People said—and Tuck had learned the truth of it for himself over the years—”once a foster kid, always a foster kid,” no matter how old a man got. He was on the downhill slide toward thirty, and he could still feel in his bones every jolt on the rough road he’d traveled during those years on the streets and those he spent being passed from one home to another.
Tuck could always spot another foster kid, adult or child, and he wasn’t the only one who had the knack. There was always something that gave them away to each other. They’d make themselves as small as they could get to take up as little room as possible, or shout at the top of their lungs to make themselves heard.
Among other things.
Sometimes they shared no more than a sideways glance, but they recognized one another. There was a bond between them, and they knew it.
Some things never changed, and some things changed far too much.
Tuck scanned the length of the bridge that stretched out before him. Gorgeous piece of work. The city kept the road up nice and smooth, but the metal arches and the rococo ornamentation had graced this road like a fine lady since the 1920s. The view from the top was just grand enough for planning committees to maintain pedestrian sidewalks up there behind latticed cages.
Usually around this time of day, there’d be a handful people at the very peak, taking in the sunset. One guy in particular never missed a night, no matter what the weather.
It made him easy to find. At the far left, his head tipped back to let the red-orange of the setting sun warm his face.
Sunset lights were kind to Cade, not that he needed any help to take Tuck’s breath away. Still. Always. For a moment, all he could do was look. Cade’s slim hips were encased in jeans loose enough to let him move freely but snug enough to display the lean firmness of his muscles and the length of his limbs. He’d grown up graceful, his long torso stretching elegantly as a dancer’s when he turned from left to right. His slim swan’s neck arched with the tilt of his head, baring smooth pale skin made for being kissed.
Tuck knew that body better than his own. He’d traced it with lips and tongue and hands more times than a man could count without breaking out the chalkboard and some brain-twisting equations. He’d braced his knees against the sides of those lean thighs and ridden the man attached to them, strong hands kneading his hips. He’d pressed a fiery line of kisses to the wings of Cade’s shoulder blades and down his back to where it narrowed to a small waist. Dipped his tongue between the musky cleft beneath and slid his cock deep inside.
It was the first time he’d laid eyes on Cade in six months.
The hurt of being left behind never had faded. That old pain dug sharp claws into Tuck’s stomach now. It was his fault, why they’d ended when they ended. He’d own that.
That didn’t mean that during every day of silence and separation he didn’t pray to God for a way to make it right.
People said God worked in mysterious ways. They also said the universe had a twisted sense of humor.
The way Tuck saw it, they were both right. He hadn’t seen this coming, and he couldn’t help seeing how fitting it was.
He tapped the edge of an envelope against his palm, an envelope he’d carried out here for a specific purpose. The weight of its heavy, creamy paper had become as familiar to him in the three days since it’d hit his mailbox as the keys to his taxi were a long-accustomed weight carried in his pocket.
Time he quit dicking around and taking “no” for an answer, wasn’t it?
Tuck folded the envelope double to fit in his back pocket, sized up the length of the bridge once more and the distance between him and Cade, and waited for Cade to realize he was there. He would. Separation or no separation, there were still ties that bound. There had to be.
It didn’t take long. Cade lowered his camera and turned his head, searching. He spotted Tuck without much effort; then again, Tuck hadn’t been trying to hide. He lived his life in the open, balls out, diving in headfirst. Cade was the one who liked his quiet and his peace.
Tuck thought—hoped—maybe Cade started to smile at him before he remembered why he’d stopped. Maybe. He definitely didn’t miss the brief hesitation before Cade made a move toward him, leaving his peace and his pleasure in the setting sun behind him like a discarded cloak.
Well. He’d figured this wouldn’t be easy
. Tuck took a seat on the railing, just wide enough to balance on, and waited.
“Tuck,” Cade said when he came within earshot, camera still in hand. He looked wary and angry. And uncertain.
That last was what kept Tuck going through the awkwardness that shaped the ever-widening gap between them. “You look good,” he said, because it was the truth. He kept his mouth shut about the hair, and about the dark circles under Cade’s eyes he saw now that Cade had come close enough to spot them.
