Hometown Hearts by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2018 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
An hour later, the doc had finished his exams. The black dog, which Dr. Novotany had confirmed, based on her looks and small size, he believed was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or at least a Staffy mix of some sort, was on an IV to help rehydrate her. We’d been trying to offer both dogs water periodically. The little one had drunk, but the black one had only taken a few sips over the course of the night. The doc said she was probably too weak, but the IV fluids would help. He also put her on antibiotics for a couple of different infections. Her leg was bruised, not fractured, which was good. But x-rays showed her other back leg, near where it connected with her hip, had been broken in the past and hadn’t healed as well as it should have, so when she was strong enough to stand, he suspected she probably had a limp and would always have it. Because of her condition, including malnutrition, she’d need to stay under veterinary care for at least several days.
The little one, once he was cleaned up, was the most adorable bit of fluff I’d ever seen. “Certainly looks like a Yorkie,” the vet said. He was healthier than any of the other dogs, which was surprising given his tiny size. The doc speculated that he simply might not have been there as long as the others, and that made sense. But why would he have ended up there in the first place? He was fairly healthy, which meant he’d been generally well cared for up until recently. It bothered the shit out of me that someone would have…what? Given him to the people who’d treated the other dogs so badly? Or maybe he’d been a runaway and they’d found him? I’d probably never know. But in the end, he was going to be okay. His paws were abraded, he had some scrapes and scratches on his body, as well as an ear infection, and was dehydrated as well as slightly underweight. He, too, needed to stay for a few days.
It was harder than I’d ever imagined, for both of us, to leave the dogs there and go home. But it was four-thirty in the morning, and there wasn’t anything else we could do here. The dogs were comfortable and being well cared for, and…frankly, we just weren’t needed.
That didn’t stop us from taking a few extra minutes to pet the dogs. They both actually looked sad and whined a little, as if they knew we were leaving them. Damn it.
“Damn it,” Jay echoed, as if he’d been reading my mind. “I hate this.”
“Me, too. More than I thought I would.”
“I wish we could just take ’em home with us.”
“I do, too. But they’re in good hands and they need the medical attention.”
“I know. I know it’s what’s best for them, but I just had no idea I could get so attached so quickly.”
“And that is one of the many reasons you’re a good man.”
He sighed. “Because I’m just a big ol’ sap?”
“Yes. Exactly because of that.”
That brought a faint smile to his face. “You’re not much better, you know? My pink fuzzy blanket snuggling cute furball daddy.”
Okay, that just made me laugh. “You know what?” I said. “I’m all right with that.”
He wound his fingers through mine and pressed a kiss against my knuckles, smiling.
A few minutes later, Mom walked out with us, calling it a night for herself, too. “I can’t even tell you how much I appreciate your help tonight, guys.”
“I’m glad we could be there with you,” I told her.
“So am I,” Jay added.
She smiled a little tearily and wrapped an arm around each of us as we stopped at her van. “I know it was a difficult situation, but just know that you saved lives tonight.”
I hugged her and then Jay did as well.
She sniffled, but smiled again. “Okay, let’s get out of here before I get any more weepy. I’m tired and that makes it worse. Drive safely, and I’ll see you guys at the house. I’m making waffles.”
After we’d seen her off, we dragged ourselves into Jay’s truck, with him driving this time, and a few minutes later pulled up in front of Mom and Dad’s.
Iggy was in bed with Dad when we went inside, but Raleigh was up off his bed and waiting at the door to greet us, along with Loki. I wondered if somehow Raleigh sensed we’d been saving his dog brothers and sisters and got up because he wanted to show his appreciation. Jay and I both loved on him and Loki maybe a bit more than usual as we took off our coats and boots.
Mom had entered through the door that connected the kitchen and garage. She looked as tired as I felt, but I also knew she always needed some time to wind down after a rescue. Hence her comment about waffles.
“You two are a mess,” she said shaking her head. “Go grab a shower and put on some warm clothes. I’m going to do the same, and then I’ll make breakfast.”
