Partners and Federal Agents, Jason Lowery and Noah Black wake up in bed together naked, but neither one knows how they got there, or to the remote cabin the bed's in. Jason's interested, very interested, but he fears his partner’s reaction and the potential fallout if their superiors ever find out. He misread a fellow officer’s interest once and lost it all -- his career, his friends, his family’s respect. This time around, he won't be the one risking everything.
Noah has always been curious about sex with another man, but his strict upbringing and life in law enforcement made it impossible to explore that side of his nature safely. When he and Jason get locked in a cabin by a well-meaning friend, Noah wants to sample the forbidden.
Both men agree to a single afternoon of passion. Just to see.
When they are released from the cabin, Jason wants to see where a relationship with Noah might lead. However, Noah is not ready to make such a radical lifestyle change -- and he doesn’t think he’ll ever be ready to come out to friends and family.
* * * * *
They both recognized the voice instantly: Nicholai Popov, Jason’s best friend.
Jason snarled, “What the hell were you think --”
“Now, now...is that any way to speak to a friend?” Nick interrupted, his tone annoyingly superior. “It’s time for you to make a change, Jase, and what better way than to take matters into my own hands?” Their benefactor chuckled. “You are in a family cabin outside of Asheville. There is no one else around for miles, so don’t bother trying to escape. It’s one of my personal hideaways, so there are no bugs or cameras anywhere. Someone will be by at five p.m. to release you. Your clothing and personal items will be waiting for you outside of the door. Until then, you’re on your own.” A heavy sigh came across the phone line. “I suggest you make the most of it, Jase.” With a click, the line went dead.
He stared at the phone in disbelief. Where did Nick get off playing God like that? Of all the stupid, crackpot ideas --
“You want to explain that?” Noah’s warm brown eyes betrayed his confusion.
“I think it has to do with Nick’s sick sense of humor.” Jason’s face heated when he saw the wary expression on Noah’s face. Groaning, he closed his eyes for a moment before opening them again. Maybe he should just ask for a transfer now and save Noah the trouble of firing him.
Sitting on one of the fancy chairs in the extravagant living room, Jason racked his brain for a suitable explanation, something that wouldn’t incriminate him further. He never should have confided in Nick. He should have known his friend would have seen his crush on Noah as a challenge.
Noah raised a single eyebrow, shooting down his inane rationalization.
“Nick called me and asked me to stop by his place. He wanted to give me something to make up for getting shot three months ago.” Jason massaged his shoulder, feeling the puckered scar where a single gunshot had ripped through flesh and muscle. He’d gotten lucky the shooter had been such a lousy shot. “We got to talking, and you know Nick. Once he gets a stupid idea in his head, he won’t consider any other explanation. That man has way too much time and money on his hands.”
Noah rolled his eyes, probably remembering his run-ins with the outrageous Homeland Security agent.
Jason raised a hand. “Don’t say it! It should be enough that I want to shoot myself right now. That should be my punishment for trusting him.”
Shaking his head, Noah snorted. “So what happened when you met up with Nick?”
“Nothing.” Too agitated to sit still, Jason stood up and began pacing, his hand clenching the sheet around his waist.
“Where do I come into this?” Noah eased back on the sofa, a curious expression on his face.
“I’m not sure.” Jason tried to gauge how angry Noah was with the situation, but his thoughts were sidetracked when he took in his friend’s dark tousled hair and sparkling brown eyes. There was a flush to his cheeks that contrasted with the creamy skin revealed by the lack of clothing. It was all Jason could do to stop staring at the arousing trail of wispy hair that disappeared beneath the blue sheet tied around Noah’s hips.
Noah narrowed his eyes, which he only did when he was deep in thought. “So, he wants to give you a gift, and somehow I end up here, locked in a room with you -- and we’re both naked? And you have no idea why he would conclude --” His confusion cleared up in a second. Standing up, he approached Jason. “I’m the gift, aren’t I? Your gift.”
Jason winced at his question. “No. Absolutely not,” he replied, except his voice lacked conviction.
Scoffing, Noah pointed to the phone. “I heard him ask if you liked your gift.” Waving an arm around the room, he continued, “I don’t see anything else resembling a gift.”
Seeing Noah’s reaction reminded Jason of Fort Benning all over again. A lump of fear lodged in his throat. He didn’t know if he could go through that again. Losing his family, his friends, and his career once was more than enough in a lifetime.
