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Wintersweet by E. Davies (1)

1

Josh

“He said it was completely up to me to choose his ring, because he’s chosen mine.”

Nico paced back and forth in front of the cabinet, his arms folded. Wisely, the salesperson was standing well back, giving them time to talk.

Josh raised his eyebrow at Nico. He was so sweetly naive sometimes, despite having been engaged to Deen for longer than Josh had even been dating his own boyfriend, Evan. And Deen was... well... a little more high-maintenance sometimes.

“And you believed him?”

“What? It isn’t up to me, is it?” Nico blinked, then sighed. “Damn it. I was supposed to pick up on all those subtle cues and just know, right? And now he’s going to go into full Groomzilla mode if I get the wrong one. What did he get me? Can you tell me?”

“Relax. He’s already in Groomzilla mode. What more can go wrong?” Josh flashed Nico a big grin.

Nico didn’t seem to appreciate it. He flipped Josh off, then started pacing again.

Fine. It was time for the soft approach. “Hey, man.” Josh caught Nico’s shoulder when he passed by again to stop him, then turned him gently to face the cabinet. “He loves you. You love him. You know all this shit already, you just don’t know you know. Start with the easy question. He wears jewelry sometimes. Is it always silver or gold or something else?”

“He wears... uh... silver.”

Josh nodded. He’d seen Nico with necklaces, bracelets, or rings from time to time. Especially in his promo images—rock stars like him didn’t go for the unadorned look. “That’s what I thought. What about you?”

“I don’t wear stuff. But I guess silver would look okay on me.”

Josh wasn’t an expert at this stuff, but he didn’t think Nico was wrong. “He seems like the kind of guy who’d like matching rings. He chose silver for you, by the way. He said I could say that.”

“God, yeah.” Nico laughed, his shoulders finally unwinding. “Good. Okay.”

As his role in the wedding, Josh had volunteered to take care of the rings along with Nico. One more task off Deen’s plate was a good thing. He hadn’t expected Nico to walk in and panic, but then again, Nico cared about Deen like nothing else.

Of course he wanted everything to be perfect.

Deen had found the perfect ring—seriously, it couldn’t have been better—and now the heat was on Josh to make sure that Nico’s choice was just as perfect. No pressure, right?

“Okay, so we’re looking for a silver ring that screams Deen. See? Easy,” Josh told Nico and clapped his shoulder. As far as he was concerned, keep it simple, stupid was the rule to live by. One decision at a time.

The jeweler, perhaps sensing it was a safer mood to do so, approached them. “Can I help you gentlemen?”

“Maybe a little,” Josh answered. “We’re looking for a wedding band for Nico’s fiancé.”

The word might be spelled differently when the other half was a dude, but it was pronounced the same. He steeled himself for the explanation. Knoxville was one of the better places in Tennessee, but it still wasn’t always the friendliest.

“Oh? Well, do you know their taste?” The jeweler seemed polite and not pushy, but it was the words that mattered most. A single pronoun made all the difference.

Nico had heard it, too. He flashed the guy a smile. “Yeah. He’s pretty flashy, but not over-the-top so. He’s in a creative field with a lot of different costume changes, so I’m thinking something stunning but simple that can go with everything.”

“Well, let’s talk about some band widths.”

Josh followed after Nico as the jeweler took over to explain options. He was all smiles now, listening to the two of them talking about rings.

He’d only been with Evan for a couple months now. They were still getting to know each other’s shirt size, let alone their ring tastes. But he could see a kind of future with Evan he had never seen before.

Engagement didn’t mean much to him—nor marriage, really. But commitment did, and their commitment was deepening with every day they lived and worked together.

Evan had helped Josh through his bad days, and been there to celebrate the good ones. He’d brought in more bookings for the new year than Josh had ever seen before Christmas even rolled around. He was a fucking genius in the boardroom and sex god in the bedroom. Stumbling into him had been the best thing Josh had ever done.

So if Evan decided one day he wanted a ring? Josh was gonna be back here in a heartbeat. Whatever Evan wanted, Josh would give him.

“Hey. Do you think Deen was dropping a hint a couple weeks ago when we hung out?”

Josh dragged his attention away from his boyfriend and tried to remember the last time he and the brothers had all hung out together—when they’d chosen planning tasks.

The wedding had been “a while away” and then “pretty soon” for some time now, but Deen had finally admitted to Josh that he wanted a winter wedding just after Christmas.

