“Tell me about yourself.” The young man sitting across the table neatly cut his steak. Romantic music played in the background and candlelight flickered, creating shadows on the walls of the restaurant. All around the room, couples leaned in close to one another, whispering their secrets and sharing heated smiles.
David Bartley sighed. “Shawn, this is ridiculous. When Grey said he wanted to set me up on a blind date, I didn’t think it would be with you. You’re seventeen.”
His friend recently married into the Wilson family, and somehow, Grey had developed their nosy stubbornness. Shawn Wilson grinned, showing off that charming Wilson smile, and David had to remind himself not to fall for it. Shawn was Grey’s new brother-in-law so nosy stubbornness was in his genes too.
“His intentions are good. He wanted to start you off with a comfortable date with no expectations. Then Gramps and Grammy found out, and things spun a little out of control. My whole family is on the hunt for your one true love,” Shawn said.
“This,” David said, gesturing between them. “Whatever it is, isn’t the path to true love.”
Shawn leaned forward. “Tomorrow night, New Year’s Eve, you’re going to a party with Ray. He says it will be a night you’ll never forget. You’re going to love it.”
Ray was a great guy, but he was twenty-seven to David’s forty-seven. He was also another comfortable date. David had talked to the man several times when he came to the house with Carter or Juan, the town’s two handymen and David’s good friends. Ray had even fixed David’s computer when the on button broke. If anything was going to happen there, as unlikely as it was, it would have already.
“So, again, tell me about yourself,” Shawn said, chin propped on fist. He tilted his head and grinned again. Damn it.
“What do you want to know,” David asked, giving in.
“You were a pilot, right?”
“That’s right, sweet cheeks,” David said. “I joined the military when I was a year older than you. I eventually completed flight school when I was twenty-six and flew plenty of missions.”
Shawn’s eyes widened. “That’s so cool,” he said. “Where are some places you went?”
“I’ve been all over Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. I guess my favorite was Istanbul. The Grand Bazaar was magnificent.”
“Why did you leave the military? It sounds awesome.”
David rolled his eyes. The military was so not awesome. There had been aspects of it that were great, but the overall experience left a lot to be desired. Still, he had helped quite a few people, so maybe he shouldn’t be so critical. “I did my twenty years and needed a change.”
“What did you do after?”
“Commercial flying.” David made a face and took a drink of his wine. “It was horrible. The company I flew for was very concerned with appearance. I couldn’t wear what I wanted. I couldn’t say what I wanted. I couldn’t do anything I really wanted. That was the whole reason I left the military. I was an officer and making good money, but I wanted freedom.”
“That sucks,” Shawn said, wrinkling his nose. “Is that why you retired all together? You’re old but not that old, right?”
David gave the boy a wry look. “Thank you so much for that comment.” He laughed at Shawn’s blush. “I make enough to live on from my pension, and I saved like crazy my whole life. My home here is the first house I’ve ever owned.”
“I’m glad you bought it. The old family that lived there were jerks. They had a son my age that would follow all the omegas around at school and say nasty things to them. His parents just laughed it off when someone complained.”
“Well, the house was definitely a fixer-upper.” His big Victorian had a lot of potential, with good bones and plenty of space, but David was relieved that Carter and Juan always made time for him whenever he needed them. The handymen were sweethearts and lifesavers, both.
“It looks better now than it ever did,” Shawn said. He polished off the steak in front of him. “Do you want desert? Papa says they have really good cheesecake here.”
“If you’ll share one with me,” he said. “I can’t finish it on my own. This salmon was too good.” David groaned, his belly full. At least he hadn’t had to watch what he ate on this date.
The waitress came over and Shawn ordered a piece of the cheesecake. “So, how was your fall semester and when does your Christmas break end,” David asked.
“We go back the tenth,” Shawn said. “This year’s been fine so far.” He leaned forward, a shy look on his face. “Can I tell you a secret?”
“Of course,” David said, leaning forward.
“There’s this girl,” Shawn said.
“All the best stories start this way,” David said excitedly, clapping his hands. “Well that or there’s this omega.”
“Her name is Rebecca. She’s so damn smart,” Shawn said. “She’s going to be valedictorian, and she’s going to try to go to MIT for computer engineering.”
“Impressive but what’s she like?”
“She’s really nerdy. She kind of reminds me of Grey and Elijah. She likes comic books and sci-fi, and she’s super smart. She’s funny, but she doesn’t mean to be.” Shawn smiled tenderly. “She’s really nice and is always the first one to step up when someone else needs help.”
“Okay, sweetheart, I see it now,” David said, on the verge of collapsing from the cuteness. “Are you two dating?”
