. Didn’t do much else, though.” Trey followed him into the kitchen and watched Deuce take a long pull from a beer bottle. “We can eat in thirty minutes. Are you hungry? Pi, leave him alone.”

Pi appeared not to hear him. He kept sniffing around Deuce’s feet, then bouncing up to rest his paws on Deuce’s thighs, only to be pushed back off.

“Oh, all right,” Deuce said, scratching Pi between his ears. “You’re a good boy. Well, aside from the jumping. Where’s your bone, Pi? Where’s the squeaky bone?”

Pi took off, followed by Six. Q watched but gave her humans a look that clearly said she was above such things.

“I drove today instead of riding my bike, so I’m not as starved as usual,” Deuce said. “Which isn’t to say I’m not hungry.” Deuce was pretty much always ready for food. “I want to get that new shelf up on Lacey’s wall tonight or tomorrow—I meant to do it last night, but I wound up watching TV.” He looked faintly embarrassed. “It was a documentary on hydro dams.”

Trey thought for a moment about asking Deuce if he was kidding, but he knew his cute little geek better than that. Deuce had probably DVR’d the show and would watch parts of it again. Trey loved that this was the kind of thing that turned Deuce on. As long as Trey in uniform was one of the other things, of course.

“We can do it tonight.” Trey returned to the counter and the abandoned vegetables. “I painted it over the weekend. She’ll see it tomorrow when Holly drops her off.”

His seven-year-old daughter was due tomorrow morning for three days of dad time. Trey’s days with her were precious, but there had been many an adjustment when Deuce had come to live with them. Trey’s ex-wife, Holly, had been one of those adjustments.

“What do you have planned for the day?” Deuce leaned on the counter and drank from his beer bottle, his other hand absently petting whichever dog wandered over. They had apparently lost interest in finding their missing bones. “I might be able to get home early, maybe.”

“It’s Friday, so she’s got school. I told her the last time she was here that if she got all of her spelling words right, I’d take her to pizza at that place. The bacteria farm.” Trey made a face. He was no germophobe, but all of those kids running around and touching everything made him shudder.

Deuce wrinkled his nose. “I might have to work late, maybe. Kidding. I’ll be brave and go with you. We can all be sick together.”

“And the pizza isn’t even decent.” The things a man did for the love of his daughter. “But I’ll take you through the drive-thru on the way home.”

“Will you help me unclog my arteries later?” Deuce grinned at him and walked close enough to kiss Trey’s mouth. “I’m going to change. I smell like office worker.”

“Better than smelling like dog.” Trey eyed the three mutts who were sitting at his feet, still waiting for a crumb of food to fall. “Guess who gets a bath this weekend? One, two, three.” He pointed to each one in turn, and they wagged their tails.

Trey heard the shower go on and considered joining Deuce there, but his own stomach rumbled and he knew Deuce would be just as hungry. He set up the rice cooker, finished the vegetables, and prepared the chicken for grilling, then moved to the back patio where the barbecue grill lived. The dogs trailed him, naturally.

He had just sliced open one chicken breast to check for doneness when the kitchen door opened, and Trey caught the faint smell of shampoo and aftershave.

“That’s a world of good food right there.” The dogs, clearly agreeing, barely glanced at Deuce as he came out. “Feed me, and then we can catch up properly.”

“Deal.” Trey forked the chicken onto a clean plate and collected the vegetables from the foil on the top grill rack. “Get the rice on the table for me and we’re good.” He brushed past Deuce with a kiss on the way and brought the chicken to the counter to cut into pieces. Once again, the dogs followed.

When they were sitting and the dogs were a step away from the table, watching intently, Deuce said, “I’ve been thinking. We should have a vacation sometime soon. Just the two of us, not at home.”

“I can’t remember the last time I went on a real vacation.” Trey speared a mushroom and ate it. “Wait, yes, I can. It was my honeymoon.” They’d been happy too. Holly and he had gone to Hawaii and spent nine days on different islands. Then they came home, and eventually Trey realized that being married was more than just living with a woman in the same house. There were… obligations.

“Well, no offense, but Holly isn’t invited this time.” Deuce winked at him and took a bite of his dinner. “She can watch the dogs, though.” That had to be a joke. “Where should we go?”

Six rested his chin on Trey’s thigh and looked mournful. Trey fed him a small piece of chicken, although he knew Deuce would give him the familiar “please don’t feed the dogs at the table” look. “Good question. Somewhere tropical? Historical? Informational? I don’t care. I’ve never been to Disney World.” Considering they were only an hour’s drive away from Disneyland, though, Trey wasn’t in any hurry to see the same place on the opposite coast. “Where have you always wanted to go?”

Deuce shrugged one shoulder and gestured with his fork. “The mountains might be nice. Tropical is always good, though.” He gave Trey a lazy smile. “Isolated would be nice.”

“It would be,” Trey agreed. “Some private bungalow somewhere. Or a cabin. We could go up to Tahoe and spend a week in the snow. I know a guy at work who commutes from there; want me to ask him if he knows of a place?”

“Skiing and snowboarding?” Deuce nodded slowly. “That would be great. Maybe a bit of hiking? And then a nice fire in the fireplace, a bearskin rug….” He trailed off and wiggled his eyebrows at Trey.

Trey snorted. “You’re not subtle.” He gathered up his and Deuce’s plates and dropped a kiss on Deuce’s head. “But it sounds good to me too. I’ll ask Benji if he knows of something.” He brought the dirty dishes to the sink to soak and dropped another bit of chicken to Six, who had followed. “We don’t have anything for dessert except slice-and-bake cookies. There might be ice cream to go with them, though.”

“I was kind of hoping for something a little less sweet and a lot more you, actually.” Deuce gave him a wide grin and stood up, looking far more predatory than he had before he’d gotten cleaned up and been fed.

“Well, now.” Trey turned to face Deuce and leaned against the sink. “Who says I’m not sweet?”