Hellooooooooooo, ladies (and gents)! Man-to-Man Coverage: The Extra Point is a wrap!
Let me get it out there right now: DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE EBOOK COPY HERE!
Whew! Okay, onwards!
So, the sequel to Man-to-Man Coverage is now available. Yay! If you haven't read the first one, here's the link to the FREE ebook download for book 1: CLICK HERE. :)
Ahhhh...and now the sequel. Wooohoo! :D I had sooooo much fun writing this one and hanging out again with Brad and Cam. I got a little sidetracked in the middle of writing this story because of Into the Deep (available in the MLR Press anthology Going for Gold, also on Amazon and All Romance eBooks!!), which, after lightning round edits, became my first "real" publication when it was released on August 31st. Yayzerbeams!
Anyway, once that story was a wrap, I plunged right back into M2M2 (my code name for Man-to-Man Coverage: The Extra Point). *dreamy sigh* Cam and Brad. Like visiting old friends, really. They just started talking to me at the oddest times. Brushing my teeth? Yup. On the subway? Yup. Trying to sleep at 4AM and ending up having to pull out a notepad to take longhand notes since I'd already shut off my computer? Yup.
The sequel is entirely from Cam's POV and takes place three years after Man-to-Man Coverage. Included in this story is the pivotal...locker room outing. Yup.
I really hope you guys like it. :D
(Total tangent, but I'm going to pretend it's related because it's football-y stuff. Here's a pretty awesome letter from NFL player Chris Kluwe defending another NFL player's support of gay marriage. This one put a huge smile on my face.)
BACK TO M2M2 - I always feel weird about writing blurbs, so here's the admittedly non-blurby (sorry!) info that I posted to the Goodreads listing:
Word count: 16,128
tags: established couple; coming out; children; athlete; football; sports; opposites attract; oral sex.
Once again, download your own FREE ebook copy of Man-to-Man Coverage: The Extra Point HERE on Goodreads. If you have a sec and want to give it a rating and (maybe??) a review, that would be super awesome, too. :)
And check out my story Into the Deep, one of EIGHT awesome m/m Olympics-themed stories in the Going for Gold anthology, available on MLR Press, Amazon, and All Romance eBooks.
Since it looks like the green "read book" button might be wonky on Goodreads, I've posted the entire story for Man-to-Man Coverage: The Extra Point after the jump.
Hugs and awesome vibes all around,
(click "Read More" for the online posting of Man-to-Man Coverage: The Extra Point)
Man-to-Man Coverage: The Extra Point
by Nico Jaye
Free Short Fiction
Word count: 16,128
This is a work of fiction. All characters, places, and events appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.
Man-to-Man Coverage: The Extra Point © 2012 Audrey Jeung
Cover Design © 2012 Audrey Jeung
All rights reserved worldwide. This eBook may be distributed freely in its entirety courtesy of the author. This work may not be sold, manipulated, or reproduced in any format without express written permission from the author. Reviewers may quote brief passages in a review.
Author Note: This story is a sequel to Man-to-Man Coverage, which I wrote as a part of the Goodreads M/M Romance group’s Love is Always Write event.
Content warning: This work contains sexually explicit scenes and adult language and may be considered offensive to some readers.
With thanks to the Goodreads M/M Romance group (without whom I never would have released any writing "into the wild"), the readers who encouraged me to keep telling Cam and Brad's story, and my family and friends, who have been gratifyingly supportive whenever I mention I write scandalous fiction. You guys are awesome.
Man-to-Man Coverage: The Extra Point
by Nico Jaye
Lying on his side, Cam nestled his calf between Brad's legs, brushing against the dusting of dark hair, and exhaled softly. He blinked his eyes open and stretched, then eased forward to brush a kiss against Brad's lips.
"C'mon…gotta get up," Cam whispered, smiling as he skimmed his hand up Brad's firm thigh underneath the covers.
"Mmmm…" Brad shifted towards him. His eyes still closed, Brad's lips curved in the sleepy version of that confident smile that always made Cam's heart flutter…before Brad settled his head back into the pillow with a quiet huff. He resumed his deep, methodical breathing.
Cam grinned. After three years, he should be used to the morning struggle of waking his lover, but it still never failed to amuse him. In truth, the sheer fact that he was waking up with Brad by his side nearly every day could still cause little thrills of pleasure to shoot through him.
After having nursed his seemingly impossible crush on the man for years, it had been a fantasy come true when their relationship had gone from foes on the field to the partners in every way that they were today. He'd never expected to be in this position – not since he'd first seen the perfection that was Bradley Jameson, number eight, playing for the Division I championship in his senior year of college and most definitely not since the antagonism that had seemed to color their relationship for ages until that magical season three years ago. Cam's whole body flushed warm with the memory.
In the public's eye for the last few years, theirs had been a very affectionate bromance all this time, which made constantly being in each other's company and reports of their spending nights at each other's homes par for the course. In private, however, that partnership was of course so much more. While they had been adjusting to their new relationship, the seriousness of which was a first for both of them, they had by tacit agreement remained in a bromance for the public's intents and purposes. In the last year or two, however, Brad had raised the possibility of going public with their romance-minus-the-b.
"C'mon, Cam," Brad would say with that easy smile he wore so well. "Who gives a shit what anyone thinks? Your family's so crazy supportive that you can seriously do no wrong, and I guarantee you my folks won't give a damn. They lived through New York in the seventies. Trust me, they've seen it all. After that, who else matters? The media? It's been ages since they've mattered to me, and I know they've never been your thing. The coaches? The guys? It's not like we're not getting the job done out on the field. It's not like it makes us different people. Just make the plays, and they won't care who you go home with at night."
It was a persuasive argument, to be sure, but Cam had been used to hiding his sexuality from everyone for so long that he hesitated to reveal anything now, considering the enormous potential to muck things up. After all, the status quo was already so unbelievably good with Brad in his life. Why introduce a new and very public element into the mix when everything was working fine as it was?
He wasn't one to rock any boats, especially when they didn't need rocking.
With the outing of the San Francisco Rushers' kicker Jordan Sweeney last year, however, they'd seen the level of boat rocking that accompanied such an announcement. Honestly? It hadn't been half as controversial as Cam had imagined. Of course, it probably didn't hurt that Sweeney had made the Pro Bowl for five of the last six years and held the league's distance record for field goals amongst currently-active players. All accomplished, it seemed, at the same time he was PWG, a.k.a. playing-while-gay. So, yeah, Cam had been marinating hard on whether the league and the public might be ready for some more boat rocking coming from his and Brad's direction.
Looking over Brad's sleep-softened features, Cam couldn't help the tender smile that arose. Some boats might be worth rocking if it meant being with Brad in every sense of the word, publicly and not just privately.
He curved his hand over Brad's hip. "Time to wake up, sleepyhead," Cam murmured affectionately, lightly massaging the firm skin beneath his palm.
"Mmmm…justfivemoreminutes," Brad mumbled, repositioning the arm curled under his head. He scooted closer to Cam until they shared body heat, their torsos nearly flush against each other.
A mischievous smile played on Cam's lips. Brad may not be a morning person, but the thickening hardness pressed against Cam's lower belly suggested another part of Brad was eager to rise and shine. They'd woken together hundreds of times over the years, and at this point he was familiar with any number of ways to address Brad's morning glory.
Once they'd begun exploring the intimacies of their physical relationship three years ago, it had been an eye-opening experience. While Brad admittedly had had more sexual experience overall, Cam had been the one to show Brad what it meant to make love with another man.
Heady stuff there.
The trust and openness that Brad had shown him and the pleasure that they had discovered together had only led Cam to sink deep…oh so much deeper into the absolute rightness of their being together.
Nudging the duvet down, he watched Brad, whose brow creased in a frown as the cooler air of the early April morning touched bare skin. Positioning himself in front of Brad's semi-erect cock, Cam kept his eyes on Brad's face as he leaned forward.
Extending his tongue, he licked the shaft slowly, then took the smooth, rosy tip into his mouth. Cam sucked gently, hollowing his cheeks around the head. Those dark knitted brows smoothed out and pleasure washed over Brad's features as Cam felt that thick cock swell and lengthen into mouth-watering hardness. Brad slowly shifted so that he lay on his back, and Cam followed, never breaking his seal.
Cam curled his hand around the base of the shaft and glided smooth strokes up and down as he maintained his wet suction on the tip of that stiff cock. Brad began to make needy sounds low in his throat, his legs moving restlessly against the crisp white sheets. Cam's scalp tingled when he felt Brad's fingers lightly sift through his short hair.
"That's it, babe." Brad groaned. "God, you are so good to me."
Cam looked up to smile around Brad's hardness and met Brad's beautiful hazel eyes. They were heavy-lidded and intently focused on him. Cam's own cock was swelling and would need attention this morning, but right now was all about Brad. Brad – perfect, gorgeous Brad with his perfect, gorgeous cock.
Cam moaned around his mouthful, knowing the vibrations were one of Brad's favorite elements of this oh-so-special wake-up call. He had the satisfaction of seeing those beautiful eyes roll back at the pleasure.
"Jesus. So good. So so good," Brad breathed hoarsely.
Reading the signs, Cam knew Brad was close. He tongued Brad's slit before lavishing wet attention all around the head. Moving his hand down, he rolled Brad's balls in his palm. Brad's breaths came in heavy gasps, his hands reaching to his sides to fist the sheets.
When Cam smoothed his tongue with slow deliberation once…twice…across the sensitive spot at the base of the ridge on Brad's cockhead, Brad sucked in a sharp breath. On a drawn-out groan, Brad found his release, his cock jerking as he shot into Cam's mouth. The salty flavor burst onto his taste buds, and Cam maintained his suction as he sucked down every last drop. With a final swirl of his tongue, Cam polished the head lightly before pulling back and swallowing.
A slow grin spread across his face as he caught Brad's sated expression. Brad's hazel eyes opened, and, seeing the loving look on his face, Cam's heart warmed again. He'd put that look on Brad's face.
"Good mornin'," Cam drawled softly, his fingers playing up the sides of Brad's deliciously muscular body.
"Good morning to me, indeed," Brad murmured. He caught Cam's hand and pulled him upwards to press a soft kiss to his lips. With a mischievous smile, Brad glanced down at the very obvious stiff cock that Cam was currently sporting. "And a good morning to you soon, too," he continued, his hands reaching for Cam's hardness.
With a light laugh, Cam dodged those seeking hands. "Ah ah ah, it'll have to be later. We have to get up, remember? Today's Lock's fifteenth birthday, and we're taking him and a few of his friends out to Six Flags later."
Brad halted his hand and furrowed his brow. He nodded. "That's right. We'll have to postpone any marathon sessions for another eight o'clock on a Saturday morning. I'll just take care of you in the shower. It'll be faster, and we'll save water if we share, anyway." He sent Cam a look of saintly innocence that was betrayed when a wicked grin of anticipation crept over his face.
