Drawn to the wildling like a planet toward the sun, Seth began to walk toward Corey’s booth. For a moment, he thought he saw anger in the steely eyes that watched his progress across the room. Then Corey looked down at his drink. His gaze remained averted until Seth stood at the edge of the table.
Seth’s stomach clenched with nerves and he knew his voice sounded low and husky, tinged with emotion, but he couldn’t help his reactions. Corey’s vetiver scent filled his nostrils, and he had to ruthlessly control his cock’s instant need to be inside his former lover.
Slowly, Corey raised his head. Seth’s breath caught in his throat. Deep, raw, heartbreaking agony stared out at him from Corey’s steel blue eyes. The intense emotion grabbed him by the throat, throttling his breath, stopping his heartbeat, and sending his protective instincts into instant overdrive. He vowed to kill whoever had hurt Corey. At the same time, he wanted to enfold his former lover in a warm embrace and shield him from further pain.
In the instant it took Seth to register Corey’s pain and corral his own emotional response to it, the wildling’s face went blank. The polite mask he put on didn’t fool Seth in the least. He knew Corey was dying on the inside.
“Seth. What are you doing here?”
Corey’s voice held icy overtones, and Seth couldn’t blame him for being cold. After all, Seth had left Corey’s house without a word while the wildling slept, and despite having Corey’s cell number and knowing where Corey worked, he’d kept himself deliberately away. What had happened between them had left Seth emotionally spent. At the time, he hadn’t known how to handle what he felt. He’d swept the majority of his feelings about Corey and that night under the rug and hadn’t dealt with them. Gazing at Corey now, Seth understood clearly that fear had ruled his actions in staying away from the wildling. A man like him, bright and outgoing, could never need someone as emotionally crippled as Seth had been. Even now, he still didn’t think he was worthy of Corey, but he could no longer ignore the desire he had for the man.
“I’m working. My company is replanting areas of the mountainside that were devastated in a wildfire and never recovered,” he replied honestly.
An expression of irony crossed Corey’s face, and Seth wondered at it, but decided he’d best not question. He stood on shaky ground with his former lover. At the moment, the wildling didn’t appear approachable or forthcoming.
Seth gestured toward the booth. “May I sit?”
For a moment, Corey’s expression went hard as stone, then he nodded almost reluctantly. Seth slipped into the booth across from the wildling. A waitress appeared, and Seth glanced at the drink in front of Corey.
“Have you eaten?” he asked.
The wildling shook his head, and Seth turned to the waitress.
“Two rib eyes, medium rare. Baked potatoes, loaded. Two green salads, one with ranch, one with Italian. Garlic rolls. Lots of butter.” He eyed Corey’s drink for a split second then finished the order with, “Two iced teas.”
The waitress left and Corey’s fingers tightened on his drink. “You take a lot for granted, Dylan,” he rasped, his words edged with anger.
“I know.” Seth sighed heavily and decided he’d best just start with the thing he needed to get off his chest. “Look, I’m sorry about the way I left your house and your life. I was wrong. I should have waited for you to wake up. Or I should have called you after I left to tell you I panicked. I shouldn’t have just taken myself out of your life. I’m a chickenshit and an idiot and I apologize.”
Corey’s eyes widened a little in surprise. He downed his drink in a single swallow. Seth watched the movement of his Adam’s apple and felt his cock surge beneath his zipper. He could remember the taste of Corey’s mouth on his tongue as if their lovemaking had happened the night before instead of eighteen months ago. His cock swelled a little more, and he shifted in his seat, trying to ease the tightness of his jeans.
“I’m surprised you’re even bothering with an apology.” Corey’s mouth set itself in stern lines, and he stared down at his empty drink glass, refusing to look at Seth.
“I’m an ass, Corey, but I’m not an asshole.” Seth bit back another sigh. His former lover wasn’t making anything easy for him. “I screwed up. I totally admit it. I knew it not half an hour after I left you. But, you know how confused and overwhelmed I was. My head wasn’t screwed on straight at all. It’s not an excuse for how poorly I treated you. I just want you to know I’m sorry for what I did.”
The blond head lifted and a feral gleam appeared in Corey’s eyes. “All this time you’ve known where to find me. Eighteen months and it took running into me here to get you to apologize?”