The corner of Cade’s mouth lifted in a half smile. “You never were a good liar.” He stopped just out of arm’s reach, keeping the best part of a yard’s distance between them. “You’re always climbing up to me, aren’t you?”
Tuck shrugged. “How else am I gonna be level with you? Besides, who says it’s got to be the journey or
the destination? Why not both?”
He almost made Cade laugh. A good sight, that.
But only almost.If at first you don’t succeed, right
? Tuck dug in the pockets of the light jacket he’d worn and retrieved two six-ounce bottles of pricey Italian sodas. Cade wouldn’t let himself indulge except on special occasions. The man could squeeze a dollar until it squeaked. Not that Tuck really blamed him. Life on the streets, in foster homes, and eking out a living in the big city taught a man to count his pennies.
Yeah. A prickle of anger stung hotly under Tuck’s skin. His trying to make some cash, scrounge up a life with a better class of rats for both
of them, had been what’d busted them apart and brought them here now.
He’d own his personal blame, sure. He just forgot sometimes that he wasn’t the only one at fault. The difference between them was that Tuck wouldn’t roll over and die. Maybe it was a fault, maybe a virtue. Maybe both.
Either way, if it gave him a fighting chance at winning his man back, well. Tuck wouldn’t hesitate.
“Raspberry and black cherry,” he said, refusing to let Cade decline the bottle when Cade would have done so. He balanced it on the railing between them. “Your favorite. My treat. The money’s already spent. No take-backs allowed once it’s a done deal.”
Cade glanced up at Tuck once, his expression as unreadable as it’d been back in the first days they’d known each other at St. Pius. Tuck thought he wanted to say something but didn’t. He shook his head instead and traced one of the beads of moisture on its way down the glass side of the bottle.
Tuck watched the drop of water and, to be honest, envied it. “You’re looking at me as if you’d like to eat me up,” Cade said. He must have felt it, for he sure wasn’t looking at Tuck when he spoke. “You never change.”
“You’re worth looking at,” Tuck said.
Cade’s cheeks warmed to a pale rose. He said nothing.
Tuck shrugged and propped his elbow on the outer rail, resting his head on his hand. The cheeky grin he knew always got under Cade’s skin popped out at the last, too quick to stop it. “I am what I am.” He uncapped his own treat with a twist of the wrist they’d both learned a long time ago in misspent youths sipping illicit beers. “Mazel tov.”
Cade bit his lip, shook his head sharply, and took a sip probably meant to be polite before the taste hit him as well as a good old-fashioned thirst. He tipped the bottle back to drink deeply, eyes closed in pleasure.
Worth looking at, he’d said? Yes, and then some. A droplet of sweat slid down to disappear beneath the collar of Cade’s T-shirt; Tuck watched it go and only just managed not to let his breath out in a long, slow sigh.
He’d have walked across coals to catch that salty droplet on his tongue. To feather his lips over the warm arch of Cade’s neck and tap the tip of his tongue in time with the beating pulse in the soft hollow between Cade’s jaw and ear. Rest his hand on Cade’s chest to feel the beat of his troubled heart and let Cade know he wasn’t alone.
Cade finished the bottle without letting go, tapping the glass to get every last drop. Sugar and fluid did him half a world’s worth of good. Only half, though. Tuck knew this for sure when Cade said only, “Thank you,” the politeness stiff and awkward on his tongue.Why’s it gotta be like this, Cade
? Tuck wanted more than anything to ask. Just take my hand. Tell me what’s wrong so I can fix it.
Cade’s thoughts remained a mystery. It’d be easier to get a read on the marble statues Cade seemed to imitate at times like these. Statues couldn’t be argued with or hurt or moved. They were safe.
Tuck understood, even if he didn’t like it. Even less did he like how this didn’t bode well. Their first conversation in six months, Cade refusing to take his calls from day one, and it had to be this way, huh? “You want to know why I’m really here, don’t you?”
“I didn’t think it was just to bring me a soda and pass the time of day,” Cade said.
“I’d have done that already if you’d let me.”
