Home > Portals and Puppy Dogs(2)

Portals and Puppy Dogs(2)
Author: Amy Lane

“Thanks, Alex,” Bartholomew said. “Gotta go crunch my own numbers. Bye!”

Alex moved his hand to his ear to hang up just as he heard the voice behind him.

“What happens at sunset? Does your boyfriend turn into a pumpkin?”

“Simon!” Alex whirled in his chair, knocking his headset off as he moved. “Dammit!”

“Calm down, calm down.” Simon Reddick laughed, tucking a strand of his long, shiny black hair behind his ears. The sound rolled out of him, larger than life, like everything Simon did. “I was just kidding about the pumpkin!”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Alex mumbled, scrambling to his knees to pick up the headset. He bounced back up, coming to his full five foot eight inches, and smiled, trying to keep the expression professional.

It was damned hard.

Simon Reddick was six feet two inches of wide-chested, black-haired, brown-eyed prime-of-his-life male, and Alex had been thirsting for him since he’d started working for the firm.

But it was an impossible crush and a stupid one. Simon was not just older—thirty-five to Alex’s twenty-six—but he was also rich, handsome, successful, and, hey, hello, Alex’s boss. A thing Alex had needed to remind himself of every day for the past three years.

It was getting so he couldn’t have a normal, everyday interaction with Simon without sweating in all of the embarrassing places—neck, armpits, buttcrack—and Alex was so damned over the crush that he’d actually initiated drastic action to get himself the hell out of this branch of Reddick, Lockhart, and Baldwin. The next branch may have been miles farther down the road, but hey, Alex was a bike commuter. He had calves of solid steel. What was an extra five or seven or nine more miles of road, both ways?

“Oh?” Simon said, dark eyebrow winging up. “Not your boyfriend?” There was something seductive in his voice, something that made Alex want to believe Simon was trying to flirt, but that was inconceivable because: (a) Simon had a girlfriend, and she was lovely and kind and blond with a figure that wouldn’t quit, and (b) Alex didn’t know how to flirt, and that was common office knowledge.

“My roommate,” Alex said, his throat like cracker crumbs. “We’re taking care of our friends’ dog while they’re, uh, not… here.”

A faint smile played with Simon’s lean, sensual mouth. “Not here? Are they on vacation? Visiting relatives? What?”

“Sure,” Alex said, cursing his ever-practical brain. Would it kill him to come up with a casual social lie? What could possibly go wrong if he shot the moon and said something not stiff and awkward? “Visiting vacationing relatives. But they left us their dog, and he’s got a boyfriend, and I commute on my bicycle, so we have to keep coordinated.”

“The dog’s got a boyfriend or the roommate has a boyfriend?” Simon asked, mouth compressed and eyes dancing.

A little bit of annoyance penetrated Alex’s fluster. “The roommate has a boyfriend,” he snapped. “The dog’s gotta crap.”

Simon’s laughter was like getting an all-over body rub with velvet gloves. “Thanks for the clarification,” he said. “I knew you had a sense of humor locked tight in that steel-trap brain of yours. Want to come to lunch with me?”

Alex gaped at him. “Uh….” No. No, he did not want to go to lunch with the alluring and playful Simon Reddick. Going to lunch could lead to relaxation. Relaxation could lead to involuntary confidences. Involuntary confidences could lead to Alex confessing that he wanted to lick Simon’s abs in exhaustive detail before seeing his second live penis and perhaps finding out if blowjobs could be an acquired skill.

“Don’t tell me you’re not all caught up on your work,” Simon said, mouth relaxing into a gentle smile, “because I won’t believe you. C’mon. It’s food truck day at the strip mall down the block—there’s a vegan Thai place that’s supposed to be so amazing.”

No. No. No no no no no— “Sure,” Alex said. “Let me grab my wallet.”



REDDICK, Lockhart, and Baldwin occupied an entire building in an office complex off of one of the main business streets in Folsom. As Alex and Simon emerged from the two-story building into the brisk, cold wind off Lake Natoma, Alex couldn’t help it—he turned his face toward the midday sun and closed his eyes, appreciating the sun and the sky and the wind.

Eight years ago, before college and before Jordan Bryne and before their tight group of friends had become their coven, Alex would have wandered into a day like this with hunched shoulders and a preoccupied brain. Numbers, order, making the world fit his exact specifications—that had been how Alex had gotten through his painfully lonely adolescent years and survived into adulthood.

But Jordan was an entomologist, and the first adventures he’d dragged his friends into had been bug-watching walks along the river at Sac State, looking for flora and fauna. Then there had been trips to the zoo and hiking trips into the mountains and group vacations to the ocean. By the time they’d all moved into the houses on the cul-de-sac, Alex had learned to participate in and enjoy the natural world.

Starting the coven and learning the craft had simply emphasized how the forces of the natural world worked together in harmony. His awareness of a crisp wind and the smell of change—and the electric scent of excitement—was a blessing of not being a self-involved child anymore.

Alex opened his eyes and resumed his walk, conscious that Simon was gazing at him with interest.

“What?” he asked, trying not to be defensive.

“That look on your face. You really love being out of doors, don’t you?”

Alex swallowed and tried not to let his face heat.

And failed.

“I do. Except in the summertime.” He pointed to his freckled nose and shuddered. “Green-eyed ginger. I’m a walking zinc-oxide-covered heat blister.”

Simon chuckled. “I noticed. And yet you still ride your bike to work on all but the hottest days. Do you even own a car?”

Alex grimaced. “Yes. A hybrid.” He paused and then realized he should elaborate or he’d sound churlish. “My parents live in the Bay Area. I visit every other month or so. And my friends and I like to go on trips together, so having a car helps with logistics.”

“Mm.” Simon nodded and his smile went away. “So this transfer you asked for, to our Orangevale branch. Is this closer or farther away from your house?”

Oh. So that’s what the offer to lunch had been about. Alex would have thought Christopher Lockhart or Gabriele Baldwin, the other two partners in the firm, would have been the ones to talk to him about this.

In their offices. Professionally.

Not on a crisp fall day on the way to a food truck with their gaits fitting together like they were at least friends.

“Farther,” he said on a rasp.

“Are you still planning to ride your bike, then?” Simon asked, and he sounded a little concerned. “Because Auburn Folsom Road’s dangerous, Alex—I mean, every day, two ways, even at night?”

Alex had thought of that, and the more intense his inconvenient crush on the man next to him had become, the more he’d thought the risk would be worth it.

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