Kieran Talbot couldn’t cook.
He accepted that as fact as he leaned over the kitchen counter and let his forehead thunk down on the mottled brown granite. Mostly accepted it. If he could concentrate a little more, he’d probably be able to follow a recipe and not miss an ingredient—like water—or skip a step—like setting a timer. Then he’d have a cake instead of a brick.
For god’s sake, it’s only Betty Crocker not Hell’s Kitchen. Or any of the other completely unhelpful cooking shows that weren’t teaching him a damn thing.
With a grunt, he pushed up from the counter to begin cleaning up the mess he’d made. Well, the kitchen looked like a disaster with ingredients everywhere and one drawer emptied of utensils from when he went looking for measuring spoons. He was a mess, too. Dark powder looked like fine dirt on his jeans. There was probably cake mix in his hair.
At least it wasn’t an ice cube down his pants. He grinned. That definitely taught him not to make margaritas and scratch a lower back itch while wearing loose lounge pants. And then it had gotten really interesting when Harkin helped that little ice cube melt into Kieran. He’d never thought having a slippery bit of ice eased up his ass could feel so startlingly good.
A low, sexy hum reached Kieran’s ears and he looked over to see Harkin leaning against the doorframe. His brown eyes were closed and his lips curled in a little smile. Heat crept up Kieran’s neck and flooded his cheeks. He wasn’t controlling his own emotions at the moment so they were definitely broadcasting to Harkin.
Oh jeez. And how many other nearby pack members were experiencing the emotional result of Kieran’s naughty thoughts? Mentally, he blew the imaginary bubble that was the barrier he’d chosen to keep himself from accidentally influencing the emotions of other nearby werewolves. Why he’d chosen a bubble, of all things, he still didn’t know. It hardly seemed like an effective impediment, but it worked for him and had been a really important lesson learned.
Harkin opened his eyes and his gaze slid down and then back up Kieran’s body. “I came in because you were stressed, but now…” The alpha’s grin turned wicked. “Anything I can help you with?”
His face felt even hotter now. Even after four months, being so desired was still amazingly new to him. It was mostly lust right now—he knew that—but Harkin was actually making an effort to get to know him. Harkin wanted Kieran to be his husband, and Kieran wanted to work toward that. He just hadn’t ever known this level of amorous attention before.
It was thrilling. Really thrilling.
When Kieran smiled, Harkin pushed off from the doorframe and strode into the kitchen. The sunlight slanting in from the loft’s window above them made Harkin’s dark hair sparkle red. Kieran had time to raise his arms up before his mate was gathering him close and kissing him. Willing himself to let go of his worries, Kieran settled his arms across Harkin’s broad shoulders and leaned into him. Harkin liked it when he submitted and it wasn’t a problem for him to do that every single time.
Mostly it wasn’t a problem.
He tilted his head back for a breath and shivered when Harkin kissed his throat. He gave up his weight to Harkin’s strong hold and gave in to whatever he wanted to do next. It was easy for Kieran to let someone else be in control. He sought it out, let Harkin lead so he could follow. He just wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do.
“Hmm?” Oh, great. Way to space out while your man’s making out with you. “Um, sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Harkin smiled a little and cocked his head. “Not interested in more right now?”
“No! I mean, yes, of course I’m interested.”
Harkin’s smile grew and he hugged Kieran tighter. “It’s okay if you’re not. Sometimes a kiss can just be a kiss.”
“But you…” Kieran frowned. “Don’t you?”
“I do, but there are two of us here. You have a say.”
“Oh.” He’d never thought of it that way.
Harkin studied him closely. “If you aren’t in the mood—”
“No, it’s not that. I’m not forcing myself or anything.” Kieran tucked a lock of brown hair behind his ear. That was another thing, his hair was getting girlishly long. Harkin—whose hair was cropped short—liked burying his fingers in Kieran’s and sometimes tugging, and Kieran liked it when he did. Is that normal? He sighed. “I just…have some stuff on my mind.”
Harkin rubbed Kieran’s lower back. “Tell me?”