Cam rolled his eyes good-naturedly, but couldn't help his answering smile. "That's what I love about you, you know," he teased, pecking Brad with a quick kiss. "You're so environmentally friendly."
"What can I say? Spend enough time with you and your do-gooder ways, and you're bound to rub off on me." Brad paused. "In more ways than one," he added with an exaggerated wink and a comic book-villain leer. They both laughed softly. "Now come back here so I can give you a real morning kiss. Then we'll get ready to head out, 'kay?"
Brad's command was coupled with that special smile that Cam couldn't resist. With a happy sigh, Cam shifted back into reaching distance.
Brad framed Cam's face with large, calloused palms. As he looked deep into Cam's eyes, he cleared his throat, then said in a husky voice, "You know I love you, right? I'm just so lucky that you chose me." With a curve of his lips, he leaned in for a long, slow kiss, and Cam lost himself in that moment for the umpteenth time. He lost himself in Brad.
They didn't make it out of bed for another hour.
Their afternoon at the amusement park was a blast.
The boys and Lock were rowdy and boisterous, but that could only be expected of teenagers, a couple of whom hadn't been on a roller coaster in years. Of course, they were quick to jump right into the experience, their boasts full of adolescent bravado and their denials of any fear loud enough to be convincing to anyone within earshot.
Cam was thus surprised when, towards the end of the day, Lock turned to him with a surprisingly grave look on his face. They had been slowly meandering their way back to the park entrance by the fading twilight of the spring evening while making plenty of pit stops along the way. Lock's friends were currently standing in line with Brad to purchase funnel cakes, and Cam and Lock had seated themselves at the concession stand tables with their cups of soft serve ice cream to wait for the others
"Cam, I –"
Lock broke off, his voice cracking. He looked at Cam. His dark brown hair was growing shaggy over the collar of his T-shirt, and his light blue eyes were unexpectedly serious. He glanced back down at his cup of chocolate soft serve. With a half-hearted swirl of his spoon, he cleared his throat and met Cam's gaze once more.
"Cam, I'm worried about Mrs. O'Riley. She's been so busy lately with all of these appointments and tests. She's been in the hospital three times in the last month, and I don't even know what for. I–"
His voice cracked again, and Lock swallowed hard. "I'm scared something's wrong. She—She was sick before and now…What if she's sick again? What if they won't want me anymore? I'm scared it'll be like the Fawcetts and the Newtons and everyone else before them. I'm scared I'll have nowhere to go. I'm scared I'll have to go somewhere awful again. Somewhere where I won't know people."
He cut himself off abruptly and looked into Cam's eyes. The wary look of fatalism in his eyes was so at odds with the youth of his features that it nearly broke Cam's heart. "I'm tired of moving, Cam," Lock choked out, breaking their gaze to look down at his hands resting on the table. "I'm tired of not being wanted," he whispered roughly, his fists clenching on the shiny red surface.
Cam swallowed past the lump in his throat.
His own family life had been the epitome of stability, complete with the white picket fence and PTA mom to squire him and his older sister Anne to Pop Warner practices and tap dancing classes. Why, his parents had attended every first game of the season from his Pop Warner days through high school and college, up to and including this past season with the Railers. His father was a mechanic, so it wasn't like they'd been flush with money. However, they had always had each other.
He attributed much of his success to the support he'd received from home, and he'd established his Hunter's Heroes program to try to provide kids with mentors so they'd have the kind of support they might not find in their own homes. Cam knew Lock's history and that the boy had been in and out of different foster care homes for years before the O'Rileys' placement. Lock had been with the O'Rileys for the last four years, which was the length of time Cam had taken him under his wing. It had seemed stable, but now…now his heart ached over the cynical attitude that appeared was hidden at Lock's core and that had now risen to the surface.
"Lock, look at me," Cam said, his voice confident and reassuring. He placed his palm on the boy's forearm, which was still on the smaller side for kids his age. Lock hadn't yet grown into the size ten shoes that he now wore or, Cam thought with a fond smile, his nickname of "Big Lock."
Lock lifted his gaze to meet Cam's, his stare stubborn, but unable to hide flickers of uncertainty. "Lock, you don't know that's going to happen. But," Cam said, squeezing the arm beneath his hand, "no matter what happens, I'm here for you. You are wanted. You will always be wanted. I want you with me. You have to know that. You have to know that I love you like family. Heck, with my family back in Tennessee and my sister with her own brood down in south Jersey, you're part of the only family I do have up here. We're here for each other, got it?" He pulled Lock off of his seat and wrapped him in a tight hug. "I'm here for you, Lock, no matter what. Okay?"
Lock's body was stiff at first, but the tension eased out of him on a slow exhale. He clung to Cam. "No matter what?" he repeated, his voice muffled against Cam's shoulder.
"No matter what." Cam smoothed a comforting hand down the boy's back.
Lock stepped back and sat down again, attempting a hesitant smile. Cam smiled back at him, outwardly calm and confident, but, on the inside, aching for Lock.
To not feel wanted. To not have a home. To not know if you'd be in a place for five years, five months, or five days.
It had never truly registered with him that the uncertainty of the system could take such a harsh toll on a boy. Lock was such a good kid, and the progress he'd made in the four years that Cam had known him was extraordinary. They'd had a bit of a rough start with Lock's earlier pranks and youthful misdeeds, but in recent years – ever since the accident, in fact – the teen had kept out of trouble, making decent grades and even talking about taking the SATs in a couple of years when he was a senior. In truth, they'd spent a lot of time together over the years, and Cam was proud of the young man that Lock was growing to be.
To disrupt Lock's life now – to introduce more doubt and insecurity – had the potential to push him back into his self-destructive ways, and Cam loved the boy too much to bear the thought of such a change.
Covering Lock's hand with his own, Cam met his gaze. "You really are like family to me, Lock. I'll do whatever I can to make sure things work out, promise."
Lock's smile this time was wobbly, but genuine. "Thanks, Cam."
The moment was broken when the four other teens returned, their sugary treats in hand.
"Dude, check it out – think I could eat it all in sixty seconds?"
"Ahhhhh, this is gonna be soooooo dope!"
Brad rounded up the rear and approached the table in the midst of the excited chatter. Cam met his eyes, and they shared a look over the tops of the boys' heads. Brad raised a brow in inquiry, and Cam shook his head slightly to indicate they'd talk about it later. With a nearly imperceptible nod, Brad took a seat, sliding two full plates in front of Cam and Lock.
"The Works," Brad clarified of the platters of fried dough piled high with powdered sugar, whipped cream, and fresh strawberry slices, complete with white plastic forks protruding upright from the center. "Figured you guys would've been done with your ice cream by now, and I knew Cam's sweet tooth wouldn't be able to resist," Brad teased while flashing that heart-stopping grin. "And it only seemed right to cap your birthday off with a dessert of epic proportions, Lock," he added, clapping a friendly hand on Lock's shoulder. "Happy birthday, buddy."
Looking up, Lock grinned at Brad. "Thanks, Brad, this looks awesome."
Brad responded with a conspiratorial wink. "Any time, my friend, any time," he declared, plucking the two cups of now-melted chocolate soup from the table. He stood and made his way over to the trash bins, ice cream cups in hand.
As the boys dug in, Cam automatically turned to watch the view of Brad's departure. For once, though, he was almost too preoccupied to register the entirely edible picture Brad made as his high, tight ass shifted inside those perfectly-cut dark jeans.
Indeed, he was also surprised to discover that he was almost, almost too preoccupied to enjoy the mountain of sugary sweet dessert that was laid out before him.
Quite frankly, his talk with Lock had left Cam with plenty of food for thought already.
"So, I've been thinking," Cam said slowly as he reached for the plate of toast in the center of the breakfast nook table.
Once they'd made the rounds to drop off Lock and the others after their outing yesterday, he and Brad had returned to Cam's rambling colonial in Somerset for the night. It was big, old, and sometimes creaked, and Cam loved it. Set on two acres of land in the central New Jersey area, the property afforded him enough space to breathe, but was still a reasonably convenient location for trips to Philadelphia or anywhere else in the tri-state area—like Brad's condo in New York City.
Brad had teased him for being "out in the boonies" when he'd first come to visit, but Brad had later admitted that he could see the appeal of the quietness…and the privacy. They'd spent days on end here in the off season, fishing in the nearby lakes, exploring the woods, and just enjoying the simple things and each other. Now, though, Cam was suddenly seeing his home with new eyes; he saw it as a place where they could still enjoy those simple things while being…a family.
Brad pretended to groan while passing Cam the strawberry jam. "Oh no, not that thinking tone again," he fake-grumbled. "Last time you did that we ended up in Nicaragua building houses in the hundred degree heat. I know I know, it was great to help and all, but I could've done without being eaten alive by those mosquitoes." Brad shook Tabasco sauce onto his scrambled eggs and gave an exaggerated shudder even as a smile hovered on his lips. Cutting into his eggs with the side of his fork, he met Cam's eyes and the side of his lip ticked upwards. "So, what're you thinking this time, my dear Cam?" he asked, his green-gold eyes warm and sparkling.
Meeting his gaze, Cam took a deep breath and blurted out, "I want to adopt Lock."
Brad's brows rose to disappear behind his tousled dark brown waves. He set his fork down and leaned his corded forearms onto the glossy maple surface, the tanned column of his neck strong against the worn blue v-neck tee he wore. He tilted his head. "Adopting Lock," he repeated slowly. "Really?"
Cam rushed to explain. "Yeah, really. He and I spend so much time together that I never really understood that he would still have doubts that he was wanted. That he still felt like he didn't belong. And now it looks like he might have to move foster homes again, and it just breaks my heart to see that his doubts might be based on reality."
Cam cleared his throat, choked up at the memory of their conversation. "He lived through this uncertainty for years before the O'Rileys, but I didn't. I didn't know, and I don't want him to have to live through it again. I already think of him as family. I already love him like family. So why should he go off and live with strangers when I can be his family?"
Cam paused and reached across the table to clasp Brad's hand. "When we can be." Cam met his gaze boldly. "Brad, I want us to be his family."
Brad's eyes widened. He blinked several times before his mouth curved into a slow smile. Lacing their fingers, he then lifted their linked hands to brush Cam's with his lips. "You don't need to convince me, Cam. I think it's a great idea," Brad said, his smile widening into a grin. He cleared his throat and continued. "When you say "us," are you saying you're ready to…?" He trailed off, lifting his brows silently.
