As I was breaking the news to Lark’s parents about their daughter’s death, I felt my gut clench. The more I thought about it, the more I was confident it was my fault Lark had taken her life. My harsh words had left her no choice in her mind, so she took a step I didn’t see coming. I thought the worst thing she would do was disappear with Judah. I had no idea she’d decide to leave forever.

I quickly found my phone and began researching flights for the Nutters. “What’s the nearest airport to them,” I asked Kennedy as his head was resting on my shoulder.

“Um, fuck. Betsey and Freddie live out in the middle of fucking nowhere. Try Jackson. It’s a drive, but it’s the closest. Oh, you have to go through Houston,” he explained.

I nodded and began my search. I got the next available flights, and I called them back to give them the information. Thankfully, I got Lark’s father. He was a kind man, thanking me several times for my help. Hell, it was the least I could do, in light of the circumstances.

Kennedy went to the bathroom while I was on the phone, and when he returned, I tried to assess his comfort level. “Have you had anything more than coffee this morning?” I asked. He shook his head.

“Come on, love. You need to eat something.” His head snapped up, and I rethought what I’d said.

I merely shrugged and took his hand, leading him down the hallway to the kitchen. Rory was cooking to beat the band, but it didn’t appear anyone was eating. “Fred and Betsey will be here tomorrow afternoon. Aurora, will you call Jude’s school? Ask them to get his things together and leave them in the office. I’ll get someone to pick up his stuff later in the week. Where is he?” Kennedy asked as he collapsed in a chair.

“He, Elijah, and Frank are outside. I think they’re playing catch or something. Did you call Mom and Dad?” Aurora asked.

Kennedy sat up quickly, appearing to be quite pissed. “No. Judah doesn’t want them here, and neither do I. Something happened when he and Lark went to visit last weekend, and he told me something he overheard. He heard KC inform Lark to get a lawyer because he planned to take Jude away from the ‘faggot and the whore.’ That’s a direct quote. Jude said Lark cried on the plane ride home.

“Now that Lark’s gone, I know they’ll take steps to try to get him from me, and I can’t let that happen, Rory, for many reasons,” he stated firmly.

I wondered if there was something at Lark’s house to alert him they’d already sought out an attorney as Lark had told me the last time we’d spoken. I hadn’t found the backbone to reveal the details of that discussion, but I needed to. I decided after the funeral would be soon enough. The next few days were going to be hard enough for Kennedy and Judah. No need to pile on.

He’d said he needed me, and I wanted to believe him so desperately. I would do anything to support him through the hell he was facing. I had my doubts he’d want anything to do with me after the truth about Jude’s paternity came out, and Kennedy found out I knew it before him and didn’t say anything. It was a risk I was willing to take because I wasn’t so sure how to proceed under the circumstances, and until I had a better handle on things, I wasn’t saying a word on the subject.

“Jesus, fuck. I swear KC’s so goddamn pigheaded. I’ll call them and tell them, but I’ll make it known you and Jude don’t want them here. If that’s their attitude, I doubt Betsey and Fred would want them here either,” Rory observed, correctly, I was sure.

I made Kennedy a plate of French toast and bacon, placing it on the table and forcing him to scoot forward. I got him some juice and coffee, and I leaned against the counter giving him the evil eye until he winked and dug into the food.

“Yeah, well, I doubt they’ll listen, but you give it a go. Anyway, Thorn and I are going over to Lark’s house after I finish eating. Thank you for the food, Aurora. It’s great,” he complimented as he doctored his French toast with butter and syrup before taking a huge bite. I stifled the need to laugh, remembering the voracious appetite he had back in the day. The man—boy at the time—could put away food like a damn pride of lions. I was thankful to see he still had an appetite considering the air of tragedy swirling around him.

Kennedy swallowed and downed the entire glass of orange juice in one gulp. I tried not to concentrate on the sight of him drinking because there were too many people nearby for me to think inappropriate thoughts at that moment.

