As a holiday treat, Rinda and I have decided to release another FREE Short Story! This short story follows the events of Shiver and focuses on Lucas and Andrei. I have to admit that this one is a favorite of mine because it hits on all those snuggly, warm, sweet spots that we didn’t get to touch on enough in the full-length novel. If you haven’t had a chance to try Shiver yet, click here to order your copy. Also, did you know there are two other free short stories available? Yep. To get the full story on the Unbreakable Bonds series along with the short stories, click here.
From Rinda and myself, we wish you the merriest of holidays! We hope that it is filled with laughter and love.
Lucas stretched his legs, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth when he felt Andrei’s warm skin sliding across his. Sunday. It was his favorite day of the week and it had everything to do with the man half sprawled across his chest, his face buried in his neck. Now that Andrei was back to work full time for Rowe, getting their schedules to match up required conference calls, multiple calendars, and the occasional virgin sacrifice. But Rowe had started having pity on him — or god love her, Rowe’s wife Mel had interceded on his behalf— and was giving Andrei part of Saturday night and all day Sunday off.
Sure they were in a bit of a rut on Saturday night, as they typically fell into food, sex, and then sleep. Sometimes they changed it up to sex, food, then sleep. But Sunday was their day. Lucas didn’t give work a thought until that night when they separated. Sometimes they met up with his friends for some laughs and food. Sometimes it was just the two of them. In bed. All. Fucking. Day.
Sunday was perfect.
“You’re awake, aren’t you?” Andrei growled against his throat. The rough words were followed by a pair of warm soft lips kissing up his neck toward his jaw before he snuggled closer as if trying to burrow into Lucas.
“Mmm, yeah. Football.”
“Really? Football is better than this?” Lucas demanded as he slid his hand down over the curve of Andrei’s ass while lifting his hips. Andrei made a purring noise in the back of his throat that reached down into Lucas’s soul.
“Does it have to be better? Can’t I just have both?” Andrei tilted his head up, his teeth nipping at Lucas’s earlobe.
“I—” A knocking echoed down the hall and into the bedroom, halting Lucas’s teasing remark. “Was that your door?”
“I think so. Ignore it. Probably one of your damn friends.”
“You love my damn friends.”
Andrei leaned up on the forearm braced against Lucas’s chest, his lips brushing against Lucas’s. “Not as much as I love this.” He kissed Lucas, slowly deepening the kiss until both men manage to forget that anyone was at the front door.
“Andrei! I know you’re in there. I talked to your boss!” A woman’s voice echoed loudly as the pounding on the front door resumed.
Andrei instantly jerked away from Lucas, launching himself halfway across the queen-sized bed while pulling the blankets up around him. Lucas nearly choked on alaugh. Hell, he would have laughed if Andrei hadn’t turned a sickly shade of white.
“Fuck! It’s my mom!”
“What?” Lucas lurched upright, his heart thudding painfully in his chest.
Andrei threw back the covers and rolled out of bed. He started flinging clothes around the room, searching for something to wear. Lucas had been tempted to send over a cleaning service but he knew something like that would earn him another speech about overstepping and being too controlling.
“My mom,” he snapped as he shoved his legs into a pair of jeans. “Actually, it’s probably both of my parents. Why the fuck are they here?”
“They wanted to see you.” Lucas slipped out of the bed to pull on his boxer briefs, watching Andrei’s frantic movements over his shoulder.
Something about Lucas’s words stole Andrei energy. He sighed and sank down on the bed. “I’ve… I’ve got to tell them. I can’t put it off.”
“You don’t have to. You can just tell them I’m a friend. I’ll leave and they won’t suspect.”
Andrei’s head snapped around and he glared at Lucas. “I’m not a coward.”
“I didn’t mean—” The knocking continued, cutting off Lucas.
Shoving back to his feet, Andrei snatched up a T-shirt and pulled it on before walking to the bedroom door. He paused, his hand on the doorknob, but he didn’t look back at Lucas as he spoke, “You can stay in here or you can leave. It’s cool. You don’t have to stick around for this. We can catch up later.”
For a heartbeat, Lucas considered it as he stared at the vacant doorway. This was just supposed to be about sex. Nothing too heavy. Nothing too serious that felt like the smothering weight of a relationship. Nothing that involved parents. It was just laughs and sex. But that was a lie and he knew it. Fuck, they’d both known it as soon as the words had been spoken just a few weeks ago. It had made it less overwhelming and suffocating.
But he wasn’t moving; wasn’t leaving Andrei to do this alone. How many of these moments had he witnessed or heard about from someone close where it all went bad? Too fucking many. His own family had blessed him with general indifference and disappointment when he told them. He’d gotten off lucky in comparison to his friends Snow and Ian.