When Jason remained silent and refused to meet his gaze, Noah headed to the small kitchen located off the living room. The polished whitewood cabinets and shiny appliances had been a bit intimidating at first, but since it was Nick’s food he was about to eat, he purposely looked for something expensive the other man would miss. Served him right.
He dug through endless drawers, not recognizing most of what he found. He’d give good money for a pizza or a can of spaghetti -- the extent of his culinary skills.
“Do you need help?” Jason stood in the doorway, his posture rigid and face expressionless.
Noah was tempted to call out, At ease, soldier, just to see if he’d get a reaction from Jason. “Do you know how to cook?”
“Well, look through there,” he said, waving at the cabinets over the sink, “and the fridge and see if you recognize anything edible. Most of the packaging is foreign, and the bits that aren’t still sound disgusting.” Sighing, he opened a pantry door. “Where’s a pizza-delivery service when you need one?”
When he turned back, Jason had amassed various ingredients on the counter that ran the length of the spacious kitchen.
“What’s all that?” Noah grabbed a couple of fancy plates from the dishwasher and put them down near the stash.
Smiling, Jason continued to open the packages. “We can make sandwiches with this. It’s the same ham and cheese and stuff, just more expensive.”
“Yeah, okay,” he muttered, completely out of his depth, reminded that while Nick and Jason never flaunted their wealth, it was still apparent they hadn’t grown up in a tiny, rural town like he had.
As they ate their sandwiches, seated at the breakfast table near the window, Noah broke the silence. “I think we need to talk.”
Sighing, Jason put down his half-eaten sandwich. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea Nick would plan this...” His voice trailed off.
“Gift?” Noah completed the sentence, starting to find humor in the situation and Jason’s obvious discomfort. “I’ve got to admit, it’s kind of flattering to be someone’s idea of a gift.”
Hearing Noah’s amusement, Jason looked at him, surprise clearly on his face. “You’re not mad at me?”
“Did you plan this with Nick?” he asked matter-of-factly.
“Then why would I be mad at you? It seems like we both got caught by surprise, which reminds me: we need to develop better safety protocols when we get back to the office. The fact we both got taken with so little effort is shameful and dangerous.”
Frowning, Noah leaned back in his chair and and aextended his legs. He was alarmed at how easily Nick had tracked and caught them both in a short amount of time. As a federal agent, he’d known he could be the victim of a kidnapping or a hit, but being taken in broad daylight while he was distracted was nothing short of suicidal. That it was a friend behind the plot didn’t make it any less perilous; he sincerely hoped he never forgot this fiasco. It was obvious he’d grown too complacent since moving back home to North Carolina.
Now that they were no longer in danger, Noah put his mind to the matter of what to do about the situation with Jason. Knowing he’d been kidnapped as a gift for Jason -- now, that was shocking -- and since Jason hadn’t denied the claim, that was all Noah had to go on.
For his part, Noah couldn’t deny there had been times when he’d admired Jason’s intense blue eyes and muscular body, his boyish charm and dry humor. Noah had chalked it up to simple male competition, but maybe there was more to it.
He certainly wasn’t offended by Jason’s indirect admission, and his orgasm that morning had been one of the best he’d ever had. Was that because it was Jason, or because it was a man? Damn, his mind felt like it was about to explode.
“Jason, can I ask you a question? Something personal.”
The blond nodded, but his expression hardened faintly.
“Are you...” He didn’t quite know how to phrase the question. Despite being good friends with Jason and Nick, there were some things one simply did not ask another officer or agent.
“Gay, Noah? Are you asking me if I’m gay?” Jason couldn’t help the anger in his voice.
“Yes, I am.” Jason’s tone was downright frosty.
Finding an opening, no matter how small, Noah continued, “How did you know?” Jason probably wanted him to drop the subject, but he couldn’t pass up the chance to ask the questions that had been driving him nuts for years. Especially when he had someone he trusted to answer them. And he did trust Jason.
“I always knew. I was pretty typical in that respect.”
“What does that mean?”
“When other boys started noticing girls,” Jason explained, “I kept noticing boys. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I was different.”
“So you were never interested in women?”
“Nope.” Jason shrugged. “Not even slightly curious.”
“Really?” Noah bit his lip. “Does anyone in the office know?”
“Only Nick,” the blond replied, his face clouded.
Swallowing hard, Noah muttered the question he’d been building up to before he lost his nerve. “Whatdoesitfeellike?”
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