Evan was surveying his utterly trashed work area when the unwelcome sound of his boss’s voice filtered in from outside.
Laughter. Jason was laughing. That was probably good. Except it meant that Evan’s personal failure to get the remodel done by Christmas would soon be shared with more than just Jason. And Jason, really, would have been more than enough.
The beach house’s front door opened.
Oh, god. Evan turned. “Hey, boss.”
“The hell do you call all this?”
“Sorry, I meant to get it done, and I thought maybe if I worked all through yesterday, but then I made a wrong cut, and nothing was open—”
More laughter, this time from outside. “Jase! Stop torturing people!” A handsome blond guy stepped inside, and Evan didn’t go for cis guys as a rule, but then the blond smiled and oh. Damn. The guy prolonged eye contact with Evan and let his smile sort of…grow. “Definitely don’t torture people without me. You must be Evan. I have heard so much about you.”
It was a fairly normal thing to say. It was only a thing Cait called transanoia that made Evan immediately wonder if “isn’t a real man” was on the list of things this golden-haired god had heard.
“Uh. I’m Evan.”
Jase laughed, probably at his awkwardness. “Evan, Nick. Nick, Evan. Hey, are you supposed to talk to people without your man’s say-so?”
“I just asked him in the car if I could do my own intro, which I thought was fucking big of me.” Nick reached out a hand, which Evan shook. “You’re Lucy’s Boston Love.”
A third guy came in, broader, darker, way more looming. He cleared his throat, which seemed to trigger a smirk from Nick (who hadn’t let go of Evan’s hand yet). “Hello.”
“Bern, this is Lucy’s Boston Love, who goes by the given name Evan. Evan, this is Bernie.”
The invitation to stay in the house over the holidays had been superior only to the alternative, which was crashing on Cait’s ex’s couch. And since Cait’s ex still referred to her as him, Evan hadn’t thought too much about it.
Now, standing here, meeting the first people in the group Jase liked to call “the family”, Evan was starting to think a week of having his headphones in and sending Cait pathetic emails might have actually been a better idea.
“Good to meet you,” he said, rallying to the best of his ability.
The guy, Bernie, smiled. “You too. We offered to put you up for a meal every now and then in the last two months. I hope Jase forwarded the message.”
“You’re kind of an ass,” Jason muttered. “Ev, tell him I fucking offered.”
“Thank you. I was fine here.” And gas costs a fortune, so I didn’t really want to drive all the way to Richmond, which is actually over a bridge from here.
Bernie nodded and seemed willing to drop it. “Speaking of food—when do we expect Lucy’s contingent to arrive?”
Despite his considerable nerves, Evan felt his skin tingle with the thought. Lucy. The woman who populated so many of his fantasies that Cait teased that he could never tell her all of them. The woman who’d met him in a coffee shop, proposed they go dancing, then taken him back to a hotel room and stripped all of his layers off. Including all the ones that read girl.
She’d looked at him, head tilted just slightly, and said, Hello, boy. Like it was obvious. Like she understood.
The next day she’d bought him his first binder. Maybe he wasn’t supposed to feel like one person could change his whole life, especially if that one person was on holiday and never called him after she left Boston. But Lucy had seen who he was before he could say it out loud, and it didn’t matter that it was a cliché, it was true.
He hadn’t had to say anything to Cait before getting on a plane for the California job. She’d made delighted, giggling love to him, and told him she looked forward to hearing about all the sex he was going to have out on the west coast. She’d dared him to make new stories with Lucy, who was surely a household deity between them. An oracle, who’d read his future in his eyes, on his skin.
Evan rubbed the back of his head. “What the hell, boss?”
“Stop dreaming of Mistress Lucy and help me with this shit. If the two of you would lower yourselves to help, that’d be stellar. We gotta get this place cleaned up before the client gets here.”
Nick snorted. “The client! Ha. You worried Hugh’s gonna fire you and get someone else to do this job.”
“Not after I put in all this fucking time and energy sweet talking contacts in the area. Christ. You’d think I was trying to build a goddamn slaughter house for orphans with the shit I had to put up with to get these fucking permits!”
They talked and laughed and even though it felt like he hadn’t gotten his job done, it was good to have help.
Cait texted while he was sweeping and the other three were bringing in stuff from the car. Is she there yet? Oh my god. I’m wet I’m so excited. I hope she’s as open in California as she was in Boston WINK WINK.
Even crammed his phone back in his pocket just in time to hear a hoot from outside.
Jason sighed. “Hell. Okay. The client’s here. Brace yourself.”
Since the boss had seemed anything but comfortable with their client, Evan had been worried about it, expecting one of the usual types of assholes they took jobs from. Maybe he’d be “The know-it-all.” Or “The I can’t be bothered to pay attention when you’re talking, but want to see minute by minute photographic updates via email.” Maybe he’d be “The client who says everything is fine until the last day of the job, then has a thousand problems.”
Jason considered this guy a huge pain in the ass was all Evan knew. That and he considered them related through the guy’s husband.
Hugh Reynolds…was not what Evan expected. At all.
He was short, in a suit, and wore glasses. The two men with him were taller—one older, one younger. All three of them hugged Jason, the older one for an extra long time.
“So you fly here in secret and get Nick to pick you up? You don’t even tell me you’re in California for days?”
“Oh, please. Like this family has secrets. How are you, Tru?”
“Better now. Good to see you, Giant.”
“You too. Meet Evan. Ev, this is Truman, Will, and Hugh.” He lowered his voice, but kept it perfectly audible. “Hugh’s the one you gotta watch out for. He’s the money.”
“In fact I think you’ll find that Truman and myself are equally ‘the money’.” The short guy, Hugh, shook hands. “Excellent to finally meet you, Evan.”
