Lips, warm and moist, brushed across naked skin, a whisper of a caress with just a hint of friction to heat up the surface and inflame desire. A slip of tongue darted out to lap at the flesh here and there, always in just the right places, the hot and wet touch stirring an ache deep inside Dean's core until groan after groan of pure, passionate need spilled out of him. He writhed on the bed, exposing more of himself to those wickedly delicious strokes, the pulsing in his groin deepening. The tongue play didn't feel like a tease, but it was a promise of the other wonderful sensations to come as soon as his lover settled his attentions on the one spot that would drive Dean absolutely crazy.
“Mmm, Stephen…” Dean moaned.
The name hadn't quite finished slipping past his lips before the sound of it jarred Dean awake. For a dazed, disoriented moment, he stared over at the empty space next to him on the bed, wondering why he could see the alarm clock on the nightstand when Stephen's broad, gym-toned shoulders usually blocked the view. Then all the memories came rushing back to him, pushing out the pleasant, sexy echoes of the erotic dream.
“Oh, right,” Dean mumbled to himself, groggy. Now he remembered.
Stephen was gone and had been for a month. Now that
had been a fight. A lover's quarrel for the ages—complete with name calling, pushing, shoving, and yelling. All the good stuff that made breakups so entertaining for the neighbors to listen in on. He wondered if the hetero couple he shared his bedroom wall with had been getting an earful just now. The drywall was pretty thin, and he'd been moaning pretty loud in contrast. He sat up in bed and listened. The soft, consistent, and undeniably recognizable thumping traveled through the wall. Yeah, they were having sex. At least he'd been able to turn someone on and inspire a little bedroom amore
“Fuck.” Dean swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He knew he wasn't going to get any more sleep tonight, and he didn't want to stay and listen to the sounds of copulation for the next hour or so. That was one thing about the Johnsons—they didn't seem to fuck very often, but when they did, it went on forever.
Is that what Stephen and I had sounded like? Dean wondered as he trudged to the bathroom, naked. He stood over the toilet, his hard-on in hand, and squeezed the thick shaft. A shiver coursed through him, and it shocked him how badly he wanted to satisfy that urge for sex he'd ignored for the past four weeks. Sure, he'd jacked off plenty of times after the breakup to prove he didn't need his ex. His right hand had been his best friend since the seventh grade, but it wasn't the same. Loving someone more than you cared to admit had a funny way of changing sex into a deep, meaningful experience that mattered a million times more than any self-gratification or one-night stand ever could. That's what had really made the erotic dream so damn powerful: it brought into relief just how much he still cared for that son of a bitch.
Now that wasn't fair. He'd known Stephen was a playboy before they'd started dating, and Stephen had even warned him an exclusive relationship wasn't something he wanted. Dean had overestimated his ability to deal with that. Or rather, he'd underestimated his ability to fall in love so hard he didn't want his lover to be with anyone else. By insisting so much that they be monogamous, he'd tried to change Stephen, hadn't he? Then again, he'd been up front with his needs too. All he'd asked was that Stephen not bring another man to the town house. Sure, Dean could've exercised better control over his temper, but the sight of his lover in bed with that twink from Club Rio mashed a fist on all Dean's buttons at once.
Hence, the lover's quarrel for the ages.
Dean gave his now-soft cock a gentle tug and relieved himself instead. No halfhearted attempt to masturbate tonight. Taking his bathrobe from the hook on the back of the bathroom door, he slipped into the terry cloth, still damp from his shower earlier. Downstairs, he made himself a cup of decaf and stretched out on the couch with the day's mail, which he'd only skimmed through earlier. The magazine his brother worked on out of Austin made its way to the top of the pile, and Dean flipped through the glossy rag. A lot of art shows and concerts were going on over in that crazy town, and he considered heading down there for a weekend getaway, maybe to gripe about shit with his equally crazy brother.
