“Do you need more time?”
Riley glanced up from his shirt buttons and met Carter’s smile. “Nope, I’m good.”
It was Friday evening and they’d stopped at Carter’s apartment before meeting friends uptown. Carter’s friends, a little voice in Riley’s head whispered, even as guilt pricked his conscience. Jesse and Kyle had been rock-solid in their support of Carter and Riley’s relationship. They were unfailingly decent to Riley, too, despite his previous efforts to alienate them. If he was honest, Riley liked Jesse and Kyle. He genuinely enjoyed himself every time the four of them hung out.
He just wished they didn’t also happen to be Carter’s ex-lovers. Sometimes a dark, secret part of Riley worried about his place in Carter’s life beside men like Jesse and Kyle.
“This is okay, right?” Riley checked his reflection in the dresser mirror, frowning at his old chambray shirt and jeans. “You said dress down, but I didn’t think you meant sweatshirt-level casual.”
Carter chuckled. “You’re perfect. Though a sweatshirt might come in handy where we’re going.”
“Which is where?”
Carter stepped up behind Riley and circled his arms around Riley’s waist. “A basement bar in Morningside Heights.”
“Um. That sounds like a horror movie plot.” Warmth bloomed in Riley at Carter’s laughter, and he leaned into Carter’s embrace.
“It’s creepy without context, I agree,” Carter replied. “Long story short, Jesse and Kyle found a place for their speakeasy and have started renovations.”
“And we’re what, cheap labor?”
“I’d never call you cheap, Ri.” Carter kissed the side of Riley’s head. “But we’re just tasting drinks tonight. Kyle’s half-stocked the bar and wants to try out a bunch of cocktail recipes.”
Now Riley saw the appeal of this outing—Kyle was one hell of a bartender. “I can do that.”
“Yes, you can.” Carter squeezed Riley then let him go. “Oh, before I forget, Sadie made you a Valentine.”
Riley watched Carter move to the dresser and pick up a small, pink card. “She did? Why?”
Carter shot him crooked little smile. “Because she wanted to.” He held the valentine out to Riley. “And because she’s eight and likes to give people things.”
Riley took the paper square, delight bubbling in his chest as he looked it over. Carter’s daughter had drawn a smiling sheep and fashioned its body from tiny little cotton balls. Beneath its feet, a carefully lettered message promised I woolly woolly like you!
Riley laughed. “Oh, my God. This is adorable.”
“I thought you’d like it. Especially the pun.”
“Sadie’s her father’s daughter all right.” Riley grinned. “Will you thank her for me?”
Carter’s eyes shone. “Of course. She gave me cards for Jesse and Kyle, too, but only yours has a cotton ball sheep. Pretty sure that makes you a favorite,” he said with a wink. “Again, just like her dad.”
Riley set the card down, his chest tight with happiness. And so much love. He didn’t need to worry about his place in Carter’s life after all.
I hope you enjoyed this small peek into Carter and Riley’s lives! It’s been a couple of years since I wrote in their voices and it was wonderful revisiting with these characters.
Hearts to Spare was written as part of the Be Mine Valentine’s Bash Facebook event, which included a flash fiction feature. All of the flash fiction contributed to the event can be read for free in the Be Mine compilation.
This flash fiction features characters from Tidal and The Speakeasy, two series by K. Evan Coles and Brigham Vaughn.