"Yes," Cam said, squeezing Brad's hand and meeting his heart-stopping smile with a shy one of his own. "I'm ready, and it's time. I'm not sure how it should happen, but it's time that it did." Lifting his other hand to slide his fingers through Brad's thick waves, Cam shifted sideways to brush a kiss across Brad's lips. "You've been so patient with me – so perfect. I love you, and it's about time people knew it," he whispered huskily.
"Love you, too," Brad said, his own voice rough with emotion. "And damn straight people should know it. It's about time people knew it, and it's about time you let me stake my claim," he growled possessively. With a soft chuckle, he pulled Cam in for another, more thorough kiss.
Chuffing happily and feeling inexplicably lighter, Cam leaned into the kiss and once again found himself lost in Brad, their toast and scrambled eggs long forgotten.
Once Cam had committed to the idea, he discovered that, as with many other things, Brad was a man of action. He had a plan, and it involved adoption applications, along with revealing their relationship to a whole list of people. Once they discussed their next steps, Cam's head nearly swum after having hidden behind the façade of bromance for years. To take action now was simultaneously thrilling and nerve-racking, yet in the end, he decided, it was time, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
The first conversation he'd had was with Lock the following week. After picking him up from school, they headed to the rec center. Following their afternoon tossing the ball around, they were now resting at the picnic tables with their water bottles. A game of pickup basketball was being played out nearby.
"You? You and Brad? Really?" Lock's brows rose high on his brow, disappearing behind his shaggy brown hair.
Cam nodded. He chewed on his lip, somewhat at a loss as to how to proceed. Perhaps he should talk to Lock about statistics on homosexuality or maybe they would need to see a family counselor or something before –
Lock caught him up in a bear hug, a huge grin splitting across his face. "I can't believe it. You guys! I'm going to have a family!"
Cam's arms wrapped around the boy automatically, and he couldn't help smiling at Lock's enthusiasm. He cleared his throat. "Um, Lock? Did you hear what I said about…?"
Lock pulled back and swallowed hard, his eyes shining. "About you guys being together? Yeah. I mean, okay."
Cam blinked. "Okay?"
Lock shrugged. "Yeah, I mean, it's okay with me. Might take some getting used to, but it's cool." He looked around and leaned forward. "You, uh, you might not know this, but my friend Justin – the tall skinny guy at my birthday? He is, too. Gay, I mean." Lock straightened and shrugged again. "And he's cool, so yeah. It's cool. I mean, he doesn't suck face with dudes in front of everyone, but that'd be kinda gross no matter who was doing it, guy or girl. So yeah, it's cool."
Cam didn't know what to say. Leave it to Lock to so artlessly boil all of it down to a big ol' no-big-deal. "Cool," Cam repeated slowly.
Lock grinned. "Way cool. I'm getting a family!"
Cam couldn't help but grin right back.
After that, things continued in a way that was better than he had anticipated, but also not as good as he would have hoped. With the acceptance of an inner city teen bolstering his confidence, Cam visited his parents in Tennessee on a planned weekend trip in early May with no idea of what to expect.
"Gay? Really, Cam?" His mother offered him a hesitant smile. She leaned forward on the corduroy sofa in the living room of the house in which he'd grown up.
"Yes, I—" He cleared his throat and looked at his father, who was sitting in his leather recliner and hadn't said a word since this conversation began. His brows were knitted, and his expression was unreadable. Turning back to his mother seated beside him, Cam returned her smile. "Mom, Dad, I've known for quite some time, and I just… I just wanted to share it with you because you're important in my life, and I wanted you to know about something that's important about me." Cam paused. "And someone who's important to me."
His mother tilted her head, brows raised in interest. "Oh? You're er… you're seeing someone, honey?"
Cam ducked his head, blushing. Looking back up, he couldn't stop his smile from spreading into a grin at the mere thought of Brad. "I've been seeing someone for three years. He's not just anyone; he's my partner in everything. I want to make a life with him, and I want you to be part of that life. I don't—I don't want to hide anymore."
Cam reached over and covered her clasped hands with his larger one. After a moment, she unclasped her hands and turned one over, holding his hand and giving it a light squeeze. Meeting her gaze, Cam saw a smile on his mother's face, and Cam let out a breath he hadn't been aware of holding. He felt more confident as he continued.
"You… you actually know him. Brad. You met him a couple of times when you came up to visit or for games, and he came down here last year. You know how you always said you liked him and how he brought me out of my shell? You know how you teased me that we were always joined at the hip and you were so glad that silly rivalry was done with? Well, yeah…we're together, and not just as friends. We're together, and we have been for three years."
The creak of leather drew both of their attentions. His father stood, gave him a long and inscrutable look, then left the room without saying a word. Cam's face fell as he watched the familiar broad back disappear down the hallway. He felt his mother's arm settle on his shoulders. Turning back to her, he exhaled slowly when he saw she had a comforting smile on her face.
"Honey, I'm not gonna lie—this is a pretty big surprise. But you know we love you no matter what. I love you, and your father loves you, he does. Your father... he's just going to need some time to think. Let me talk to him later, and you'll see—he'll come around." She gave him a small smile and smoothed her hand on his shoulder. Reaching out, she enveloped him in a warm hug that carried the familiar scents of clean laundry and a light floral fragrance.
He hugged her back, his broad form nearly swallowing her petite frame. "Thanks, Mom."
She pulled back, saying, "Of course, dear." She smoothed her hand over his cheek and smiled encouragingly. "So, tell me about your young man. I quite liked your Brad when he came with you to visit last time…"
Cam eased back into the sofa, and they talked about Brad, his plans to adopt Lock, and life in general. He was still troubled by his father's reaction, but he was relatively okay with how things had turned out otherwise. His mother, who had supported him in everything—from being in the stands at his Pop Warner games to chaperoning field trips in elementary school—was taking the news just fine.
His father's coldness hurt, but hopefully his mother's actions were a positive forecast for things to come.
As it turned out, when Cam returned home from his trip, things proceeded in rapidly positive fashion. He discovered on his return that Brad's parents had reacted to the news exactly as predicted. That is to say, they reacted as though it were not news. When Cam told Brad about his own father's disappointing silence, Brad had consoled him, assuring him that it should only be a matter of time before he came back around.
Cam appreciated the efforts, but he still had his doubts. His father had supported his sports career, but emotionally he'd never been a very affectionate or openly caring parent. Cam feared that the news of his sexuality may have been too much of a shock for his normally traditional, Southern-bred father to absorb.
Thankfully, conversations with the O'Rileys went more smoothly, and they promised to ease the way for the adoption with Lock's social worker. They were grateful, telling him that Lock was a wonderful boy, but their family obligations and concerns over Mrs. O'Riley's health had become too much of a burden and distraction for them to continue to provide foster care. Cam reassured them that Lock would be coming into a loving home.
Even more encouraging, the state of New Jersey and Lock's social worker saw nothing wrong with permitting Lock to stay with him while the paperwork went through the system. His research had revealed that his adoption of Lock would be considered a "kinship adoption," and between their prior mentoring relationship and the general difficulty in finding permanent homes for teens in the system, the powers that be welcomed him with open arms.
Correction: welcomed them with open arms. As in him and Brad.
He had, naturally, included on his application forms that he was in a committed relationship. In his first informal conversations with the social worker, it had come out—no pun intended—that the relationship was with another man. And when they had done home study observations, Brad had been right there with him, physical proof of their togetherness. Cam had been holding his breath, nervous about the home study visits, but Brad had told him not to worry about it. Once again, thankfully, Brad was right. Ms. Jennings focused more on the fact that the family structure Lock would be entering was stable and less so on the sex of the members of that family. Cam breathed easier with each home visit.
Their home visits occurred at a time when Lock was already living in Cam's sprawling home. The three of them had a blast outfitting one of his guest bedrooms for Lock, and, many trips to Home Depot and the local mall for supplies and furniture later, it was no longer a guest bedroom, but rather Lock's bedroom. Lock's face split into a giant grin when he saw the finished product, and he'd turned to them both, throwing his lanky arms around them.
Cam and Brad had shared a look over the teenager's head. In that moment, Cam had known, deep down, that this was absolutely the right thing to do. Yes, this was the thing that they were meant to do.
"What do you think of this suit?" Cam crossed the room to stand in the middle of Brad's bedroom. He adjusted his collar nervously, debating once again whether to go with a tie or no tie.
The rays of the mid-July evening's setting sun streamed through the penthouse's floor-to-ceiling windows. Earlier, he'd driven the hour south to drop off Lock for the night at his sister's place in Cherry Hill. He'd then headed into the city to meet up with Brad, and they were now getting ready for their evening's outing – in more ways than one.
Through the open dressing area that housed a walk-in closet, Brad looked up from picking through cufflinks in a mahogany box on the dresser. After selecting a pair, he shut the lid with a snap and strolled into the bedroom in his dress shirt tucked into his slacks. He approached Cam with an easy smile as he slipped the cufflinks into place.
"Will you relax, babe?" Brad said, gripping Cam's shoulders and giving him a comforting squeeze. "It's a kid's charity event. You've been to a million of those, Mr. Do-Gooder," he teased, his eyes sparkling.
"Yeah, but not like this," Cam said.
"Oh? This, you mean?" Brad asked, stepping closer, sharing his space. "You mean like this?" he continued, leaning in, his breath warm against Cam's ear. "You mean like making it known that we're not just friends? That you also like my dick up your ass and you like to give it to me hard, too?" Brad bit his ear playfully, then smoothed away the hurt with his tongue.
Cam's breath hitched, and he flushed at the unexpected, deliberately explicit words, even though his own cock perked up in interest. "Brad, I'm serious," he said, his brow furrowing as he turned his head to meet Brad's hazel gaze.
"Relax, Cam. I'm just messing with you," Brad said, straightening and smoothing his hands up and down Cam's biceps. "What we do together is nobody else's business. Unless some sex tape gets leaked—which, by the way, actually turned out to be the best thing that ever happened in my life because it did bring me you," he added with a pointed look. "Unless that happens, nobody knows what goes on with us, and there's no reason they should." Brad's lips quirked up in a smile. "Besides, we both know Ms. Jennings is right. We can't expect to get those final state approvals for us to be a family together with Lock unless and until we can be a family openly. And the fact that she knew of this fundraiser is great. I mean, an LGBT youth event? It's perfect. The right message to send to the world and to Lock."
Cam nodded slowly and exhaled. "I know, and I do want to do it. I want us to be done with the hiding, and I want us all to be together in the eyes of the world—you and me, and all three of us. I just…I don't like these media things. Cameras, bright lights, people asking questions." He shuddered. "They always get me nervous, and this time, it's doubly so."
"It'll be great, and remember, we're doing this together," Brad said, sliding his palms down Cam's arms to squeeze his hands. His hazel eyes were warm and sincere.