“I want to, but what do I have to offer her?”
“You’re in high school. Offer her a date. Take her somewhere fun. You don’t have to marry her.”
“What about the future? If I start dating her now and we fall in love, then she goes off to MIT and I get left behind, what will I do?”
“Move to Cambridge?”
“I love it here, though.” His shoulders slumped.
“Again, Shawn, you aren’t marrying the girl. I love that you’re thinking about the future, but sometimes you have to live in the moment. You have a chance to make some good memories right now. Don’t miss it because you don’t know what the future holds. No one does, especially a teenager.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he said finally. “She may not even want to go out with me. There have been… incidents.”
“I hit her in the head with a basketball during gym. That’s when I first noticed I liked her.”
“Then, I tried to talk to her at lunch and dumped my tray on her,” Shawn said. David covered his mouth, trying not to laugh. The poor boy looked mortified.
“Yesterday, she was talking to Mike, he’s the guy everyone knows she has a crush on.”
“Oh no,” David said.
“I may have accidently bumped into him and suggested she had a boyfriend.”
“I know, I know. It was a shit thing to do.”
“You have to talk to her, Shawn. Now.”
“What if she doesn’t want to go out with me?”
“You won’t know until you ask, sweetie pie. If she doesn’t, then that’s her decision, and you have to respect it.” Their cheesecake arrived and the two quickly polished it off.
“Happy so far,” Shawn asked, laughing at David rubbing his full belly.
“That was so good. I needed a nice, relaxing night. Thanks, Shawn.”
“The date’s not over yet,” he said, standing and holding his hand out for David. “We’re going ice skating.”
“Oh my,” David said. “I haven’t been ice skating since I was a kid.”
“I’ll help, Mr. Bartley,” Shawn said pulling him from his chair. “Don’t worry.”
They walked to Shawn’s truck. “You really don’t mind spending a Friday night with an old man?”
“You aren’t old, Mr. Bartley,” Shawn said. “To be honest, I volunteered for this date. I really needed a practice date with no expectations too.” Shawn held his door open for him and David slid in, shaking his head. This teenager had been the most considerate date he’d had in a year.
“So, how did Cadbury’s first day home go?”
“He’s happy and adorable,” David said, smiling at the thought of his sweet, baby Angora rabbit. “He’s just a little ball of grey and white fluff. I love him so much.”
Shawn laughed. “Grey did good with his Christmas presents. I don’t think anyone was looking forward to getting rabbits for Christmas. Then, once each of you held them, oh god, you all fell in love, one by one.”
They pulled up to the lighted, frozen pond behind Farm Fresh. During the winter, the Wilsons allowed access to their pond every Friday and Saturday night, and at eight, it was hopping. It looked like Barry and his husband Jamie had Friday night duty. The two men, walked through the crowd, holding hands and making sure no one died. Zoe’s bakery had a stand up and running, offering hot cocoa and baked goods. David wondered why he hadn’t come here before.
“Hot cocoa first,” Shawn said, getting two pairs of skates from behind his seat.
“After that cheesecake? You sure know how to treat a date,” David said, laughing at Shawn’s blush.
Shawn paid for their cocoas and the two sipped and people watched. Shawn shot him a look. “So, I overheard Carter and Juan talking at Christmas dinner.”
“Hear any good gossip?” David asked distractedly. He noticed a girl peeking from behind a tree. She glared at Shawn, then slipped onto the ice, skating away at a furious pace.
“Carter said they finished your nursery, but he wanted to talk to Harper about making you a homemade cradle for the baby.”
David turned to face Shawn, full of panic. “Fuck.”
Shawn looked smug. “I didn’t tell anyone, so don’t worry. What’s that all about though? You’re a beta, like me, so you can’t get pregnant, and I know you don’t like women that way.” David ignored him and crossed his legs, admiring his thick, wool leggings and perfect, high-heeled boots. His legs looked good. He spread his hand on his knee, admiring his nails. His favorite red polish looked perfect against his dark skin. “Mr. Bartley?”
“Oh, fine,” he said, huffing, and turned toward Shawn. “It’s story time, darling. So, I’ve always wanted kids. You’re used to having all that family, but I don’t have anyone. My grandparents died before I was born, and I’m not close to my parents or siblings. I’ve dated and dated and dated, but I’m tired of waiting. I’m forty-seven. If I don’t start a family now, I’m afraid I never will. Plan A was to find Mr. Right, get married, then adopt some babies. That hasn’t happened, so it’s on to Plan B.”
“I get it, Mr. Bartley,” he said. “It’s why everyone is set on you finding someone. We want you to have what we do. Are you adopting?”
