Against the grain, p.12
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       Against The Grain, p.12

         Part #5 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  “How can you sleep with them in the next room sexing each other up? I had to sleep in your dad’s freakin’ office Thanksgiving night.”

  Cael winced. “Sorry, should have told you about the headphones.”

  “Headphones? You were wearing headphones?”

  Cael took a seat on the edge of his bed. “Yeah. So was Dad. That’s why we didn’t hear anything. Dex warned us.”

  “That fucker. He didn’t warn me.”

  Cael couldn’t help his laugh. “Sorry.” He so wasn’t sorry. “I have a spare set you can borrow if you need it.”

  Ash flopped down across from him. “I shouldn’t have to sleep with headphones. I can’t believe your dad lets your brother get away with it. It’s not like anyone’s asking him to refrain from having sex for the rest of his life. It’s one fucking night.”

  “You’ve known Dex over a year now. When has he ever not gotten away with something? If Dad told Dex no, he’d come up with an elaborate scheme to do it anyway, and believe me, the alternative would most likely be worse.” Cael fell back onto the bed. “Those two are like freakin’ bunnies. All the damn time.” He turned his head to observe Ash, who was taking in the room around him.

  Like Dex’s bedroom, their dad had kept Cael’s room how he’d left it when he’d moved out. Unlike Dex, who moved out when he went to college after buying his own house, Cael had stayed home. It wasn’t like he had to go far to get to school. His bedroom furniture, bedding, and carpet were varying shades of gray. A dark gray bookshelf on the far wall contained all his old textbooks and all the books his dad had read to him since he was little. A few toys from his childhood, along with some gadgets, were arranged here and there. Boxes filled with all his baby belongings were stacked neatly in his closet, along with his toys, and later his Little League equipment. Their dad didn’t believe in throwing their childhood belongings away, especially since he’d taught his boys how to appreciate what they had from an early age.

  “Who’s this?” Ash got up, walked to the bookshelf, and picked up Cael’s favorite stuffed toy from his childhood.

  “Oh, that’s Braveheart Lion.” Man, he’d loved that thing. Still did.

  Ash ran his hand over the fuzzy brown mane, a big smile on his face. “He’s cute.”

  “I’ve had him since I was a baby. He was my favorite growing up. Had him with me everywhere I went.” Cael chuckled at the memory. There was nowhere he’d gone without Braveheart. When Dex wasn’t around, Braveheart kept him from feeling scared.

  “That’s adorable.”

  “Well, he used to be Dex’s favorite. It was his.”

  Ash put Braveheart down. “Less adorable.” He walked back to the bed and resumed his spot, flopping back next to Cael.

  “My dad said when he brought me home Dex insisted I have Braveheart because I needed him more than he did. I took him everywhere. When I was unsure or scared and Dex couldn’t be with me, Dex would say that Braveheart would help me be strong and brave. I believed him.” He couldn’t help his smile.

  “Must’ve been something.”

  “What’s that?” Cael hadn’t expected the almost wistful tone in Ash’s voice. He couldn’t begin to imagine what Ash’s childhood must have been like. Cael had been lucky. If Tony hadn’t adopted him, who knew what would have become of him. With all the conflict and intolerance going on, he would have been another Therian child lost in a world that didn’t want him.

  “Growing up here,” Ash replied quietly, drawing Cael’s attention. “Your dad’s an amazing guy. Your brother….”

  Cael couldn’t help his smile. “My brother…?”

  “Isn’t always a jackass,” Ash admitted. He actually looked like it pained him to say the words, and it made Cael chuckle.

  “If you tell him I said so I’ll deny it till my dying breath.”

  “Don’t worry.” He gave Ash a wink. “Your secret’s safe with me.”

  Ash lay down on the bed so his head was next to Cael’s but upside down. “There were days back then, when I didn’t think I would make it out of there.”

  “The facility?” Cael asked gently.

  Ash nodded somberly. “A part of me didn’t want to, didn’t believe I deserved to, but I did. For Sloane. He needed me. After years of being alone, of feeling like I deserved everything that was happening to me in there, I met someone who needed me to protect him.” He swallowed hard and closed his eyes. “I’d failed my brother. I wasn’t going to fail my best friend.”

  Cael nodded his understanding when it struck him. “Wait. You have a brother?” How was it possible he hadn’t known? Why wouldn’t Ash have told him? Or even mentioned him? Cael was so confused.