He cleared his throat and continued. “I need to go through Lark’s papers to find Jude’s birth certificate and any other documents I’ll need to help the Nutter’s make arrangements. I also think I owe it to her to get anything out of there she might not want her parents to find,” Kennedy explained.

Rory nodded, putting up no argument which surprised me. “I hope you’ll do the same for us if something happens to Eli and me,” she responded with a gentle smile.

Kennedy stood from his chair and hugged his sister before taking his empty plate to the sink. “Let’s not talk about shit like that. Thank you, Rory, for taking care of Jude last night and for making all this food. I don’t know how you were able to spend the night with him without tipping him off something horrible had happened.”

She chuckled and smiled at Kennedy. “You seem to forget my husband is just about as mature as Jude. He had no problem entertaining him to distraction. Do you want us to take him home with us tonight?”

Kennedy closed his eyes and turned his head up to the ceiling, apparently unable to decide what to do. Hell, I didn’t know what the answer was because I didn’t have children, but I remembered when I lost my parents, and I was older than Jude. I wanted my aunt and uncle because I needed to feel like I had someone. I knew Rory and Elijah were Jude’s family, but if I’d have lost my mom and my dad had survived, I’d want to be with him.

“Um, I don’t have kids of my own, but I remember when my parents were killed. If I’d have had one of them still alive, I’d have wanted to be with them, just for the reassurance. I only had my aunt and uncle, and it was a comfort to have them with me.”

They both looked at me, and I could see Rory actually had a look of approval on her face which surprised me. Kennedy’s face showed gratitude. “Yes, I think that’s a good idea. I’m going to go talk to Jude, and then Thorn and I are going to Lark’s. I’ll be back.” He squeezed my arm as he left the room, leaving me with Rory.

She threw the wooden spoon from the stovetop into the sink and wheeled on me. “If you weren’t such a rock for him right now, I’d throttle you. If you’d have let him explain shit to you all those years ago, this whole situation might be different,” Rory speculated. I was coming to believe she was right.

Rory then continued. “Lark and I weren’t close in the beginning because I believed she trapped Kennedy with the pregnancy. Only after he started drinking did we form an alliance because we both loved him and needed to look after him. He was so hell-bent on self-destruction it was imperative the two of us keep an eye out for him, for Jude’s sake. We continued to keep up with each other to be sure Kennedy stayed on the right path, and before you tell me I should have seen something was going on with Lark, let me say I didn’t give a shit about her. I only cared as far as my nephew and brother were concerned,” she admitted.

“Did the two of you talk regularly?” I asked her. Maybe there was something Rory missed in Lark’s behavior that would signal a bigger issue? At that point, I was grasping at straws.

“Yes, we talked about things that were happening in both of their lives. It was more of a head’s up for trouble than friendly conversation. I know I come across as a gossipy bitch, but all I’ve ever tried to do was look out for Kennedy’s best interests. I love him, but he doesn’t really open up to me so I had to get information where I could so I could protect him. I have no more idea why Lark did what she did than a man in the moon, but I do know she came to talk to you. What did she say?” Aurora announced, turning the table on me.

I was surprised she knew about Lark’s visit, and I worried she’d tell Kennedy before I had the chance. I needed to shut her down immediately before things got any more out of control than they currently were. “Look, Rory, Kennedy doesn’t know Lark was in contact with me. She obviously didn’t mention it to him, and I don’t think it’s a good idea for him to know right now. Let him get through this bullshit, and then I’ll talk to him about things with Lark. I don’t think him knowing about it would make this situation any more tolerable, do you?”

Rory let out a breath, seeming to release whatever anger she had for me. “I suppose you’re right. Did she say anything to shed any light on why she took such a horrifying step?”

I sifted through the memories I had of her visit and settled on the one thing Kennedy had already mentioned. “She said your parents were going to try to take Jude away and she couldn’t allow it to happen.” I left it at that. The rest of the news wasn’t for her to be the first to hear. It was for Kennedy.

“Goddamn them. You know what? I’m not calling them. Kennedy needs a lawyer, so I’ll get Eli to give me the name of someone, and I’ll see if Kennedy wants to talk to them before the Nutters get here. I’m worried about them trying to take Jude, as well.” She wasn’t addressing me, so I had to assume she was thinking out loud.

