The Price of Secrets

an excerpt

Chapter One



Kelly rinsed out his teacup after washing it, and placed it carefully on the drainboard beside two coffee mugs. Having grown up in an Irish household, he never could get used to the taste of the stuff. Give him a good Earl Grey tea anytime.

He cocked his head slightly as he heard the faintest rustling sound behind him. There was no need to respond with aggression; he knew the soft tread well. The wariness was ingrained in him though, a part of him like his hand or foot. It never shut off, nor would Kelly let it, no matter where he was. A familiar small hand patted his shoulder as he turned his head.

"Good morning, dear." Vicky, Nathan's mother, stepped up alongside him. "Sweetheart, you don't need to do that," she chastised him, indicating the now clean teacup.

"Morning, Vicky, and yes I did. My mum raised me right." He kissed the petite blonde woman affectionately on the cheek.

"Well your mum did a good job. Speaking of which, are your folks still coming on Monday?"

"What? And deprive my mum of working with you to arrange our wedding? Do I look like I have a death wish? Nothing could keep them away. Just let the rest of us know where and when."

Vicki gave his cheek an affectionate pat. "You're such a good boy." She grinned up at him. "And you know us mothers well. Speaking of weddings, is Nathan up yet?"

"Morning," Nathan called to them as he stepped into the kitchen.

"Never mind." Vicky chuckled. "Good morning, Nathan," Vicky said, tipping her head to receive a kiss on the cheek from him. She grabbed her coffee cup and plucked an apple from the tray of fruit on the table, before leaving the kitchen.

Kelly shook his head, wondering exactly what he and Nathan had unleashed. They'd asked for something understated, but he had a feeling that neither he nor Nathan were ready for what their mothers were going to cook up.

Speaking of cooking, Kelly had quickly discovered that none of Nathan's family were terribly big on breakfast. Every morning, there was always a basket of fruit and a covered tray of pastries on the table. Kelly didn't mind it, but Nathan made no secret of the fact that he loved it when Kelly made breakfast, a real breakfast with eggs, bacon, the works.

Kelly noticed Nathan's ever-present travel mug clutched in his hand and he couldn't resist smiling. That man and his coffee, getting between them was like taking your life in your hands.

Nathan looked endearingly confused at his mother's departing back as she muttered something about lists. He glanced at Kelly. "What did I miss?"

Kelly grinned at him. "Nothing, love, just your mother dropping into planning mode."

"Planning mode." Nathan blinked then shrugged. "Oh well, whatever makes her happy."

"Just remember you said that when my mum gets here and the two of them really get going."

Staring at Kelly for a moment, Nathan's expression slowly morphed into a frown. "Is it too late to elope?" he murmured, throwing another look over his shoulder to where his mother had disappeared.

Kelly moved closer, took the travel mug from Nathan and placed it beside the coffee maker. Framing Nathan's face between his hands, Kelly gazed into Nathan's beautiful brown eyes.

"Yes, yes it is. I honestly think they would kill us, and in the most painful way imaginable, if we ruined their chance to plan our wedding. My mum's done this already with one of my sisters, but your mum...well, let's not wreck her fun."

Giving an exaggerated ‘hard-done-by' sigh, Nathan nodded, sliding his arms around Kelly's waist. "Fine. But just this once."

"Just this once, huh?"

"Darn right."

"Sounds good to me."

Kelly kissed him slow and deep, humming his pleasure at the contact. Nathan pulled himself closer to Kelly, chest to chest, and heart to heart, right where Kelly always wanted Nathan to be.

"Ahem."

Nathan's dad pointedly cleared his throat from behind them and Kelly broke the kiss, but refused to release Nathan just yet.

Matt was frowning at them, but the twinkle in his brown eyes, and the twitch of his lips, betrayed his amusement as he reached for a mug. For a businessman worth millions, Matt was very laidback. Nathan's family didn't have a pretentious bone in any of their bodies and Kelly got along really well with all of them.