  “Had. He’s dead.”

  Cael swallowed past the lump in his throat, watching Ash’s eyes grow glassy. He rolled onto his side toward Ash. “I’m so sorry to hear that. Were you close?” Ash flinched at his words. “Ash?”

  “Arlo and I did everything together. When we were kids, I….” Ash drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I was figuring myself out. There was a boy. I really liked him. One day he told me to meet him behind the bleachers for some fooling around. It was during the riots. I was supposed to have walked home with Arlo. Instead I sent him ahead so I could kiss Davie.” A tear escaped and rolled down Ash’s cheek. He quickly wiped it away. “Arlo was beaten to death on the way home.”

  “Oh, Ash.” Cael put his hand to Ash’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”

  “To make things worse, when I got home, with everything going on, I shifted for the first time. It was too much for my parents, and they called Animal Control. I was caged up and carted away before Dr. Shultzon took me in. He’s the reason Arlo’s information never made it into Themis.”

  Cael couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t so naïve that he wasn’t aware of how cruel the world could be, but he never understood how parents could discard their Therian children so easily. How could Ash’s parents send him away when he needed them the most?

  “Arlo was my twin. I used to tease him that I was the oldest because I was born first.”

  Cael’s eyes went wide. “Your twin?”

  “Losing a sibling is difficult enough, but when that sibling is your twin, it’s a whole other level of loss. Like a part of you is missing. Arlo’s death still haunts me. In my dreams, when I’m awake. That anger and anguish has become a part of me. It’s made me who I am, and I don’t know that I can change.”

  “Why would you want to change?” Cael tenderly stroked Ash’s jaw. “If you want to change who you are, then you do that, but you do it because it feels right to you. If you don’t want to change, the hell with everyone else. I know what’s underneath that gruff exterior. I fell in love with you for who you are, Ash. Every cursing, foul-mouthed, grumpy inch of you.”

  Ash turned his face toward Cael, his expression troubled. “Why?”

  How could Ash not see it? “You mean why would I fall for someone who’s so sweet and wonderful to me? Who drives me crazy in the most amazing ways? Who takes care of me, protects me, stands up for me, who respects me and makes me incredibly happy? Why would I fall for this unpredictable unstoppable force of awesome who’s sexy and fierce? Why would I fall for that guy?”

  Ash’s smile reached his eyes. “I love that about you. The way you look for the good in everyone. You see me the way I want to see myself.”

  “And you can, Ash. One day at a time. I wish you’d let me be there with you while you find your way.” Cael took Ash’s hand in his. “I’m not expecting you to change your online status to ‘in my first relationship with a dude.’ I just want you to give us a chance.”

  “That’s the problem, Cael. I don’t want a chance with you.”

  Cael’s heart sank. “Oh.”

  “No. You don’t understand.” Ash covered Cael’s hand with his own and leaned into his touch. “I’ve never felt this way about anyone. I tried to stop feeling how I do about you. Haven’t been remotely successful since the day we met

  Cael smiled at the memory. “You mean the day I pulled my smooth moves on you, bumped into you, and spilled your hot coffee all over you?”

  Ash chuckled. “Yeah. That day. The moment I saw you, that was it for me.”

  “So why don’t you want to give us a chance?”

  “Because I don’t want a chance. I want a whole lot more. I want everything with you for as long as I can get it. I’m terrified of messing up.”

  “You? King of the jungle? Ash Keeler isn’t afraid of anything,” Cael teased.

  Ash turned his face and kissed Cael’s palm. “That might have been true. Once.”

  The butterflies in Cael’s stomach were fluttering wildly. “You know the saying, ‘’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’”

  “Someone should have Tasered Tennyson in the balls for that one. That jackass.”

  Cael laughed, his heart going out to Ash. Everything fell into place. Ash had always been reserved when it came to his past, but Cael did his best to be understanding. He figured Ash would confide in him when he was ready. Never would he have imagined the pain and heartache that he’d suffered. Cael’s heart broke after finding out about Ash and the facility, though it put a lot into perspective and gave him a clearer understanding as to why Ash was the way he was. And now Cael’s heart was breaking all over again for the Therian he loved. He ran his fingers through Ash’s hair, ready to offer as little or as much comfort as Ash needed.