“It’s feelings and stuff.” He shrugged.
Kieran looked up into those clear brown eyes. “You want to talk about my feelings?”
“If you do.” He leaned against the counter and kept him close. “Kier, if something’s wrong or got your mind twisted up, I want to help you.”
There was Harkin’s concerned look. Kieran tensed, but then made himself relax. No reason to feel defensive, nobody was trying to run his life. Learning to see that people wanted to help him help himself had been key in the beginning of his therapy sessions, and he knew that’s what this was. He did. The social worker in the pack, Sabrina, called herself an enabler—in a good way—because she was empowering him to change his life. Harkin asking to talk now was him doing the same thing. So let him help.
Kieran cleared his throat and went for it. “I can’t cook.”
“Okay.” He frowned a little.
“No, I mean, I can’t like I won’t let myself. I’ve got this sort of mental block where stuff like that is concerned. I think I might be sabotaging myself.” He glared at the cake mix box because he knew he’d meant to add water and he’d meant to set the timer. But then he just…hadn’t.
“Stuff like cooking?”
“Hey.” Harkin’s frown deepened. “Cooking isn’t women’s work. Half the people in the cooking club are male.”
“Okay, I know that, but traditionally and historically there’s this perception associated with women and cooking. I think that’s messing with me.”
“Are you saying your mental block with cooking has something to do with seeming more feminine—”
He looked down. “All of it does.”
He knew he was a head case and knew most of it he’d done to himself while trying to be seen as more normal. He also knew he’d never been sure what normal was. Breaking those things down was what had his brain doing all sideways.
“All of what?”
With a quiet groan, Kieran turned away. “I tried to learn manly things. When I—” He gulped and kept his back to Harkin. “When I was at the…the Academy of Divine Living, I wanted them to teach me how to be more of a man. I learned how to hunt and fish and work with wood. I—”
“What?” He peeked through his shaggy bangs at Harkin.
“Why did you want to learn those things at the commune?”
“Because I’m so… I’m such a wuss.” He lifted his arms up and then dropped them to his sides again. “I couldn’t stand being alone before that cult fucked me up. Everything scared me and I only felt less crazy when I was with someone who…” He took a deep breath, feeling shaky. He crossed his arms. “Someone who—”
“Cared about you.”
He nodded and stared at his sneakers.
“You’re part werewolf, Kier, and an elenktí. You’re not less manly because your emotions rule you. You’re just built differently from non-empathic wolves and especially from humans.”
“You said it yourself: my emotions rule me. Just like a girl.”
Harkin moved in closer, resting one hand on Kieran’s shoulder. “Being an elenktí has nothing to do with your gender. But it does have everything to do with your sensitivity.”
“Ah, hell.” Kieran wiped a hand over his face and just kept his eyes closed.
“Yes, you’re a sensitive man, Kieran.” Harkin gripped both his shoulders now and massaged them. “That’s not a bad thing.”
Sensitive. Ugh. He didn’t want to be the sensitive kid anymore. Teachers had called him that when his mom had to come pick him up from school after some bully made him cry. “Kieran’s just more sensitive than normal boys his age.” Then his dad bought him first-person shooter games, his mom shooed him out of the kitchen when she cooked, and he tried to man up so he could be a normal boy. Whatever that was.
Oh and then he’d gotten a raging crush on his lab partner in freshman chemistry. The sensitive thing might’ve made sense if he was gay, but he’d also seriously been attracted to the girl who was his final project partner in history that year. It wasn’t until he’d made it to his junior year that he’d figured out he was bisexual and that the sensitive gay thing was a stereotype. He’d met plenty of gay and bi guys who didn’t have a single sensitive molecule in their whole bodies.
“Sensitive doesn’t mean feminine,” Harkin said, “and it sure doesn’t mean lesser.”
“Maybe for someone like you.” He snapped his mouth shut.
Fine, he’d run with this, too. “Masculine. Strong.”
Kieran nodded at the floor.
Harkin took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “Okay. I feel like everything I say is making it worse.”