Cam squeezed back. "Together," he repeated. "It's just—you're so much better at these things. You know me—I'm not big on publicity and stuff." Cam chewed his lower lip and resisted the urge to pull away and fidget with his collar again.
"Hrmmm…" Brad looked pensive.
Brad cleared his throat and sent him a secretive smile that caused a thrill to shoot through Cam's veins. "You just need to relax, and I know just the way to do it."
Brad smoothly closed the gap between them and slid his hands back to cup Cam's ass. Pulling him forward so that their bodies were flush and they were breathing the same air, Brad brushed a kiss across Cam's lips. The bulge in Brad's trousers was an insistent weight as it nudged against his own stiffening hardness.
Cam groaned as Brad deepened the kiss, his firm, wet tongue exploring Cam's mouth thoroughly and insistently. All thoughts of nervousness fled Cam's mind as he felt Brad deftly unfastening his trousers and unzipping his fly with nimble fingers. Brad plunged a hand into Cam's open fly, and Cam gasped when Brad's strong grip found him underneath his boxers.
"Don't worry, we'll make this quick," Brad whispered against Cam's lips as he pulled Cam's cock out, exposing him. "I know you hate to be late," Brad added with a teasing smile, his hazel gaze rapt on Cam's face as he stroked him steadily on long, smooth glides.
Cam could only groan in response and tunneled his fingers through Brad's thick hair. He pulled his head down again and plunged his tongue between Brad's lips, then sucked Brad's tongue into his own mouth. He wanted to crawl inside of Brad and never leave.
"Don't stop," Cam groaned. "That feels incredible. You're gonna make me come." Cam gasped as Brad cupped his gleaming cockhead and smoothed the foreskin over and around the sensitive crown.
Brad chuckled softly. "That's the idea, babe." He wore a knowing smile as he guided Cam backwards, one hand on his hip and the other firmly encircling his cock.
The backs of his knees hit the bed, and Cam sat down abruptly with an inelegant oomph. Somehow, Brad followed his movements and maintained his grip on his cock, his strokes firm and knowing, expertly bringing him closer…and closer…
"Now!" Cam groaned his pleasure loudly, his hips writhing. "I'm coming—now! God, Brad, now!"
Brad swiftly sank to his knees to capture Cam's cock in his mouth. An all-encompassing warmth closed around his cockhead, and Brad's other hand dropped to fondle Cam's balls. A strangled cry ripped from the back of Cam's throat, and he reached a hand down, fingers reflexively gripping the dark hair covering Brad's head. He felt Brad moan around his cock. Cam's shoulders hit the feathertop as he fell back onto the mattress, his muscles tensing and releasing as he shot into Brad's mouth. Eyes squeezed shut, Cam could only ride the rush of pleasure as it pounded through his body in waves.
Cam took a deep breath, then another, before he dropped his hand from Brad's head. He blinked his eyes open to take in the fading sunlight sliding across the eggshell-colored ceiling. Twisting his head to the side, he looked down to see Brad between his legs, resting his palms lightly on the tops of Cam's charcoal grey pinstriped thighs. Their gazes met, and a Cheshire cat smile spread across Brad's face.
Brad licked his shiny lips, and Cam felt yet another pulse of desire struggle to make itself known within his already sated body.
"Feeling better?" Brad asked, his brows raised and lips quirked up in a smile. Cam watched in a haze of positive endorphins as Brad stalked his way up his body on his hands and knees. Brad settled over him on the bed and gave him a slow, slightly salty kiss.
"Better?" Cam choked out. "If I felt any better, I'd be glowing. In fact, I can't be sure I'm not…"
"You might be glowing just a tad," Brad said smugly, bracketing Cam's shoulders with strong arms and looking down at him with a tender gleam in his eyes.
Cam smiled up at Brad. "Lemme do you," he said eagerly, arching up to kiss Brad once more.
Brad returned the thorough kiss. "No need. Let's just say I need to go change again," he said with a wry twist of his lips. "What can I say? You're one hot number, Cam Hunter," he said, his lids dropping as he watched Cam. He caressed Cam's bare hip with a possessive hand.
Cam couldn't stop a blush from coloring his cheeks.
"And adorable when you give me that look," Brad added, leaning in to press another kiss to his lips. "Now c'mon, we don't want to be late." Brad smacked Cam's flank lightly and rolled off to sit at the edge of the bed. Turning to meet Cam's gaze, he lifted his brows. "To answer your question from before, I think that suit is hot. Hell, you're hot in anything, but you should probably change right now, too. We didn't make a mess thanks to my quick thinking," he said with a wink and deliberate lick of his lips. Cam flushed again as Brad continued. "But, yeah, you're kinda wrinkled now. I mean, I think you're hot, but you know…in case you're thinking people will wonder what we've been doing…" Brad trailed off, waggling his brows playfully before he levered himself off the bed.
"C'mon, babe. Chop chop." Brad headed towards the dressing area, whistling to himself.
That's right. The fundraiser. It had completely slipped his mind. Imagine if they showed up at their first public appearance together-together in wrinkled clothes and looking well-sated…
Cam flushed again.
Good thing he kept extra clothes here.
Five days later, it was time to report for training.
Per his norm, Cam arrived at the Railers' training camp on the early side that first day. The parking lot was fairly empty this early in the morning, and he sat for a few moments to gather his thoughts. It had been hard to tear himself away from Brad and Lock, but it was a necessary part of the job that he loved. Brad himself was off to his Diamonds' camp, and Cam had arranged for Lock to attend a sleepaway camp for the three weeks when they'd both be gone for training.
Cam had felt incredibly nervous and rather guilty about this idea, but he'd received blessings and approvals from Ms. Jennings and Lock and, indeed, plenty of enthusiasm, too, from the teen. Growing up in the city meant Lock hadn't ever had this kind of opportunity, so he jumped at the chance to experience what he'd called "a rich kid summer." When Cam frowned at the description, Lock reassured him that he meant it jokingly, and he actually thought learning how to build fires and shoot bows and arrows and stuff was pretty awesome in case the zombie apocalypse ever occurred. Cam had rolled his eyes as was expected of his response, but was inwardly thankful that Lock had turned out to be so easygoing after their somewhat rocky start when he'd been a troublemaking youth four years before.
With that squared away, Cam turned to his latest hurdle: how his teammates and coaches would react to his relationship with Brad.
Sitting in the cab of his truck, Cam took a deep, bracing breath before slowly releasing it. After grabbing his duffle from the passenger seat, he climbed out of his trusty old Bronco. He slammed the door shut and made his way to the locker rooms at the university where the Railers training camp convened each summer.
They would definitely know by now.
There's no way they couldn't.
It had been nearly a week since his and Brad's very public appearance at the Foley Center Five Borough Fundraiser for LGBT Youths. While it wasn't the most glamorous or paparazzi-filled event, there had certainly been enough present that when he and Brad had shown up – not just together, but holding hands – the barrage of flashbulbs had been instantaneous and blinding.
The next day, that red carpet picture of their tall, muscular forms in crisp dark suits with their linked hands at the center had been in full color on the covers of the local daily rags and even the sports and entertainment sections of more reputable and widely-distributed regional and national newspapers.
They'd each released a statement later that day prepared by Phil, Brad's media guru agent, and then had proceeded to hunker down in Cam's farmhouse as they did their best to ignore the press. Phil had advised them that an interview with Sports Illustrated or ESPN would probably make sense later down the line if interest hadn't waned, which he suspected it wouldn't, but he understood the need to focus on what happened in their own world – between training camp, the start of the season, and – Cam gulped – the reactions of coaches and teammates – before they could focus on what happened in the world at large.
Cam squared his shoulders and pulled open one of the double doors. He was hit with the lingering, ripe odor of masculine sweat that no amount of bleach, prompt laundering, or air freshening could ever truly erase from a locker room. Fluorescent lights lit the room brightly from overhead. As he entered his gaze swept the familiar rows of lockers. Some appeared lived in while others were pristine. According to the usual schedule, the rookies had already reported for camp a few days ago, but it looked like none had yet made it into the locker room on this first day of all-players training.
He recognized the cars in the parking lot, though, so he knew a couple of other veterans had already arrived.
His locker was on the far end, and Cam swallowed hard as he walked down the center of the room. He had no idea what to expect, and as he progressed down the hall, he felt like he was walking the gauntlet.
To his right, he immediately recognized his offensive lineman Matt Whittaker, more widely – emphasis on wide – known as "Bull." He was a veteran with the league for upwards of ten years, and he was something of a legend with his longevity in a profession that had a reputation for hard hits and chewing up players only to spit them out three seasons later. Bull had started with the Railers the same season that Cam had been drafted to the team. However, even though Bull had been on his line since day one, when Cam thought about it, he couldn't ever remembering even having a conversation with Bull that didn't involve calling plays and game analysis. Heck, he couldn’t remember Bull ever speaking to anyone.
Bull was seated on one of the benches and pulling on cleats over his size Noah's-Ark feet. He wore his standard stony expression, and his light brown hair was military short, as usual. Per his norm, Bull said nothing upon Cam's entrance, but he made eye contact with Cam and sent him a chin nod in acknowledgement of...something. Whether it was Cam's bombshell outing last week, his arrival at training camp, or simply his ability to convert oxygen to carbon dioxide, Cam couldn't say. Cam released the breath he was holding and returned the chin nod.
At the very least, he took that to mean it was business as usual with Bull.
Hefting his duffle back onto his shoulder, Cam continued down the main corridor.
Turning to his left, Cam watched as one of the Railers' wide receivers, DeMarcus Powell, broke off his conversation with the team's tight end, Jason Olivier. Hustling over, DeMarcus approached Cam, his hand lifted in greeting.
"Hey, man," Cam replied. He clasped the offered hand, and DeMarcus pulled him into a half-hug, slapping his back in greeting. Cam reciprocated, giving the other man's maroon T-shirt-covered back a couple of pats.
"Yo yo, QB, we got some serious problems." DeMarcus pulled back and leveled a pointed look at him, gold chain gleaming against his dark skin and his brown eyes stern. Cam felt a lead ball begin to form, layer by layer, at the pit of his stomach. Problems. Here we go.
"The way I see it," DeMarcus continued, pinning Cam with his gaze, "is two things. One, my contract's up this year, which means one thing: free agency, baby. Two, y'all kept tossing to Zigman last year. What's up with that, man? Y'all got no love for DeMarcus?" DeMarcus stepped back and gestured to himself with his million dollar contract hands.
Blinking, Cam cleared his throat. "Ah, yeah, well, we have to call plays that make sense, DeMarcus. You know that."
"Yeah, well, what's gotta happen for it to make sense to throw to DeMarcus this time, huh?"
Cam blew out a breath, wondering if the other shoe would ever drop. "Look, the season hasn't even started yet. Honestly, training camp hasn't started yet. We don't know what's gonna happen."