  “What if I mess it all up?” Ash said quietly, staring at the ceiling.

  “What if I do?”

  “That’s not going to happen.”

  “I’m not perfect, Ash.”


  Cael smiled, touched by Ash’s never faltering esteem for him. “The charming Mr. Keeler.”

  “Stop it.” Ash looked away, embarrassed.

  “Neither of us is perfect. Relationships are hard work, and everyone comes into it with their own baggage. Granted, some more than others, but if you really care about someone, you do what you can to make it work. Look at Sloane and my brother. How much have they been through together, and that’s only the beginning. Yet each time they come through the other side and their relationship is stronger for it.”

  “Yeah, but Sloane’s not an asshole. No one would look at Dex and wonder why the hell he’s with Sloane. Your own brother can’t understand what you see in me.”

  “That’s not true.”

  “Oh?” Ash sat up, kicked off his shoes, and came around the other side of the bed so he could lie down next to Cael. He propped himself on his elbows and smiled. “You know something I don’t?”

  “You two might not get along all the time, but he understands. He respects you, and although he’d never admit it to you, he thinks you’ll treat me right.”

  Ash’s eyes widened. “Daley thinks that?”

  “Yeah.” Cael felt his eyelids growing heavy, and he wondered when he’d gotten so sleepy. He closed his eyes for a moment before startling himself awake.

  “It’s okay,” Ash murmured, his words laced with sleep. His eyes were closed and his breath steady. Had they both fallen asleep? “I should probably go downstairs.” Ash didn’t move, and Cael was glad.

  “Stay,” Cael whispered, afraid if he spoke any louder, Ash would leave. He held his breath as he waited for Ash’s reply. It was only one word, but it was the most wonderful word Cael had ever heard.


  With a smile, Cael closed his eyes. There was a chance Ash might get up in the middle of the night and leave, but Cael hoped not. What he wouldn’t give to wake up in Ash’s arms. For now this would have to do. His heart soared at having Ash sleeping here beside him. With a contented sigh, Cael drifted off to sleep.

  ASH WOKE up in the middle of the night with a low groan. He rubbed his eyes to orientate himself. That’s right, he was in Cael’s bedroom. Shit. He was in Cael’s bedroom. In Cael’s bed. He lay perfectly still, listening to the sound of Cael’s soft breathing. Had he turned off the lights or had Cael? He vaguely remembered dreaming about taking Cael to bed and turning off the lights. Wait, it hadn’t been a dream. He remembered now.

  Sometime after falling asleep, he woke up, got up, and turned off the lights. He’d planned on going downstairs and leaving Cael asleep, but not without straightening him out on the bed first so he wasn’t sleeping with half his legs hanging off the side. Quietly and carefully, he’d picked Cael up and laid him down on the sheets, but when he turned to leave, Cael had mumbled something and said his name. Ash had no idea what Cael had said, but when Cael smiled in his sleep after saying his name, Ash knew he wouldn’t be going anywhere. And here he was.

  Ash never would’ve believed a man could be beautiful, but Cael was. In every way imaginable. When the hell had his future become so uncertain? His life had been simple. His friends, his team, the job. Now he was starting down a path that scared the ever-living fuck out of him.

  All his life, he’d stumbled along the way, putting on a tough façade, pushing away anyone who tried to get too close. He told himself he did it to keep from hurting someone, but now as he lay here watching Cael sleep—the one person he’d let in—he discovered the truth he’d been fighting for so long. He wasn’t afraid of hurting anyone. He was afraid they’d hurt him. Cael had his heart. There was no denying it. Ash had presented Cael with the most vulnerable part of him. Was he overthinking their relationship? Next to Sloane, Cael had been his closest friend. Their relationship had changed, but their friendship was still there. The only difference now was that he could act on all those desires that had secretly consumed him for so long.

  “You’re so beautiful,” he said quietly, reaching out, then pulling back. He shouldn’t start something he couldn’t finish. It wouldn’t be fair to either of them. Fucking hell. Everything he’d ever wanted was right in front of him. All he had to do was reach out….

  Cael let out a soft sigh and rolled toward him, snuggling against his pillow. Hesitantly, Ash placed his hand to Cael’s head, loving the feel of his feathery hair. Without the gel, it fell over his brow, making him appear even sweeter. “I must have done something right for you to love me.”

