House Hunting with Anna
Jude stared at his mother’s smiling face on the other side of his open front door. He blinked a few times, completely disoriented. “What time is it?”
“Seven.” She bustled past him in a thick, yellow coat, carrying a box of doughnuts. She stopped, eyeing him up and down, her red cheeks chapped from the wind. “You two aren’t ready? Why aren’t you ready?”
“Ready?” he repeated stupidly, shivering as cold air swept up the stairwell with an ominous whistle. He shut the door and watched her set down the box and pull out a stack of papers. A thick stack. He looked down at his loose sweats and black T-shirt. “Ready?” Sleep still graveled his voice as he struggled to get a few of the wheels turning his brain.
“We’re house hunting today, remember?” She walked into the kitchenette and sniffed. “You don’t have coffee going? Thought I taught you better than that. Where’s the magical one-cup machine?”
“I like brewed better, so we don’t have one.”
She sighed and began unwrapping her cold layers, tossing her yellow scarf and coat over a chair.
He closed his eyes and rubbed them. “Mana, I know you’re excited about this, but none of the open houses will actually be open yet. It’s the crack-ass of dawn on a Sunday. I thought you’d come after church.”
“I skipped it today. God will understand that my boys are ready to start their lives together.” She winked at him before grabbing the coffee pot and filling it with water. “I found some wonderful homes. I printed them, so I thought we could go over them this morning and see if you two want to rule any out. But I already made a map of the best route we can take to see them all.” She added coffee grounds and flipped on the machine as she snorted and muttered under her breath. “Crack-ass.”
He realized he hadn’t even heard Snow come in. He liked to be awake when he did, liked to revel in the fact that man had a key to his place. And actually used it.
Anna cocked her head and pointed at the bathroom door. “He’s in the shower?”
Jude didn’t have the heart to tell his mother that Snow had probably just arrived after his shift, which meant he’d been up all night. He’d switched with another doctor and had more than likely forgotten about the house hunting. Jude sure as shit had. His hope of a lazy day in bed with his general fled. He’d been pulling long hours himself and they’d barely seen each other all week. He sighed. “I’ll go warn him you’re here.”
She plopped her hands on her hips. “Warn?”
He grimaced. “Sorry. Still half asleep. I meant let him know.” He shook his head as he walked into the bathroom. He’d meant warn because Snow usually paraded around the small apartment naked before crawling into bed.
Life was good.
Steam filled the small room. He shut the door behind him and eyed the tired man leaning with both hands braced on the wall. Water poured over the back of his bent head, darkening his hair and trailing down the tense muscles of his back. Seemed he hadn’t had enough time to wind down. Jude wanted to take his clothes off, step under that water, and force him to relax in the way they did best. Snow tilted his head back and let the water pour over his face as he rolled his shoulders. Lean muscles rippled in his back. Jude’s breath caught in his throat.
Damn, had it really been a week since they’d had sex?
Light blue eyes flashed as Snow spotted him and turned. His smile was brittle with exhaustion at the edges, but still full of heat and welcome. Jude wished his mother was anywhere but in the other room.
“Come here,” Snow murmured, his eyes narrowing, his hands moving slower over his wet, soapy skin.
Since he’d fallen for Snow, heat stayed at a low boil at all times in Jude’s gut. It flared out of control with the least amount of provocation. He groaned and shut his eyes against the temptation, only to grunt when he was suddenly grabbed and pulled under the water, clothes and all. His hot, wet boyfriend immediately plastered his body to Jude’s and cupped the sides of his head to tilt it back.
“You planned to take all that off anyway, right?” Snow grinned, then slanted his mouth over Jude’s as his hand slid down his back and into the loose, now sopping, waist of his sweatpants. Snow gripped his ass and rubbed his body against his.
Jude opened his mouth, groaning again as Snow’s tongue slid between his lips. His general kissed with a sort of brain-scrambling demand Jude couldn’t resist. He took Jude places he’d only imagined, made him feel a soul-deep yearning to crawl inside the man and know everything about him. He’d never realized it was possible to feel like this. He wouldn’t trade it for anything on Earth.
“Want skin, Torres,” Snow muttered against his mouth as he stepped back as far as he could in the tiny shower and reached for the hem of his T-shirt.