Lucas quickly pulled on his clothes from the night before, silently cursing that everything was wrinkled, but at least nothing was torn this time. He’d had a business meeting for dinner on Saturday night. After it was finished, he’d driven straight to Andrei’s, not bothering to change from the dark charcoal suit with the matching black button-down shirt. Was this too dark to meet parents in? What kind of an impression was he making? Why the hell hadn’t he started leaving at least one change of clothes in Andrei’s closet? What the hell did you wear to meet your boyfriend’s parents?
The word sent a chill into the pit of Lucas’s stomach as soon as it crossed his mind and his knees threatened to give out. Boyfriend. He’d never had one before. He’d never let anyone close enough. But Andrei was worth the risk. Those damn eyes, that laugh, the flashes of temper — he wanted all of that and more. He wanted to be there for Andrei in the difficult moments and this could very easily be one.
Slipping on his Italian leather loafers, Lucas had just finished rolling his sleeves above his elbows when he walked down the short hall to see Andrei letting in an older couple. The woman was short and slender with hair has black as midnight, while she was followed by a man the same height as Andrei. His hair was cut short and was likely to have been as black as his wife’s, but it was now liberally sprinkled with gray. He forced a smile on his lips while it felt like the air was being sucked from the room.
“I’m sorry, Andrei. I didn’t realize that you were expecting company,” he announced smoothly, stepping to the edge of the living room. All heads popped up and instantly swung to him. Two pairs of dark eyes assessed him, while Andrei gave him a look that Lucas couldn’t quite understanding. Warning? Surprise?
“Oh, he wasn’t expecting us,” the woman said with a grin as she crossed to him. “We’ve learned that if we tell him we’re coming into town, he suddenly has to work.” She extended her small hand to Lucas. “Sonja Hadeon, Andrei’s mother. This is Andrei’s father, Milos.”
“A pleasure to meet you both,” Lucas said, shaking both their hands. “Lucas Vallois.”
“Are you friends with my son?”
“Mom!” Andrei interjected before Lucas could draw a breath. “Leave him alone. He was just about to leave.”
“No, I wasn’t,” Lucas contradicted.
Andrei’s frantic gaze jumped back to Lucas. He looked like he wanted to run out the front door. “Are you sure?” Those three words were almost a whisper, but Lucas couldn’t miss the hope filling them. It took all of Lucas’s restraint not to walk right over and kiss Andrei in front of his parents, but he didn’t. That wouldn’t have made things better.
“I’m not going anywhere.” He smiled and some of the panic eased from Andrei’s expression. “Coffee?”
“Fuck yes,” he moaned as he shoved both hands through his long hair and fisted them.
“Andrei Vladislava Hadeon! Watch your language!” His mother cut in, suddenly reminding them that they weren’t alone.
Lucas looked up to find that Milos had settled on the end of the sofa while Sonja was standing near the window. It was amazing sometimes. He could get so focused on Andrei that he would forget there were others around him, that the world kept moving.
“Mom, what are you and Dad doing here?”
“Really, Andrei,” Sonja muttered. “It’s so dark in here.” She reached up and pulled the blackout curtain open to let in the morning sunlight. Andrei hissed and cringed like a true Transylvanian vampire, causing Lucas to chuckle before he escaped into the kitchen. Andrei was not a morning person, but that only meant that Lucas had the pleasure of coaxing him out of the bed when they could steal time together.
“You told your mother that you were thinking about not coming home for Thanksgiving,” Milos interrupted.
“I just said that I was thinking about it. That’s all. I hadn’t made an actual decision yet,” Andrei mumbled, making it hard for Lucas to hear him over the water filling the carafe. Lucas’s heart sped up as he strained to hear Andrei speak. Was he thinking about staying in Cincinnati so they could be together for the holiday?
Just as quickly as the question formed in his head, Lucas could see Andrei sitting next to him at Ian’s table, all their friends there, laughing and teasing Ian about the work he’d put into the meal. He wanted –no, needed—Andrei there.
“Do you spend Thanksgiving with your family, Mr. Vallois?” Sonja inquired. Lucas looked up from pouring the water into the coffeemaker to see the older woman sitting on the sofa next to her husband while Andrei leaned a shoulder against the wall opposite them. His posture was stiff and tense, but neither parent seemed inclined to be run off by their son’s poor mood.
“Lucas, please,” he said, smiling over his shoulder at her. “And I spend the holidays with close friends whom I regard as family.”
“What line of work are you in, Lucas? Mortician?”
