an excerpt

Does it count as alcoholism if you only drink once every couple of months, but when you do, you drink till you black out? This was the thought sluggishly creeping across Griff Rieckert's mind as he clawed his way back to consciousness. His head was pounding in time with his pulse, and nausea churned his stomach. Please let me die, his brain suggested. Just opening his eyes was a monumental task.

Ceiling. Unfamiliar ceiling. He managed to turn his head just enough to glance at his surroundings through slitted eyes. He was in a bed. More precisely, someone else's bed. And so was the someone else. A mop of long, beautiful blond curls lay on the pillow beside him, the face turned away from him. Griff raised his hands and scrubbed them down over his face. This was going to be embarrassing.

The body beside him rolled over. Beneath all those gorgeous blond curls were dark lashes, full lips, and a neatly trimmed blond mustache and goatee. The blond man's eyes opened slowly, and embarrassment didn't even come close to cutting it. Griff scrambled up against the headboard with an intake of breath and immediately regretted it. He choked down the first wave of nausea threatening to overwhelm him, and didn't manage the second one.

Hanging off the edge of the bed, he vomited into the trashcan that some fore-thinking soul had put beside the bed. Someone held his head and prevented him from sliding face first off the edge. Gasping, eyes tearing, spitting the acrid taste from his mouth, he finally slumped back against the mattress.

"Figured you were gonna need that," said the man holding him. "Come on, let's get you up and into the shower. It'll help." Griff stared as he was dragged to his feet. The man looked young, desperately young. All those blond curls brushing his shoulders, broad shoulders and narrow hips, long torso and muscular legs, wearing nothing more than a skimpy pair of black bikini briefs.

A second look, however, made him reassess. There was a seriousness in those blue eyes that spoke of more years than the face seemed to imply.

The blond man picked up an elbow crutch from the floor and handed it to Griff. Griff took it reluctantly; judging from the stiffness and the intensity of the pain in his leg, he needed it badly. But the other man didn't let go. He pulled Griff's opposite arm over his shoulders and guided them carefully in the direction of the bathroom, snagging a pair of round, wire-framed glasses along the way.

In the bathroom, Griff leaned against the sink and glanced at himself in the mirror while the other man turned on the shower. Every single one of his thirty-eight years seemed to be etched into his face. A trace of gray showed in his short black hair, his eyes were horrendously bloodshot, and he obviously hadn't shaved in a couple of days.

"No offense," Griff croaked, "but who the hell are you?"

"Sean Avery. I'm guessing you don't remember last night. I'm not surprised. Here." Sean pressed several Advil into his hand and set a glass of water on the side of the sink. Griff took them and gulped down the water, hoping to wash some of the nasty taste from his mouth. "If you think you can manage to get undressed by yourself, I'll be back in sec."

Sean turned on the shower and walked out of the bathroom. Griff looked down at himself. He was still mostly dressed --boxers, socks, T-shirt, but no jeans. The maze of scars starting on his right thigh and winding down to his calf was plainly evident. If he was still mostly dressed, what exactly had gone on last night? Although he was bisexual, the number of guys he had been with was far outweighed by women. There hadn't been anyone at all in the past year. The FBI wasn't exactly accepting of alternative lifestyles.

Not that he was FBI anymore... A car going more than fifty miles an hour through a parking lot had broken his knee in 23 places when it struck him. The damage had been so bad there had been initial talk of amputation. Some days he thanked God for brilliant orthopedic surgeons, and other days he wished the driver had finished the job and just flat-out killed him.

He managed to strip the rest of the way and left his clothes piled on the floor. Sean came back in carrying a big plastic cooler. Griff squinted at him, holding his head. What the hell was that for? Sean flipped it upside down and set it in the shower under the spray.

"Don't want you to fall," Sean commented, and Griff finally managed to realize it was for him to sit on. He appreciated the thought, and wondered just exactly who this guy was.

Sean helped him to his feet and into the shower. The nausea was surging again, and Griff turned his face into the spray, letting it flow down across him. It helped somewhat. Sean settled him on the upturned cooler and handed him a bottle of soap and a washcloth.

"I'm going to go get you some Gatorade. Give me a shout when you're done," Sean said as he left the bathroom again.

Letting the water cascade over him, Griff slowly bathed. The Advil was blunting the pain in his head a bit, but did nothing for his leg. Nothing short of Percocet would touch that, but he was used to the constant pain at this point. Seven frustrating, bitter months later, he had grudgingly adapted to using the crutch, having a handicapped tag for his truck, and going to physical therapy twice a week.

Sean. There was a flicker of memory. Chit-chat with Sean about the University of Maryland basketball team while he was at physical therapy. Griff had been in a sour mood, and the S&M nature of physical therapy hadn't improved it, but Sean had been friendly and laid back and had drawn Griff into a conversation. They had gone out for a drink with plans to watching the game. Griff had started knocking back tequila, intent on masking the agony in his leg. End of memory.

What was the old adage? One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor. That must have been just about the way it went.