Nathan glanced at Kelly and made a face at him. "Busted again."

"At least this time you both have clothes on." Brendan, Nathan's brother, snorted as he entered the kitchen also making a beeline for the coffee maker.

Caffeine addiction definitely ran in this family, even if Nathan was technically Brendan's cousin and Matt was Nathan's uncle. Matt and Vickie had adopted Nathan as a boy, when he had been abused then thrown out by Matt's brother and his brother's wife, for being gay.

"That was so not our fault," Nathan protested. "You were all supposed to be gone for the entire evening last night. None of you called, so how were we to know you would be home so early?"

"Not the mama," Brendan said in a singsong voice. "We didn't need to call and check in."

"Besides..." Brendan slapped Nathan playfully on the back. "It was a good thing I found you first or Mom would have been scarred for life. As it is, I'll never be able to look at that pool table the same way ever again."

"Wait, what?" Matt's gaze swung from Brendan to Kelly and Nathan. He looked at them with raised eyebrows. "Pool table? My pool table?"

Kelly burst out laughing as an amazing shade of red darkened Nathan's face before he buried his face in the crook of Kelly's neck. His skin grew warm from the heat emanating off Nathan's cheeks.

"Put me out of my misery now," he moaned into Kelly's throat.

Kelly tangled his fingers in Nathan's thick dark curls while he rubbed circles on Nathan's back with his other hand.

"Aww, poor baby," Kelly cooed at him.

Kelly turned Nathan in his arms and steered him out of the kitchen toward the front door. "Love to stay and chat but we'd better get a move on before we're both late."

"Wait." Matt raised a hand to them. "What's this about my pool table?"

"You'll have to talk to Brendan about that," Kelly called over his shoulder. "Gotta run." He hustled Nathan out the front door, swiftly closing it behind them.

Outside, Nathan laughed at him. "You are so evil."

Kelly lifted his hand, his thumb and first finger roughly an inch apart. "Just a little."

"Uh-huh." Nathan inserted two fingers between Kelly's and widened the distance. "It's more like this."

Kelly bumped his hip into Nathan's. "You love me anyway."

Grinning, Nathan bumped Kelly back. "Yes, I do. I definitely do."

Nathan halted abruptly on the bottom step then looked back at the house. "Damn it, I left my travel mug in the kitchen."

Kelly grabbed Nathan's arm before he could take more than one step back up toward the door. "Do you really want to go back in there? Think about the conversation Brendan and your father are probably having right now."

Freezing in place, Nathan stared at Kelly for a minute before his eyes widened and he shook his head. "Nope, nada, no way am I going back in there." He stepped back off the stairs. "Drive thru it is."

Chuckling, Kelly walked hand in hand with Nathan to Nathan's car. Stopping before him, Kelly straightened the lapel of Nathan's suit, then affectionately patted Nathan's chest. "Don't forget, you promised to meet me for lunch after you hand the keys over to the realtor."

Nathan rolled his eyes. "I remember. I need to inspect the condition of the condo after the cleaners but I should be at your office by eleven thirty at the latest."

Kelly kissed Nathan, and then opened the car door with a small flourish and bow, waving Nathan inside.

Nathan reached into his pocket for his keys as he climbed into the car, stopped and straightened up again. "I almost forgot I bought you something."

"Really?" Kelly asked standing beside the car's open door.

Nathan pulled an odd camo colored bracelet from his jacket pocket and held it out to Kelly. "Remember when I stopped by the hospital to say good-bye to some friends the other day? Well, the Boy Scouts were having a fund-raiser in the hospital's lobby. This bracelet is made from parachute cord with a tensile strength of five hundred and fifty pounds, but this is the interesting part."

Nathan turned the bracelet over and pointed to one of the side release buckles. "They basically macramé the cord so if you ever need fifteen feet of really heavy-duty cord all you have to do is pick apart the melted ends here."

Kelly rotated the bracelet, admiring the workmanship and clever design.

"But wait, there's more."

Nathan's eagerness was simply too adorable. "You know you sound like a commercial, right?"

