Brandon Halvorsen, baseball’s former “Great Dane,” stood in the doorway of the converted shed at River’s Edge Farm.
The sky had been overcast for the last few days, but so far, the fluffy white stuff the damned weatherman had sworn was on its way had failed to show. Southern Oregon in early February was usually wet, not white, even at the fourteen-hundred-foot elevation of Cave Junction. Snow was rare, and Brandon had yet to see it since they’d come to the Illinois River Valley three years ago. He hadn’t had a snowy winter since he’d lived in Chicago, and it had been a hell of a long time since then.
Before his parents had decided that he didn’t fit the mold for the model son.
Before the kids had come into his life.
Jesus. He couldn’t really remember what life had been like before Angel.
Funny. The sexy brat had been part of his life for only...well, six years, if Brandon counted the first three when he’d known and seen Angel at his agent’s office. When he and Angel had each thought the other man wasn’t interested.
Wasted time, as it turned out.
But the last three years... Whoa.
Snorting at his momentary walk down memory lane, Brandon yanked his office door shut and took a look at his watch. “Damn it.” He’d been hoping to get done with his latest work project earlier than this. It was almost six o’clock, and they generally had dinner about now. But the call he’d taken had derailed his afternoon schedule.
“Angel’s gonna kick my ass if I don’t have the table set and the kids washed up.” Licking his lips at the thought of how he and Angel might tussle in the bedroom later on, Brandon grinned, then grimaced when he recalled his conversation with CeCe. His agent had kind of dropped a bomb on him. No doubt a fantastic opportunity, but a bomb nonetheless. “Guh.”
He was going to have to talk to Angel sooner or later. Probably before he called the guy from SPX Television.
But later. Later was always good.
He hurried up to the house.
* * * *
“Angel?” Brandon peeked around the glass door into the kitchen. “Where the hell is he?” The dishes weren’t laid out on the dining room table, and it was now six fifteen. Where were the kids? And why wasn’t dinner underway? Angel cooked, and Brandon cleaned. That was the agreement.
“What’s up? I thought you’d be dressed by now.”
Brandon started at the sound of Angel’s voice. Whirling, he glared. With the five-inch height advantage he had over Angel, he was able to do the glaring thing well. “What’s the idea of sneaking up behind me?”
“What? You were looking for me!” Black brows crunching, Angel stared at him. “What’s going on?” Angel pushed past him into the kitchen. “Come to think of it, you’ve been acting weird for a while.” He stalked to the fridge and yanked it open.
“Um. Grab me a Blue Moon, will you?”
Snorting, Angel stood upright and held a bottle in each hand. “Sure, guapo
. Here.” He tossed the bottle to Brandon with a smirk.
Brandon caught the cold glass with one hand and twisted off the top. “Thanks, sugar.” He gulped a few swallows. “So.” He leaned a hip against the counter, hearing the tiny crackle of paper in his back pocket. He’d written Jay Mackie’s number and e-mail address on that note.
“So.” Angel took a sip of his beer, then slid his long fingers through his straight black hair.
Strands tended to slip down and hang over Angel’s brow. Most times, Brandon found that sexy and distracting. Especially when Angel combined it with a hot look from those pretty brown eyes. But right now, said eyes were watching him with suspicion.
“You look nice tonight.” It was the truth. Angel was dressed in snug pants, the espresso leather beautifully complementing his light-brown skin. He’d topped it with a soft, long-sleeved sweater, and the dark-cranberry fabric was stretched quite nicely over his chest muscles.
“Uh-huh.” Angel eased his butt against the opposite counter and rested one foot over the other. He crossed his arms over his chest, the beer bottle dangling from the fingers of his right hand. “You gonna get dressed?”
Frowning, Brandon looked down at the warm-ups he wore. He’d thrown them on after his lunchtime workout. “Huh? I was thinking I’d just stick with this.” He glanced at the clock. “I thought we’d be eating soon anyway. Where are the kids? And the dogs?” The house was strangely quiet without the noise of two preteens and their faithful German shepherds.