Griff still had no idea why Sean had been at physical therapy. He obviously didn't have anything wrong with him. He hadn't given any indication he worked there, either. Then again, he could have poured out his life story, and Griff wouldn't have remembered a damn thing.

Feeling slightly more alive, he hauled himself up and finished rinsing off. He leaned out of the shower and snagged a towel that Sean had left on the toilet. He had carefully wrapped it around his waist, and somewhat unsteadily negotiated the lip of the shower stall, when Sean sailed back into the bathroom carrying a bottle of Gatorade.

"Hey, I told you to give me a yell when you were done. Don't want you wiping out in my shower. I'm not in the mood to do stitches on my day off." He smiled. Griff felt embarrassed.

"I'm not fucking helpless!" he snarled.

Sean just gazed at him calmly. "Uh-huh. Hangovers are a real bitch. Mess with your balance. I'm gonna jump in the shower. Why don't you sit down and see if you can drink some of this."

Griff glared at him, but obeyed. He owed the guy at least a little cooperation for dragging him home when he must have been absolutely hammered.

Sean set his glasses on the sink, dropped his briefs on the floor and stood under the spray, soaking his hair and soaping up. Watching all those lean muscles and those curls that he just ached to run his fingers through, Griff was getting a hard on under the towel. This was a bad idea. He wasn't even entirely sure if the guy was gay or bi or whatever. The appearance that absolutely nothing other than sleeping had gone on the night before wasn't giving Griff any clues, either.

He drank as much of the Gatorade as his stomach would tolerate. He was adult enough to know that, between the drinking binge and the barfing, he was dehydrated as all hell, which wasn't helping with the headache. He rested his arm on the edge of the sink and laid his head down.

"Griff, dude, don't pass out on me again. Not in the bathroom, anyway," Sean chided him. He wearily lifted his head. Sean was kneeling down in front of him, a hand on his shoulder.

"I'm not going to pass out on you, even if I do feel like shit," sighed Griff.

"Okay. Just making sure. I'm sure I've got a spare toothbrush around here somewhere. It would probably be a good idea to brush your teeth and crawl back into bed."

"Jesus Christ, you sound like my mother!" snapped Griff.

"Sorry, occupational habit," grinned Sean. Griff just stared at him. What the hell was that supposed to mean? "Since I'm sure you don't remember a word from our conversation last night, I am a pediatrician. Most of my patients are under the age of twelve."

"P-p-pediatrician?" stammered Griff. "You don't look old enough to be out of college."

"Yeah, so people keep telling me. I thought the beard and mustache would help. If I shave, I get carded every time I buy a beer. The mothers keep asking me if I'm somebody's big brother." Sean rolled his eyes on that one.

This brought a slight grin to Griff's face, then he sobered. This guy gave the impression of being an all-around Good Samaritan, and was probably engaged to some perky young lady with the hope of having six kids. He stared self-consciously at the floor.

Sean grabbed a towel and dried off and hunted up an unused toothbrush for him. Sean laid it on the sink and turned back to Griff.

"I'm going to go grab some clothes," Sean said, and walked back into the bedroom.

Griff hoisted himself to his feet and brushed his teeth. As he picked up his clothes to start dressing, Sean came back in carrying a pair of sweat pants and a T-shirt.

"You're only an inch or so shorter than me. This stuff ought to fit well enough to get by. I'll chuck your stuff in the wash, and by the time you catch a couple more hours of sleep, it'll be clean."

"You don't need to do this. I'll get dressed and get out of here and you can get back to whatever it was you intended to do with your day off. Hang out with your girlfriend or whatever," Griff said.

"Girlfriend? Dude, I'm gay. You must really be out of it."

"I wasn't... I don't remember shit about last night. I didn't want to jump to any assumptions. Oh, crap..."

"What's wrong?"

"Got any idea where my truck is?"

"I'm guessing in the parking lot of Scandals. It's not like you were in any shape to drive. Hell, you could hardly stand up," Sean commented. Griff felt the heat of embarrassment color his face. "Be sensible. Borrow my stuff. If you still want to bail, I'll give you a lift home. Okay?"

Griff nodded and began to dress. He could hear Sean out in the bedroom. Sweats and T-shirt on, Griff turned to hang his wet towel over the top edge of the shower wall and his foot slid across the slick tile. The motion wrenched his damaged knee and a searing pain shot up his leg. He let out a sharp curse of agony and only barely managed to catch himself and avoid slamming face first into the wall. There was a skitter of motion behind him and strong arms wrapped around him.

"Crap," muttered Sean. He essentially dragged Griff from the bathroom to the bed and eased him down on it.

Lost in the pain, Griff curled on the bed, teeth gritted, eyes squeezed shut, hands clenched into fists. The pain in his leg far outstripped the hangover, and he thought for a moment he was going to be sick again. Gentle hands rubbed his back and down the spasming muscles of his leg.

"Just breathe. Blow it out. Try to relax," soothed Sean. Tears of pain seeped from the corners of Griff's eyes.

"I'm such a fucking useless cripple!" he spat.