Vance and Raine had the perfect little life, until their shared sassy sub, Andrew, threw a hissy fit and left them. But the big, wide world turned out to be far too lonely, and Andrew is back, wanting to come home. Vance is willing -- he knows he'll always do anything he must to keep Andrew -- but Raine isn't. Raine's heart still hasn't mended, and he's going to need some convincing before he lets Andrew back in. Fortunately for Andrew, Vance has a plan.
"I want to come home."
The words hit Vance with a physical force, at once filling him with joy and anger. Did Andrew think that was how it worked? He could just blow up, walk out, and then saunter in months later, just like that, and ask to come back? Vance sighed. Ultimately, he knew he'd let Andrew win. Always had, always would. But that didn't mean Raine would, and even if he did, he wouldn't make it easy. "I thought the advertising agency was your dream job. I thought you wanted that fast-paced, glitzy life."
"I thought I did, too." Andrew's voice became muffled as he scrubbed his hands over his face. "But I missed you both. I missed us."
"You could've called." Vance remembered how Raine had faithfully checked the caller ID on their home phone every day for two months straight, looking for Andrew's cell number. And he remembered the anguish Raine had tried to hide when, every day, it wasn't there.
"I wanted to, so many times. You have no idea how often I picked up the phone because I just wanted to hear your voices. But I couldn't face what I'd done to you."
It was not the kind of conversation they should be having with any sort of barriers between them -- they ought to be doing this face to face -- but Vance understood Andrew's need for the protection that distance provided. "You could've e-mailed."
"I know." Andrew had stopped moving, stood with his head and shoulders leaned against the back wall. "I wanted to."
That slumped posture tore at Vance's heart. He laid the towel down on the edge of the sink. "Finish your shower." He left the bathroom without further word, trudged back downstairs to the kitchen.
"What's he doing here?" Raine asked. He'd started cooking -- there was one of those bags of ninety second rice spinning slowly in the microwave, and the marble countertops were littered with debris from the vegetables sautéing in the frying pan on the stove. The fancy, professional pan from the expensive set of cookware Raine had splurged on last year. Not good. Vance shook his head. Raine only cooked when he was upset, and he only pulled out the pricy stuff when he was angry.
"He wants to come back." Vance leaned against the doorway, hands folded in front of him. No sense lying or beating around the bush.
Raine pulled open a drawer, grabbed out a wooden spoon, and slammed the drawer shut with enough force to make Vance jump. "What did you tell him?"
Raine stopped in his movements. "Yet?"
He shrugged. "We should hear him out, at least."
Vance turned, spying the notebook Andrew had brought lying on the bench, recognizing it as the one he'd always sketched in. Vance picked it up and ran his fingers over the textured surface of the handmade cover, remembering the day he'd given it to Andrew, the light in Andrew's eyes as he had torn the wrapping paper back to reveal the gift.
Vance opened the notebook, flipping through the first ten or so pages quickly, having seen those drawings over and over. He found the more recent sketches -- flowers, trees, a few design ideas for advertisements -- and then his breath caught in his throat as he turned yet another page and revealed a far more erotic drawing. Dated four months ago, it showed Vance and Raine standing in the doorway of their house, holding riding crops in their hands. Beside it, Andrew had scrawled a note:
I miss you both so much. I wish I had the courage to call. I want to hear your voices so bad. You just don't even know.
The next page displayed a similar drawing, with Vance naked on the bed, hand held out and fingers crooked in a come-hither gesture, and Raine standing near. Beside Vance, Andrew had drawn an assortment of their favorite toys -- the red leather whip, those shiny metal handcuffs a friend had given them two years ago, and the big, black ball gag -- along with another note:
Drove into town today. Saw Vance at work, standing by the window looking out. He didn't see me. Felt so insignificant, like nothing they could ever want. Have no idea how I could make up for what I've done, but I want to. God, I want to.
The third page Vance turned to was much more macabre. Dated last month, it bore a drawing of a heart, broken and shattered into pieces, dripping blood, accompanied by a hastily written note, judging by how shaky it appeared:
Asshole that I got with last month called and says he has HIV. FUCK. FUCKING FUCK!!!!!! Must get tested. Maybe it's better I never went back to Vance and Raine. FUCK. Heart hurts.
A cold sweat broke out all over Vance's body as a rush of horror filled him. Was Andrew sick? Was that the real reason he wanted to come home? And who the hell was this asshole, anyway? And where was he now? Vance wanted nothing more than to beat the living hell out of him for endangering Andrew. Fear replaced the anger, as Vance realized just exactly what Andrew would be facing; what the potential ramifications were. He flipped through the book quickly, seeking an answer or some clue, yet there were no more drawings or notes after that, just page after page of blank white nothingness. What that meant, Vance didn't know.
"What's wrong?" Raine snatched the notebook away before Vance could protest. His eyes scanned the page quickly, going wide, and then narrowing to slits. He dropped the notebook back down onto the bench, turned off the stove, and stomped up the stairs.
"Raine, wait!" Vance hurried after, though in truth he had no idea what he planned to do. Raine outweighed him by nearly a hundred pounds -- all of it solid muscle -- and at six-foot-five, Raine had a full foot on him; nearly a foot and a half on Andrew, and almost as many pounds.