Seth felt his face flush. Corey’s words were damning and true. “I already admitted I’m a chickenshit,” he murmured uncomfortably.
Corey stared at him for long, tense moments, his gaze hard and uncompromising. Seth prayed silently for their salads to arrive. He’d ordered the same dinner they’d had the night he’d gone to Corey’s house. They’d grilled steaks, nuked potatoes, and tore lettuce together. He remembered Corey digging Italian dressing out of the back of the refrigerator for him while smothering his own salad with ranch and a ton of bacon bits. He hoped like hell the meal he’d just ordered would remind Corey of how good things had been between them that night.
Finally, Corey looked away as the waitress bustled up and set down two tall glasses of iced tea and two plates of salad. The instant she left, Corey shoved his plate at Seth. Seth pushed his over to Corey. They both smiled a little as they switched plates.
“You remembered,” Corey murmured as he spread his napkin in his lap.
Seth sighed. “I will never forget.”
Their gazes met. Something flickered in Corey’s expressive eyes before he ducked his head away. Seth could have sworn it was something deep and profound, but the emotion had been there for so brief a moment he couldn’t be sure. He picked up his fork.
“Are you out?” Corey’s blurted words held a harsh note and his jaw clenched into a hard, unforgiving line.
Startled, Seth couldn’t deny the relevance of the question. He just had a tough time with the context given Corey’s unforthcoming expression. “Not even a ‘yet’ in there.” Seth shook his head. “You don’t have much faith in me figuring out my life and my sexuality, do you?”
Corey’s eyes flashed fire. “You were in major denial.”
“It was hard for me to deny my sexuality or how much I wanted you when your cock was in my mouth,” Seth shot back, frustration goading him.
The wildling’s face flushed but his expression turned to stone once more. “Then the man you were with when you came in the bar is your lover.” A muscle twitched in his jaw. “I thought his touch seemed lover-like.”
Seth wanted to scream. The bright, outgoing, happy man he’d met in the cemetery all those months ago was gone. In his place sat a hard, unforgiving, snarkastic bastard. He would have said bitch, but Corey wasn’t much of a queen. However, the word queen reminded him of Corey’s words to the tree up on the mountain. Then he remembered Corey’s broken heart. The hand that lay on his thigh tightened to a fist.
“He’s not my lover. He’s just a guy I fucked. Someone I probably shouldn’t have even touched.” Seth bit back a growl. “I’m not in the closet, Corey. I don’t broadcast I’m gay, but I don’t deny it any longer either. I’ve not been a saint. I wasn’t one when I met you despite the fact I hadn’t ever been with a man.”
They stared at each other and Seth could see Corey struggling with his revelations. He decided to let all the truth out and see where that got him with the wildling.
“I fuck men. I don’t make love with them. I don’t suck their dicks. I barely touch them and rarely jack them off,” he admitted with a low growl. “I’m a selfish bastard of a lover. I use men. At least, I have in the past eighteen months. The only man I’ve ever made love with is you
. You’re the only one I’ve ever been able to feel close to. And I screwed that up royally, didn’t I?”
Corey shook his head dazedly. “What?”
Seth leaned forward, dinner forgotten. “I heard you on the mountain, Corey. I know you met some man who broke your heart. A man who is your mate.” Just saying the words made Seth want to strangle the guy with his bare hands. “I should never have left you. If I hadn’t, maybe this other man wouldn’t have broken your heart. Maybe you and I could have meant something to each other.”
“You’re crazy,” Corey said, his face shocked.
“No. I’m not crazy,” Seth replied, determined to make Corey see everything would be okay. “I’m stupid, I’m willful. I’m scared and filled with angst. I’m a bastard and an ass. But I’m not afraid to speak the truth any longer, Corey.” He drew a deep breath. “I dream of you every fucking night. Your mouth on me. Mine on you. Your cock in me. Mine in you. The scent of your skin, the smell of your cum, the taste of you on my tongue. I know some bastard broke your heart, but I’ll mend it for you if you’ll let me. I’m out of the closet. I am gay. And I still want you.”
Silence met his impassioned words. Seth sat motionless waiting to hear Corey’s reply to his confession. Truthfully, Seth hadn’t even known he would say those words to Corey. He hadn’t exactly known what he wanted. But apparently, his subconscious knew and did a damn fine better job of articulating it than the conscious Seth ever had. Now, it was all up to Corey.