Jude was reaching too when he remembered why he’d come in there. “Hold on.” He held up his hands, panting and laughing at his own inability to resist. “Shit, General, my mana is here.”
Snow frowned, his hands pausing under the bottom of Jude’s T-shirt, warm palms pressed to his abdomen. “What?”
“My mother is on the other side of that thin door and probably getting impatient.”
Groaning, Snow tried to step back farther but hit the wall. “It’s Sunday, isn’t it?” He shook his head. “All the extra hours this week threw me off.” He looked down at his hard dick with a frown of regret. “Too bad.”
Laughing, Jude wrapped his arms around Snow and hugged him. “You’re the one who promised to take her house hunting with us today and she has a stack of printouts over an inch thick.”
“If I didn’t want us out of this apartment so badly, I wouldn’t have.”
“Don’t lie, General. You like my mana. Admit it.”
Before Snow could answer the water abruptly went ice cold. Light blue eyes flared wide. “Shit!”
Jude shut off the water, laughing so hard he had to reach for the towels twice. He stepped out because there wasn’t room for them both to dry off in the same spot in this bathroom, hitting his elbow hard on the wall in the process. He lost his balance, hit Snow, knocking him into the wall.
Snow righted Jude immediately. “The new place is going to have a big ass shower.” He snagged two towels from the shelf over the toilet and handed one to Jude.
“Agreed. You’ll either have to cover up with the towel or wait for me to bring you something to wear.” He wiped the cloth down his face and lifted an eyebrow. “My mother would definitely prefer the towel.”
Dark eyebrows met as Snow scowled. “Just grab me a pair of jeans and a shirt.”
“Done. By the way,” Jude leaned against the door. “I’ve been thinking about that ski trip Lucas wants us to take next month. Let’s do it. Even I’m worrying about Rowe and I barely know the man.”
He regretted bringing up Snow’s friend when stark grief bled into Snow’s eyes.
“I’m so sorry, General,” he whispered, touching his arm. “I’m tired too. Not thinking.”
“You’re right. Rowe isn’t doing well.” He was quiet as he finished drying, then wrapped the towel around his waist. “I can only get a three-day weekend after all the time I missed recently, but that should be enough. Maybe a change of scenery will give Rowe a mental break.”
Jude doubted anything would help Snow’s friend. And he worried about the surgeon, too. He sometimes lapsed into these long silences when his grief grew overwhelming. Before Jude, he’d gone looking for physical release that bordered on violence when he let the world get to him. And he’d gotten himself into some bad situations. He’d shared some of it with Jude, but there was little doubt that more stewed deeper within the man.
Now, Snow did the quiet thing and Jude had learned to give him needed space. Except on the days his temper won out over the silence. He should probably be ashamed that he liked those days so much, but they usually ended up with Snow up against a wall. His general’s sneer got him so damn hot, it worked for them both.
He left the bathroom and was hit with his mother’s immediate laughter.
“You didn’t even have time to warn him I was here, did you?” She snickered, pouring herself a cup of coffee before it was done filling the carafe. “Walls kind of close in that bathroom?” She hid her grin in her raised cup.
It was his mother, after all, so he felt heat creep up his neck. “We’ve barely crossed paths this week with alternating shifts.”
“So today is the first day off for both of you?” she asked softly, giving him an understanding smile.
He nodded, then shivered. They’d gotten the heater working again, but the lingering chill in the air he usually managed to ignore wasn’t helped by having wet clothes clinging to his skin. “But we really do need to find a place.” Walking to the stacks of Snow’s clothes piled neatly on the table by the door, he dug through, grabbing the first jeans and sweater he found.
The cleaning company had set Snow’s condo to rights and he and Snow had stayed there a few times, but the memory of the man killed there along with that last day with Gratton made Snow too uncomfortable. Jude had suffered through a couple nightmares as well, but he’d not mentioned those to Snow, not wanting to put more on his man’s shoulders.
It was a shame, too, because the place was nice. He hoped they’d see something similar they both liked today. Just on a smaller scale. They’d gone back and forth between his place and Lucas’s, but Jude wasn’t comfortable at the penthouse, so most of Snow’s clothes were here. Neat stacks piled on the table near the door and taking up most of the closet. They really did need a bigger place and since the downstairs shop had recently been sold, they’d had to move up the timeline.