"Well, we could know that y'all ain't gonna try to fuck me over. Even though I know y'all's swinging that way now, which is cool, yo," DeMarcus said, lifting his hands and giving an "it's all good" look. Cam reared back mentally, wondering if he had heard what he'd heard. "Really, it's cool. Y'all fuck who you wanna fuck, ya hear? Just as long as y'all ain't fuckin' me over, aight?" DeMarcus pierced Cam with an expectant look.
The lead ball in Cam's stomach was confused.
This was the guys' reaction?
Cam looked at Jason, who was watching from the bench with a somewhat amused look on his face. He must have read the bewilderment on Cam's face. Chuckling to himself, Jason tied off the tape around his thick wrists. Smoothing his large palms over his row of braids, Jason stood and approached them, his lips twitching as he settled a calming palm on DeMarcus's shoulder.
"Hey, Cam," Jason said as he moved to stand next to both men.
"What DeMarcus here is trying to say," Jason said, tilting his head towards DeMarcus and patting his shoulder, "in his usual ever so eloquent fashion, is that we don’t care about you and Jameson." Jason paused for a moment. "Well, we might care a little because he plays for the New York goddamned Diamonds, and seriously, man, I hate to say it, but you're sleeping with the enemy. Literally." Jason shot him a pained look, then cleared his throat. "But y'know, it's cool. Really. What we're saying is we get it. You gotta get yours where you get yours, and that's cool. We don't wanna hold hands or kiss and tell or some shit, but you do what you gotta do. Just as long as you get in here, you run the plays, and you get the ball in our hands, nice and smooth, then we're tight, man. We're here to win, and we don't give a shit what you do with your life as long as you're still here to win, too. It's all good, okay? It's all good," Jason repeated. He looked between Cam and DeMarcus and raised his brows. "So, we good?"
Cam released a breath, and the lead ball began to unfurl. He glanced at DeMarcus before nodding. "We're good."
"Good," Jason repeated, flashing Cam a quick smile. "C'mon, man," he said as he led DeMarcus back to their lockers.
DeMarcus's voice trailed behind him. "But, Jase, that's what I said, wasn't it? Like I said, don't care who he fucks, even if it's Jameson. So, you think he's gonna throw the ball at me now?"
Cam watched them for a beat before continuing towards his locker with a lighter step. He heard boisterous voices coming from the direction of the side entrance to the locker room as he set his duffle on the bench by his locker. He was about to reach into his locker when he stopped short.
Sitting on the second shelf, beneath his brand new helmet on the top shelf and right next to the standard issue box of industrial-strength athletic tape and stack of white hand towels, was a large flesh-colored butt plug and an economy sized sixteen-ounce bottle of lube. Strawberry flavored, if the fruit-shaped outline against the red background of the label could be believed.
Cam flushed hot and cold. The lead ball in his stomach reconstituted itself like shavings to a magnet, and a rushing sound roared through his ears. His subconscious vaguely registered that more people were filtering into the locker room.
He slowly reached in, his vision pinpointed on the bottle, the red label a beacon that insisted on drawing his eyes. Cam picked it up, his grip closing reflexively on the plastic container. He furrowed his brow, his face heated as his gaze switched between the bottle in his hand and the very private, very obvious sex toy sitting on the second shelf.
Should he say something? If so, what? And to whom? Somebody left these for me, and I don't like it? Cam winced. It's not like he could go around making "hostile work environment" claims against the entirety of the National Football League.
"Hope you like 'em. Thought you might get lonely on road games and didn't want you lookin' to us for help, if ya catch my meaning." A loud, awful snicker emitted from his lefthand side.
Cam looked up and recognized Ramsey St. John, the Railers' first round draft pick and a favorite – even before the season began – to be a contender for Rookie of the Year accolades. He had a reputation for being completely and utterly full of himself and nearly impossible to work with, but he also had the raw talent and the ideal running back attributes of strength, speed, and agility to back up his noxious personality. A cloud of unrecognizable players – presumably other rookies – hovered around him, and from the looks on their faces, they didn't quite know what to make of Ramsey St. John. Sure, they had all heard of him since he was a top recruit, but they hadn't shared a locker room with him. A couple of them chuckled half-heartedly, but a lot of them looked otherwise uncomfortable when Ramsey swept a glance their way and gave them his patented BMOC-asshole sneer. He turned his predatory gaze back on Cam.
"Better make way for the new blood, Hunter," Ramsey announced loudly. "You got some competition for those SI covers now, man. Just don't be tryin' to share my room on the road or nothing 'cause I sure as hell ain't sleepin' with you." Ramsey's lips twisted in another ugly sneer.
Cam narrowed his eyes.
He couldn't let this jerk spew his venom and get away with it. It was hateful, and in Cam's world, while the road may not be smooth, love would always and inevitably conquer hate. Looking into that deceptively clean cut face and the malice-filled green eyes, Cam stared the other man down. He squared his shoulders and—
"You're an asshole."
The gravelly bass notes rumbled through the locker room like thunder emanating from the heavens. The ambient noise of players settling into their designated lockers came to a halt as everyone turned to focus their attention on the scene playing out in Cam's corner.
Startled by the unfamiliar voice, Cam looked over his shoulder. He then looked up and up once more until he saw a familiar pug-like face. Bull. His expression was standard-issue stony, but his brown eyes were filled with disgust. That disgust was focused at present like a laser on none other than Ramsey St. John.
Ramsey turned his gaze towards Bull, an eyebrow raised, every line of his body screaming his innate hostility. "What did you call me?"
"You're an asshole." The words boomed even louder in the now-silent locker room.
Ramsey's eyes narrowed, and he took a step towards Bull, his attention momentarily diverted. "What the fuck? Just because I don't want his fucking fruity little fag hands anywhere near me—"
Bull barked a laugh. "Not only are you an asshole, but you're a stupid asshole." Bull moved to stand next to Cam, his oversized frame dwarfing Cam and Ramsey alike. He removed the bottle from Cam's hands and put it back on a shelf. Bull gestured with his thumb towards Cam. "You see, Cam here's our QB. That means he's the one driving this bus. Better get that in your underdeveloped brain, St. John. If he's not happy, nobody's happy. And if Jameson makes him happy, then so be it. I mean, Jesus, it's not like he's asking you to wear a rainbow thong and march in some parade, asshole."
"Let me finish. If you don't want his hands anywhere near you, then I hope to hell you like the bench because guess what? Those hands that you refuse to get near are the ones handling the fucking ball. Good luck making a name for yourself if you never touch the ball, genius. Oh, and one last thing. Don't call me 'Bull.' Only my friends can do that. You're not my friend; you're an asshole. Right, Cam?" Bull smiled at him briefly before returning his stony-eyed expression to Ramsey.
Cam swallowed past the lump in his throat. "Right, Bull."
The heavy weight of Bull's hand clapped onto Cam's shoulder, and he looked around at the players whose attention had been directed at their tableau. "Right, guys?"
Echoes of "right," along with "damn straight," "yup," "what the hell's the new guy bitchin' about?," "what an asshole," and "who cares who Cam's fuckin', anyway?," reinforced Bull's unexpected championing.
Bull leveled another stony glare at Ramsey, who blanched and resembled a landed fish, mouth gasping for air. Bull pointed a massive finger at Ramsey. "Don't be an ass." He stared hard at Ramsey for a moment longer and then turned. Cam jerked in surprise when he felt Bull pat his butt in the universal language of locker room camaraderie before he ambled back to his side of the room. The ambient noise of pre-practice preparations resumed.
Cam looked at his shoes and chewed his lip, fighting back a grin as he felt the steady flow of relief that had begun flooding his veins ever since the guys had defended him. Of all the guys to speak up… Bull? Bull? Who would have expected it? No one, that's who. Certainly not Cam, and most likely not even Bull himself. Cam lost the fight and couldn't hold back his smile after that.
A throat cleared.
Cam looked up and saw a newly-subdued Ramsey St. John. His pack of rookies entourage had already dispersed, and the running back looked uncharacteristically hesitant, which was not surprising given his dressing down just now.
"Cam…ah…Mr. Hunter. Sir. I'm sorry for what I just said and that my…joke…was so offensive." Ramsey swallowed, and his words were awkward, as though apologies were as foreign to his mouth as burnt wood chips. "I…don't know why I did it…"
Cam looked him in the eye. "I do. You're an asshole. And it's true – I don't like you. But that doesn't mean we can't be on the team together. On the field, we're all on one team, and we work towards one goal: winning. Off the field, I don’t have to like you, and you don't have to like me. Coworkers hate each other all the time. Just keep clear for now, okay?"
"Yeah, ah…okay…" Ramsey wore a confused expression on his face, and he appeared to be trying to decide if what Cam said would hold true through game day. Just this once, Cam refrained from doing the right thing and telling Ramsey that Cam was a professional, and he'd never let the rookie's assholeness get in Cam's way of doing his job. Ramsey deserved to stew in his discomfort a bit longer. In fact…
A devilish gleam lit Cam's gaze. He leaned closer to Ramsey, who made a visible effort not to react to Cam's nearness. "But, hey, thanks for the welcome back present," Cam said, glancing at the sex toy and lube. "I'm sure we'll make good use of them." Cam leveled Ramsey with a deliberate leer. Meanwhile, Cam's lips twitched as he suppressed a mischievous grin.
Ramsey blanched even whiter and may have choked out a confused-slash-reluctant "you're welcome?" before scurrying away towards the front of the locker room.
After watching his departure, Cam turned away and intercepted Bull's gaze. He sent Bull another multi-purpose chin nod. Bull returned it with one of his own.
With a smile curving his lips, Cam turned back to his locker and began strapping on his practice gear. So far, today hadn't been an unmitigated disaster, and that, in his mind, was itself a success.
Cam stared out of the kitchen window at the maples providing shade over his backyard. The shadows of the trees shifted over the limestone tiles of the patio as the wind filtered through heavy leaf-laden branches. Brad was out on the grass, tossing a Frisbee back and forth with Lock.
Cam subconsciously gripped his cell phone tighter in his hand as he listened to something he never thought he'd hear before.
"I'm sorry, honey, but I just don't think we can make it to the game." His mother sighed. "Your father…your father said they're a few hands short at the shop, and it's not a good time to be away." She sighed again and continued in a soft voice. "I'm sorry, Cam. I don't know why he's…" She cleared her throat. "I really wish we could be there."
Cam swallowed hard and stared unseeing out the window. "Wow, Mom. I never thought—" Cam cut himself off, not wanting to make his mother feel any worse than she already seemed to feel. "I really wish you could be there, too. I—I miss you. I miss you and Dad."