“Dad!” Andrei let out an exasperated groan.
Lucas cleared his throat against a laugh.
“What?” Milos replied. “It’s good work. Everyone needs a mortician.”
“No, sir. I’m in property development,” Lucas interjected over Andrei’s groan. He thought he heard Andrei mutter something under his breath, but it sounded as if he’d switched to Romanian. It sent a delicious shiver through Lucas. Typically Lucas only ever heard Andrei speak Romanian when he was driving him to the hard edge of orgasm. Lucas tamped down the memory and focused on digging out mugs and other items while the coffee brewed. He hoped Andrei’s parents didn’t think it was strange that he knew where Andrei kept everything in his kitchen. When Andrei had been injured, Lucas had slept over several times and had made coffee the next morning as he tried to get the sexy Romanian moving each day.
“Andrei, what’s wrong?” Sonja said gently. “Why would you not come home for the holidays? You seem so upset. Would you rather we meet for dinner so you can spend the day with your friend? We didn’t mean to disrupt your plans. It’s just that you haven’t been down for a visit in months and you didn’t sound good when you called last.”
Lucas watched as Andrei’s shoulders slumped before he pushed off the wall and crossed to sit on the arm of the couch closest to his mother. She placed a hand on his knee and spoke gently in Romanian. Something twisted in Lucas’s chest and he struggled to swallow past the lump forming in his throat. These were good people who loved their only child. Lucas was terrified that love would disintegrate before his eyes, shredding Andrei.
When Andrei finally spoke, his voice was soft and unsteady. He stuck with Romanian, leaving Lucas in the dark about what was exactly being said. He didn’t think Andrei was intentionally excluding him, but reaching out to his parents through something that bonded them tightly.
Lucas watched them from where he leaned against the counter in the kitchen, taking in the tone and posture as they listened to Andrei’s words. He stiffened when both parents looked up at him before continuing with what sounded like questions.
This stretched on for several minutes, nearly driving Lucas to shout for a translator, but then he would have been the only one shouting. So far there had only been softly spoken questions, calm answers, and looks of worry. When Lucas was sure he couldn’t take another second in the dark, both Milos and Sonja chuckled. Were they in denial? No one ever laughed during this conversation. Had Andrei denied it? Told them something else?
Sonja added something with a wave of her hand and Andrei launched himself off the couch, shouting at his mother in panicked tones. Milos laughed and Sonja added something else that sent Andrei scurrying into the kitchen, a look of horror on his face and his hands over his ears.
“Make her stop. Please make her stop,” he moaned, drawing closer to Lucas.
“What did she say? I haven’t understood a word for several minutes,” Lucas demanded, trying not to let panic overtake him.
“She said it was hereditary.”
“Oh Andrei,” Sonja gasped, sounding exasperated while still laughing. “I was teasing. You know that.”
Lucas’s mouth hung open in shock, every thought in his brain locking up. Andrei had told his parents that he was bi and … they were fine with it.
“And the rest?” Andrei pressed, his hands still hovering near his ears as if not trusting what would come out of her mouth.
“Well, no, that was true. Your father likes men too,” she said with a shrug. She turned her attention to Lucas and gave a little smile. “I told him that when we were in Las Vegas for vacation once, we had a great threesome with a very handsome man.”
Lucas’s teeth clicked as he shut his mouth and cleared his throat, reaching desperately for some hint of composure. “Swingers?” Lucas asked, trying to sound casual when he felt like someone had hit him with a brick. Andrei moaned, but Sonja ignored him.
“No, we just like a third partner on occasion.”
“How long ago was Vegas? Before Andrei was born, right?”
“No,” Andrei groaned. He pressed his forehead against the refrigerator and gripped the front as if it could hold him upright. “It was two years ago.”
“Really, Andrei! You’re nearly thirty. It shouldn’t come as a shock that your parents have sex.”
“No, but maybe I don’t want to hear about it. Holy fuck! Or that you’re having it with other people at the same time.”
Lucas pushed the mental image aside and focused on the one aspect they were overlooking. With a firm hand on Andrei’s shoulder, he turned the man away from the fridge and cupped his cheek with his free hand, tilting his head so that he met Lucas’s eyes.
“Baby, they don’t care. Everything is okay. They don’t care,” he said roughly past the lump in his throat.
Andrei laughed and then blinked against a sudden swell of tears. “They don’t.”
This time he couldn’t stop himself. Lucas leaned down, kissing Andrei, not caring that Andrei’s parents were watching them. He just needed to kiss this man, to hold him and know that his pursuit of Andrei hadn’t resulted in Andrei’s entire world shattering around him. Andrei eagerly kissed him back, wrapping his arms around his waist to pull Lucas tightly against him, his relief so strong that he was trembling against Lucas.