Cade would know that to be true. It made him tougher to crack. “Either tell me why you came, or I turn around and start walking now.”
“I came to give you this.” Tuck slipped the heavy envelope from his pocket and offered it to Cade, held between forefinger and index finger.
Cade’s frown was instant and obvious. “What’s this?” He checked the seal and glanced at Tuck in a silent query when he found it already opened.
“It was addressed to both of us,” Tuck said. “At our—my place.” Man, he’d never get used to the sound of those words. That apartment was theirs
; it had never been meant to be “mine.”
“And you opened it without asking me first?”
“I noticed it’d been mailed over a month ago. The zip code is wrong, and the post office took their sweet time forwarding. I figured it’d be better to see what it was before making a big deal. Could have been nothing.” He cleared his throat, uncomfortable. “Besides, I didn’t think you’d be coming around to pick up any stray mail anytime soon.”
Cade—almost—winced, but he took that shot like a man and simply nodded.
“It’s a good thing I did too,” Tuck said. “It’s from Megan and Hannah. They’re getting married.”
The envelope slipped sideways in Cade’s hand. He caught it, barely, before it fell and blew away off the bridge. Tuck watched him stare at the swirling sepia calligraphy that somehow matched the bronze and iron scrollwork on the bridge.
His throat moved with a jerk when he swallowed. “Oh.”
Shit. Tuck hadn’t expected Cade to go whiter than a bleached sheet, and he moved on automatic pilot to help hold him steady. “Christ. Easy, babe, easy.”
Cade started to move toward him. He had the instincts too. But he didn’t follow through. He took a step back, away from Tuck. “Give me a minute.” He lowered his voice. “Please.”Easier said than done
. Tuck jittered with the need to move, to act, to do something
. Anything. The shifting weight of keys in his pocket sparked an idea. “Look, I’ve got the taxi down there. Let me drive you to the park. Somewhere with benches where we can sit without better than average odds of falling. You can think it over on the way there.”
Cade shook his head in silence. He fingered the edges of the envelope without saying anything, but Tuck could tell when that sharper brain of his was whirring away. The dimple in his chin tightened when he did that. In the lowering sunlight, Tuck could see the faint brown dusting of five o’clock shadow that darkened Cade’s cheeks. It’d feel rough and soft against the back of his hand if he touched…
“Mailed to both of us,” Cade said. He handed the envelope back without looking inside. “They don’t know.”
Tuck’s throat tightened. “Not yet.”
Most of the kids who were sent there passed in and out of St. Pius’s grounds without leaving so much as an echo behind. Megan and Hannah were different. Megan had already been caught up in a gang; Hannah’s stepdad pimped her out. Still. Underneath all that, there was enough left to call out for help. They needed to be taken under someone’s wings if they were going to survive. He and Cade, they’d been the ones to answer, and the girls had become not quite daughters but something very like sisters.
Tuck could see the struggle warring within Cade. Hard not to.
“Why don’t they know?” Cade asked.
“Truth,” Cade said, though he looked none too sure.
“I didn’t want to tell them.”
Cade scoffed softly.
“You asked. Don’t blame me if you don’t like what you heard, and don’t throw stones, because you didn’t tell them either, did you?” Tuck slipped off the railing and stood on his own two feet to face Cade. “You’ve left me. This is true. But I haven’t left you.” He knuckled his chest, just over his breastbone. “Not where it counts. Miles don’t make much difference there. I couldn’t tell them it was over, because for me? It isn’t.”
Cade turned away from the sunset to prop his hip against the dangerous edge of the bridge, the one facing the street and not the safety of the sidewalk. “They weren’t even together the last time we spoke to them.”
“It’s been a couple of years. Too long,” Tuck said, wondering why he’d let that much time go by. He’d never meant to. “A lot can happen in two minutes, let alone two years.”
“How can they be old enough?”
It was a rhetorical question but one Tuck answered anyway. “I passed twenty-nine last week.” It’d been a bitch spending his birthday alone too. He nudged in a little closer and rested his elbows on the bridge rail, almost close enough to touch Cade’s. “That’d make you just a year short of thirty yourself, old man.”