"I know, sweetie. I miss you, too. It's just…it's a hard time for your father. He gets upset when he sees those nasty tabloids at the supermarket. He knows they're all lies, but still, they upset him. I'm sorry, honey. I wish we could be there."
"Me too," Cam said softly.
"Well, we'll see you soon enough at the holidays," his mother continued, her voice falsely bright. "And I spoke with Anne the other day. She said your boy got along wonderfully with her young ones. Oh, and she said they'll be at the game next week. There'll be so many of your fans there, honey, that you won't even miss us." There was the sound of rustling on the other side before his mother's voice chimed in again. "I have to get started on dinner, Cam. We'll talk soon, okay?"
Cam cleared his throat. "Okay, Mom. Love you."
"Love you, too, sweetie."
Once Cam hung up, he went back to staring out the window, but without seeing much of anything. His parents had never missed an opening game in his twenty years of playing football. Their attendance was a given; like the sun rising or snowfall in December, he could always count on them to be there.
But not, it seemed, this time.
He and Brad had each played their last preseason games this past weekend, and each of their season openers was next week. Training camp had ended a few weeks ago, and practice had resumed its usual regular season schedule. The feel of the locker room and the level of camaraderie with his teammates had reached a kind of equilibrium that resembled their relationships of seasons past. That asshole Ramsey St. John had made the final fifty-three man roster, as was expected for such a college superstar, but also, as was hoped for, he stayed well clear of Cam off the field. Things should have been business as usual, except, with the prospect of his parents' absence at his home opener, they felt anything but.
Cam knew his being gay had been a shock to his parents, but he had hoped – perhaps naively – that they would see that he was still the same son he'd always been. His mother seemed to understand that, and things with her had balanced out to normal in the past couple of months. His father, however…
Cam swallowed hard.
He hadn't spoken with his father since his visit in May.
The French doors overlooking the patio opened then, interrupting Cam's depressing train of thought.
"Cam, Cam!" Lock swept into the attached eat-in breakfast nook, his hands gripping the neon yellow Frisbee and a grin lighting up his face. Brad was close behind and turned to shut the doors. Lock came into the kitchen and filled a glass with water. "Did you know that there's this thing called Ultimate Frisbee? It's like…some huge Frisbee thing, and there are competitions and everything. Brad was telling me they had it at his college."
Cam mustered up an answering smile, even though it felt like his face was moving through concrete. "Hey, that's really cool."
In the process of pulling his sweaty T-shirt over his head, Brad turned at the sound of Cam's voice. Balling up the navy cotton between his large hands, he took one look at Cam's face, and his brows arrowed downwards. Brad slung his T-shirt over the back of a barstool and, with one more glance at Cam, turned to Lock. "Lock, why don't you go upstairs and get cleaned up? I need to talk to Cam for a sec."
Lock put his glass into the sink and glanced from Cam to Brad. "Okay…" He hesitated, fiddling with the Frisbee, and sent them a look filled with uncharacteristic uncertainty. "Is everything okay? Is it about…me?" he asked slowly.
Cam rushed to reassure Lock. "No, no, nothing about you, Lock. I just—we just need to talk, that's all."
Brow furrowed, Lock sent them a tentative half-smile. "Okay. I'll get cleaned up and then I'm gonna go online to look up this Ultimate Frisbee thing. It just sounds so weird. Cool, but weird."
"Sounds good," Brad said. He glanced at Cam. "While you do that, Cam and I'll talk, then I'll get cleaned up myself. After that, why don't we go grab some pizza at Gennaro's? You can ask one of your friends if they want to come, too."
Lock's half smile transformed into a full-blown grin. "Awesome. Bye, now!" he called out as he rushed through the kitchen's swinging door, Frisbee still in hand.
Cam watched him leave, and his lips twitched with the first real smile he'd felt since he'd started that horrible conversation with his mother.
Cam looked up to see Brad standing before him with an expectant look on his face, his brows knitted with concern. "Tell me because I could see it in your face," Brad said. "Something's up. What happened?"
"It's not that bad." Cam shook his head, and his mouth twisted in a grimace. "Well, it's kind of bad. It depends on the definition of bad. If you think it's bad that my dad still won't talk to me after more than three months. If you think it's bad that, for the first time in two decades, my parents are going to miss my opening game. Then, yeah, I guess it's that bad."
"Oh, Cam. I'm so sorry." Brad stepped closer and hugged him. As he straightened, he took hold of Cam's hand. Cam felt the gentle movement of Brad's thumb as it swept over the fine hairs on the back of his hand. Back and forth, Cam felt that point of connection. The touch was calming. Comforting.
"It's okay. It's just…I had hopes, you know. I was hoping that things could be good by now. Or at least…normal-ish." Cam laughed weakly and looked down at their joined hands. "I guess it could always be worse. At least it sounds like we're still getting together for the holidays. Or they still want me to be there, I mean."
"Of course they do. You just need to give them some more time. I'm sorry, babe." Brad's other hand came to rest on Cam's shoulder, the weight familiar and soothing. "But, hey, you'll have family there on Monday." Cam lifted his gaze to meet Brad's hazel eyes, which were filled with warmth. "I'll be there on Monday and so will Lock. We're on your team, Cam. You know that. No matter what."
A small smile tugged at the corner of Cam's mouth. He squeezed Brad's hand. Here was his family; here was his home. "Thanks." The little smile broke free. He cleared his throat and looked up at Brad through his lashes. "You're good at that."
Brad's lips quirked up. "At what?"
"At making things seem not as bad. Being there for me. Knowing what I need to hear. You know, just...being positive." Cam chuckled softly. "I thought that was my job."
Brad's growl was playful, and he tugged Cam a little closer. "It's your job to be you, and if that's sad or positive or out of this world certifiable, then that's you. And it's my job to love you just as you are." Brad gave Cam a peck and then leaned back, gazing down at him warmly with his heart-stopping smile firmly in place.
"Tough job," Cam whispered, returning the smile.
"Mmmm." Brad murmured his agreement. "It can be hard. Very hard, indeed," he added as he pressed a little closer, his hand still linked to one of Cam's.
Cam raised his other hand to smooth over the hard plane of Brad's bare chest. As his palm skimmed over the brown nipple, he could feel the peak pebble under his touch. "But worth it, I hope?" Cam leaned in close enough to smell the honest sweat and Brad's natural scent that emanated from his muscular body. Cam swirled his fingers through the dark hairs sprinkled across that firm, warm skin.
"Always," Brad growled.
Brad jerked Cam towards him, closing the remaining inches in one move. Cam puffed out a surprised breath as his body met a solid wall of muscle, but smiled up at Brad when he felt the weight of Brad's arms encircle his waist. Brad ground his hips against Cam's, and Cam could feel a thickening bulge rub against his own shaft.
Brad leaned closer to nibble on Cam's ear. "Now, before we risk scandalizing the impressionable young minds in this household, I do need to get cleaned up, too." Brad paused. "I might…I don't know…need some help washing my back, y'know." Brad pulled back and raised his brows significantly.
"Just your back?" Cam asked with a teasing smile.
"Well, if my dick falls into your hands, far be it from me to complain about you doing such a thorough job." Brad sent him an innocent look that failed to hide the devilish gleam that lit his eyes.
Cam huffed out a short laugh, his lips curving at the look on Brad's face. The man was the farthest thing from innocent, and heaven knew Brad had spent many a long and gratifyingly sleep-deprived night proving it to him. With a delicious shiver of anticipation and the knowledge that, no matter what his parents thought, their love for each other was right, Cam latched onto Brad's hand and tugged him towards the door with a grin. "C'mon, let's get you squeaky clean."
Trailing behind Cam towards the stairs, Brad leaned in close to murmur in Cam's ear. "Something tells me squeaking isn't the only noise we're gonna hear."
Cam felt his face flame, but a smile teased the corner of his lips all the way to the master bedroom.
And if his own cock and balls also happened to fall into Brad's hands during that shower? Well, a thorough cleansing had never felt so unbelievably good.
And besides, cleanliness was next to Godliness.
The season began for both of their teams, and, while his heart clenched at his parents' noticeable absence from his season opener, Cam was soothed by the presence of his sister's brood and, most importantly, his new family in the stands. Over the next few weeks, he and Brad settled into a pretty regular routine that, against all odds, accommodated both of their schedules and the active needs of a teenager beginning his sophomore year at the nearby high school.
With their relationship out in the open and the support of a liberal New York City-based media, they no longer had to hide their togetherness. At the urging of Brad's agent, they did a handful of print interviews and one interview with a major television news magazine. The furor over their outing was fast and flashed bright, but after a doping scandal from one of baseball's oldest franchises exploded onto the scene just as baseball was entering its playoff season, the media turned its rabid attention in another direction. While they now received many more charitable requests and invitations for appearances from rainbow alliances and the like, he and Brad had otherwise been faced with what qualified as a "normal" level of media scrutiny around these parts.
At the same time they found their bearings in this newly-revealed Playing-While-Gay-tolerant world, Brad, to Cam's eternal delight, basically moved in. They agreed that Lock would be more comfortable with room to spread out at Cam's place in Somerset, so Brad, in his usual no-nonsense "this is what makes sense" way, hauled a good amount of his personal items across the Hudson River and into Cam's home.
Brad kept the condo in the city for the time being. Cam agreed with his reasoning that there were still going to be circumstances that made having a landing pad in the city advantageous. For instance, Brad continued to mentor Nick, who had just started his senior year and who, in addition to making high enough grades to consider some of the nation's top colleges, had also garnered some interest from a few Division II schools for his basketball playing, as well. For all intents and purposes, though, Brad had made the large colonial "out in the boonies" his home, and every time Cam thought about all of them living under the same roof and just being together, he felt a rush of goodwill, affection, and love for his new little family.
In fact, with the Philadelphia Railers and Brad's New York Diamonds at the top of the standings in the Eastern Division, things would be very nearly perfect if only his weekly chat with his parents hadn't turned into a weekly chat with his mother.
He and his father had never been ones to pour their hearts out to each other or share their feelings, but his father, in continuing to maintain this obvious estrangement, was making his feelings this time abundantly and painfully clear. While it wasn't as though Cam was used to seeking out his father's advice on a daily basis or needed to shoot the breeze with him constantly, Cam was nevertheless accustomed to having his father's quiet presence, his strength, standing beside him in life and supporting him at every turn. Whether it was sharing a peaceful moment with their rods by the lake or supporting Cam in his decision to earn his degree at college rather than go pro after his junior year, his father had always been there.
His marked absence now was painful.
This silent treatment was especially noticeable now that they were entering Week 12 of the regular season, which also marked the start of the holidays. Thanksgiving was always a difficult time to arrange family gatherings, given the possibility of having a game scheduled on that day. In years past, Cam had been lucky and hadn't had to play on Thanksgiving. He'd always visited with his family for Thanksgiving Day and stayed through the long weekend afterwards as long as he could until he had a game.
