Contemporary M/M Romance
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If only letting go of past mistakes were as easy as moving out of your father's house and into your boyfriend's!
Ashton Duval is a professor at the college Bailey attends, and even though there's no rule against dating students, he knows something about the strain that power imbalance puts on a relationship. He's been down that road before, and he doesn't want to put the man he loves in the position of feeling like less than an equal partner.
Bailey Harris has been in love before, with disastrous consequences. His heart tells him this time is different though. And after nearly two years of hands-off dating, he's ready to move forward with his boyfriend.
Secrets Bailey's held as treasures in his heart, emotions he hadn't realized were undermining his confidence, and a man from his lover's past all threaten to destroy the life they've been building.
Open windows let in the salt-soaked breezes of the California evening, and with them the laughter, shrieks, and good-natured hum of humanity that abounded in the early summer evening. One of his neighbors was barbecuing, and a delicious spicy sweet scent drifted in occasionally. He'd turned the television on for white noise when he arrived home an hour ago, and it continued to drone on in the background. These weren't the things that kept Dr. Ashton Duval from accomplishing what needed to be done tonight. The three unexpected and unanswered text messages from his ex, Dennis Romgarten, chair of his department at the college, weren't the cause of his distraction either. Nothing he had to say interested Ashton outside of working hours.
In the comfort of familiar surroundings with their incumbent noises, a pile of blue books which contained handwritten final essays from over one hundred fifty freshmen surrounded Ashton. His colleagues chided him for the old-fashioned method of test taking. They preferred their students to email essays in typed format. Ashton figured having the students in his composition classes actually write their final essays in class guaranteed the work he scored was original and not copy-pasted from elsewhere on the net. Handwritten exams also meant he had to squint and strain his eyes to read practically illegible handwriting from students no longer accustomed to working in pen and ink. The results were frequently disastrous, but often very telling.
He'd carefully sorted the exam books into piles, those that would be unbearably difficult to score, those that were sure to be brilliant, and those that would be tedious but not painful to read. Over the six years that he had been teaching Comp 101, he'd developed a reward system of sorts to make the task easier. One painful essay scored, plus three tedious essays, and then he'd be permitted to read one from the "sure to be brilliant" stack.
Usually that system worked just fine and allowed him to plow through the reading and have this portion of the grading for his class done before the final exam. The method ensured that he could grade the data assessment portion of the test, one hundred fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, and matching questions about correct word choice, punctuation usage, and grammar, quickly and easily. Usually.
This year, there were too many distractions and he wasn't at all able to focus on scoring the essays, not the good ones, the bad ones, nor the merely tolerable ones.
Instead, he sat in the early evening, regretting his insistence that Bailey not come over. He'd known that if his boyfriend were in the room, he wouldn't get a damn bit of work done. He'd hoped that the prospect of seeing Bailey when he finished his grading would give him incentive to finish quickly, but his masterful plan had backfired.
The television blithered on in the background about record amounts of summer traffic and potential danger from sharks or maybe ultraviolet rays at the beaches. He couldn't focus on any of that. The only thing his mind wanted to dwell on was that graduation was ten days away.
Ten days, each comprised of twenty-four hours. Two hundred forty more hours during which he would do his best to be a gentleman and keep his hands to himself and his lust in check. “Pomp and Circumstance” had soared to number one on his personal list of favorite songs ever.
Because after graduation, he and Bailey could move forward.
So while he should be thinking about whether the essays that he had to score met state standards, all he could focus on was that, in ten days, eighteen months of waiting would come to an end. Blue eyes and plump red lips interfered when he tried to comprehend a mind-boggling student analogy between Aristotle and John Lennon.
Strong, lean muscles and a flat, toned abdomen honed from working construction dragged his concentration away from a discussion of the merits of uniforms in school. Two hours of effort had seen less than a tenth of the papers graded. The tiny fourth pile of scored essays looked pathetic next to its counterparts on the polished oak table.
The peal of the doorbell was a relief from the self-castigation of not working. He tossed the paper he was grading onto the stack and rose. Pushing a frustrated hand through his hair, he crossed the jute carpet he'd chosen for his living area to the front door. Peering through the peephole, he couldn't help a broad smile. Bailey stood on the porch, rocking back and forth on his heels, looking like he'd come straight from work in his T-shirt and jeans.
Ashton opened the door and gestured for his boyfriend to enter. Bailey held up a white takeout bag, an uncertain expression on his face. "I know you said not to come because you had to work tonight," he said. "But I thought I'd bring dinner over."
Though he had requested that Bailey not visit so he could focus on getting the grading done and be free for the coming week, Ashton heard the insecurity and found himself unable to refuse. After the way Bailey had been mocked for his crush on Eden St. Cyr, his ego had been pretty fragile. "C'mon in." He gestured into the room. A halo of incandescent light from the floor lamp and the flickering lights of the television lit his comfortable leather sofa. "It's a bit of a mess." Seeing the vibrant younger man in his cottage reassured him. He wasn't like Dennis, he wasn't doing to Bailey what Dennis had done to him.