Jay had been quiet on the drive home. Now he looked done in, and not just physically. Yeah, he was no doubt as tired as I was since we’d been up all night. But I suspected what weighed on him was just as much emotional exhaustion. He’d acted so damned admirably tonight, but I suspected the flashback to his time with Russell had hit him harder than he’d let on. And then piled on top of that, seeing the condition in which the dogs had been living and how debilitated the dogs themselves were…that was hard even for seasoned rescuers. I knew Mom never got used to it, even after doing it for years. I wondered if part of the reason Jay had bonded with the black dog was because he saw a little of himself in her…a survivor of a truly shitty situation.
In any case, I knew his kind heart had been bruised tonight, and seeing him hurting hurt me in a fundamental way I’d never experienced before.
No, that wasn’t entirely true. I’d also felt it the other night when he’d been telling me about his struggle over his sexuality and Russell’s abuse. And, though I hadn’t thought of it in a long while, I’d felt it even when we were kids and teenagers. I hadn’t maybe recognized it for what it was back then, but I’d felt it. When Jay hurt, I hurt for him.
We went to my old room and I shut the door.
When my dad built the house, way back when Kevin and I were little, he’d put mine and Kevin’s rooms side by side with a shared bathroom in between, and we each had a door into it. Since I’d kept the door into Kevin’s old bedroom locked while I’d been here, it gave Jay and me some privacy. It was basically like having an en suite bathroom.
“You want to go first?” I asked.
Jay had stopped in the middle of the bedroom staring blindly at the bathroom door.
“Sure,” he murmured. But he didn’t move toward it. He didn’t move at all.
“Hey,” I said, keeping my voice low, rubbing his arm. “You okay? Do you want to talk?”
Finally, he looked at me as if he took several seconds to bring me into focus. “Sorry. It’s…it was…”
“It was a rough night.”
“Yeah.” He scuffed a hand over his face. “I can’t decide if I’m too tired to move. Or too tired to think. Or…” He shook his head. “Or if I’m just too… God, I don’t know.”
“Too emotional to talk?” I asked gently.
He swallowed hard as he nodded.
“It’s okay.” I brushed my palm along his cheek. “No talking required.”
He sighed and nodded again.
“Come on,” I said, taking his hand and leading him into the bathroom.
He followed without argument.
Once we were in, I turned to face him and reached for the hem of his mud-encrusted sweater that wasn’t nearly as red as it had been earlier in the night. I pushed and pulled it, and the black tee-shirt he wore underneath it, up and over his head, exposing his broad shoulders and defined chest covered in dark hair. I couldn’t resist running a hand down over one of his pecs, savoring the feel of the crisp curls against my palm. I’d always wanted to do that very thing, but obviously never had.
His breath caught as I did it, then caught again when I smiled at him and reached for the button of his jeans.
He didn’t say a word, but his breathing grew faster and more shallow as I unbuttoned and unzipped him, then slowly eased the denim and his black boxers over his hips, over his half-erect cock that bobbed free of the fabric, down his thighs, his calves, and then held them while he stepped out of them.
This time it was my breath that caught as I rose.
Damn. He was, truly, a beautiful man. And I wanted to touch him. So badly. But I didn’t. Not yet. Because he was also shivering again, though whether it was from cold or something else I couldn’t be sure.
As he watched me intently, I opened the glass shower door and turned on the water so it could warm up.
After I’d shut the door again, the look on his face made my gut knot, but with desire this time. I pulled off my own sweater and dropped it on top of Jay’s clothes. Then unbuttoned the shirt I’d had on underneath.
Jay’s eyes followed every move of my fingers, and I followed every expression on his face. When I looked down to undo my own jeans and take them off, I felt his gaze still on me, like a sizzling brand. And it was still there when I was fully undressed and straightened up.
“Jesus,” he said under his breath.
I opened the shower door. Steam billowed out as I stepped in. Then I turned and held my hand out to him.
Staring at me intently, he took it and joined me, shutting the door behind him.
The heat of the water felt amazing, but not as amazing as kissing him—the warmth of his mouth against mine, the flick of our tongues, his soft moan against my lips.
I leaned back and asked, in all seriousness, “Is this okay?”