  Cael’s eyes blinked open, and he smiled. That smile would be Ash’s undoing. Not allowing himself any time to reconsider, Ash pressed his lips against Cael’s. He was warm, and his scent invaded every inch of Ash, reaching down into his soul and lighting him up from the inside out. Cael parted his lips, and Ash slipped his tongue inside, his whole world spinning off its axis. He pulled Cael hard against him, deepening his kiss in the hope that his head would finally embrace the want in his heart. There was nothing he craved more than to be the guy Cael believed he was.

  Cael returned his kiss, his fingers gently clutching at Ash’s bicep. Needing to taste more of him, Ash moved his lips to Cael’s jaw, sucking, nipping, and licking. Every sensation was new, frightening, and thrilling. He wrapped his leg around Cael’s and pressed himself against him, his blood boiling beneath his skin. Cael let out a soft moan, and it went straight to Ash’s dick. He ran his tongue up Cael’s jawline, the slightly rough texture of Cael’s stubble a new and strange sensation. He had to have more. A little voice in the back of his head kept telling him to stop, to pull back, but Ash did his best to ignore it and follow the overwhelming desire spreading through him like wildfire.

  Ash ran his hand over Cael’s torso to his back and under his T-shirt. He slipped his hand underneath the cotton fabric, his fingers meeting soft, warm skin and firm muscle. With a shaky breath, he pulled back, his eyes meeting Cael’s in the darkness. Cael licked his kiss-swollen lips, his cheeks flushed.

  “I need to see you,” Ash breathed.

  The lust in Cael’s eyes was a thing of beauty, and Ash rolled over Cael, straddling his legs and taking hold of the hem of his T-shirt. He didn’t question what he was doing. All he could think about was Cael. He’d waited so damn long for this. He’d dreamed about Cael, got hims
elf off thinking about him.

  After pulling the shirt off, Ash tossed it to one side. He shimmied back and unbuttoned Cael’s jeans, then took hold of the waistband along with Cael’s boxer briefs underneath. He paused to make sure it was okay. Cael nodded, his cheeks flushed pink in the darkness. Holding his breath, Ash removed what was left of Cael’s clothes. He’d seen Cael naked before at work, in the showers. This was completely different. Cael lay beneath him, stretched out like an offering.

  “You’re so beautiful.” Ash bent forward and put his hands to Cael’s neck almost reverently. Was he worthy enough to touch something so precious? Ash wanted to caress and taste every line, curve, and dip. Wanted to feel their bodies pressed together, hear their mingled breaths. He wanted to draw gasps and pleas from those plump pink lips. His desire scared the shit out of him, but he reminded himself this was Cael. Cael who loved him despite all his faults. Who defended him, stood up for him, believed in him. He ran his fingers down Cael’s neck to his collarbone, down his chest and the sinewy firm muscles. His fingers ghosted one of Cael’s nipples, and the sweet gasp Cael let out as he arched his back, exposing his neck, had Ash on the brink of losing his calm.

  He continued to explore Cael’s torso, running his hands down Cael’s abs to his strong thighs sprinkled with fair hair. Between his legs, Cael’s pink-tipped cock jutted up from his neatly trimmed groin. Holy fuck, Cael trimmed. Ash released a groan, the saliva building up in his mouth at the thought of tasting Cael. What would it feel like to have Cael’s dick in his mouth? His own cock strained painfully against his jeans at the thought, and Ash carefully wrapped a hand around Cael’s dick, riveted by the whimper that met his ear. God, he loved that sound. Ash removed his own T-shirt, dropping it to one side before leaning down to kiss Cael’s lips again. There was so much he wanted to do, yet he didn’t know where to start or how far to take things. As if sensing his troubled thoughts, Cael cupped his face.

  “It’s okay. We have all the time in the world.”

  Cael gently pushed at Ash’s shoulder, and Ash followed his lead, lying back on the bed. He swallowed hard, sweat beaded across his brow as Cael got on his knees and unfastened Ash’s jeans. He took care pulling them off before dropping them off the side of the bed. Maybe he shouldn’t be doing this. Fuck. What was wrong with him? He opened his mouth to say something, but no words made it past his lips the moment Cael’s hand wrapped around his girth.

  “Don’t worry. You’re safe with me,” Cael purred. “It’s just you and me.”

