We hope that you’ve enjoyed reading the Unbreakable Bonds stories. Here is the final free Ian and Hollis short story. But don’t worry, Ian’s entire short story collection along with his novella will be out in August!

 

No Boyfriends Allowed

A brisk wind cut through the parking lot, rattling the limbs of nearby trees and cutting through his heavy coat. The stars were bright overhead in the black sky. It might have been late February, but the air held no reassuring promise that spring was on its way. He was so damn tired of gray skies and frigid temperatures. He was also looking forward to getting Ian in shorts and swim trunks…and just fewer damn clothes. Right now, he was dressed in so many layers that it took forever to peel him down to skin.

Hollis paused just a few steps from his car and looked up at the front of the Buffalo Wild Wings out in what felt like the middle-of-nowhere Kentucky. Well, maybe not middle of nowhere, but definitely rural. Until staying in the little safe house in Morning View, he’d never spent so much time in the Bluegrass state. He lived in Ohio and was a Cincinnati cop. Well…he had been a Cincy cop, but those days were over. Regardless, he didn’t cross the river into Kentucky often.

Of course, he couldn’t help but wonder why Andrei had invited him here. He’d told Rowe “no” twice about possibly joining Ward Security, and he hated to think that Rowe’s COO was now going to take a shot at him. Didn’t matter. He planned to take that job with Shane.

“Ha! Good! I’m not the only one running late.”

Hollis twisted around at the laugh and was surprised to find Noah striding toward him in a dark button-down shirt and slacks as if he were coming from the office. Hollis thought he was just meeting Andrei. Was Noah trying to convince him to join Ward Security too? Fuck.…

The other man clapped him on the shoulder when he reached Hollis, his wide, infectious grin firmly in place. “Jude and Andrei always beat me. I never hear the end of it.”

He simply nodded as he followed Noah into the crowded restaurant. All four walls were covered with flat-screen TVs playing different sporting events. Most of them were showing college basketball as the nation geared up for March Madness while a few had some highlights from earlier in the week. There was a steady rumble of conversation and random shouts as people cheered for their teams. A typical sports bar—Hollis was totally at home.

Pausing near the hostess station, they scanned the busy restaurant before Noah finally spotted Jude and Andrei at a high-top table near the center of the restaurant. Both men had beers in front of them. Andrei dropped back in his chair and laughed while Jude told some animated story, waving his arms around.

Slipping out of his heavy winter coat, Hollis carefully wove his way across the dining area, squeezing between diners and nodding at servers as they gave him nods of welcome. His stomach rumbled as the smell of wings, French fries, and deep-fried cheese drifted past his nose. Ian was working late at the restaurant, and while he knew that he had some delicious and healthier leftovers in the fridge, he couldn’t pass up the chance to gorge on a little unhealthy food.

“Which TV has the ’Bama game on?” Noah asked as he dropped into the empty chair next to Jude while Hollis slipped into the remaining chair between Noah and Andrei. He still didn’t know why Andrei had invited him or why he’d failed to mention that Jude and Noah were going to be there. The lack of more chairs seemed to indicate that the main crew of Snow, Lucas, and Rowe weren’t going to suddenly appear, which was too strange. He couldn’t think of a time where he’d been out with one of these men and not had any of the original family members there.

“Over there,” Jude motioned to the TV just above his left shoulder before looking over at Hollis. He narrowed his eyes on the former cop for a moment and then laughed, nudging Andrei. “You didn’t tell him!”

“Tell me what?” Hollis demanded, halting in the process of reaching for one of the laminated menus in the center of the table.

“It’s just us,” Andrei replied. “No boyfriends tonight.”

“Really?” Hollis snatched up a menu and opened it, but he couldn’t stop from looking at the three men seated at the table with him. It was a night out…with just the outsiders to the tight crew of Lucas, Snow, Rowe, and Ian. “Why not?”

“Because it’s good to have a break,” Andrei admitted.

“Being around them…all together…it can be a bit much,” Jude added.

Andrei shifted in his seat so that he was partially facing Hollis. “Lucas and I have been together for more than year, and I love him completely, but when he gets with Snow and Rowe and even Ian, they start swapping stories about things that happened five, seven, ten years ago…and I feel like an outsider at times.”

“And then when I started dating Snow, we grabbed drinks one night. Helped blow off some steam. Snow…can be stubborn.” But even when Jude made that small criticism, it was accompanied by a little evil twinkle in his eye like the man had plenty of ways to work the stubborn right out of Snow.

Hollis snorted. He could imagine the surgeon wasn’t the easiest of people at times. But then that went for the billionaire as well.

“And they helped keep me sane through the holidays,” Noah added with a bit of a nervous laugh as he shoved one hand through his loose hair.

“Look, Ian and I aren’t having any problems,” Hollis said.

Andrei chuckled, looking up at the huge TV showing the University of Kentucky Wildcats game. “No one said you were, hotshot. We-Oh! Come on! Where’s the foul? He was all over him!” Andrei jumped to his feet and waved an irritated arm at the screen, matching several other men in the restaurant.

It was only then that Hollis noted  Andrei was dressed in a pair of old jeans and a blue UK T-shirt. He rolled his eyes. Another diehard Wildcats fan. It was going to be fun when he told him he was a diehard Georgia Bulldog.