“I hired a surrogate from out of state,” he said. “She’s gone through the process with two other couples, and this will be her last time. She’s about ready to start her own family.”
Shawn grinned. “That’s awesome. Is she pregnant?”
“Yes. She’s three months along and is having the first ultrasound tomorrow.”
“Do you get to go? Can they tell the gender yet?” Shawn looked so damn excited. It made David happy to talk to someone about it. He’d been holding in his joy for so long.
“She prefers no contact, but she always sends copies of everything the doctor gives her. I want to respect her privacy, so I won’t go to Connecticut until right before the baby is born. Now, from what I know, this first ultrasound won’t tell us the gender, but it won’t be much longer.”
“Oh my god, this is so awesome. I take it only Carter and Juan know. Otherwise, the whole Wilson clan would be all over it.”
“Yes, so let’s keep it quiet, okay?”
“You got it. Now, are you ready to skate?”
“I don’t know. There’s a girl out there staring daggers at you. I’m afraid she’ll skate over me to get to you.”
Shawn followed his gaze, then hunched his shoulders, trying to hide behind David. “That’s Rebecca. Isn’t she beautiful?” He peeked around David’s shoulder.
The girl was pretty, in a nerdy kind of way. She didn’t look happy to see Shawn, though. “I think you need to get out there and talk to her,” David said.
“You’re right. I’m going to do it.” Shawn hurriedly pulled on his skates. “I’ll be right back, alright?”
“You got it, sweet cheeks.”
David watched as Shawn expertly skated around the other people on the pond, quickly catching up to Rebecca. The girl glared and tried to skate away, but Shawn grabbed her hand, trying to stop her. They both toppled over in a pile. Luckily, Shawn landed on the bottom. Rebecca tried to stand up, long limbs waving in the air. David could hear her yells from his seat on the bench. Straddling Shawn, she suddenly stopped yelling and stared down at the young man in surprise. He talked fast, eyes earnest, and David hoped it was good.
“Why is your date being manhandled by some girl on the pond?” Elijah Wilson sat down beside him. David looked around and noticed the young omega’s alpha and daughter skating. Olive skated well, but Carter was wobbling. The little girl held his hand, doing her best to help. His friend may be the best handyman ever, but he couldn’t skate for shit.
“Shawn is having girl problems,” David said. “No one is supposed to know, though.”
“That’s hard to miss,” Elijah said with a laugh watching the two teenagers talk, Rebecca still perched on Shawn’s lap. He turned his attention to David, practically vibrating in his seat. “I overheard Carter talking to Juan at Christmas dinner.”
“Fuck a duck. Did everyone overhear them?”
“Possibly,” Elijah said. “We’re a nosy bunch and knew they had a secret.” The younger man wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “I go to my first doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning.”
“My surrogate has one tomorrow too.”
Elijah bounced happily. “Oh, we’re going to have so much fun, David. Our kids will be the same age, and they’ll both have Grey’s son too. Little Rue will be less than a year older than them, so I know they’re all going to be best friends.”
“Are you stealing my date?” Shawn interrupted Elijah as he approached. Rebecca and he held hands, both blushing with hearts in their eyes.
“Well, I think Ms. Rebecca here stole mine,” David said. “It’s only fair that I’ve moved on, Shawn.”
“Our date was going so well too,” Shawn said, shaking his head.
David shut and locked the front door behind him, then bent over to unzip his boots. The night had been wonderful but not romantic. He wanted a partner. Someone to stand with him and love him. He specifically wanted a certain strong beta with a big heart and a sweet smile. He knew exactly who he wanted, but he would never belong to David.
He padded into the living room and opened Cadbury’s cage. “Hey, little man,” he said, cuddling the grey Angora bunny close. “Did you miss me? We’ll have some time to play tomorrow before my next date. Blah.” He put the bunny back into his cage and shut it.
His phone rang and he checked the screen. “Greyson, my darling,” David said. “What were you thinking with this date? Shawn is seventeen.”
“It was a good first date, right?”
“I have dated before,” David said. “I didn’t need a practice date. It was a good one, though. Shawn is just adorable.”
“He is a sweetheart,” Grey said. “We’re going to find you someone special, David. I promise. You deserve the best. Now, at Christmas dinner, I overheard Carter and Juan talking about something.”
“Oh my god,” David said, exasperated. “Yes, I’m having a baby. I hired a surrogate.”
“What?! I heard Carter talking about adopting a hamster for Elijah. You’re having a baby? Why didn’t you tell me? When is it due? I need details, David. Right now!