Crap. He turned around and took hold of Harkin’s belt. “No. I mean, it’s good to talk. With you. I’m just…” Messed up. Weird. Confused. Lost.
Harkin smiled as he finger-combed Kieran’s hair away from his face. “I’ll always talk with you about whatever, but maybe you should talk to Sabrina about this.”
He resisted for a moment, but then let himself rest his head in Harkin’s hand. The big man smiled, clearly pleased. He kissed Kieran’s cheek, just below his eye, where he always did when he was feeling sweet.
“Just please understand, Kier, that I don’t think of you as being less manly because you feel stronger about something than I do. Than anyone does.” He put a hand on his own chest, over his heart. “I think you’re pretty perfect. So if you want to cook, cook. If you want to chop down trees, do that. I don’t care what makes you happy; I just want you to be happy.”
Kieran rubbed his cheek into Harkin’s palm. The contact always made him feel better. “And if I want to submit to you…” He swallowed hard and straightened up, not meeting Harkin’s gaze. Dammit, everything was popping out of his mouth without thought today.
“Is that… Kieran, if you want to switch it up— Do you want to take a more…assertive role when we—”
Crap again. Harkin sounded like he was shocked he’d missed something or gotten it wrong. Kieran couldn’t let him think that.
“No,” he said. “That’s the thing. I, um, don’t.”
“So you like it best when I’m…dominant?”
Harkin sighed and held Kieran’s face in his hands, making him look up. The soft smile was back. “Then, sweetheart, if I’m happy and you’re happy, what’s the problem?”
He shrugged. “It’s one more thing in the long list of girly—”
“You need to stop thinking like that. You just do.” His eyebrows arrowed down, furrows in his forehead, and something a little angry lurked in his eyes. “If it doesn’t come naturally and you fake it, that’s one thing, but if you’re being yourself… That’s just not wrong, Kier.”
He wanted to back down, not do what was feeling like arguing, but they were communicating and he knew that was good. “Some people think—”
“Fuck people.” Harkin leaned down into Kieran’s face. “I accept you. I know your family does. Anyone who doesn’t is the one with the problem.” He dropped a quick kiss on Kieran’s mouth before pulling him into a hug.
Kieran inhaled a deep breath and then let it out slowly. Harkin’s hugs always calmed him like a warm bath. Wrapped in these brawny arms, he felt like he could drift and not think and it was so perfect. He snuggled in closer and told himself it wasn’t wrong to seek such comfort.
“Tell me you understand, Kier,” he whispered, his words ruffling Kieran’s hair.
“I do. I’ll try to work this out. I’ll talk to Sabrina.”
“Okay. That’s good.”
“She and I have been talking about this stuff—the whys of everything—but I hadn’t gotten to saying these things yet.” He rubbed his face into Harkin’s neck. “I’m glad we talked about it first.”
He’d never liked discussing someone in therapy because it felt like talking about them behind their back. That Harkin knew kind of made Kieran feel like he could open up to Sabrina more next time. She’d probably say a lot of the same things Harkin already had, but that was a good thing, too.
“I’m glad, too.” Harkin rubbed his big hands in small circles against Kieran’s back. “I know it’s not easy,” he said, his voice a rumbling comfort now, “but just remember that I’m here and I think you’re wonderful in everything you do. I won’t turn down cuddles, I’ll get you a tissue if you cry, and I certainly won’t say no to anything you want to cook for me.” He paused and sniffed a few times. “Speaking of… What is that…item you made?”
Kieran snorted and lifted his head. “It was supposed to be a chocolate cake. I forgot the water and then let it bake too long.”
Harkin chuckled, but then tried to turn it into a cough.
“Yeah, yeah.” It was kind of funny now.
Harkin stared at the anomalous baked good. “Think it’s still edible?”
“It’s basically a brick.”
“Yeah, but it’s a chocolate brick.” He let Kieran go, and then picked it up. He whapped it on the counter. A chunk broke off, and he popped it into his mouth and chewed, the crunch loud. After he swallowed it down, he said, “Okay, it’s a little dry, but it’s still chocolatey.” He waved Kieran out of the way.