Angel stiffened, then slowly straightened. “They’re with mi madre
.” He set his bottle on the granite counter with a distinct click
and walked out of the room.
“Where are you--” Mouth open, Brandon watched the glass door swing back and forth. “Hey!” He stared at Angel’s tight ass as his lover headed into the dining room. “What the?” Brandon lurched forward, then tried to leap back when Angel spun around and started back into the kitchen. He wasn’t quite quick enough as the door sped toward him with Angel’s stiff-armed shove.
The wood thudded as it hit his knee. “Ow! Shit!” Brandon hopped awkwardly toward the counter and leaned on it for balance. He rubbed his aching patella. “What the hell is wrong with you?” He yelled the words as Angel followed the heavy oak back into the kitchen.
“You forgot, didn’t you.” It was clearly not a question. “God.” Those sexy lips tightened. “Last week you forgot you were supposed to pick up Marisa from her piano lesson. Then yesterday you forgot to pick up the dogs from the groomer.” Angel shook his head. “You even forgot to send the last part of that stupid landscape plan to Lorna for review.”
“What stupid plan?” Distracted, Brandon eased upright. “The Selma Library plan? What’s stupid about it?” It was the final project in his apprenticeship. Once it was done, he was going to sit for the landscape architect state licensing exam. “That’s my big project.”
“Oh, for--” Angel huffed out a breath. “Pinche idiota
.” He put his right hand up with the index finger and thumb forming a tiny O and the other three fingers sticking out.
. In the three years since Brandon and Angel had been together, Brandon had gotten fairly good at understanding his hot-tempered lover, along with the Mexican slang and gestures that the barrio-born Angel threw around with impunity. “Easy there, sugar.” He reached out a hand. “Why you calling me an idiot?” Angel had actually called him a fucking idiot, but why split hairs? “And what’s with the asshole thing?” The hand gesture had been a little uncalled for, in Brandon’s opinion.
“Uh, maybe because you’ve had your head up your ass for the last month.” Angel set the flat of that same hand against Brandon’s chest and pushed.
Stumbling back against the counter once more, Brandon frowned, feeling cranky now. “What? What the f--heck?”
Catching himself had become habit, even though the kids weren’t present. He’d learned a lot of life lessons since the advent of Marisa and Trey Collins into his life three years ago. The kids had changed more than just his language. “I do not have my head up my...butt,” he spluttered.
“Really? ’Cause it looks like it to me.” Stepping back, Angel crossed his arms over his chest. “And I’m not the only one.”
Feeling severely put-upon, Brandon grabbed his beer again. Goddamn it. I do not need this pressure right now
. “I’ve been busy working all day.” He tossed back a swallow before wiping his mouth on his sleeve. “You want to tell me just what the heck your problem is, sugar?”
Tipping his head back, Angel actually managed to look down his nose at Brandon. “You mean besides the fact that I’m pretty sure there’s something going on with you? Or just the fact that you forgot tonight?”
Swallowing hard at the first question, Brandon almost missed the second. “Tonight?” The significance of Angel’s clothing finally hit him. “Oh, shi--shoot. That’s why the kids are with your mother.” He rubbed his palm across his eyes. “Christ. I’m sorry.”
“Forget it. Again, that is.” Angel just shook his head before once again leaving the kitchen. This time the door hardly swung at all in its frame.
Brandon let his head fall back and stared at the ceiling for a long moment.
Thursday was date night. Had been for the last six months or so. The night Angel’s mother, Maria, watched the kids so that Brandon and Angel could have some adult time for them to focus on each other and talk about whatever was important.
And a couple of days ago, Angel had hinted he had something special to discuss.
Mentally spouting every Mexican curse he’d learned from Angel, Brandon slowly banged his head against the wall cabinet. “Decision time, dude. Decision time.”
* * * *
.” Muttering that epithet and more, Angel yanked his cashmere sweater off, coming dangerously close to overstretching the fine wool. He was tempted to ball up the garment and pitch it across the master bedroom, but he held himself back. That sweater had cost him two hundred dollars.