  Ash felt his face burning as Cael began to stroke him, his other hand fondling Ash’s balls. It was strange yet so damn good. He was so hard, and every inch of his skin felt as if it was on fire. Somewhere in his brain, he told himself he shouldn’t feel this way. It was wrong. As he fought his own thoughts and guilt, a wet mouth closed over his cock, and he almost jumped off the bed.

  “Oh fuck!”

  Ash clutched at the sheets, his back arching up off the bed and his toes curling. Oh God, this was better than anything he’d imagined. He forced his eyes open and looked down at Cael, his body shuddering at the sight of Cael’s lips around his dick. It was mesmerizing watching himself slide in and out of that amazing mouth. Ash let his head fall back. Fuck this. Fuck that. Fuck everything. The only thing he knew right now was the feel of Cael sucking his cock, moaning around it, caressing his thighs, making Ash feel desired in a way he’d never felt with anyone.

  Cael licked, nipped, and sucked, his tongue pressing against his slit. “Oh fuck, Cael.” Ash slipped his fingers into Cael’s hair, holding on tight, his bottom lip between his teeth to keep himself from making too much noise, but right now he didn’t give a shit about anything. All that mattered was the amazing man between his legs driving him out of his fucking mind. He was embarrassed to discover he wasn’t going to last long.

  “Cael,” Ash gasped in warning, but Cael only doubled his efforts. “Oh fuck. Fuck. Cael,” Ash growled, his voice strained as his muscles tightened and orgasm barreled through him. Oh God, Cael was swallowing. Ash threw a hand out and clutched the sheets so fiercely his knuckles hurt. A low strangled cry escaped him as he emptied himself into Cael’s mouth, leaving him out of breath. He lay there, staring at the ceiling, basking in the afterglow of what Cael had done to him.

  Cael lay between Ash’s legs, his cheek resting against Ash’s stomach. He smiled warmly at Ash, his fingers tracing the contours of Ash’s abs.

  “You okay?” Cael asked softly.

  “That was…. Wow.” He ran a hand over Cael’s head and nodded. “Shit. That was fucking amazing.”

  Cael moved up and lay beside him, his warm bare skin pressed against Ash’s. Should he have been freaking out that he’d been given a blow job by another guy? He frowned at the thought. It wasn’t just any guy. It was Cael. The idea didn’t freak him out. In fact, having had Cael’s amazing mouth on him had him craving more. Ash turned on his side and kissed Cael, his hand slipping down Cael’s body until it reached the hard cock between his legs.

  “Are you sure?” Cael asked in a hushed tone, as if he was afraid to speak louder in case he spooked Ash.

  Ash replied by stroking Cael and bringing their mouths together. When the voice in his head tried to speak up, Ash filled his senses with Cael. He drew on every unsteady breath, every whimper and moan Cael released. Using Cael’s precome to lube him up, Ash gently pulled and stroked. He thought about what had always felt good for him, listened to the cues Cael gave him, changed things up in the hopes of pleasing Cael. Ash’s lips demanded more of Cael, and he deepened their kiss to a frenzy of desperate sucking and dueling tongues. He reveled in the way Cael squirmed and gasped, in how he clung to Ash, nails digging into his skin as he thrust into Ash’s hand, frantic for release.

  “Ash, please. Faster.”

  Ash obliged, pumping Cael’s hard dick. He slipped his leg between Cael’s, bringing their bodies closer together. He bit down gently on Cael’s neck and sucked until he’d left a small blemish. “That’s it, sweetheart. Come for me. I want to see your beautiful face when you come.”

  Cael’s gasp was swiftly followed by a quick succession of swear words and moans as he came. His movements grew erratic as he released himself, his plump lips parted in ecstasy. He thrust against Ash’s hand until he let out a hiss at his own sensitivity. Ash couldn’t take his eyes off Cael’s mouth, how his lips were still parted as he tried to catch his breath. Unable to resist the temptation, Ash ran his thumb over Cael’s bottom lip before leaning in to kiss him. They kissed for what seemed like ages, until sleep came for them.

  Ash pulled Cael into his embrace, unwilling to think of anything other than the amazing younger man in his arms. He couldn’t think of a time when he’d felt more at peace or happy than right here, right now. There had to be a way for him to hold on to this, because as Cael fell asleep in his arms, Ash knew letting him slip away would be the greatest tragedy of all.

  Chapter 8

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