He stepped aside and let Harkin get into the fridge. “You don’t have to eat it.” But it was kind of sweet that he wanted to.
Kieran laughed a little since, apparently, his mate was an equal opportunity chocoholic. Should he point out the extra thick, dark chocolate frosting? In a minute.
Harkin got out the milk and poured himself a tumbler of it. Then he broke off another chuck of the brick and dunked it. He checked it a couple times before something must’ve told him it was properly saturated. This time, when he chewed it up, the crunch was minimal. Harkin grinned and hummed, “Mmm.”
While Harkin dunked the next piece, he looped an arm around Kieran and drew him closer. Half-hugged and pretty much pinned to the counter behind him, Kieran felt that thrill of desire amp up into a heated wave. Always got to him, right in the gut, that Harkin wanted him. He’d spent so much time thinking himself too messed up to be anyone’s Mister Right, it was a pulse-pounding realization every time he saw this truth.
Harkin held up the chocolate bit, and Kieran opened his mouth. A drip of milk landed on his chin, and he gasped from the cold of it. Harkin rumbled and leaned a little harder into him as Kieran closed his lips around the moist treat. Harkin didn’t let it go, so Kieran sucked. With a wicked chuckle, Harkin licked the milk from Kieran’s chin.
Kieran swirled his tongue around the disintegrating chocolate and Harkin’s blunt fingers while feeling around behind himself on the counter. His hand bumped into the cake mix box, so he reached back farther and found the tub of frosting.
He grinned around Harkin’s fingers and gave them a sharp nip. Chuckling, Harkin took his fingers back and left the remaining chocolate bit behind. Kieran swallowed it down and brought the frosting around to show his chocoholic mate.
Harkin’s needy groan told Kieran he was so in for it now. He bit his bottom lip and smiled, letting Harkin take the frosting from his hand. With a definite leer on his face, Harkin adjusted his stance so he now hand a foot planted on either side of Kieran, keeping him where he was with a press of hips and a squeeze of thighs. Like I’d go anywhere now.
Harkin mostly paid attention to removing the plastic lid and peeling back the foil cover, but those brown eyes peeked at Kieran now and then. Kieran kept an eye on the opening of the frosting, feeling like Harkin was doing some kind of kinky strip-tease. Because he knew where that frosting was going to go and, yeah boy, he was getting hotter by the second from the anticipation of chocolate covered kisses, cocks, and everything in between. He’d be cleaning frosting out of the floor tile grout for the next week…and smiling every second of the time it took to do it.
Harkin looked him in the eye while his finger made a lap around the tub and got a big dollop of chocolate on the tip. Expecting Harkin to let him suck the frosting from that finger, Kieran opened his mouth.
But Harkin didn’t stick his finger into Kieran’s mouth; he slowly painted his bottom lip with dark chocolate frosting.
Kieran moaned. It got him so hot when Harkin touched his lips. Maybe because the look in those brown eyes was so intense. Maybe because he liked having his mouth open and available to whatever his mate wanted to do with it. Reminded him of how Harkin had kissed him after he gave the man his first blowjob.
He started panting when Harkin finished smearing frosting and leaned in with his own mouth open. Slowly, firmly, Harkin’s tongue swept across Kieran’s bottom lip. A whine of want leapt from his throat and a shiver of the same cascaded over him. Heat followed. Oh, god. Oh, god. He reached out for Harkin’s arms and fisted his shirt, tipped his head back, and closed his eyes.
“So sexy,” Harkin whispered. He grasped Kieran’s chin and tilted his head. “Doesn’t seem to matter what I paint your lips with,” he said, the grin in his voice evident, “you love it all.”
His face heated, but he wasn’t going to deny maybe that was what got him so hot: The memory of how he’d gotten cum all over his face, all over his lips, during that first blowjob. Harkin had kissed him, yeah, but he’d also licked him clean. Aw, man, it had been so hot. Kieran groaned now, tugging Harkin’s upper body closer, and owned the fact he loved being marked by his mate in every way. “Yeah, I love it. Yeah.”
