Paul Summerfield is stunned by the gentle reminder it has been over a year since he and his partner, Evan Akkerman, have made love. He vows to take Evan out for Valentine’s Day. Dinner and sex. Lots of sex. There’s only one catch—he’s supposed to be in San Francisco that week cataloging the art collection of an important new client. No problem, he’ll just change his schedule and cut his trip short by a day.
In San Francisco, Paul struggles with regrets and the fear his love is slipping away from him. Every call to Evan seems only to prove the distance between them is increasing. All this, and a key piece of his client’s catalog is caught up in customs. To keep their Valentine’s date, Paul will have to choose between the career he’s built over fifteen years and the man he’s loved for just as long.
“This is a sexy, short novella with a sweet HEA. Recommended.” — Gay Book Reviews
“Sweet and sexy rekindling of a love that endures.” — Goodreads review
“Did you know it’s been a year since we last made love?”
Paul watched his forkful of egg take a dive toward the plate before looking up. “What about the shower last week?”
“First of all, bumping into each other in the bathroom isn’t sex. Second, that was a month ago.”
“Well, yeah, I’m so deprived I practically come every time I pull my shorts up.”
Paul fought the tug at the corner of his mouth, but when Evan gave in to the same urge, full lips quirking into a quick smile, Paul let go and smiled back. “That would make for a lot more laundry than we’ve been doing.”
“Paul, a quick hand job in the shower isn’t making love. It’s not romantic.”
“I love touching you. That’s romantic, isn’t it?”
Evan’s expression suggested it wasn’t.
Pushing the fallen clump of egg around his breakfast plate, Paul considered his next move carefully. Evan was the most easygoing guy he knew. He didn’t make a fuss about clogged drains or fritzing satellite signals. He never yelled at the six o’clock news. He wore pastel shirts year-round because he liked soft colors, and he rarely complained about anything—until now.
Pointing out they hadn’t actually done more than sleep in their bed for… a while… was a complaint. He hadn’t whined or wheedled—not that he ever would. That was Paul’s department. Evan had simply presented a situation that needed addressing.
“Has it really been that long?”
Evan reached for the hand Paul had resting on the table. Tracking the movement, Paul saw hesitancy in the gesture. Sadness welled up from his gut to wrap around his heart. When had Evan become afraid to touch him? No, that wasn’t the right question. When had they stopped backing each other into walls, through doors, and onto beds, taking what they wanted? Romance be damned, when had they stopped fucking?
Evan closed warm fingers over his. “New Year’s, not this last one, the one before, and you didn’t come.”
Paul was forty-three. A few too many cocktails on top of too little sleep sometimes meant…. He narrowed his eyes. “Do you keep a climax diary or something?”
“I don’t want to fight with you. That’s not what this is about.” Sighing, Evan leaned back in his chair, right into the sunlight slanting through the windows of the breakfast nook. The light flattered him, bathing his pale skin in a healthy glow. The brown of his eyes seemed warmer and his hair more gold than blond.
Paul thought back to the last time he’d seen those eyes blown wide with desire and that hair dampened with sweat, curled in postcoital disarray. Something other than sadness twisted through his middle as he found his recall clouded by distance. He really couldn’t remember the last time they’d had sex. Proper sex, with kissing and teasing, spit and lube. Both of them climaxing at least once. Maybe twice.
He loved this man! Adored every last inch of him. Even his weird crescent-shaped feet and bulbous toes. They were best friends and lovers and had been for nearly fifteen years.
“Tonight….” Paul shook his head, cutting himself off. “No.” Evan deserved more than a hastily planned evening. Paul picked up his phone and accessed the calendar. February. Not the most romantic month, except for that one day, next Thursday. “Valentine’s Day.” He looked up. “You, me, a romantic dinner, a walk somewhere if it isn’t zero kelvin or the middle of a blizzard, and sex. I want to suck you until you scream for mercy. I want you inside me. We’ll be monkeys, or just horny guys. Lots of sex.”
Evan’s answering smile had a weirdly funereal quality. “You’ll be in San Francisco next week. The Barrington appraisal, remember?”
The fact Evan knew his schedule better than he did rankled, but only until Paul acknowledged the fact it was Evan who kept them on track—remembering appointments, anniversaries, and when they’d last had sex. He would be lost without him. When had he begun to rely on Evan to remind him of that fact too?