"Yeah, whatever." Nathan huffed.

He took the bracelet and opened the buckle, almost bouncing with his excitement. "Look. There's a ferrocerium rod in one end of the buckle and a striker in the other so you can start a fire whenever you need to. And this part of the buckle is a whistle."

Pausing for a breath, Nathan hesitantly held the bracelet out to Kelly again. "If you don't like it, it's okay. It was for a good cause and..." Nathan looked endearing as he chewed on his bottom lip, suddenly unsure if Kelly would like his gift.

Kelly took the bracelet, snapped it into place on his left wrist then grabbed a hold of Nathan's tie and pulled him in for a heartfelt kiss.

"Thank you for thinking of me. It's very clever and I'm sure it will come in real handy one day. It's great, and so are you."

Nathan beamed happily at Kelly and Kelly swore his heart skipped a beat at the beatific expression on Nathan's handsome face. Kelly loved seeing it there, he loved putting it there, he just flat out loved Nathan with every fiber of his being.

One of their cell phones chimed breaking the spell.

Nathan blew out a breath. "That's my reminder. I've got to get going."

Kelly moved out of the way and solemnly waved Nathan into the car again. Nathan gave Kelly an exaggerated gracious nod as he sat in the car, the huge smile on his face ruining the moment. Kelly slammed the door closed, leaned in through the window and gripped Nathan's chin with his fingers before pressing his lips to Nathan's once more. He swallowed Nathan's sigh, matching it with one of his own as he felt Nathan's hand slid up the line of his jaw and around his neck to cup his nape.

It never ceased to amaze him just how powerful the bond they shared was and how much he craved Nathan's taste and touch. Nathan was the best drug imaginable and Kelly was happily addicted. He would never get enough of Nathan and in a month this man would be tied to him forever. Shiny platinum bands around both their ring fingers would declare their love and commitment to the world, when they said their vows to each other.

Reluctantly, Kelly drew back. "I'll see you later for lunch...or something," he added with an evil leer and wink.

Nathan's eyes grew large and he swallowed hard. "Yes, please."

Feeling his pulse quicken and arousal pool in his belly, Kelly seriously entertained the thought of dragging Nathan from his car and back upstairs to their bedroom. From Nathan's blown pupils and flushed skin, Nathan was probably considering it too.

"Damn it." He slapped the car's door. "I've got to behave or neither of us will get anything done today," Kelly grumbled.

"You? The voice of reason? Will wonders never cease."

"Hey, it's been known to happen." Kelly gave Nathan a shit-eating grin. "On occasion."

Nathan snorted as Kelly straightened. He stood in place until Nathan gathered himself together enough to pull the car from the drive.

A sudden chill raced down Kelly's spine as he watched Nathan's car turn and head down the street. Kelly had the intense urge to run after Nathan, to stop him from leaving. Foreboding washed through him, turning his stomach, and a heavy ball of dread settled into Kelly's middle. Something was in the wind and it wasn't good.

Quickly tugging his cell from his pants pocket, he dialed Nathan and impatiently bounced up and down on the balls of his feet until Nathan answered.

"Hey, baby. What's up?" Nathan sounded tinny from the car speaker.

"Do me a favor and text or better yet, call me, when you get to the condo."

"Um, sure, okay. Is everything all right?"

"Yeah. Listen, I've changed my mind. I'll quickly finish up what I have to do at the office and meet you there at the condo instead." Kelly noticed his hand had started to shake. What the hell?

"Sure. That sounds great. It'll give me a chance to say good-bye to Mrs. Rosario."

"Thanks, love. Good idea. Better yet, wait at her place for me."

"No problem. Love you."

"Love you, too."

Slipping the phone back into his pocket, Kelly climbed into his SUV. He squeezed the wheel with both shaking hands and took a deep ragged breath before starting the vehicle. Without warning, Granda's distinct aftershave filled his nose and Kelly shuddered.

"Granda, I've got a bad feeling about this."