“Are they the type of people who wouldn’t want their grandson raised by a gay couple?”

Kennedy’s sister was silent, so I turned to watch Kennedy talking to Jude in the backyard. Aurora cleared her throat and when I glanced in her direction, her eyebrow was crooked at me. “What?” I pressed her.

“You said a gay couple. Are you planning to stick around this time, or are you going to disappear once the heat’s off? If you’re not planning to be here for him, and that includes Jude full time, I have to ask you to just duck out now and leave us to deal with him. After this, he won’t survive if you take off on him again. Jude’s just lost his mom. It’s unfair for him to lose his father as well when Kennedy goes back to drinking.”

I took a deep breath because what I was preparing to admit would seal my fate. “I love your brother. I’ll stay and support him and Jude until he tells me he doesn’t want me here.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, apparently not finished with her comments. “What about your book? That won’t help your relationship heal if it goes to print.”

I hadn’t even thought about the book, but she was definitely right. The way it was written wasn’t going to be helpful to our situation at all. “I’m burning it. If you have any copies, please burn them as well. I’m going to write another one because I’m intrigued with the genre, and when I have something I think you’ll be interested in moving forward with, I’ll give you first pass.” She nodded in agreement just as Kennedy walked into the kitchen.

“You ready?” he asked as his head swiveled to look between the two of us, obviously sensing the tension in the room.

“Sure.” I followed him out the front door to my car. He stopped in his tracks and turned to look at me.

“That’s yours? I thought it belonged to someone else when I saw it the other night. What happened to that old MG you used to drive? It was your father’s or something, right?” he asked as I pushed the fob to unlock my new ride.

I laughed. “After the second Caine Winslow hit the best-seller list, I decided it was time to get rid of the MG, so I bought an Acura. I upgraded with each new book. When the last one hit the NYT Best Seller List, I dipped into my trust fund and bought this in celebration. I’ve had it about three months.”

He sat down in the passenger seat, squirming a little. I laughed, knowing the seats were absolutely incredible. I got behind the wheel and watched him as he took in the instrument panel. “Not bad, huh?”

“What the hell is it?” Kennedy asked.

“It’s a new Aston Martin DB11. I had it custom built.” I started the car and headed toward Lark’s place. Kennedy was like a kid, taking in the interior of the vehicle, and when he turned to look behind the passenger seat, I saw him frown a bit.

“What’s wrong?” I asked as I pulled into Lark’s driveway.

“Nothing at all. It’s a beautiful car, but I could never have anything like it because I have Jude. It’s still pretty damn hot. Do you still have my keys?”

I handed him the keys he’d given me earlier before I stepped out of the car, thinking about what he’d said. I’d never had to think about having a backseat in a car because I’d never considered I’d have a child in my life. That was something to contemplate another time, but it was definitely something to bookmark for consideration once things calmed a bit.

Kennedy took a deep breath as we stood on the front porch. I put my hand on his back and felt him press into it which was actually a relief to my heart and mind before he turned to look at me. “What brought you back to Spokane anyway?”

The question caught me by surprise for a moment until I replayed his words in my mind. “Oh, uh, it was too hot in Southern California in the summer, so I traveled for a bit after graduation. I was based in London for a couple of years, traveling around Europe. I moved back to the States, settling in Boston for a while where I started writing Caine Winslow’s first book. I sent the draft to Candace because her father owns Byrdsongand I hoped he could offer some criticism for me, but he insisted I come out so we could discuss the book. For a while, he worked with me until I found my legs on it, and then I ended up staying because Candace, who was a dear friend to me during college, became my editor. I always loved it here anyway, so I stayed,” I explained.

Kennedy nodded, slipping the key into the lock and turning it. I stopped him because I felt it was necessary to be honest about something. “Every time I’ve gone anywhere in town, I looked around for you, Kennedy. I don’t know what I thought would happen if we ran into each other, but in the back of my mind, I wondered what had happened to you. I’m still trying to process all of this, but I’m not sorry, okay? I’m happy Candace handed off that book to Rory. I’m glad we had the chance to clear the air between us,” I admitted.