He took Snow his clothes, then grabbed some for himself. The small cove that held the washer and dryer had a private corner, so he dressed there. The scent of strong coffee filled the small apartment. His mana made it stout enough to take a layer off the esophagus. He grinned as he listened to her greet Snow with her usual exuberance, listened to his murmured response, his tone friendly. He was slowly growing more comfortable around Jude’s family, but he was warming to Anna the fastest. It was impossible not to.
Of course, Snow was about to be pissed when he saw that all the places his mother printed were in a reasonable price range if they split the mortgage. Jude hadn’t figured out how he was going to handle the situation because he knew his general. Knew he’d hold back saying anything for a while, then as soon as Anna went home, he’d lay into Jude.
He looked forward to it.
Snow was suddenly in front of him. He didn’t reach for Jude—he never did in front of Anna—but his back was to her and his intense gaze still carried the heat from the shower. It really had been too long.
“Stop. I don’t want a hard on in front of my mana.”
“Like you can help it.” Snow grinned, then the smile abruptly left his face. “I don’t understand your mother’s shirt,” he said, lowering his voice even more.
He looked around Snow, caught the new unicorn T-shirt and had to bite his lip. It didn’t help because a choked laugh escaped. “Don’t ask. I don’t think we want to know.” He leaned in, unable to keep from kissing Snow and inhaling the scent of freshly showered man. He growled against his lips. “I’d really looked forward to a day in bed with you.”
“Hey!” Anna yelled. “Kissy time later! The quicker we find you two a forever home, the quicker you can do all that in it!”
“A forever home?” Snow asked, lifting one dark brow.
Jude grinned. “It’s either that or ask her why there’s a pink unicorn driving a pink tank on her shirt.”
Snow gave him one more hard, quick kiss. “I’ll grab my coat.”
“This first house is 2,100 square feet and it has four bedrooms and another room that could be an office or a fifth bedroom.” Anna fairly vibrated with excitement from the back. She’d spent most of the drive leaning over the seat to show her printouts to Jude.
Snow frowned. That many bedrooms in that size a house meant small rooms. He preferred fewer, bigger rooms. He glanced at Jude, who sent him an amused look back. Snow frowned harder when he noticed the dark circles that probably matched his own. They should have waited to do this—should have spent the day catching up on sleep. His gaze ran down Jude’s body, liking the black leather jacket, the form-fitting jeans. Or…they should have spent half a day catching up on sleep. It had been a long week.
Jude caught his look and narrowed his eyes.
The heat that flared between them still had the power to stun Snow silent.
“It has a pool in the backyard, did I tell you?” Anna leaned over the seat again. The woman obviously didn’t believe in seatbelts. “You could have family pool parties.”
Jude groaned. “Mana, the last thing I want is to see is Uncle Rick in a bathing suit.”
Snow glanced in the rear view mirror to find her wrinkling her nose.
“You’re right. Maybe a pool isn’t a good idea.”
Snow tightened his hands on the steering wheel as he decided there would be no pool. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Jude’s family, it was just that there were so many of them. Aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins and long-time friends of the family who were just regarded as family. And all of them made up the nosiest bunch of people he’d ever met. Add in that he tried, really tried, to be polite with them and he left the gatherings exhausted. He hadn’t been with Jude that long—less than two months—and there had already been two.
They were all too damned curious about him and just randomly showed up at Anna’s dinners.
Anna patted his shoulder. “The third place on our route has a sweet, little greenhouse in the backyard.”
They should have made a list of things they both wanted in a place before they set Jude’s mom loose on Cincinnati.
He knew the first place wouldn’t work when he saw the size of the garage, though he didn’t have the heart to say anything because Anna grabbed his hand and didn’t let go as she dragged him from room to room. He still didn’t know how to take her. His experiences with mothers hadn’t been great. His mother had loved him, but she’d died when he was so young, the good memories were barely there and fuzzy. He’d been around Lucas’s mother some, but she hadn’t been someone he wanted to know. Hell, Lucas hadn’t even spoken to her in twenty years. Anna was different and she’d made it plain she planned to be a part of his life whether he liked it or not.