"I'm sorry. I know you said you were busy. It's just… I wanted to see you." Bailey stepped inside and pressed a brief kiss to Ashton's cheek. He crossed the room to the sofa but instead of sitting, stood hovering awkwardly with the takeout bag balanced in his big square hands. Ashton hurried after him and shuffled the graded blue books into one small pile and the un-scored essays into two larger piles that he stacked on the floor between the sofa and the lamp.
"Have a seat." Ashton gestured to the sofa.
Bailey dropped the bag on the table and sat, relaxing into the overstuffed arm of the sofa. Ashton paused to study him, and then returned to his position under the lamp. Clearly there was more going on here than an urge to see him. Turning, he smiled encouragingly at Bailey. The distance between them as well as the expression on Bailey's face spoke of his discomfort. "Is there something you'd like to talk about?" He reached out and placed his hand on Bailey's knee, gave an encouraging squeeze. Once, he'd been young and looked up at his lover like that. He hoped he did a better job of nurturing Bailey's needs than his ex had done for him.
Bailey met his gaze briefly before turning his attention to the TV that still played in the background. His cheeks were flushed and he seemed fidgety. "You don't think I can just stop by because I wanted to see you?"
Ashton slid closer. The clean scent of sweat and sawdust clung to Bailey, more potent than any cologne his past lovers had favored. He drew his hand up Bailey's arm to a shoulder then cupped the back of his neck, massaging the tense muscles softly. Leaning forward, he pressed his lips to Bailey's temple. "I think," he said, "that if this were any normal visit you wouldn't be so tense and distant." Not willing to accept the distance, not when their time apart was coming to an end, he wrapped his arms around Bailey and tugged him closer into his embrace. "Are you going to make me guess what's brought you here tonight when you should be studying for your exams next week?"
Bailey leaned against him and he could practically feel the heat of his flush through his shirt. "I need you to promise me you'll do something for me."
"Anything," he promised rashly.
"My dad and Eden want to throw me a twenty-first birthday slash graduation barbecue party. Will you come with me?"
He didn't have to think twice about that. In the eighteen months that he and Bailey had been seeing each other, he'd been waiting for an invitation to meet Bailey's family. He'd understood with the daily schedule of classes and work that finding time for the two of them was enough of a struggle. He hadn't pressed the issue of meeting Bailey's family, figuring Bailey would bring the subject up when he was ready. "Absolutely. When?"
"Tomorrow. Just like that?" Bailey drew back slightly, squinting at him. "You aren't the least bit worried about meeting my dad and Eden?"
"Should I be?" Ashton kissed Bailey lightly on the lips. "If I recall, they know you're gay. It will be the height of hypocrisy given their relationship for them to object to ours. I don't see any reason to be concerned about it."
Bailey cuddled close and heaved a sigh relief. "I know. It's just…I thought that it might be awkward since I'm moving in here after graduation."
"Graduation solves a lot of problems for us, doesn't it?" Though the community college didn't expressly forbid a relationship between a professor and a student, much to Bailey's chagrin, Ashton had refused to allow more than kissing and petting between them until Bailey was no longer a student at the college where Ashton taught composition to incoming freshmen.
Ashton tightened his grip and pulled Bailey closer, urging the younger man almost into his lap. Bailey went willingly, curling himself into Ashton and shifting until their bodies were pressed tight together, hip to hip, and thigh to thigh.
"You're sure you want me to move in here with you?" More tease than uncertainty lurked in Bailey's voice this time, so Ashton tickled him in the ribs until he giggled and pushed Ashton away.
"The bungalow is small, I know, but it's close to the beach and the neighborhood is great. If you'd rather live somewhere else, I'm not opposed to looking, but I'd love for you to live here with me while we look." Ashton fell back against the sofa, laughing. Bailey lurched forward, looming over him. Their gazes caught and held. The laughter died on his lips as he recognized the heat in Bailey's blue gaze. He swallowed hard as a surge of passion overtook him. They'd waited so long, resisted the desire that sparked between them even as it grew more and more insistent with each glance they exchanged, each kiss they shared, each caress they dared explore. "Bailey…" he whispered.
Bailey's mouth firmed with determination. He shifted, pushing Ashton back into the sofa cushions, propping his elbows against the arm of the sofa so he could lean forward and brush his lips across Ashton's mouth. Bracing himself for a familiar onslaught, Ashton exhaled softly. He'd expected passionate demand and entreaty, this soft coaxing kiss took him off guard and he opened to it immediately.
Bailey scooped his arms under Ashton, and despite their similar size, easily maneuvered Ashton into his lap. Ashton sat astride Bailey, their lips clinging in a dizzying caress that left him yearning for more.
The drone of the television faded into nothingness, replaced by the steadily increasing rhythm of his pounding heart. The rush of blood sensitized his skin and obscured every sound outside his body, until the only sounds he was conscious of were the low soul searing noises that Bailey made as the kiss deepened and his hands wandered.
Bailey bucked against him, pushing their groins together, and Ashton groaned. Yanking his mouth away, he panted. "Enough. Please."
"Please, Bailey. Honey, just a few more days. We've waited this long, a few more days is okay, isn't it?" In need of distance and distraction to get his passion under control, he lurched off the sofa and grabbed the takeout. "What did you get?"
"Thai. Sesame chicken and jasmine rice from that place around the corner that you like." He didn't need to see Bailey's face to know he was pouting, Ashton could hear the displeasure in his voice.