Kennedy smiled sadly and hugged me. “I am too, Thorn. I can’t imagine what I’d do without you right now. This is more than I could handle on my own.”

I leaned forward and kissed his cheek before we stepped into the little house. I closed and locked the door, following him down the hallway to a room I hadn’t gone into earlier because the door was closed. I saw sketches pinned to the wall everywhere, and it occurred to me I had no idea what Lark did for a living. “What was Lark’s profession?”

He glanced around the room at the multicolor sketches and smiled. “Lark is a fabric designer, well she was. She was a first-class clothing designer, but Spokane isn’t exactly a hotbed of couture, so she got a job at a textile design company and she’s really good at it. Fuck, I need to contact them. I also need to check her messages and…” He broke down in tears again.

I pulled him into my arms, holding him close to me and stroking his back with one hand while the other one stroked his dark-blond hair. He held onto me like a lifeline, and I didn’t let go until he did.

After several minutes, he pulled back, drying his eyes. “I’m sorry. I guess that’s going to happen a lot. She was my best friend, and it seems crazy to think that she’s gone.”

I stroked his cheek gently, looking into his deep blue eyes. “You never have to be sorry for expressing emotions, Kennedy. Holding those things inside will only eat away at your soul. I know that for a fact. After my parents… Well, let’s just say I thought I had to be this stoic young man. If it wasn’t for Aunt Nora, I don’t know how it would have turned out for me,” I whispered feeling the gravity of the words.

“How are Nora and Rob?”

“Well. They’ll be here sometime tomorrow.”

His eyes were huge, and I chuckled. “Kennedy, they know how important you’ve always been to me. When I called them, they said they’d be here without a moment’s hesitation. They’ve always liked you, and when I told them about—before I went to San Diego to finish school, I told them the whole thing that happened between us. They both told me what a fool I was for not talking to you and giving you the opportunity to explain what happened that day. You’ve always had a special place in their hearts, and they want to be here to support you as well.”

He nodded and began searching Lark’s desk as I walked around her office to take in her sketches. She had a brilliant sense of design and color, pairing various hues and shades I’d have never imagined. It was indeed a loss on another level I’d never considered. It made me feel even guiltier.

“Fuck,” Kennedy hissed behind me. I turned to see him reading a letter from the pile of mail on Lark’s desk. I wanted to ask what it was, but it really wasn’t my place.

“Seems my assumption was right. Mom and KC got a lawyer. Goddamn. That’s all the fuck I need. It won’t go in my favor,” he mumbled.

“Why?” I asked. He looked up and seemed startled I was there. There didn’t appear to be a reason in my mind why his parents would get custody of his son from him. I was confused, but maybe it was the wrong time to discuss it.

“I’m sorry. I just…look, I can go sit in the other room if you’d prefer.” I wasn’t sure what else to say.

“No, please, don’t go. I lied about Lark not leaving a note for me. She did. I read it and ripped it up, flushing it down the toilet. If anyone knew the contents of that letter, I’d lose Judah in a heartbeat. I can’t let that happen, so I’m going to have to… Fuck, I don’t know what to do,” he lamented as he tossed the letter in his hand on top of the desk toward me.

I read it. It was from a New York attorney informing Lark that Kendall and Lillian Catrelle were filing a petition for custody of Judah Nutter Catrelle. I felt sick to my stomach. “Is the petition attached to something? It should be here somewhere. We need to get a lawyer, and we need to find out why you weren’t—you weren’t served, were you?” I asked.

He thought for a minute and frowned. “I’ve had so much shit on my mind lately, I haven’t gone to the mailbox. I pay all my bills online, so sometimes I forget to check the box. Goddammit!” he shouted into the eerie silence of the house.

