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Thanks to a lucky win on the Power Ball Lottery, Joel has fulfilled his ambition - an island of his own. All he needs to do now is show it to Gray, his best friend and ex-lover, who had shared that childhood dream. But life moves on and people change. So do connections. They can transmute into something wonderful and lasting, but only if both men want the same thing.
"I. Don’t. Like. Boats." The words were bitten out with an ice-cold precision that should have warned Joel to back off. But never let it be said that a Considine ever did anything as sensible as taking heed of warnings.
"It's only a small boat," he coaxed in what he hoped was a persuasive tone.
"The size," Gray Marchant snapped, "is inversely related to how much I am not going to get into it."
"I'm not asking you to row the fucking Atlantic," Joel cut in, rapidly losing patience. They'd been friends since first grade, had explored their sexuality with each other in their teens, and had been lovers all through their years at UCLA. Everything had changed when they went their separate ways after graduating. When they'd first reestablished contact in the summer of last year, Gray had been his old warm expansive self.
They'd been meeting once a month since then. Because Gray avoided planes when he could, Joel was the one who visited. Friday evenings, he would catch a flight to Miami, spend two nights alone in Gray's guest room and fly home Sundays. At first their friendship had seemed as solid as ever. But lately Gray had become remote, inclined to acid retorts, and Joel had found himself wanting to punch him more than kiss him. Gray hadn't shown any signs of wanting to resume the sexual side of their relationship, so no matter how much he'd like it to happen, Joel had let it lie, rather than risk driving Gray away.
All told, he had a lot invested in this weekend get-together. He needed to reaffirm his old closeness with Gray. But it wasn't working out the way he'd hoped.
"All we have to do is cross a narrow stretch of water between here and the island. Where," Joel continued, inspired, "there's a roaring log fire, steaks with all the trimmings waiting for me to cook them, beer, spirits and wine. What more could you want?"
"A bridge," Gray cut back, hunching further into his heavy woolen overcoat. It hung around him like a pall, disguising the lean, athletic frame beneath. Why Gray needed a coat in the first place, Joel couldn't guess. Even though the sun was setting, the temperature was a comfortable seventy-four degrees, and he himself wore jeans and a tee-shirt.
"What the shit is the matter with you?" he demanded, his irritation and disappointment coming to the fore. "It's not my fault Larry and his girl had to cancel! Her mom was rushed into the hospital, for God's sake!"
Among other things, Joel had been looking forward to showing the three of them, but especially Gray, his recently acquired haven on the outskirts of Glen Burnie. At just under four acres, the island was a pocket wilderness of trees and glades, a boathouse, and a rambling three bedroom cabin with a wraparound porch. Conoy Island, a few hundred yards offshore in Marley Creek, was all his.
Last year Joel had been part of a seven-man consortium who'd won the Powerball Lottery, and he'd ended up with more than five million bucks in his bank account after taxes. After he'd gotten over the first shock, he'd purchased new homes for his mom and his brother. Then he'd spent just under a million fulfilling a childhood dream—to own his own island.
That had been a lucky time for him. Two months before his big win, Joel had reconnected with Gray. In the five years between UCLA and now, they'd become reasonably successful in their chosen careers: Gray in Miami-Dade's District Attorney's Office, Joel in the offices of one of Baltimore's premier corporate law firms. Right now, that reconnection was looking more than a little shaky and he didn't feel inclined to take the diplomatic route.
"Do all the men in your family hit the male menopause at twenty-nine, or something?" he asked snidely.
"Oh, it's something, Considine! You never said anything about boats!"
"I didn't know I had to. You knew it's a fucking island!"
"So build a fucking bridge!"
"You're just being unreasonable! And juvenile!"
"Juv—!" Gray took a deep breath, his mouth pinched to a hard line. "That's it." He turned on his heel and stalked away, footsteps making sharp retorts on the wooden planks.
"Oh, no, you don't!" Joel barked. He made a lightning-fast grab at Gray's shoulder and spun him round. Gray jarred Joel's hand away with an equally swift block, stepping sideways—and his heel caught on a mooring ring.
With a squawk of outraged surprise, Gray dropped his duffel and fell back. Joel lunged to catch him but was not quite quick enough, and Gray disappeared off the edge of the jetty. Seconds later, in a geyser of spray, he vanished into the brackish water of Marley Creek.
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