…fuck. Dean had managed to make himself forget about the Mediterranean holiday he'd planned with Stephen last year. The whole package was paid for; they'd split the costs and everything long before the breakup loomed on the horizon. But Dean had the tickets here in the town house. He was curious if Stephen even remembered about their trip.
Apparently, the man did. Dean found a letter in the stack of mail addressed to him from Stephen. The formality of the gesture rubbed Dean, very much a rancher boy at heart no matter what executive management position he held at the financial center, the wrong way. Especially since he knew exactly how many dimples the man had on his butt cheeks and how red his cock turned when kissed on just the right place where the thick, corded veins disappeared under the wrinkled folds of Stephen's foreskin.
“Enclosed is a check for your portion of the vacation package,” Dean read aloud. “I'm purchasing those tickets and reservations, as I have plans to take the trip with someone else. Please forward them to me immediately.” The little prick. Someone else?
What if Dean himself had had plans to go with someone else?
More importantly, since when was there someone else
Stephen would want to go on the trip with?
Growling, Dean set his coffee on the table and tossed the letter beside it. He grabbed the phone and punched in Stephen's number. When he got voice mail, he hung up and dialed again. After six rings in total, Stephen finally picked up.
“Hello?” His slurred voice carried over the line.
“I'm using the tickets,” Dean barked.
“Who the hell—” Stephen was starting to wake up. “Dean, is that you? It's three o'clock in the fucking morning.”
“I said I'm using the tickets and going on the vacation.” Dean angrily tapped the couch's armrest. “I'm returning your check in tomorrow's mail.”
There was a brief moment of silence before Stephen let out a flustered sigh. “Don't be stupid. You don't have anyone to go with.”
“I'm going for myself. You can stay home if you like. I'll buy out your reservations.”
“No, I want to go.” Stephen was starting to sound pissed off. That was certainly one trait they both shared: they were stubborn as hell when angry. “But I know you're
not going to have a good time, so I'm trying to be nice by giving you a chance to wash your hands of the situation.”
Trying to be nice?
Dean chortled into the phone. “I can have at least as good a time as you.”
A loud, sarcastic laugh bellowed over the line. Whoever Stephen was in bed with grumbled for him to be quiet because he needed to get up early for work. Stephen ignored the man. “Suit yourself, Dean. But don't blame me when you're miserable sitting alone in the fucking hotel room.” With that, he hung up.
“Fine.” Dean snorted. Stephen thought he had Dean all figured out, did he? If that were true, then he would've realized that the reason they'd fought so much was because Dean had loved him so much. But none of that meant anything to Stephen. The shallow guy only cared about getting laid by as many men as possible—love never came into the equation. Well, Dean wasn't going to be the only fool left behind to nurse a broken heart that didn't deserve to be broken in the first place. He just had to make sure he wasn't crazy first.
* * * * *
“You're crazy.” Neil cocked a brow at his brother. “Actually, I think you're fucking insane.”
“Really?” Dean frowned. He had this funny habit of cocking his head to one side and looking at people he disagreed with like antlers were growing out of their heads. Neil assumed that was a trait most older siblings developed over time, since a lot of people in the office who were firstborns also tended to do it.
“Sure.” Neil gestured around his cluttered cubicle. The latest print proofs for the upcoming issue of Cityscape
lay out on his desk beside stacks of take-out containers from the nearby health-food bistro. There were bits of alfalfa over the Tommy Hilfiger ad spread on page four. He brushed the green flecks away with an annoyed glance at his brother. “You drove four hours to tell me you're going on a Mediterranean vacation with your sex-addicted ex. You are crazy.”
“Well.” Dean scratched at the hint of stubble on his chin. “That's only part of the reason I drove down here. I wanted to spend some time with you before I leave, since I'm going to miss your birthday.”
Neil jumped in his seat. “Shut up! We're not going to talk about that.” He shiftily glanced around the office to make sure no one had been in earshot. “I've made it through three years in this place with no one planning any stupid birthday parties at the office or a lame-ass karaoke bar. I'd like to keep it that way.”
“Really?” There was the antlers-growing-on-head look again.