“Uh. Thanks. You too.”
Hugh smiled. He had a nice smile, even if it was a little bland. “Oh, I’m sure I’ve been looking forward to this for much longer than you have.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t get everything done on time,” Evan blurted out. He immediately blushed and wished like hell he’d kept that inside.
Hugh raised his eyebrows. “As far as I’m aware, the project is right on time. We started much too late to get it done this year. My fault, not yours.” He turned to Jason, who laughed and clapped a hand over Evan’s shoulder.
“Kid, I always pad the estimates I give clients. Come on. Don’t be fuckin’ slow.”
“You mean—but I’ve been worried for weeks!”
“Yeah. It was cute.” A rough squeeze. “You think I’d’ve sent you out here to do the impossible?”
“You did! I think I have an ulcer!”
Jason laughed. “Sorry,” he said, without a drop of apology in his tone.
The injustice of it warred with the relief. Yes, the boss had pranked him and he’d fallen for it, big time, for weeks, but on the other hand, he hadn’t let anyone down and that was such a fucking load off Evan could only be grateful.
“Jase, you jerk.” The older one, Truman, smiled at Evan. “I’m sorry about him.”
Which was weird, since didn’t he work for Jason all the time? Who did this guy think he was that he could apologize for the boss?
“Oh my god, ignore all of them.” The youngest guy stood at his side. “You want something to drink? It doesn’t feel like time for a beer yet, but we brought tons of stuff, so you can take your pick. Or, like, you can have a beer. Doesn’t make a difference to me.”
I want to hide. But that probably wasn’t practical. “Uh, sure.”
“Cool. Come help.”
It could have seemed presumptuous of the guy to just assume he was going to help, except as the conversation continued around them, it actually seemed like a mercy.
The younger guy kept talking. “Don’t worry about them. You’ll get used to the crazy. Everyone else has. And anyway, it’s super good to meet you. I’ve only heard second hand stories, but they were awesome.”
Will. That was his name. Evan glanced aside at Will, who appeared to be flushed. “What stories?”
“Uh. Well. Um. Never mind. Ignore me, too. Um.”
There could only be so many stories. Evan helped unload food from the back of a sedan and hoped that exertion would account for the rush of blood to his face.
* * *
He heard her voice before he saw her. Even though everyone (except Bernie) had told him to make himself at home, he was still perching awkwardly on a sofa in the sunken living room when Lucy arrived.
There was a book on his knees. He pretended to read it, frozen, listening to her greet the assorted members of her apparent family, sneaking glances at the two men with her. He remembered their names, of course: Leo and Eddie. She’d done nothing but talk about them for hours, but each story had seemed pointed somehow. It wasn’t until long after Lucy had gone home that he realized she’d been telling those stories to herself.
Here they were, three years later, in the flesh.
Evan remained frozen, even when she came to stand in front of him, the two of them in a bubble while all the other voices swirled around them.
“You think I don’t know you’re freaking out?” she asked.
He finally looked up, mouth dry, pits sweating. “Hi.”
Lucy grinned. That biting, shark-like grin. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.”
“I wasn’t sure you’d recognize me.” It was sort of true. And sort of not.
He shook his head.
“Good. I’d hate for you to think I was losing my touch. Jase says you have a lady back home.”
Evan nodded, swallowed.
“She got a problem with you giving me a hug?”
“Uh…no. Not, um, I mean…we’re open. Like in general.”
Lucy’s gaze sharpened. “How open is open?”
“Luce!” That was the blond, Nick. “Stop harassing Evan!”
“I’m exploring the parameters of his openness policy, leave us alone.” Her attention returned to him, like a spotlight. “If you don’t want me to seduce you, tell me now. Otherwise: game on.”
His heart was thudding the kind of beat that meant he might be dying. Or fucking. “You don’t have—I mean—with your—” Guys? Boys? Men?
“My paramours are so excited to meet you they’re barely holding themselves in check. And no, Evan.”
Yeah, Lucy saying his name, his real name, not dancing around non-names like she’d done last time they met, was awesome. He gathered his wits, held her gaze, and said: “Then game on.”
Lucy’s laughter filled the bubble around them, and the room beyond that. “Anything off limits that I should know about before I jump in your lap?”
“Uhhh.” They’d talked about this, specifically. But Cait didn’t believe in reserving acts as if some were more meaningful than others, and Evan was gonna have to tell her in great detail exactly how grateful he was about that. Later. Because right now he reached up and tugged Lucy in by her belt loops, using her for just a little bit of leverage so he could sit up straighter.
She grinned down at him. “Baby. I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Me too.” He thought for a minute that she was going to kiss him, which wouldn’t be bad, at all. But she didn’t.
She held his gaze and called over her shoulder, “Come meet Evan, boys!”
He’d missed the opportunity to worry about this, about meeting them, because he’d been so worried about seeing her, but now they were shaking his hand and saying hello, and the one with downcast eyes was Eddie, and the tall one was Leo, and both of them seemed so genuinely happy to meet him that any worry would have been a waste.
Neither of them seemed anything but amused by Lucy’s proximity to him.
“Mistress, behave,” Eddie said in a low voice, before shooting a smile in Evan’s direction and walking back to the kitchen.
Leo sighed. “Evan, just in case you’re under any illusion, you should know: she’s definitely not going to behave. But she’ll make her bad behavior really good for you.”
Lucy laughed again. “You know that’s right. Starting as soon as possible.” This time she tugged his belt loops. “Your room is downstairs, isn’t it?”
“Um…” All the people, everyone would wonder where they were, or they’d know, and did she really mean sex, like right now, in the middle of the day—
“Mmm. Let’s go.”
Carefully not looking at anyone else in the room, Evan followed her downstairs.