Harkin just smiled like he knew that. Probably wasn’t hard to figure out since, even though Kieran wasn’t surprised when Harkin came in his mouth nowadays, he still pulled back to let at least one shot get him in the face. Chin, cheek, or especially lips.
Again, Harkin painted his bottom lip with frosting. This time, he kissed it away, smearing it between their mouths. It made Kieran laugh when they slid, sloppy, wet, chocolatey. Harkin pulled back, held Kieran’s chin again, and licked him clean.
“You know what I love with my chocolate?” Harkin licked frosting from his own lips.
“Yeah, it’s good. But better than that…” He paused to leer and grabbed Kieran’s belt buckle. “Better than milk is salt.”
He frowned. What does my belt have to do with… Oh. “Yeah, I like that, too. Completely.”
Harkin chuckled and undid his pants, while Kieran shivered in anticipation of his own blowjob. This man was the only one he’d ever had sex with, but Kieran had to believe Harkin was some kind of cock-sucking savant. He could make blowjobs last forever, didn’t care how much Kieran tugged what hair he could grab or how loud he begged, never flinched from an unexpected hip-thrust… When Harkin went down to his knees and took Kieran’s jeans down with him, he had to look up for a second and take a deep breath.
Out of the corner of his eye, Kieran saw Harkin’s hand reach up for the frosting tub. That had him looking down in a hurry.
Harkin had one fist wrapped around the base of Kieran’s hard dick and the other aiming the frosting.
“You’re— You can’t—”
But Harkin did.
Kieran sucked in a huge, startled breath and went up on his toes when his hot cock pushed into the cool frosting. It parted around him easily, thick and sticky…and too cold even at room temperature, but—
“Oh, gah-ah-ha-od,” Kieran said when Harkin pumped the tub back and forth on him like some kind of sex toy. Jesus, he’d never be able to look at frosting the same again. He’d get a boner from cupcakes now. “Oh, damn.”
Harkin took the tub away, and Kieran’s cock was chocolate coated from halfway. While he breathed for a moment, Harkin angled him this way and that, inspecting his creation. Kieran would’ve laughed if he wasn’t breathlessly waiting for the sucking to start.
Then Harkin licked just the tip, jolting Kieran and cleaning off the slit of his dick. Bright pink through the dark chocolate, the tiny hole burbled up a slightly opaque drop. He bit his lip, fingers digging into the edge of the counter, as Harkin made a happy rumble and leaned in. The swipe of his tongue all around the head of Kieran’s cock made him cry out, but it was Harkin licking up that drop that made him gasp.
“Mmm,” he said and looked up at him with what was definitely a devilish twinkle in his big, brown eyes.
“I’m not— You better— Harkin!” he hollered when his mate didn’t ease into the blowjob, but gobbled him up. Nothing sweet and smooth here; Harkin dove, clamped on, and vacuumed the chocolate off Kieran’s dick.
He could barely hold a thought, his whole body bobbing with Harkin’s movements, jerking from a particularly perfect suck, and generally losing it completely. This wasn’t one of the slow ones; Harkin was aiming for fast and hard to get the salty he wanted with his sweet.
“Oh, fuck. Oh, god.”
And then Kieran looked down and really saw what his mate was doing.
Harkin there on his knees… That was a submissive position. He hadn’t even hesitated to do it. He never did. So why did it matter if Kieran submitted? He groaned when Harkin’s hands started massaging his ass. Why should it matter? He rocked his hips, and Harkin took the shove of his cock into his mouth easily. Kieran was gasping now because of the feeling, the sight, and oh, god, it didn’t matter. It really didn’t matter who was on his knees. No statements, no roles.
“Doesn’t… Doesn’t matter.”
Harkin looked up and his questioning hum vibrated against Kieran’s cock.