This year, it just so happened that he was scheduled to play on Thanksgiving Day. It would be his first Turkey Day game, and, in an odd turn of events, it also happened to be the case that he and Brad were playing against each other in what was officially billed as a "Thanksgiving Rivalry" matchup. Since the team schedules had been finalized far in advance before his and Brad's outing to the public, it was truly serendipitous for the networks that they had such a headline-making pair of teams on the lineup. Considering the hectic nature of a Thanksgiving game day and the newness of their family now that Lock's adoption had been finalized during Week 9, he and Brad had decided to spend a relatively quiet Thanksgiving. The three of them would spend Thanksgiving at home for the rest of the weekend once the game concluded.
When he mentioned these plans to his mother, however, Cam couldn't help but notice the hint of relief in her voice.
And even with his heart full of love for his new little family, Cam still felt a sharp twinge of pain when remembering her reaction.
Thanksgiving Day was crisply cool with the sun's weak rays extending across a pale blue sky. In a funny twist on holiday family outings, Cam, Brad, and Lock loaded into Brad's new Lexus RX Hybrid that morning. However, instead of heading out to play board games and deep fry poultry with relatives in a house in the suburbs, they drove to Sloane Hardaway Stadium, the home of the Philadelphia Railers, for their three o'clock game.
After parking in the players' lot and slinging their duffle bags over their shoulders, they walked Lock up to the private Railers friends-and-family hospitality suite. Per the norm for players, they had arrived over three hours before game time, so the stadium itself was remarkably quiet. As they neared the suite, however, they could hear voices drifting out of the glass door that was propped open. Cam came to a halt just outside the entrance and turned to Lock.
"So, you're gonna be okay, right?" Cam asked for probably the umpteenth time as he placed his palm on Lock's shoulder. Cam glanced at Brad and caught an indulgent smile and a good-natured eye roll that, when he looked down at Lock again, was mirrored on the teenager's face.
"Cam, chill. I grew up in Camden. I think I can handle a luxury suite."
"I know, it's just…I don't want you to get bored."
"Nah, it's cool. I'll just play Temple Run or Angry Birds or something during the wait. Also, they have food here, don't they?" he added, echoing growing and hungry teenaged boys everywhere.
Cam's lip quirked up. "Yeah, lots of food."
With that, they entered the suite, in which a few other families had already settled. Against the back wall, there was a dark marble built-in countertop. Presented buffet-style, there was a row of covered chafing dishes with tiny canned flames flickering underneath and, farther down, serving trays with salad, cold sandwiches and wraps, bags of chips, brownies, and fresh fruit. Rows of leather recliner seats were lined up with their backs to the entrance. They faced the front of the room, which was a wall of glass through which the occupants could see, from an elevated vantage point, the entire field from the fifty yard line.
Of course, Lock didn’t notice the muted beige tones of the furnishings, the maroon and gold wallpaper, the tasteful prints of noteworthy moments in the Philadelphia Railers history, or the million dollar view.
"Cam! Brad! They have Flamin' Hot Cheetos!"
Cam shared a look with Brad and breathed easily, knowing that things would be alright.
After speaking briefly with Jason Olivier's wife, Sasha, who was doing a fine job of wrangling their six year old twin girls and Jason's teenaged brother, Cam and Brad left the suite with the comfort of knowing that Sasha would keep an eye on Lock for them – or rather, if Cam were being honest with himself, keep an eye on Lock for him. They wound their way down past vendors setting up concession stands and custodians doing pre-game spot-cleaning until they reached the bowels of the stadium. Walking close enough for their shoulders to brush occasionally, they paused where the entrance hall split, leading to either the visitors' locker room on one end or the Railers' locker room on the other.
"Guess I'll see you later, babe."
"Definitely see you later," Cam corrected softly with a small smile, mindful of the security guards posted nearby.
"When I'll have something to celebrate," Brad added, his lip curling in a confident smirk that was reminiscent of their old rivalry days. The heat in his hooded gaze, however, told a different story.
"You mean, when I'll have something to celebrate, as I've had for the last three years," Cam teased, his brow lifted.
"Well, whoever's celebrating, I have a feeling we're both gonna like it." Brad lifted his own brow at Cam pointedly, the corner of his lip quirking up.
Cam returned the smile. "I have a feeling you're right."
After darting a quick glance at the guards, Cam leaned forward to peck Brad on the cheek. "Bye now."
Cam turned to go, but then was surprised by a finger tugging from the belt loop on his jeans. He swiveled back around. Brad pressed a firm, definitely-not-a-peck kiss to Cam's mouth. When their lips parted, Brad chuckled knowingly when he saw Cam's face. "Bye, babe."
Shaking his head in an attempt to clear it, Cam made his way dazedly towards the Railers' locker room and tried to get his focus back on the game.
At the end of the day, the Railers' streak was broken, and it was Brad and his New York Diamonds who did the celebrating. The two teams were pretty evenly matched offensively, with each having its consistently top players and with each of Brad and Cam having uncannily similar stats, from passing to rushing. There may even have been a slight offensive edge for the Railers' since the team had two first-class receivers in Powell and Zigman. The Diamonds, however, had the number one defense in the conference, second in the league after the San Francisco Rushers, while the Railers' defense was only above average at best. Thus, while Brad and his Diamonds offense went about business as usual, Cam and his Railers' offense were shut down cold. The score was 27-13 by the time the play clock hit zero in the fourth quarter.
He and Brad had agreed to meet after the game in the lobby with the elevators that led to the private suites where Lock had watched the game. After giving an unavoidable post-game interview, Cam cleaned up and made his way through the winding hallways to the lobby on the main floor.
Brad was already waiting for him. With his hair still glistening from his post-game shower, he stood with his shoulder propped against the wall and his head bent over his cell phone. In his dark jeans and slim-fitting black button down with its open collar, a discreet black duffle by his feet, he looked like he'd stepped off the pages of a men's health magazine. Despite the frustration of his team's loss, Cam began to feel the stirrings of another type of frustration – one that he knew he'd have the means to sate this very evening.
Cam's footsteps echoed softly against the tiled floors of the otherwise-deserted lobby, and Brad looked up. With a last glance at his screen, Brad tucked his phone in his pocket and straightened. A tiny smile lifted the corners of his lips.
"Hey, Cam," Brad said, opening his arms as Cam approached.
"Hey, Brad." Cam stepped into the embrace easily.
After giving him a light kiss, Brad lifted his head. "I'd say I'm sorry we won, but…" He paused and looked around before leaning in. "I'm kinda not," he whispered in mock-secret.
Cam rolled his eyes. "Like I'd expect you to be," he said. "You'll just have to make it up to me later."
Brad murmured in agreement. "Mm hmm, lots of making up. Lots and lots of it." A slick grin pulled at his lips as he leaned in for another quick kiss.
"Don't think I'll forget," Cam said playfully.
"I wouldn't dream of it." Brad picked up his duffle and turned towards the elevator bank. "So, you ready?"
"Oh yeah, ready for a nice and easy dinner at Fong's Family Palace," Cam said lightly.
He and Brad had decided that, with the timing of the game and the late hour at which they'd be finished, they'd go out to eat for dinner and save a traditional Thanksgiving meal for the Friday afterwards. Since it was, after all, a national holiday today, they'd discovered that Chinatown would be their only feasible option for a meal.
"We'll create our own traditions. It'll be nice," Cam added, feeling slightly sentimental and a little wistful about the Thanksgivings he'd spent in years past together with his family. He shook himself mentally. He had a precious new family now, and what was important was spending time together, no matter where.
"It will be nice, trust me," Brad said as they stepped into the elevator. He pushed the button for the third floor.
"And tomorrow will be great," Cam continued. "Just a quiet day with the three of us hanging out, lots of food and watching movies." Cam paused as the doors opened and they stepped out. "Although I don't know why you thought we needed a fifteen pound turkey," he added as an afterthought.
Brad made a noncommittal noise. "Leftovers? How was I supposed to know how much we could eat? Lock's a growing boy, you know," he said as they stepped into the private suite. A couple of families were still there, including Sasha, who waved from the other side of the room. They returned the wave, but didn't stop by because Lock hurried over to grab their attention.
"Hey guys! Awesome game. Sorry, Cam," Lock added in an aside. "But awesome game! And man, this buffet thing is serious business. I think I had four burgers, three hot dogs, two nachos—"
"And a partridge in a pear tree?" Cam couldn't resist adding with a smile.
"Cam," Lock said in a drawn out sigh. He sent Cam an "I can't deal with how uncool that was, but I still love you anyway" look.
"Sorry, couldn't help it," Cam said. "So I guess this means you're not hungry for dinner…?"
Lock perked up. "Oh, dinner! I'm so ready!"
Cam met Brad's gaze. Brad lifted an eyebrow. Cam nodded. "Point taken. I guess we might actually need that fifteen pound bird, after all."
Brad sent him a small smile and agreed. "I'm pretty sure we will." He looked down at Lock and tilted his head towards the door. "C'mon, kid. Let's go."
When Cam turned towards the elevators, though, Brad pulled up short. "Hang on a sec. There's something I wanted to check in the visitor's suite," he said. "You guys coming along?"
Cam furrowed his brow and glanced at Lock, who shrugged. "Okay," they said in unison.
They walked a few doors down the neutrally-wallpapered corridor to the suite marked for visiting teams. Unlike the Railers' friends and family suite, the suite for the visitors had a dark wood door with a strip of vertical frosted glass near the knob, just like the other private boxes on this tier. With a quick glance at Cam, Brad opened the door and ushered them inside.
Normally, Cam may have noted that the visitor's suite didn't have the same elaborate setup as the home team's suite. There was no Philadelphia Railers' memorabilia, the coloring for the walls and furniture was a pale taupe, and the room itself was of a much smaller scale. He may have observed that the view was not perfectly at center from the fifty yard line or that the seats were furnished in fabric and not leather.
Instead, Cam stopped short and stared at the only occupants in the room: his mother and – he swallowed hard – his father.
"Son." His father's deep voice filled the empty room as he struggled to rise from the deep cushions of the recliner in which he'd been sitting. Confusion warred with the relief washing over Cam in a sudden wave. His father. He didn't know how, but somehow, he was here. Somehow, he was speaking to him again.
"Hello, Cam," his mother said as she stepped forward, a smile on her face and a gentle look in her eyes.
Eyes wide, Cam glanced quickly at Brad, who was standing back with a satisfied smile on his face. This man. Understanding dawned, and his heart swelled up with emotion. He felt so much love for Brad in this moment. What Brad had done for him was just…wonderful.