In answer, one of his hands moved up to cradle the back of my head, while the other slid around my waist, pulling me into another kiss, an infinitely slow, delving kiss that was everything a kiss should be, drawing us together, connecting us, making all the years and distance disappear.
Our bodies eased together in a heady press, chest to chest, groin to groin, with no awkwardness or uncertainty. Only a sense of rightness.
As the hot water beat down on us, we kissed forever, and it was so damned good. My hands and fingers memorized the expanse of his back, then I gently stroked my way down his waist to the curves of his ass. I pressed him more firmly against me, showing him how much I wanted him. Our cocks, slippery and completely hard now, rode together, tugging, sliding in a slow build of desire that was too perfect to rush.
He pulled his mouth away from mine, panting, his eyes closed. I took advantage of his tipped-back head to lick and kiss his exposed neck, nibbling in deeper under his whiskered jaw, then up to his ear, where I nipped the lobe, then drew it into my mouth and sucked on it.
“Oh my God, Hunt…” he whispered.
His hands had moved to my ass now. He kneaded with his fingers, guiding the movement of our groins. The contrast between our water slick skin and the gentle grate of hair created just the right amount of friction, making me ache with need.
But I wanted it to last. I wanted to make it last as long as possible.
So I stepped away, in spite of his groan of protest and attempt to pull me back.
“Trust me,” I said.
His eyes were glazed with need as I turned him around to face the tile wall. I raised his arms and put his hands up on the wall. He shivered, but I knew it wasn’t from cold this time.
With a smile, I picked up the bottle of body wash and poured some into my hand. The citrusy-spicy scent filled the shower, but right now all I could smell or see or think about was Jay. He was like a drug that I could so easily and quickly become addicted to. Hell, I already was.
I lathered the wash up in my hands, then started at the nape of his neck, spreading the suds across it, then over his shoulders and upper back. My hands slid along his sides, sudsing the dark hair under his arms, then up his arms to his fingertips, and back down again, massaging as I went.
He moaned softly and his head dropped forward. I knew that in addition to being aroused, he was tired as hell. So was I. But there was something even more…I don’t know…intimate, maybe, in a weird sort of way, about that feeling. Because the tiredness banked the fire just enough to keep us from burning too hot too fast. And that made the closeness even more exquisite.
I took the time to massage his neck and shoulders, pressing in firmly and gently with with my thumbs until he moaned again in appreciation. When I felt his muscles begin to soften at last, I resumed my journey over the rest of his body.
I replenished the body wash in my hand, then worked my soapy hands downward this time, over his ass, into the crease and up against his balls. I continued over his thighs and calves. When I’d reached his feet, I started the journey back up again, taking my time, enjoying the feel of his warm, muscular flesh and the scuff of hair against my hands. When I’d covered every possible inch on his backside, I slid my hands around to his groin in front and stepped in closer to him, pressing my groin against his rear as my hands found and soaped his hard shaft.
At this point, he was trembling in earnest against me, and his chest and back were rising and falling from his ragged breathing.
“Feel good?” I asked softly, kissing the nape of his neck.
He nodded, then let go the wall and leaned back against me.
I curved an arm around his chest to hold him, as my other hand wrapped around his cock and stroked, then slid down to cup his balls and gently tug them, then back to his shaft. One of his hands moved over the top of mine, showing me what felt best for him, while the other clung to my arm on his chest.
I was so hard I ached, but this was about him. What I wanted more than anything right now was to give him pleasure, to make him feel good and show him how damned important he was to me.
He continued to guide the motion of my hand, setting the rhythm and firmness. I knew he was getting close. But still I wanted to drag it out just a little longer. So I slowed my hand and kissed his shoulder and neck, giving him a chance to cool off a bit. And then, when he began to pant again, I once more let him take the lead, let him curl his hand over mine and continue.
He was hard, so hard, beneath my fingers, and his cock head so slick as I rubbed my thumb over it. His hips thrust forward, pushing his shaft deeper into my hand, over and over.
Suddenly, he turned in my arms until we were face to face. He captured both our cocks in one hand, wrapping his fingers around them, squeezing them together, eliciting a moan from me. His mouth closed over mine, silencing me with a slow, unbelievably sensual kiss.