“Aw, you two are so adorable,” Sonja cooed, breaking them apart on a laugh.
Andrei stepped back from Lucas, shoving one hand nervously through his hair, a blush painting his cheeks. Lucas was afraid to look in a mirror himself as his own cheeks felt hot. This was all new and awkward, but he didn’t regret it.
When Andrei turned back to face his parents, Sonja frowned and took both of her son’s hands. “Did you think we wouldn’t understand? That we wouldn’t love you, dragul meu?”
Andrei shook his head. “I didn’t know how you’d react. You and Dad never talked about things like this.”
“No, dragule. No.” She immediately pulled him tightly into her arms. Milos stepped close and held both his wife and son, forming a single unit as if their solid front could fight off the specter of pain that thought created. They slipped into murmured Romanian for several minutes, but Lucas didn’t need to understand the words to know what was being said. Love. Understanding. Compassion. Strength. Straight, gay, neither, both — they loved Andrei no matter what. And for a moment, Lucas was envious but happy.
When they separated, Lucas moved back to the coffeemaker and started pouring mugs of coffee, not that he even knew how many of them wanted it. He just needed to be doing something with his hands. He was replacing the carafe in the coffeemaker when he felt a small hand on his arm. He looked over to see Sonja standing beside him, a questioning look in her eyes. Lucas looked up to see Andrei with his back to them, talking to his father.
“You care for him?”
She placed her hand on his cheek, tilting his head so that she could look deep into his eyes. She stared for several seconds and it felt as if she were trying to stare into his soul. Something inside of Lucas flinched, but he didn’t look away.
At last she smiled. “You’re a good man.”
“For him, I want to be.”
To his surprise, Sonja released his cheek and hugged him as tightly as she’d hugged her own son. Lucas hesitated for only a moment before hugging her back, marveling at the old ache in his chest seeming to ease just a little bit.
When Sonja released him, she wagged a finger of warning in his face. “You can have Andrei for Thanksgiving with your family, but you both must come down to see us for Christmas.”
“We’ll have to negotiate that,” Lucas said with a smirk. He was really starting to like Andrei’s parents. They were fun and feisty, reminding him so much of the man he’d pulled into his life.
“You could join us for Thanksgiving,” he suggested.
“Not the best idea,” Andrei said, sliding between them to snag two of the mugs of coffee.
“I think your parents would get along great with Snow.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said flatly, glaring at Lucas as he walked away to hand his father one of the mugs. “That’s when you can pry my mother away from Ian. She carries the history of Romanian cooking in her head.”
“I was thinking of making Brânzoaice or Cozonac this year,” Sonja said in a soft lilting voice that smacked heavily of temptation.
Andrei shook his head before taking a sip of coffee. “Oh, you’re fighting evil. I haven’t had Brânzoaice in years.”
“What is it?” Lucas inquired, handing Sonja a mug of coffee.
“It’s a chocolate sponge cake with almonds and chocolate filling with a glaze of chocolate.”
Lucas placed his arm around Sonja’s shoulders and smiled at Andrei. “Your parents are definitely coming to Thanksgiving.”
Lucas strolled back into his bedroom, a tumbler of bourbon in each hand, to find Andrei stretched out on his side on the floor in front of the large windows looking out on downtown Cincinnati. He was still naked, but he’d pulled the deep burgundy duvet from the bed and wrapped it around his long, lean body. It was nearly midnight and the lights of the city glowed before them, the night seeming a little brighter in the growing cold that was descending on the river valley.
“I’ve begun to notice that you spend a disturbing amount of time naked in front of my window, staring down at the city.” Lucas stood over Andrei, a smirk lifting one corner of his mouth. “Is this a power trip for you?”
Andrei lifted one hand to reach for a glass, letting the cover fall away from his muscular bronze shoulders. “I had a rough day. Let me have my moment of lording over the city.”
“Your family is amazing,” Lucas gently chided as he handed over a glass. Andrei’s fingertips grazed against his and it still managed to send an enticing shiver through him. He had a feeling that Andrei would always have the power to make him tremble.
“Yeah.” The word escaped him as a sigh and Lucas watched as he downed the drink in a single swallow.
Lucas sipped his own before setting it aside and settling down on the floor beside Andrei. He was tempted to wrap an arm around him, hold him close against the dark thoughts that were causing his brow to furrow, but he hesitated. It was all too new. Would Andrei laugh? Mock his need to be close, to constantly be touching him? Accuse him of being clingy and needy? He’d gotten away with it a bit when Andrei had been injured because Andrei had come so close to death. But now that he was healed, Lucas was afraid of smothering him and sending him running for the door.