Cam turned towards his parents and hurried forward to help his father out of his seat. "Mom. Dad. I can't believe you're here. I'm so excited to see you." Cam turned to embrace his mother. Profound joy tightened Cam's chest, and he blinked hard as he took in the familiar faces before him.
"So are we, Cam. It's so nice to see you." His mother swept her gaze around the room to encompass Brad and Lock. With a warm smile, she added, "All of you."
Brad stepped forward, guiding Lock to join them. "Mr. Hunter. Mrs. Hunter," Brad said with a nod to each. "I'm glad you were able to make the trip."
Cam's mother murmured their thanks.
Cam cleared his throat and put a hand on Lock's shoulder. With an encouraging smile at the teenager, he introduced Lock to his parents. "Mom, Dad, this is Lachlain, but he goes by Lock," he said, unable to keep a note of pride from his voice.
"Such a handsome boy," his mother said, smiling at Lock. "We're so happy to have you in the family, Lock."
"Thank you, ma'am," Lock said, ducking his head in an uncharacteristically shy fashion.
Cam's father coughed loudly, drawing their attention to his tall, broad form. "Son," he began slowly, looking at Cam. "I want to apologize."
Cam flushed and began to stammer. "There's no need, Dad, really, I—"
"I want to apologize for the last six months, Cam," his father continued, determined. "It hasn't felt right, and I know it's all because of my damned stubbornness," he said, his mouth twisting in a grimace.
"Son, I love you, and I trust that whoever you love – man, woman, or child," he continued, glancing at Brad and Lock. "Well, I trust that whoever you love is deserving of your love. I just…" He paused, frowning slightly. "I just needed a little time to figure that out. And a little help from your mother," he said, sending her an unexpectedly gentle look. He turned back to Cam and met his gaze. "You're a good boy, and you've always been. I know you wouldn't do anything that wasn't right for you. It's just that your old man—" He stopped short and chuckled self-deprecatingly. "Well, he's just not so good with change, I'm afraid. But he's getting better at it, I promise you." His father sent Cam an open look, seeking understanding, seeking acceptance.
"Dad, I…" Cam trailed off, momentarily at a loss for words. He felt the comforting warmth of Brad's arm slip around his waist. He took a steadying breath and an oppressive weight that he hadn't known was there lifted from his shoulders. Covering Brad's hand at his waist with his own and settling his other palm on Lock's shoulder, Cam smiled at his father. "Thank you."
His father harrumphed, but he returned a small smile. Cam knew it might take time, but he was trying, at least. That was more than Cam had had from his father in months.
Brad coughed gently. "I invited your sister, too, you know. They'll all be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow."
Happiness coursed through Cam's veins as he looked at his family, new and old. He'd have his family Thanksgiving gathering, after all, and all thanks to this man – this wonderful man. Leaning across, Cam brushed a soft kiss to Brad's cheek, elated with life and uncaring of his audience.
"Thank you," Cam whispered, looking into Brad's warm hazel gaze. "For everything."
Brad smiled his heart-melting smile and tightened his hold on Cam briefly. "Told you we'd need that turkey," he murmured, sending Cam a wink. Cam grinned.
"Cam, honey, we're so happy we'll all be together for the holiday this weekend," his mother said in her soft voice. She glanced at his father and continued. "Your father and I, well, we'd love it if all of you could come down for Christmas, too. I know your football game schedules can be tricky, but even if it's for a few days, we'd be delighted if you could all visit." She clasped her hands in front of her torso and smiled at them expectantly.
Cam and Brad shared a look, and Brad raised a brow, which Cam read as agreement if he wanted it. Cam glanced down at Lock, who had been incredibly patient throughout this whole reunion, and realized that this year – with the adoption, Cam and Brad's relationship, and prospective holiday gatherings with family – was filled with new experiences for a boy who had once had no family or permanent home to call his own. Lock met Cam's gaze and, with the corners of his lips lifting in a tiny smile, nodded.
Overwhelmed by his good fortune, Cam couldn't hold back his grin as he turned back to his parents. "We'll be there."
"Good." His mother's smile was warm and encompassed them all.
"Good," his father echoed.
His father cleared his throat loudly, his brows furrowed as he clearly struggled with whether to say something further. In the end, he stood straighter and pinned them with a stern look. "Cam, Brad," he said, glancing at each in turn. "I understand that you're…together. And I trust Cam to make decisions that are right for him, and if he's chosen you, Brad, then that's what must feel right." He nodded his head in Cam's direction as though conceding this point. "But you have to understand that when you're staying under my roof, you'll have to follow my rules. And, call me old-fashioned or out of touch, but under my roof, there's no sharing a room unless vows have been spoken and rings have been exchanged. It was true for Anne and Mark, all the way up through their engagement, and I'll have to insist on keeping that rule true for you. I'm sorry, but that's how it has to be."
Brad glanced at Cam and a warm smile softened Brad's features. He turned back to meet Cam's father's gaze, his own expression turning serious. "I understand, Mr. Hunter. I really do."
At that moment, a faint rumbling sound echoed in the suite. Everyone turned to Lock, whose face flushed a fiery red.
"I think your boy might be trying to tell us something, Cam. I remember what it's like to have a growing boy around," his mother said teasingly.
Lock looked around at the gathered adults and offered up a sheepish grin. "Food?"
On that note, they all shared a laugh and headed out to dinner in Chinatown.
Thus began a holiday season in which old traditions were forged with new, and Cam received the best gift of all: the blending of his big, happy family in a way that, just months before, he would not even have known to hope for or imagine.
He was blessed. He truly was.
Two Christmases later, Brad and Cam were finally allowed to share a bedroom.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A native of San Francisco, Nico Jaye now lives in New York City. She thinks reading is awesome and loves that she has the opportunity to hang out night after night with crinoline-wearing debutantes, brawny firemen in suspenders, and werewolf shifters with Scottish brogues. Her real life travels have brought her to places such as Fiji and Oman, and she picked her most recent destination (Nicaragua) by looking at a map, closing her eyes, and pointing. An overall feline enthusiast, she may or may not have a precocious cat named “Nico” from whom she borrowed this pen name.
Also, she's a bit of an Internet addict and extremely sleep-efficient (i.e., has insomniac tendencies). With that combination in mind, if you check one of these places, you'll probably find her online at almost any given hour of the day. ;)
Goodreads: Nico Jaye
ALSO BY NICO JAYE
The story "Into the Deep” is available in the M/M Olympics anthology, Going for Gold. Check below for blurbs and an excerpt from my story.
You can find Going for Gold, edited by E.M. Lynley, on the MLR Press site, Amazon, and All Romance eBooks.
OFFICIAL BLURB FOR GOING FOR GOLD:
It's not hard to see the outward appeal of the Olympic Games: watching the fittest and most-accomplished athletes in the world compete—generally with fairly skimpy uniforms. Voyeurism aside, there's nothing sexier than a beautiful body running, jumping, swimming, rowing, and a couple dozen other activities. Who wouldn't take the chance to enjoy the spectacle?
But the Olympics are more than just a chance to watch athletes at the peak of physical perfection. Every competitor at the Games has a story behind why they run or jump or swim, and why they compete. How they got to the Games, and what they sacrificed along the way to make the cut. To spectators, they may perform superhuman feats, but each and every one is human in the same way we all are.
In this collection of stories, you'll find there's a lot more to competing at Olympic level than being the best in one's field. Expectations and pressures from family, friends, coaches and country add up, and sometimes it's only the love of the right man who can make the effort worth it. And sometimes, love is more important than going for gold.
Stories include: "Hot Shots" by Michael P. Thomas, "Into the Deep" by Nico Jaye, "The Quad" by Kelly Rand, "Lightning in a Bottle" by Sarah Madison, "Swimming the Distance" by Annabeth Albert, "Shooting for Gold" by Whitley Gray, "An Olympic Goal" by K-lee Klein, "Tumbling Dreams" by Kaje Harper.
BLURB FOR THE STORY "INTO THE DEEP":
Sparks fly at the 2012 Olympic Games when platform diver John Sloane meets Blake Gallagher, a local bartender. After a chance encounter at Blake's London pub, fate brings them together once again as John prepares for his debut on the Olympic stage. Will these unlikely lovers realize they've found a winner in each other or will the pressures of competition keep them apart?
Warning: Contains wet Speedos, gratuitous toplessness, a cheeky redheaded Brit who might be a tad unsure of himself, and an American sports god who wants him just the way he is.
Here's a little taste from the day John walked into Blake's life…
EXCERPT FROM "INTO THE DEEP":
“Another round for the Yanks at table eight, Blake,” Dani called out as she sailed by with a tray held high, the aroma of battered cod and salty chips drifting behind her. Looking up from the tap where he was pouring a beer, Blake glanced past the four top in the middle of the room to table eight in the corner, also known as two Newcastles, one Guinness, a Tanqueray and tonic, and seltzer with lime.
Seltzer with lime was watching him from behind a thick fringe of long, dark lashes.
Blake flushed and looked away. Then the corner of his lip lifted, and he couldn’t help himself — he peeked upwards, immediately encountering the stranger’s gaze once again.
Not a stranger for much longer, he guessed, sneaking a glimpse at the handsome American’s closely-cropped dark hair, strong jawline, and wide mouth. He couldn’t tell the color of his eyes at this distance, but those lashes alone could slay a man from fifty paces.
Be still, my little heart.
Holy shite, the man was perfection. Meeting that inscrutable stare for a moment longer, Blake gave him a little smile before turning his attention back to the pint, cutting off the tap just before the amber liquid spilled over the side of the glass.
“There you go, Mr. McCoy,” he said as he placed the full pint in front of the grizzled middle-aged man who was picking the cashews out of the snack bowl at the bar. Blake had been working at The Red Griffin for the last six months and had begun to settle into the routine and the quirks of the regulars. He’d taken this job to provide a steady income supplement to his real passion, drawing, which, while filling his nights and feeding his muse, unfortunately did not fill his wallet or feed his belly as reliably as he would like.
For what it was, bartending was flexible and provided enough amusement and activity to have become something he’d actually come to enjoy. Located on the edge of London’s Canary Wharf, the pub was one of any number in the neighborhood, and the patrons tended to be stuffed shirt businessmen, who popped in at lunchtime or happy hour, and locals like Mr. McCoy, who’d been coming to the place for years. The occasional tourist group stumbled in, but none quite like the Yanks at table eight this afternoon.
Correction: none quite like Fuck Me Eyes with the mile-long lashes over there at table eight this afternoon.
Turning back to the taps, Blake was in the process of assembling that table’s order when he caught sight in his peripheral vision of a pair of smooth, corded forearms leaning against the scarred dark wood of the bar.
“I think you have something for me.”
Find out what John thinks Blake has for him in "Into the Deep," available now in the Going for Gold anthology.
Thanks for all of your support! Happy reading!