Holy shit. I’d wanted to make him feel good, to make this last as long as possible, but with every stroke of his hand, every exquisite slash of his tongue against mine, I grew closer and closer to losing all self control.
“Come with me, Hunt,” he gasped against my mouth a minute later, his voice low and hoarse.
My belly tightened as the words. If he wanted it, I’d do anything for him.
My moans merged with his. My legs shook. Heat thrummed low in my belly and my balls drew tight.
And then we were coming, both of us. I don’t know who went first. I didn’t matter. It was just so staggeringly incredible I never, ever wanted to be without him, without this, ever again. We clung together, our faces buried against each other’s necks as we rode wave after wave.
When we were spent at last, both of us breathing hard and trembling, I felt his shoulders shaking. All the emotion of the night had caught up to him. I held him close, stroking his hair, and whispering softly to him, much as he’d done for me a few days ago. My own eyes stung. Damn, I loved this man. So much it almost hurt.
When he finally stepped back and looked at me, his beautiful blue eyes red-rimmed and filled with emotion, I cradled his face between my hands and gently kissed him.
“I love you,” I whispered.
His eyes welled again. “God, I love you, too.”
We kissed again, so tenderly I thought my heart might break from the beauty of it.
Eventually we washed our hair and finished soaping up and rinsing off, then got out of the shower before we became impossibly waterlogged.
Back in the bedroom, I handed Jay a pair of sweatpants I had with me and one of my long-sleeved tees. Before I could dig out a spare pair of boxers for him, he’d already pulled on the pants. I turned to him with a smile and a questioning look.
“What?” His own smile was easy again, telling me the emotional purge had been good for him.
“Going commando then?”
“Got a problem with that?”
“Nooo. No problem at all. It’s kinda hot, actually.”
He grabbed my hand and pulled me against him. I hadn’t dressed yet and he took advantage of that fact to stroke a warm hand down over my ass as he kissed me.
“You know what’s hot?” he murmured against my lips.
“This. Being with you. Finally having the freedom to touch you and kiss you and look at you however and whenever I want.”
“It was a long time in coming.”
“It was. So long. But, instead of thinking about how long we’ve waited, I’m just going to be grateful we have it now.”
“So am I.”
* * *
When we made it downstairs a few minutes later, my dad was up, helping Mom in the kitchen.
“Feel better?” Mom asked us.
Jay and I shared a smile. “Yeah, we do,” I said.
When I looked back at her, she had a faint knowing smile hovering on her lips. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care who knew. My best friend, the man I’d loved forever, sat next to me at the breakfast bar and, right now, everything in my world felt pretty damn wonderful.
“Merry Christmas Eve,” Mom said, putting a plate of waffles in front of each of us, then kissing the top of each of our heads.
Jay, I noticed, blushed as he said, “Merry Christmas Eve,” back to her.
“I can’t believe it’s Christmas Eve,” I said.
“I know. It kind of snuck up on us, didn’t it?” Mom sank onto a stool across from us on the other side of the granite-topped breakfast bar and yawned.
“Here, eat bacon.” Dad set a plate of it in the center of the bar, then dropped onto the stool next to my mom. “Bacon makes everything better.”
“I agree with that wholeheartedly,” Jay said, stabbing several slices and putting them on his plate. I did the same because…bacon.
“Is it going to magically give me eight hours of sleep?” Mom asked.
“No, but it’s going to make you so happy you’ll feel like you’ve had sleep,” Dad told her.
She snorted, but took a couple of pieces for herself.
“Anyone want coffee?” she asked.
“Normally I’d say yes, but I also want to sleep for a while this morning, so, probably, no,” I said with a sigh.
“Kinda feeling the same way.”
“All right, hot chocolate it is.”
She started to get up, but Jay rose and said, “You eat, Nancy. I’ll make it.”
“Thanks, hon,” she said.
I smiled at his back as he filled the electric kettle with water and pulled a box of Swiss Miss down out of the cupboard. I loved that he still remembered, after all these years, where Mom kept it.
When I looked back to the breakfast bar, Dad was busy shoveling waffles into his mouth, but I caught Mom smiling at me again.