Cade grimaced. “Don’t remind me.”
Tuck wanted to nudge him in the shin, just lightly, a love tap. “Anyone say there was something wrong with thirty? It’s a good year.”
Cade glanced sidelong at Tuck and offered him that half smile, wry as ever. “So you say.” He shook his head. “Let me see the envelope again.” As soon as he had it in his hands, Cade slid the bent cardstock free of the envelope at last and read it, lips moving in a habit he’d never quite broken himself of.
“It’s cute, how you do that,” Tuck said without thinking. Well, why not? It was true.
Cade didn’t like hearing it, though. “It’s not cute. It’s childish.”
“Cute,” Tuck said, as stubborn as Cade when he wanted to be. “Try changing my mind. It won’t work.”
“I know,” Cade said, soft as a breath of wind. “You never were the kind.”
“I am who I am. When I love, I love for life.” Tuck took a chance and, breath momentarily stilled, lifted his hand to brush the backs of his knuckles across the line of Cade’s cheekbone. “I miss it, you know? All of it. The little things. The big things.”
“That doesn’t mean you can change the past.” Cade tucked the invitation away, as carefully and precisely as if he were being graded on performance. “If you’d told me about the freelancing from the beginning, I wonder if we’d be here now.”
“I wanted it to be a surprise. Christ, Cade. I know why you come up here where it’s not so crowded and you can see a real horizon. You need to breathe, like we did at St. Pius. Tell me I’m wrong.”
Cade couldn’t and didn’t.
Tuck spread his hands in a “well, there you go” gesture. “All I wanted was to earn enough to buy us a real house. I wanted to surprise you.”
“Surprise,” Cade said with a snort. He wouldn’t look at Tuck. Again. Why? Hiding, angry, or both? “You managed that part.”
Tuck studied his knuckles, pressing them tightly against the others until the pressure of blood and bone turned them white.
“If I could do it over again, differently, I would. Believe that.”
“It’s not that easy.”
Tuck could feel his temper starting to prickle. “You think I don’t know that by now?”
“You stopped talking about work. Then you didn’t answer phone calls. You started not coming home at all sometimes. I believed you at first. Because I wanted to. But how many flat tires can a driver have? How many out-of-state fares and cell coverage problems and…” He’d knotted his fists in frustrated anger. “For weeks that went on. What was I supposed to think? What was I supposed to do?”
“Not have me followed by some Dick Tracy wannabe,” Tuck retorted. “Where did you even find that guy? In a fifth-floor walkup on the lower east side, smoking a cigarette behind a plate glass window with a few bullet holes?”
Cade’s jaw hardened. “He wasn’t top-drawer, but it took you long enough to know he was following you.”
Tuck made a pfft
noise. “Are you kidding me? I knew from the word go. I thought he was after…” Tuck gestured uselessly, unable to come up with any better description than, “The ladies.”
He wasn’t ashamed of the kind of work he’d found. Escorts and ladies of the evening needed a ride they could count on as much as or more than anyone else. They liked someone who they could be sure would stay hands-off, too. Only thing was, once he’d gotten a rep, he’d gotten more business, and more… Before he knew it, he was so near his goal of the down payment on a house he could taste it.
And then, this had happened.
“I never even dreamed you’d think I was cheating on you. You know me better.”
Cade didn’t move. “I thought I did. Some of those pictures weren’t of you with…” He didn’t like the word either, but he liked the alternatives less. “Ladies. Some were men.”
Tuck’s nails were going to pierce his palm soon. Not that it hadn’t happened before; he’d end up with a set of crescent-shaped scars. It didn’t help tamp down his rising temper. “Yeah. The guys that hired them. And none of them ever touched me. Ever. You know what pisses me off the most? You thinking I wasn’t just cheating, but that I’d started peddling my ass like a five-dollar hooker. Fuck.” Tuck snorted. “I wasn’t that desperate when I lived on the streets. Man, I’d have starved before I fell that low.”