That worked perfectly for Josh. Just after Christmas, he was normally closed anyway. This way, he could shut the ranch down for the weekend, make it exclusive hire, and go all-out. And all of them—plus Deen and Nico’s families—could stay in their own cabins. The afterparty was going to be epic.

“He said they’ve found a new stone that’s guaranteed to be cruelty-free, unlike diamonds. I know these ones are fine,” Nico assured the jeweler, “but Deen’s the kind of guy who’d worry about it. And it would look good to the press, right?”

“It would.” Josh nodded his approval. “Yeah, now that you mention it, I remember him bringing it up. Shit, I’m glad you remembered. How many guys does it take to pick up on his hints? Between us, we might manage.” He wiped his forehead.

The jeweler stifled a laugh. “All right, we can look at moissanite, if that’s something he’d like. I do have some rings to choose from there. It’s popular with younger people who want to be more sustainable, you’re right. All moissanite is lab-grown. If you’re looking for sustainable and unusual materials, we partner with a few local artisans who use unusual materials.”

Josh’s ears pricked up. “Like what?”

“Wood, dinosaur bones, titanium, meteorites, you name it.”

Josh elbowed Nico hard at that last word. His former-astronaut friend had definitely heard it, too. “Take a look at that.”

It was pretty damn similar to the ring Deen had chosen. In fact... shit. This looked like the same jeweler.

Josh reached over to take the catalog before Nico could spot the ring in the middle of the page: an etched pattern in silver, with meteorite shavings embedded in white gold. Better still, they were inlaid in the shape of mountains against a black meteorite sky, with flecks of silvery metals embedded in the ancient, glossy black rock.

It was the best damn ring Josh had ever seen, and perfectly fit Nico. On the other hand, if Nico found something else from the same people, it might match better...

He leaned in and flipped the page, skimming the rest of the options, and a hint of hot pink caught his eye. “Dude!”

Nico yelped when Josh smacked him. “What?”

“Look!” This one had the same meteorite shavings embedded in white gold, but set against a dark black glossy ebony wood, and inlaid was a bright pink guitar string.

When Josh looked at Nico, his heart filled with a strangely warm glow. His friend looked so fucking happy as he stared at the page. “Wow. That’s just... wow. I want that one for him.”

“Then get that one,” Josh told him. He wanted to jump and shout—matching rings, goddamn! He was going to get so many bonus points for this. But he had to play it cool and not spoil the surprise.

“It won’t be too different from mine?”

“Nah,” Josh said with a confident smile. “He’s got you something that suits you. You get him one that suits him. They’re both silver, it’s not going to be like he’s wearing eighteen diamonds and you have a scratched-up steel ring.”

Nico laughed and nodded. “Okay. I’ll get a guitar string from him today.”

“Did you want to see anything else, or...?” The salesman cast a hopeful glance down at the catalogue as he flipped to more expensive options.

Josh leaned in. “Nope. This one.” He used his pointed, yet polite, voice.

The salesman opened his mouth and then closed it again, flipping back to those pages. “Got it. Perfect. Do you have his ring size?”

“You bet.” Nico dug the slip of paper out of his pocket.

Josh didn’t miss the glimmer of wetness in his friend’s eye, but he let it go. Finding the perfect ring—seriously, was there a better one out there anywhere?—made everything suddenly felt more real than ever. Both the wedding and the beginning of their life together. And Josh wasn’t even the guy getting married.

Yet. Evan had dropped hints that he’d always daydreamed about getting married. Three months was a little too soon to pop the question, but next year? He’d marry the hell out of that guy.

First, he got to watch one of his best friends in the world walk down the aisle with the man of his dreams. It was enough to make him a little teary-eyed, too.

Before long, the second of their rings ordered and the salesman’s hand shaken, they walked out of the shop. Josh took it slowly since Nico still looked dazed, but he was smiling in the kind of way that meant all was right with the world.

“Thanks,” Nico said quietly.

“You good?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good. You?”

Josh grinned and pulled him in for a hug. “Never been better. C’mon. Let’s get you home and back to the planning war zone.”

Nico laughed. “God help us.”

And if they both sniffled a little before letting go of each other, they didn’t need to mention it. After all, they’d both felt it at the same time: despite what Nico had once secretly feared, the happiest days of his life were still ahead.