I shrugged and mouthed, “What?” to her.
That just made her smile bigger before she picked up her fork and began to eat.
I shook my head and chuckled quietly.
Talk eventually turned to the dogs.
“How many did you find?” my dad asked.
“Eleven.” Mom shook her head. “Do you remember that rescue we helped with last spring on the abandoned property out near Parshall?”
He nodded and winced. “That bad?”
“Not quite. But the situation was similar. Fewer animals, thank God, and we got to these before any of them were too far gone to help, at least we hope so. But still…”
“How do you do this, over and over, and not…” Jay’s voice sounded choked on the last words.
I put a hand on his leg, instinctively offering comfort, and he grabbed it, wrapping his fingers around mine.
“How do I do it and not go crazy with grief?” my mom asked gently.
“I try hard not to focus on the horrible things I’ve seen and instead remember how many animals’ lives we’ve saved. How many have had a chance to find good, happy, forever homes with people who love them because of what we do. It’s not always easy, though, to push the bad aside. Some rescues haunt me for a long time. That’s the price of the job, I suppose, but the good I see every day makes up for it.”
“You’re my hero,” he said softly, looking at her. “And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
Mom’s eyes grew damp. Hell, so did mine. So did Jay’s and Dad’s.
But then my mom, always modest, said, “Thank you, hon. But I can’t take all the credit. It takes a team to do this job, and last night you and Hunter were part of that team and just as much heroes as anyone else. I’m going to say it again…you have no idea how much I appreciated having both of you there and how valuable your contribution was. Without you guys, we might have missed those last two dogs. I’m proud of you.”
“A team’s only as good as its leader,” I said, smiling at her.
“All right, stop, or you guys are going to make me cry for real.” She swiped at her eyes with her fingers.
When she’d composed herself, Jay asked, “What happens to the dogs now? The ones we rescued last night?”
“They’ll receive medical treatment for as long as they need it to recover, including spaying and neutering if they haven’t previously had it done. They’ll be evaluated for temperament, which is especially important in a situation like this, where the dogs have been mistreated. Some come out of these things fine, while others have issues that take time and patience to work through. If they’re not handled carefully, fear and trauma can turn to aggression, and we obviously don’t want that to happen. Eventually, if everything goes well, we do our best to find permanent homes for them.”
“Would Hunter and I be able to adopt the ones we found?” He looked at me as he said it, his brow furrowed. “If we wanted to?”
A warm band of emotion tightened my chest because I knew his question was directed more at me than my mom. He wasn’t asking if we could adopt them separately. He was asking, Can we do this together, make them our dogs? Adopting them together would be a commitment, not just to the dogs, but to each other, and, as I looked into Jay’s hopeful gaze, in that moment there was nothing I wanted more.
I squeezed his hand and nodded.
A look of relief crossed Jay’s face, along with one of those smiles that melted me.
“If you wanted to adopt them, I’m sure we could make that happen,” Mom was saying.
“What would we need to do?” I asked, pulling my gaze away from Jay to look at her.
“Well, since you have an in with the shelter director, she could probably make it pretty easy for you. As long as you solemnly swear to treat them like the precious beings they are and be their forever home. I take the forever part very seriously.”
“So do we,” Jay said, and my heart flip-flopped.
“We solemnly swear,” I told her.
She smiled. “Then I’d say, let’s give your sweeties a few days under vet care and see how they’re doing. If everything goes well, we can revisit this conversation in the coming week.”
I could somehow feel the joy my mom’s words brought to Jay. Just as when he hurt, I hurt, well, when he was happy, so was I.
After we’d finished eating, I couldn’t stop yawning, and Jay wasn’t in much better shape. My dad picked up the plates and shooed us all off to bed. Mom started to protest—something about she’d take a nap later because she needed to do something. But Jay and I didn’t stick around to find out what it was.
I’d been afraid he might want to go home after breakfast, but he didn’t mention it, which made me unreasonably happy. Instead, he followed me back up the stairs and into my room, where I drew the blinds, and then we both, quite literally, collapsed into my bed.
I fell asleep spooned against him, the heat of his body seeping into mine, my heart replete.