Authors: Mia Downing
Tags: #erotic romance
They scored again, and without thinking they chest-bumped in victory in that familiar way of theirs, laughing. Only this time, Erik felt the connection though every muscle, every pore, every cell. The press of Gavin’s skin to his in that short blip of time, the heat, the slick sheen of sweat, the pulse of electricity. Gavin felt it, too, because his eyes widened before he closed them. He shrank away and in the process, tromped Erik’s foot.
Erik slapped him on the arm and dug through the years for banter they’d shared before. “You stepped on my foot, dick.”
Gavin’s eyes lit up with the memory. “Good thing my feet are small.”
“The ladies say that’s not the only thing small,” Erik finished, grinning. It felt weird completing that jab since they both knew firsthand smaller feet had nothing to do with dick size. Gavin had more than filled him up.
But something in Gavin’s expression changed and his grin widened. “Who cares what anyone thinks? It’s all how you use what you got, and I got mad skills,” he teased, loud enough for Tony and Scott to hear. Then Gavin leaned in, handed him the ball, and whispered, “All I care is what you think. You think I got mad skills?”
Erik almost dropped the ball, his cock going wild about the mad skills. “You’re mad, all right. Mad cow crazy.”
Tony and Scott cracked up, giving Erik a chance to compose himself.
“Keep this up and we won’t have to buy pizza,” Scott taunted. “He’ll kick your ass, Gavin, and I’ll pay good money to watch him.”
Gavin shot Scott the cocky grin Erik loved so much. “He won’t touch my face. It’s far too pretty to take a beating.”
“Serve, before your head becomes a viable target,” Scott said, rolling his eyes.
Within in a half hour, it looked like pizza was a go for Saturday. Gavin hit Erik with that look, the one that said he was going for the kill. Erik set him up and then stood back and admired the view. It was like watching a lethal animal striking, every muscle rippling under the blistering sun, glistening with sweat, and fire in his eyes. Up to the net, arm extended upward, then driving the ball down with expert skill. Determination lined his face, ripe in that sexy grit of his teeth. Powerful. Lethal. He’d made love to that man, and the thought gave him chills.
They won. Gavin shot him that cocky grin and went to the net to get pounded on by Tony and Scott, as was protocol.
But Erik felt like he’d lost. He wanted nothing more than to touch Gavin, to feel like he could give him that man-hug they’d perfected over the years, the one-armed embrace with backslapping. If he did that, he’d still want more. He’d want to be able to sling his arm around Gavin, and whisper what he wanted to do to celebrate.
Someone tugged at his shorts. Erik glanced down. His niece, Jillian, tugged again, her blue eyes brewing with tears, her blonde hair blowing in the wind. “Uncle Erik?”
“What’s up, urchin?”
“Uncle Erik, my shovel is floating away.” She liked calling him Uncle Erik. Her repetition of titles drove everyone crazy, but he ate it up. He’d do anything for his princess.
He followed the direction of her pudgy hand. A hot pink thing bobbed in a calmer spot in the water, floating away. “So it is. Where’s Mommy?” He cast a glance over the beach for his sister.
“She’s there, Uncle Erik, but she told me I had to leave it. I want you to go get it, Uncle Erik.”
Erik sighed. “I’ll get it, urchin, if you promise to go back to Mommy and wait.”
She smiled like he’d offered her ten Christmas gifts. “Okay, Uncle Erik.”
Gavin was getting a drink, chatting comfortably with his parents, so he ran down to the water, sticking to the section that had calmer waves. He dipped a toe. Fuck, it was cold. He dove shallow into the Sound, cursing his parents for not living in the Caribbean. He surfaced, and four strokes later, he realized why the shovel was heading out to sea.
Panic shimmered over his already cold skin. He fought to breathe evenly as the water swept him outward, grateful it wasn’t pulling him down and under, like he’d always thought it would. The current yanked him along, a lot like that time he’d fallen off the tube behind the speedboat on the lake last summer. He’d hung on for dear life until he realized he’d had a life vest and could let go of the line.
There was no tow rope, no life vest. Heart hammering, Erik dug in and swam against the current, stroking for his life, trying not to notice the shore was farther and farther away. Fuck. He was an okay swimmer. Not a good swimmer. Not like Gavin. Thinking of Gavin made him swim harder, faster. He finally had the chance to love Gavin, and he was going to fucking die? No way in hell.
He swam for what seemed like forever, fighting, his arms becoming like heated lead in the cold water, not gaining any headway. Fear swept in on the heels of adrenaline. Maybe…maybe he wasn’t meant to have more. He choked back the panic, the steadiness of his strokes faltering with each extension of his aching arms.
Erik faltered mid-stroke and sank, sputtering a mouthful of salty water. He heaved in a deep breath, his lungs screaming for more. His mind screamed for help, but damned if his mouth could form the words. He thought Gavin’s name again, hoping their creepy band of communication was still working, and he’d come. Gavin always came.
Then he went under again, the brilliant blue of the sky still visible above the blue-green of the Sound.
Erik never thought he’d drown. Never in a million years.
Not until right now.
Gavin’s head snapped up at the sound of the lifeguard’s whistle, his training kicking in. He scanned the water and saw the dark, adult-sized head surface, bobbing, arms flailing in the rip current. Damn. Didn’t the asshole see the flags up? The signs? No swimming meant no swimming.
He raced over, meeting Morgan, the lifeguard on duty’s grim gaze as she flew down the steps. He grabbed a flotation device and streaked to the water, kicking off his shoes as he went.