Kieran shook his head. He couldn’t explain, not now. But there it was. He’d been so wrong to care about perceptions. He felt light, free, from his realization, ready to burst from Harkin’s attention, but had the presence of mind to check his emotional bubble and make sure it still held.
Smiling, Harkin pulled back. “Let me feel it, Kier.”
He knew what he meant. “You’re…you’re sure?”
He knew better than to just “pop” his emotional barrier bubble and let all that he experienced slam into Harkin; when he’d done that, Harkin had come so hard he’d been a twitchy mass of overwhelmed groaning for nearly an hour afterward. So now Kieran let the bubble dissolve, getting thinner and thinner, and watched his mate feel it.
It wasn’t the physical sensations Kieran passed to Harkin; he couldn’t make him feel the pressure or heat. What he gave him were the emotions the actions caused.
He let Harkin feel how thrilled and amazed he was by Harkin’s desire for him. The vulnerability layered onto the trust, onto the passion, onto the wonder. Kieran’s heart pounded from sensations tripping his nerves, but also from how completely wanted he felt.
Their eyes met, a tear glittering in the corner of Harkin’s, and Kieran knew it wasn’t from exertion. He let that last emotion roll through him, shared everything, and came with a shudder and a gasp, watching Harkin blink, the tear fall, and feeling him accept it all into himself.
As he regained control, Kieran considered rebuilding the bubble, but decided not to just yet. This was important. He knew it, and he knew Harkin did. No hiding now.
Harkin pulled away, most traces of chocolate long gone, and got to his feet as he wiped his mouth on his sleeve. His lips were red and swollen and he licked them wet before leaning in to kiss Kieran slowly.
He eased back, a palm pressed to the side of Kieran’s face. “I know what that was,” he whispered, his voice rough. “There at the end. You—”
“I love you.” Kieran swallowed hard as his eyes burned and rebuilt the bubble to save Harkin from the sudden slam of vulnerability that admission caused him.
“Don’t worry. I love you.” He kissed him soft and sweet, holding him so close and warm. “You don’t have to hide any of it from me, Kier.”
He leaned into Harkin and let the bubble fade again even though he felt overwhelmed by what he knew. Love and acceptance were his completely. Harkin was giving him both, and he couldn’t sense even a dash of uncertainty. The sincerity in him brought that lump back into Kieran’s throat and the burn to his eyes.
Harkin made a protesting sound. “Baby, these are happy tears, right?”
He snorted, then cleared his throat. “Yeah. Sorry.”
“No problem.” Harkin kissed his cheek. “I’m just getting a little mixed up from the love, crying, and really needing to come.”
Kieran laughed and got with the bubble-making while he pulled up his pants enough to walk out of the room. On the stairs, he glanced back and saw Harkin followed him closely, the bulge in his pants leading the way.
Up in the loft, with the window partially open, it smelled like fall was definitely settling in now. It was getting crisp out and creeping inside, too. Beside the bed, Kieran let his pants fall and kicked them away, his skin prickling. His dick felt sticky when it slapped his thigh, and the scent of chocolate had definitely come with them. He had a flash memory of making s’mores over an open fire one autumn and smiled.
Who knew a frosting blowjob could hold the key to easing so much that had bothered him? He knew he wasn’t cured, but he definitely had the beginnings of a far better outlook building inside him.
“Why do you want to cook? Specifically?” Harkin paused in shucking his pants. “You know you don’t have to. I can’t boil water, which is why the cooking club formed. And they like feeding us.”
“I just… I wanted to do it for you.” He pulled his shirt over his head, then held it against his chest. “Not that I want them to stop cooking for us. I don’t want to make every meal or anything.” He briefly imagined them starving. “I just… I thought it might be nice. A gesture.” He looked up and chuckled at the sappy grin on Harkin’s face.
“You feel free to make me chocolate bricks any time you want to.”
Kieran groaned and rolled his eyes before chucking his shirt at Harkin. Then Kieran was startled into a giggling laugh when two hundred pounds of horny mate flew through the air aiming right at him.
A horny mate who loved him unconditionally.