Jude laughed, shaking his head at Andrei before looking at Hollis. “This is just a night off. Drinks. Food. And the game,” he finished, motioning toward the various TVs.

A server stopped at their table, dropping off two baskets of wings, fried mozzarella sticks, and roasted garlic mushrooms. Yeah, definitely not the typical Ian fare, but it was so good to eat bad food every once in a while.

Hollis finally looked down at his menu while reaching over with one hand to snatch up a mushroom. Scanning the menu, he ordered a burger and a beer when the server got to him. She gave him a wink before sauntering off and he shook his head.

“You were right about Rowe and the Hyde Park house,” Noah suddenly said, reaching for a cheese stick. He dipped it in marinara sauce before taking a big bite. “He’s been hiding the insurance bullshit from me. Trying to shield me from the house and Mel stuff.” Hollis frowned. Ian had told him one night that Rowe had kept the house he’d bought with his wife and that all their things had gone up in flames thanks to the arsonists harassing them during the past fall.

“You sit on him?” Jude asked.

Noah shoved the last of the stick in his mouth and shook his head. “Tied him naked to a chair and threatened to smear honey on him before letting the dogs in.”

Hollis choked on chicken from a wing at Noah’s words. Andrei thumped him a few times on the back as he laughed. “That’ll do it,” Andrei murmured.

“You wouldn’t do that,” Jude said with an eye roll.

“Have you seen him and his boy in action?” Hollis asked incredulously. “They’re scary insane. He’d do it.” Both Jude and Andrei just laughed while Noah preened under the so-called praise.

“What about you?” Noah asked, pinning Andrei with a look that had the Romanian frowning and his gaze darting away. “You talk to Lucas?”

“No, we’ve been busy recently.”

“Oh, come on!” Noah grumbled, but Hollis wasn’t sure if he was talking to Andrei or reacting to the Alabama basketball game. Jude shook his head.

“There’s the wedding—”

“Which you said has been postponed until late summer,” Jude said.

“And Lucas found a new location for a nightclub.”

“Like that’s more important,” Noah sniped.

“And I’m looking into the logistics and cost of opening a West Coast branch of Ward Security.” Andrei was obviously stalling.

“What are you supposed to be talking to Odin about?” Hollis demanded, grabbing another mushroom.

“Getting a house…and kids,” Andrei said, his low voice barely audible in the loud restaurant.

Hollis paused in the act of tossing it into his mouth. “That’s kind of big.”

Andrei huffed a laugh, his eyes on the beer in his hand rather than on the game. “Kind of.”

“Don’t you think you should settle that before you get married?”

Noah shook his head. “Lucas worships you. He’ll want to give you anything you want.”

“That’s just it. I don’t want him to agree to kids because it’s what I want. Kids need to be something that he wants too.”

“Is it a make-or-break thing if he doesn’t ever want kids?” Jude asked, his voice low and worried.

“No. I won’t lie and say I wouldn’t be sad if we didn’t have kids, but I love him. He makes me happier than anyone I’ve ever known. I want a life with him. I…I just don’t know how to talk to him about it.”

Hollis leaned forward, both forearms on the table. “I think you should sit him down, look him dead in the eye, and say, ‘Baby, I’m pregnant.’ And just take it from there.”

The table rang with laughter, breaking the growing tension. Andrei shook his head, pushing a stray strand of hair back from his face from where it had pulled loose from his ponytail, but it was Jude who spoke first.

“You know, that might not be a bad way to go. Breaks the ice, gets him laughing.”

“I’ll think about it,” Andrei muttered, smiling as he turned his attention back to the UK game.

They stayed for another hour, eating and watching the games while talking about random things that had happened over the past few months. Hollis even found himself talking to Andrei about the work he did with Shane. He had to give the man credit; Andrei didn’t once mention Hollis joining Ward Security. Jude also spoke highly of his friend.

Hollis stopped in the parking lot, still chuckling from something Noah said as he watched Jude and Noah walk to their respective cars. The cold wind whipped down the hill and around the building to slap them in the face, stealing away any warmth they’d gained from the restaurant. Andrei stood quietly beside him, seeming impervious to the sharp bite in the air.

“Thanks for coming out,” Andrei said and then turned to walk to his own car.

“How often you guys get together?” Hollis called, stopping him.

“Once a month. Usually when Snow’s on nights and Jude’s on days.”

“And they all know…Rowe, Snow, and Lucas…they know about your little night out?”

“Of course.” Andrei smirked. “You don’t have to talk about you and Ian. We’re not some support group. Just friends meeting up for beers.”

There was just the added bonus that these friends would understand what he was going through because they knew Ian, his past, and his family. Hollis couldn’t deny the little knot of warmth that had formed in his chest. It had been a long time since he’d had close friends—people he felt like he could really be himself around. People that felt like home.

Hollis shrugged. “Call me for your next night of beers. I’ll be around.”

“I know you will, Banner. Night,” Andrei called, giving one last wave before he turned to his car.

“Night, ponytail.”

Yeah, he could get used to a family like this.

Thanks for reading and supporting the Unbreakable Bonds series! Don’t forget to join the newsletter so you’ll know the second that Unbreakable Stories: Ian is released. To sign up, click here.