“Dean, please.” Neil rubbed his eyes. “I'm just not in the mood, all right?”
“Okay, okay,” Dean conceded. “But Mom and Dad are going to want you to stop by the ranch sometime this month to say hi. You know how mom is—she won't be happy until she can make you a nice meal or a cake for your birthday.”
“I know.” Neil sighed, weary from a zillion things he couldn't quite name or put his finger on. “I'm avoiding it. She'll ask if I'm seeing someone and blah, blah, blah
“Hey, we're lucky we have parents who care and are supportive.”
“Duh.” Neil tossed a crumpled piece of paper at his brother's head. “I just don't want her to know that I'm not…” He paused, searching for the right words. Usually he was pretty good with them, having once considered being a comic-book writer back at the age of seven and a half. Unfortunately, nothing dry or cool came to mind, though he would've settled for “wittily tart” if he'd had at least that. “I'm not…” He started and trailed off again.
“Not happy?” Dean volunteered. The man was too astute for his own good.
“No,” Neil snapped. “I was going to say, 'not involved with anyone at the moment.'” There, that seemed like a viable enough defense. Somewhat.
Dean opened his mouth to say more, and Neil realized the man wasn't going to let the topic go. That was what good brothers did. They kept at an issue until they either helped work it out or became the biggest nuisances to ever walk the face of the earth. Neil appreciated the effort but didn't have the desire to go there at the moment.
“So why is this trip so important?” Neil lifted a proof sheet with an ad from a trendy travel agency in town. He taped it to an open spot on the clear glass wall that sectioned off his corner of personal space in the magazine's studio floor. “There are a gazillion other vacation spots in the world, and Lord knows you make plenty of money. It's not like the two or three grand you put down for this Greek getaway is going to break the bank.”
Considering the concept for a moment, Dean leaned back in the task chair beside Neil's, a cappuccino from the local coffeehouse in hand. “It's the principle, I suppose.”
“Principle is going to come back and bite you in the ass,” Neil warned. “It's not a smart idea to go on vacation with your ex, Dean. He's either going to screw you over or screw you. Either way, you told me you never wanted to deal with his shit again.”
“Why should I squander a chance to enjoy a Mediterranean getaway just because Stephen will be there?” Dean argued.
“I thought the 'screw you over or get screwed' contingency is a good enough reason. Believe it or not, Greece will probably still be there next year. You could take your dream vacation then, sans the nightmare boyfriend.”
“Has anyone ever told you that sarcasm is a dish best served with guacamole and tortilla chips?” The corners of Dean's mouth quirked. “That's an old Klingon proverb.”
“Fine, blow off my advice and make stupid jokes,” Neil said, but he was chuckling. “Although I'm pretty sure there's no possible way to enjoy a vacation with an ex. It's a law of nature or something.”
Dean rolled his eyes. Neil took that as an invitation to list more than a dozen additional reasons not to take the joint vacation. He swiveled around in his chair to face Dean and proceeded to tick them off on his fingers.
“One, you haven't packed well, and vacations are only as good as the luggage you carry along,” Neil said.
“Bullshit.” Dean snickered.
“Two, Stephen will be sleeping around with guys, and you're still going to feel jealous.”
“I'm over it.” The way his eyebrow twitched, Dean certainly didn't look
“Three, he's going to do things just to drive you insane, because that's the kind of prick he is.”
“Neil, my mind is made up.” Dean waved him off. “Talking with you has made me see that I have to go on this vacation just to prove to myself and everyone else that Stephen is not the end all and be all of my romantic life.”
“It's my turn to say 'bullshit.'” Neil snorted. “But hey—you're a grown man. You know what you want to do with your life.” Besides, Neil knew his reasons to avoid the trip were being filed in Dean's brain under the label Irrelevant
. Later, once the vacation had proven to be a complete and total disaster royale
, Neil could dole out all the I-told-you-sos he wanted. He wouldn't be getting any antlers-growing-on-head looks during that
conversation, he bet.