“I could have done without the details of my parents’ interesting sex life,” Andrei grumbled.
“It does make you wonder—”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“If they’ve always been like that,” Lucas continued as if Andrei hadn’t sharply cut him off, “or if it was something that developed after you moved out of the house. You know, to spice up the marriage.”
Putting his empty glass on the floor, Andrei rolled over with the blanket onto Lucas, pinning him to the floor. “You’ve got to stop. I’m begging you. And you can’t bring it up to your damn friends. You can’t ever speak of it.”
“If that is what you wish, Vladislava,” Lucas said with a smile that drew a groan out of Andrei.
“Is that the trade off?”
Lucas chuckled, spreading his legs so Andrei could more comfortably settle between his thighs. “Think of it as a choice. You can’t steal everything from me.”
“You’re a cold bastard.”
Leaning up, Lucas kissed along Andrei’s jaw until he finally saw a hint of a smile. “That’s why I have you to keep me warm.” Andrei huffed a laugh, but still lifted his head just a little to give Lucas better access to his throat. “Stay tonight.” As soon as the words escaped him, he felt the muscles in Andrei’s neck tense.
“It’s Sunday night.”
“Stay. I’ll get up early with you. Drive you home so you can be at work on time. Stay tonight.”
Andrei surprised him by pulling away so that Lucas could look into his dark eyes. There was something in his stare that struck his chest, catching his breath. Lucas didn’t want to put words to the look, it was both frightening and exhilarating.
When Andrei spoke, his voice was rough and low as if pulled from a wounded, shadowy part of his soul. “You stayed today.”
Lucas reached up and threaded his fingers through Andrei’s long, soft hair. “Nothing could have made me leave.”
Andrei captured Lucas’s lips in an almost savage kiss, thrusting his tongue deep in his mouth as if he intended to claim Lucas, mark him as his own and Lucas welcomed it. He couldn’t get enough of Andrei. Every time they were together, he learned something new about the man and there were thirty new questions in his head about other things he was dying to discover.
“Bed,” Andrei whispered when they pulled apart.
Lucas helped Andrei settle the duvet back on the bed and arrange the pillows before they climbed in. But when they were both under the covers, Andrei just curled against him the same way they always laid when they slept together. As Lucas reached for the lamp on his side of the bed, Andrei’s words halted him.
“I got off easy today,” he murmured, his lips brushing against Lucas’s bare chest. “I just keep thinking that I got off easy and that I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Dropping his hand down to push some hair back from Andrei’s forehead, Lucas swallowed back a sigh. “Your parents are good, open-minded people who love you. Just appreciate that. There are plenty of other people in the world who aren’t.”
Andrei lifted his head and looked at Lucas. “But you stayed.”
Lucas smiled, his fingers still playing with Andrei’s hair because he simply couldn’t help himself. “I’m going to fuck this up. We both know that. But I’m not going to run just because it gets hard.”
“Would it be so bad if you didn’t?”
“I pray every day that I don’t.” They stared at each other for several seconds until Lucas felt like he was drowning in Andrei’s eyes. God, he couldn’t lose this man.
Andrei finally smirked, breaking the moment. “Well, my parents liked you. That’s a good start.”
Lucas snorted and released Andrei’s hair before reaching to turn off the bedside lamp. “If you keep me around until Christmas, I think you’re going to have to start teaching me Romanian so I can keep up with the conversations.”
Andrei snorted, settling his head back on Lucas’s chest. “I don’t think I want my mother or father liking you more than they already do.”
Darkness settled over the room, broken only the soft glow of lights from the city, gilding the man lying half across Lucas in a thin, shadowy light.
“Say something in Romanian.”
Andrei tensed, drawing in a shaky breath before he finally spoke in a voice barely over a whisper. “Cred că…cred că…te iubesc.”
The air froze in Lucas’s lungs. That was not the sentence about the monkey stealing the bicycle that Andrei always said. Lucas couldn’t speak a single word of Romanian but something in Andrei’s tone, in the way his hand tightened just a little on Lucas’s ribs, gave him an idea of what Andrei said. And he couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t think. The only thing that was he was sure of was that he was happy.
“What does that mean?” Lucas asked when he could finally find his voice.
“Not tonight,” Andrei murmured. “Ask me again some other time and I promise I’ll tell you.”
Picking up the hand on his chest, Lucas pressed a kiss to his palm. “I’m looking forward to it.”
We hope you enjoyed this short story. Please tell your friends about the Unbreakable Bonds series!