“Right. You’re better than that. I know,” Cade said. Said it with a venom that Tuck didn’t understand and never had. A blind man could tell those escorts made Cade’s skin crawl, but let one guy say something against them and boom
. Was he for them or against them? Why did it matter
Cade turned away when Tuck had no response. “If that’s all you have to say, we’re done here.”Oh, fuck this
. Tuck advanced on Cade, not letting him back down and knowing he couldn’t back away without flipping off the bridge. “What really happened between us, you and me? Don’t tell me it was the job. I’m not as smart as you, but I’m not that stupid. Ten years doesn’t just snap its fingers and vanish over a job
. And don’t tell me it was because I tried to surprise you. I hid birthday presents before.”
Cade favored Tuck with the kind of long, flat look that promised the splintered flash of lightning and a roll of thunder not far off. “If you think you can compare the two—”
“No. I know I should have done it different. I got caught up. I was stupid.”
“Yes. You were.” Cade turned his back on Tuck. He spoke softly but not so much so that Tuck didn’t hear him say, “And so was I.”
See? It was things like that. Bits and pieces escaping Cade that kept Tuck hoping. If Cade had those things tucked away in his heart, then it couldn’t be as over for him as he wanted Tuck to believe.
Or maybe Romeo just hadn’t gotten any brighter over the years. Who knew?
All Tuck could be was himself. That meant taking chances. Gambling on a prayer.
And so, without letting himself question the move, he covered Cade’s hand with his and held tight. “I miss you.”
Cade drew in a deep, slow breath and let it out. His hunched shoulders broadened as he pushed himself up off the rail and looked away at some fixed point a thousand yards away that Tuck couldn’t see. Retreating inside himself to some place where Tuck couldn’t follow him. “It’s not that easy.”
“Then tell me why not,” Tuck pressed. “How can I believe you when you won’t explain what that means? And I don’t, you know,” he said, sure of it even as he said it out loud for the first time in months. “I don’t believe you.”
Cade’s eyes widened. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.” Tuck turned Cade around to face him once more. He palmed Cade’s cheek as gently as he could. Felt so good, that warm skin beneath his touch. So right. “And you know how I know?”
Cade swallowed, the long smooth line of his throat working. Tuck could see the question in his eyes, and the wish he wouldn’t let himself make.
Tuck pushed closer still, pressing into the inch of personal space Cade had left, lining their bodies one against the other. He feathered his thumb over the pulse in Cade’s wrist.
Cade watched him with the same sort of wary fear as a cat trapped in a corner, in the back of an alley.
Tuck didn’t ease up. This mattered too much to back down now. These were things Cade needed to hear. To feel. “This. This is how I can be sure.” He laid his hand on Cade’s chest, over his heart, just the way he used to, and felt how fast it beat. He felt Cade’s body reacting to him being this close too; that, he let that pass. For now. “I know because I know you.”
Cade stood very still, too still, save for an abrupt and bitter twist of his silent lips.
Tuck would have minded, if he hadn’t had more to say. “That hole, Cade, we keep digging. Both of us. But I’ll stake my life on it. We are not
done. And I do still know you, because I know
you’re dying to ask how I can be so sure.”
Slowly—as slowly as he’d opened the window that first time, that first night at St. Pius, no surer now of how to get this ball rolling than he had been back then—he slid his arm around Cade and spread his fingers wide at the small of Cade’s back. He’d grown too warm standing in the sun, and this close, pressed body to body now—almost—God, Tuck couldn’t think straight. Not with Cade close enough to taste the sweet raspberry and bitter black cherry on his breath.
Tuck didn’t stop there. He traced a path up Cade’s chest, his throat, the sharpness of the dent in his chin and the sandpaper stubble dusting Cade’s cheeks. “This,” he said. Their lips almost brushed. He kneaded Cade’s hip, craving more, still more, and Cade yielding to him as he met Tuck’s eyes, dark brown to deep gray. “This is how I know.”Now or never again.
Tuck slid one leg forward, drawing their hips into alignment. The hard line of Cade’s dick bumped against Tuck’s, and even though they were separated by jeans and boxers, they both hissed at the rough contact.