Paul tapped about on his phone, looking at his appointments and schedule. He had no further travel booked until March. He could move the appraisal. Wasn’t as if the collection was going to up and disappear, right? And Arnold Barrington might buy something new in the meantime. Moving the appointment made sense! “I’ll put him off. Shift him to the week after.”
“Then you’ve got yourself a date.”
A date. Paul’s gut fluttered. Man, when was the last time he’d had a date?
“I’m sorry, but Mr. Barrington is leaving for Singapore on the sixteenth and isn’t due to return until the end of March at the earliest.”
Ignoring the picturesque view from the window of his home office, Paul concentrated on not tugging his hair out at the roots. “Okay, what if I come a couple of days earlier. Sunday instead of Tuesday?”
“Not all the items in the collection have cleared customs….”
The secretary’s voice became background noise as Paul mentally juggled his schedule. If he left tomorrow and started cataloging before the collection was complete, he could probably finish up on the thirteenth and get the red-eye back to Philly. Sleep away the day while Evan was at work, then swing into the evening all refreshed. It was a workable plan.
He confirmed the new dates with Barrington’s secretary. Then he tried to change his flights. Evan had booked them. As a travel agent, it was what he did. While he searched his e-mail folder for the reservation number, Paul thought back to the day he’d met Evan.
After six years of working for a renowned gallery—his dream job until it wasn’t—he’d been approached privately for an appraisal. Paul remembered the adrenaline surge as he’d realized what it could mean: his own business, his own clients. Cataloging and even curating collections that meant something to him personally. Travel. Visiting the places where the masters had stood, sat, slept, created. Being immersed in art. He hadn’t understood how stifling the gallery work had been until that moment.
To get to Salt Lake City—not the most exotic destination, but everyone had to start somewhere—he’d needed to book a flight. Try as he might, he couldn’t find one to fit his potential client’s tight schedule. Sensing his window of opportunity closing, Paul had abandoned the Internet and stepped inside the little storefront sandwiched between the pizza place and the yoga studio in the strip mall across the road from his apartment. And as it had at the breakfast table this morning, a shaft of sunlight had been streaming through the grimy window, lighting Evan at his desk, bathing him in golden glory. Blond curls, honey-brown eyes, and the hint of a dimple to the left of a wide, sensuous mouth.
It had been lust at first sight.
After Evan found him flights and accommodation, lust had become something akin to worship.
“If I sign this client, I’m taking you out to celebrate,” Paul said, coloring only after he thought back over his invitation. Stupid, stupid. Evan had been charming and helpful, even a little flirtatious. But that could just be the persona of a good salesman.
Evan reached across the desk to touch his fingertips to Paul’s. “It’s a date.”
Paul had never forgotten that touch. He hadn’t thought about it in a while, but now, as he sat staring at his laptop, he could clearly remember the tingle at his fingertips, the way it traveled through the bones of his hand, up his arm, and down through his torso. How his pulse stuttered, stopping his breath in his throat. Having to shift in his seat as he hardened, then and there, his cock catching almost painfully against his zipper. Thank God he’d been wearing jeans. He’d had to leave the shop with his hands shoved deep into his pockets. Evan had noticed.
Paul won the client and the date. He and Evan had been together ever since.
He located the e-mail with his reservation information and spent a frustrating hour trying to change his flights. It would be easier to call Evan and have him do it, but throughout the course of the morning, Paul had become keenly aware of how much Evan already did for him. How much he relied on his lover.
Did he take Evan for granted? Panic seized his lungs as he tried and failed again to locate flights to match his new dates. If he couldn’t keep his Valentine’s Day promise, would Evan leave him? No. God, no. They weren’t young and overly dramatic anymore. And a single missed date would have meant little even back then, back when he’d barely been able to think in Evan’s presence. Closing his eyes, Paul breathed deeply, as if inhaling Evan’s scent. Sunshine and lightly sanded wood. Male sweat and sex. Did he still smell the same? Surely he still smelled the same. Warm and lovable—of comfort and home. Heart jerking, Paul opened his eyes and picked up his phone.
Thinking about you, he texted to Evan. Remembering the day we met.
Minutes ticked by as he waited for a reply. Each second seemed to echo in his chest, replacing his heartbeat with a somber countdown. Why hadn’t Evan responded right away? He always texted back within seconds, as if he’d been waiting by the phone. But when had Paul last texted him for no other reason than to say thinking about you?
The screen flashed on, showing a text from Evan. Need help changing your flights?
Sighing, Paul tapped out a quick reply. No, I can do it. CU tonight.
TTYL, Evan replied.
When had they stopped saying I love you?