“Look for anything that looks like a legal document. I’d say bring Lark’s computer home with you because you can hack into it if you’ve kept up your incredible skills. Why don’t we just grab her files to take to your place for you to go through later? You should go check in her bedroom for anything you think should be removed. I’ll go look in the kitchen and living room. They’re more innocuous, but…”

“Fuck, she’s got some of my porn in a box in the garage. Grab that, will ya?” I nodded and went back to the other rooms as he began gathering files.

I heard a commotion outside and saw the movers I’d hired to bring Jude’s things back to Kennedy’s. I stuck my head out the door. “Hey, don’t leave yet! I might have more stuff.” The large man nodded, and I went to the garage and located a box with Kennedy’s name on it. I opened it and saw a lot of gay porn inside, laughing to myself. I knew where he developed a taste for it—me. Even under the circumstances, my cock got hard as I remembered the first time we watched it together.

Oh, yeah,” I groaned as I stroked my hard cock, watching two guys on the big screen sixty-nining each other. It was definitely something I wanted to try with Kennedy, and when I found the video at a sex shop off campus, I bought it immediately. I’d seen porn online, but nothing like what I discovered at the store.

I was close to coming—so fucking close—when I heard the front door of our apartment open and close. “Babe, I’m home. I got tacos from that place you like near school,” Kennedy yelled. I heard him slipping off his shoes, and I realized I had two problems. I was sitting on our couch with my slick hand wrapped around my hard dick, and the two guys on the screen were loud enough he could hear it from the entryway. Oh, and the remote had disappeared somewhere.

God, baby,” one of them moaned which brought Kennedy charging into the room like an Olympic sprinter. In hindsight, it was quite ironic considering how things ultimately fell apart for us.

What the hell is… Well, well, what do we have here? My boyfriend is home in the middle of the afternoon yanking his crank while he watches porn. Why didn’t you wait for me?” he asked as he strolled over to the couch with a smug smile on his gorgeous face.

Fuck you, jackass,” I told him as I tried to stuff myself back into my boxers and jeans. He sat down and grabbed my hand.

Let’s not be hasty. Whatcha got here?” he asked as he pulled the remote from under the coffee table, turning up the volume.

I wanted to hide under the fucking coffee table, but as his hand found my cock, I couldn’t move. “You shoulda waited for me, baby.” He continued to stroke me, sending me into madness. I closed my eyes, and the sounds of the men on the television plus the feel of his hand working me, had me insane with desire.

When he manipulated my foreskin, I shot off in his hand with unabashed glee and his name shouted from my lips. “Kennedy!”

He lifted his hand and licked my juice off it, which was better than the visual on the screen. “Now, what brought this on? Do you do this all the time?”

I reached for the tissues on the end table and handed him a couple as I took a few for myself. “I wanted to try to make up for my poor showing last time I tried to fuck you,” I defended, remembering how quickly I’d shot my wad when I fucked him for the first time.

He leaned forward and kissed me. “You’ve gotta get over that. It wasn’t a poor showing, Thorn. It felt fucking great. Now, are you interested in doing something like that with me?” he asked as the two guys seemed to be climaxing at the same time based on the fact they’d stopped sucking and were both shooting off on each other.

Yeah, but I’d rather swallow what comes out of you instead of wearing it,” I teased as I turned off the video.

He took my hand and led me down the hallway to our bedroom. “Next time, you wait for me. Let’s get a shower to get the lube off you. I’d definitely like us to give sixty-nine a go,” he teased as he began unbuttoning his jeans.

I didn’t hesitate to strip off, and after the clean-up, we got very dirty, my mouth on his cock as his was on mine. I lasted substantially longer than I had the first time I made love to him, and Kennedy surmised a pre-emptive strike might help me in the future, to which I agreed immediately. It was an excellent night for the two of us. I shook off the memory and adjusted myself in my slacks. I put the lid back on the box and grabbed some shipping tape hanging on the wall to seal up the container. I wrote garage on top of it to ensure Jude didn’t end up with something he definitely wasn’t ready to have in his room. Someday, I’d have to ask Kennedy how his porn ended up at Lark’s house. Well, it would definitely be a conversation for the distant future.

To be continued…

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