As he pushed through the growing crowd, he heard someone ask, “Where’s Erik?”
Gavin’s stomach lurched and he stumbled in the damp sand. He found his footing, searching frantically for that bobbing head again.
No, no, no way in fucking hell was Erik dying on him. Not when Gavin was finally safe.
“Gav—” Erik swam harder and went under. He surfaced and sputtered salt water, choking.
Gavin’s heart hammered and everything went numb. They never got rip currents on their little beach. Never. Erik wouldn’t know what to do. Instinct would tell him to fight, to swim harder, to beat the current, just like everyone else who drowned from the panic that overtook them.
Bile climbed up his throat, the taste vile in his mouth. Erik was tired. Gavin could see it in the strokes, in how he barely kept his nose and mouth about the waterline. That’s what worried Gavin, not the going under fully but the inability for Erik to keep his head up. Gavin bolted down the beach, hoping Erik would follow him sideways instead of trying to swim against the current.
“Erik! Don’t fight it! Swim this way, along shore.”
Erik sputtered again, thinking Gavin was crazy. He struggled against instinct, because his brain said, “No, Gavin was that way, in front of him.” But Gavin was his friend—he wouldn’t lie. So Erik turned and swam to the side, along the beach. Surprisingly it was easier, but he was tired. So tired. The water kept pulling him back, and he wanted to go with it.
Gavin dove into the water and surfaced, taking long swipes at the waves, heading in his direction. Erik wanted him to swim faster, and he wanted him to go back, all at the same time. He loved Gavin too much to risk him.
“Gavin, no,” Erik yelled, not wanting the current to take him, too. He went under, just a little, enough for him to get a mouthful of water. So hard to stay up and above.
“Erik, just tread water. The current will stop soon.”
“I’m tired,” he hollered back. But Gavin was right—the fierce pull ceased, and the water here was actually rougher, the battering waves just as exhausting. “Don’t get killed for me.”
“Hang tight, Erik.”
How many times had he watched Gavin swim toward him? But now he stroked with a different purpose, that same lethal animal covering footage across the waves. It was weird, the sun beating down, the water sparkling, the sky so blue. They loved the beach, both of them. Skipped school to come here, even in winter. How sad to die here.
So tired. Erik fought to keep his head above water and went under again. It was harder to come back up, but he did, his lungs burning. His arms and legs were hotter and heavier than heated steel. So easy to simply go under and stop fighting.
“Erik, stay with me.”
“Save yourself,” he muttered. But he fought, because Gavin sounded desperate. Gavin would be sad if he went under forever.
“I’m going to toss this to you, okay? Hang on to it.” Gavin’s voice was closer. Something pinged on the surface of the water, splashing him. Erik grabbed for it and held it to his chest, leaning into the red flotation device, grateful he didn’t have to struggle anymore.
“I’m here, babe. I’m here,” Gavin said. “You hang on to that, okay? If you grab me, we’ll both die. You understand?”
“I don’t want to kill you.” Was that his voice, that weak, mumbled whisper?
“Good. You hang on.” Gavin swam, towing Erik back to shore.
“Tired, Gav.” So tired. He couldn’t keep his eyes open, could barely hang on.
“You hang on, okay? We’re almost back.”
Forever was a shorter span of time. But after forever, the ground came up to his knees with a jolt, the sand biting. Erik let go of the flotation device and sank.
Gavin hauled him up by the hair, and then caught him around the shoulders, tugging him against his strong chest. “Sorry, Erik. But you’re not drowning on me in a foot of water. Come on.”
A crowd closed in on them, so many feet, so many hands, all reaching for him. Too many voices, too loud. They carried him and set him down on a towel. Erik sputtered again, his lungs still burning. He searched the sea of faces, all blurred until he locked on the one he needed.
Gavin was at his side, inspecting his arms and legs.
“Gav,” he whispered.
So much emotion there in Gavin’s eyes, especially the one thing he was desperate to see, but didn’t dare acknowledge. Gavin loved him. “You made it.”
“Thank you,” he managed. Gavin loved him. He held that tight and took that down with him, under a different kind of darkness.
Gavin rode with Erik in the ambulance and wanted nothing more than to hold Erik’s hand in his shaking one. He didn’t dare. He sat on the bench, Erik’s stretcher beside him, with the EMT on the opposite side.
Erik had weakly protested as the ambulance arrived and threatened to get up and leave, which sparked a family uproar. It freaked Gavin out, but it was oddly healing to see people he loved fight and not come to blows. Gavin answered the EMT’s questions as he’d been trained. Erik was exhausted, nothing injured, probably didn’t need the hospital but his parents had insisted, and so Erik had demanded Gavin go with him.
But the steel nerves that went with training had dissipated, and Gavin found himself a shaking, weak fucking mess. Story of his life.
“This smells like Colorado.” They’d given Erik oxygen, and he inhaled deeply, smelling the pure air. It was the most he’d said since threatening to leave on the beach. Erik replaced the facemask and gave him a tiny smile. “Yep. Fresh air.”
The EMT was jotting down statistics, so Gavin smoothed the hair back from Erik’s forehead. “Have you ever been to Colorado?”
“No,” he muttered through the plastic.
Gavin smiled, because this was totally unlike Erik’s brand of logic. “Then how do you know what it smells like?”
Gavin’s smile faded as he flashed back to the second he realized it was Erik in the water. He’d functioned on sheer rote from that moment on, because his instinct had wanted him to do everything wrong. “Why didn’t you call for help?”