“See? I can be an adult.” He looked at his reflection in the wide mirror hanging on the wall over the long dresser. “I might want to kill a certain dickheaded ballplayer right now, but I’m gonna be calm.” What difference did it make if he had something special to talk about tonight? Something he’d been planning for a while. Or that he’d planned to take Brandon to the new sushi place his lover had raved about, the one with the quiet corners and romantic atmosphere?
Maybe he didn’t want to propose after all. Valentine’s Day was just something invented by Hallmark anyway, right? He smoothed a hand along the soft fabric, then shook it out and began to fold it.
“Don’t put it away, sugar. Put it back on.”
Angel met Brandon’s gaze in the mirror. “Why should I?”
“God. You know that pout gets me every time.” Brandon moved a step inside the doorway.
“Yeah?” Angel coughed out a humorless laugh. “Well, pendejo
, I’m not pouting. I’m pissed.” He set the sweater on the dresser. “There’s a big difference.” Keeping his gaze locked with Brandon’s, Angel brought his arms up and flexed his muscles, posing like a bodybuilder. “See this?” He pointed to the sculpted definition in his biceps. “You start taking this”--he circled his hand in front of his torso--“any of this, for granted, and we’re gonna have a big problem.” Angel worked hard for that body, and he knew he looked healthy and good. “And you can forget about dinner tonight.” He yanked open a drawer. “I’m going over to Mamá’s and eat with her and the kids.” He tossed a T-shirt onto the bed.
Cursing softly when he had to struggle to get his leather pants off, almost tripping over the boots he’d toed off, Angel got even angrier. “I had something nice planned for tonight.” He huffed a little as he shoved the buttery material down his calves. When he caught Brandon staring, he felt a certain satisfaction that apparently the dope couldn’t keep those blue eyes off Angel’s ass and package. Despite himself, he started to harden. Giving his traitorous dick a thump, he finally succeeded in getting the pants off. He kicked them to the side, no longer interested in good housekeeping. “But you can forget it now. Just like you’ve forgotten a whole hell of a lot lately.” Angel quickly pulled on a pair of jeans, then threw on the T-shirt and stamped his feet into deck shoes.
“Wait! Wait a sec. I just wish you’d give me--”
Brandon tried to stop him from brushing past, but Angel wasn’t interested. He kept moving through the doorway, striding through the dining room of the old house to the coat closet. When the original cast-iron knob pulled off in his hand, Angel had had enough.
“When the fuck are you going to fix this house?” He knew he was yelling, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. “I’ve put up with this dump for three goddamned years now.”
“Hey, slow down, will you? You know you don’t mean that.”
Brandon got close enough that Angel had to look up to meet the turquoise gaze, which didn’t help his temper at all. He hated having to stare up at the best of times, let alone now when his surprise had been ruined. “Back off.”
He knew Brandon loved the antique home, had in fact looked for just this type of home when the ballplayer had decided to quit the majors and bring both newly acquired wards from California.
“And I do mean it.” Mostly. Kind of. “I’m sick of having to put up with old stuff every time I turn around.” He blew out a gusty breath and shoved the hair off his forehead. “Look. I am just tired of not knowing what the hell is going on with you right now.” When Brandon tried to speak, Angel held up a hand and shook his head. “Whatever the hell is it, you’d better get it figured out, and I mean soon.” Deciding to forego a coat so he could get out of the house, Angel shoved the knob at Brandon and stepped to the front door. “Don’t even try to deny something’s going on, ’cause I know it is.” With a quick jerk of his hand, he had the door open.
“Wait. I’ll go with you.” Brandon came close once again, a pained expression on his face.
“Don’t. Don’t bother. I’m gonna go see my Mamá and the kids, and you’re gonna do”--he waved a hand in the air--“whatever it is you’re gonna do.” Knowing he wasn’t making a lot of sense just made Angel more anxious to leave the house. “Later.”