Tuck didn’t stop there. He let his hands roam over Cade’s chest, then down to curl his knuckles below Cade’s navel, the heat of Cade’s dick burning his fingers. Not touching. Teasing. Tempting. A girder would hide them from any Peeping Tom eyes, but Tuck honestly couldn’t be bothered to move or to risk startling Cade out of this moment he’d worked so hard to catch.
He brushed his lips over Cade’s, softer and sweeter than most anyone would believe he could be. He drew back to see how Cade was taking it. Only for a second.
This time when he kissed Cade, he crushed their mouths together, hard and hot, deep and wet, filthy and holy, everything that made him and Cade them
. Cade shuddered, no doubt doing his damnedest not to—
Cade groaned when he yielded. His hands were as strong and desperate as Tuck remembered, tangling in Tuck’s hair so hard his scalp prickled, kneading his hip with a merciless force sure to leave bruises. He pulled Tuck against him, grinding his hard-on, just as needy as his hands had been, against Tuck.
Then—he pushed Tuck away just as roughly as he’d been snatched up, his lips strung apart and kiss-swollen a dark red.
Breathless, Tuck stared Cade in the eye. “There. Now you can kick me over the rail if you want, or you can tell me if that feels like the end to you.”
Tuck could hear
Cade grinding his teeth. “It’s. Not. That. Easy. I’m not like you, Tuck. Leaping without even thinking about looking. You turn everything upside down the way it’s not supposed to be.”
“Says me. It’s my life.”
“I know.” Tuck eyed him. “But you know what? You’re my
life. Still. So where does that leave us?”
Cade flat-palmed Tuck’s chest, probably meaning to push him away. But as he did, the envelope slipped free of Tuck’s pocket and caught between the two of them, pressed as close together as they were.
Whatever Cade had started to say died unspoken. Uncertainty seeped back in.
To his own credit, Tuck didn’t like playing unfair. Sometimes, though, it was the only way. He took the envelope by one edge to keep it safe.
“Everything Megan and Hannah know about love, they learned from watching us at St. Pius and afterward,” he told Cade. “You know it’s true. I’m not going to call them less than a month before their wedding to give them this kind of news, and I’m not going to miss the chance to see my sisters get married. Look me in the eye if you can and tell me if you want to hurt them in any
way when they should be happier than they’ve ever been. I won’t take it away from them. Will you?”
Cade’s hands were knotted into fists, held at his side. His wrists were white from the pressure and restraint and his shoulders tight as muscle cramps. “There’s nothing else we can do.”
Cade stood on that thin edge right between fight or flight. Now or never. “How can there be a right choice?” The way he said that, with a quiet sort of despair, betrayed more about Cade’s state of mind and heart than Tuck knew Cade would have wanted on display.
More, it told him Cade didn’t want to let the girls down either.
So here went nothing—and everything. Tuck took a deep breath and laid his cards on the table, plain and simple. “They don’t know, and they’re happy that way. Ignorance is
bliss, sometimes. They don’t need to know, so we…” Tuck tried to find a way of saying this that sounded better and couldn’t. “We don’t tell them. That’s the only way.”
Cade stared at him. A stare so blank and protracted that Tuck shuffled his feet and crossed his arms, trying to keep his mouth shut and not make things worse. “You’re not joking, are you?”
“No.” Tuck could almost read Cade’s mind at the moment, and he didn’t disagree with any of the thoughts no doubt racing through it. This was madness, but he’d challenge anyone with a living, beating heart to come up with anything better. Cade wouldn’t be able to.
That didn’t mean he’d fall in line. Only seconds passed before Tuck knew he’d called that one right.
“No. Fuck no.” Cade sounded paper dry and iron hard. Rusted iron, but still too strong for one man to break. “That’s what you call simple? Lying to them?”
“Saying nothing isn’t telling a lie.”
“It’s a lie of omission.”
“Then what am I omitting?”
“That we’re—” Cade started, then stopped.
Tuck knew what the man refused to let himself finish saying. Suited him fine to take over. “That we’re over, or we’re not over? Tell me, Cade. Which one’s the lie?”