“I’m not so sure about this set up,” she muttered, letting go of his hand and wandering ahead.
The house was set up strange—with the bedrooms at the front and the living and kitchen in back. The realtor babysitting the open house followed them, droning on and on about the positive selling factors, but Snow didn’t listen. He was too busy paying attention to Jude’s expressions, wondering if this was what he wanted. Why hadn’t they talked more about this? Anna disappeared down another hall and he met Jude’s gaze in the small master bedroom. Jude wrinkled his nose—much like his mother had earlier—and shook his head.
“Good,” Snow said, curling his lip. “There’s nothing I like here.” He stalked through the room to find Anna.
She’d already reached the kitchen and she stood in its center, turned a full circle, and huffed. “This won’t do at all. You can’t cook a proper meal in here and the family certainly won’t fit.” With that, she turned on her heel and left the house.
He couldn’t stop a laugh. Okay, then. He caught Jude’s gaze, unable to keep his amusement from showing. Jude just shook his head and followed his mother.
Feeling overwhelmed and unsure about the whole process, Snow followed them, deciding he’d better tell Jude that fitting his family into a home was not a first on his priority list.
Jude turned down the next place and Snow didn’t even want to go inside the third because the houses were so crowded he’d be able to watch the neighbor’s television from his own living room. But they filed through it. At the fourth, he kind of liked the open floor plan, but the master bath would never do. He asked to see the stack of printouts, looked at the price range, and decided they did have to talk before this went any farther.
“Excuse us a moment, Anna.” Snow snagged Jude’s leather jacket and tugged him back to the master bath. He shut the door, turned and crossed his arms. “Look around.”
One black eyebrow rose. “It’s too small. Thought we’d agreed on that when we went through.”
“There are certain perks I’ve worked damn hard to earn.” Snow waved one hand at the shower. “One is that big-ass shower I talked about. I get that we’re going to have arguments over money. Probably lots of them. But I also understand how much you help your family.” He stepped closer and frowned. “We just jumped into this idea without any preparation and this thing with you and me is…is…like a minute old. We’re not ready.”
Jude nodded, gaze locked on his. “It’s too early for us to be house hunting.”
The hint of hurt, of worry, in those dark brown eyes made Snow’s chest hurt. He shook his head fast. “No, that’s not what I meant. And that’s just it. It should be too early. But it’s not. This may not work in the long run—you and me—but it’s what I want right now. More than anything else in a damn long time. I want to give us a shot. And I want us to live together in a place that’s ours. Not Lucas’s and not that ridiculous apartment.”
The corner of Jude’s mouth lifted. “Oh General, it’s gonna last.” He closed the last of the space between them, pressing Snow into the bathroom door. “I have no doubts.”
Snow placed his hands on Jude’s hips, anchoring his body against his. “Then let’s put a stop to today’s tours, take your mother to lunch at Rialto to thank her, then go back to your place. We’ll sit down and figure out exactly what we want. What we both want.”
Jude bit Snow’s lower lip, then let it go and grinned. “After sex.”
Snow nodded. “And a nap. I’m fucking exhausted. Your mother is like a mini tornado.”
“She likes you.”
“Yeah, well she hasn’t gotten to know me that well yet.”
“We’ll figure this out,” Jude murmured, kissing him again. “Come on. I was ready for the tours to be over at the last house. Don’t tell my mother.”
They walked back through the house, Snow’s heart feeling lighter. He appreciated all the trouble Anna had gone through to help them, but this had been all wrong. They found her explaining the symbolism of the pink tank on her shirt—some kind of bullshit about having strength of character. Something tugged at his chest. She was really kind of adorable. He cleared his throat to get her attention.
Anna turned and held up her hand. She stared at each of them for long, uncomfortable moments before a grin of relief softened her expression. She came up and patted Jude’s cheek, then his. “Finally! Are you boys ready to start communicating about what you both want now?” She rolled her eyes and headed for the front door. “I thought you’d never pull your heads out of your asses. Let’s eat!”
Hope you enjoyed the first free short story following the events in SHATTER!