Until it’s freed from the closet, love will only wither on the vine.
Cole Wheaton is out in every sense of the word—out of the closet, and recently out of a bad relationship. He hopes the new contract to design a garden for the McLeans will be the distraction he needs to get his life back on track, but there’s something about David McLean that intrigues him…and sets off warning bells.
Somewhere in the middle of a bonding chat with the passionate landscape designer, David realizes he’s attracted to Cole. It’s nothing new—he’s secretly been acting on these impulses for a while. But there’s something different, something stronger with Cole that tells him acting out with Cole will be a life-changer.
Determined not to saddle himself with another closet-case, Cole does his best to resist the temptation David presents. But David, watching Cole’s easy acceptance of his own sexuality, realizes it’s time to stop living a lie. An open marriage and cheap one-night stands aren’t enough, not anymore.
Cautious friendship grows into affection…then passion. But until they’re both ready to cut ties to their pasts, the obstacles still walling them apart could be too high for love to breach.
Product WarningsContains drunken licking between friends. May cause a sudden interest in garden design.
Copyright © 2012 Kate Sherwood
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
David felt like a failure. No, that was too kind. This wasn’t about feelings, it was about facts. David was a failure. He’d chosen to get married, thought he could do it, and failed. It was that simple. He stared out over the swimming pool into the green shadows of the overgrown shrubs. He’d tried, he’d failed and he’d hurt Stephanie. That was the worst of it, that she was being punished for his inability to control his urges. Damn it!
He slammed his hand against the back of the lawn chair just as he became aware of the male shape standing on the far side of the pool. The chair was lighter than he’d expected, and it went flying into the water. David stared at Cole while Cole stared at the chair.
It was Cole who broke the silence. “Sorry. I keep surprising you. Lurking like this.”
“No, it’s okay.” David tried to figure out where Cole was coming from. Had he heard any of the conversation David and Stephanie had just had? They’d gone outside to find privacy from their housekeeper. They could have stayed in the house and just moved to another room, but there weren’t many neutral spots left in there anymore. The office was David’s, the entertaining spaces were Stephanie’s, and Lord knew their bedroom was full of carefully laid mines. Once the garden design was finished, the yard would be Stephanie’s, too, but until then it was as close to neutral as they had. But apparently it wasn’t quite as private as they’d thought. “Are you just getting here?”
“I’ve been here a little while. I was looking at the existing trees. I’d really like to save those oaks, and I think I can make them work.”
Oaks. That should tell David what part of the garden Cole had been in, but he really had no idea what the hell an oak tree looked like. And maybe it didn’t matter, anyway. He and Stephanie were separating. Their private business wasn’t going to stay private for long. And Cole had seen David in the club, so he’d have a pretty good idea about the cause of the marital problems. Maybe it was time for David to stop hiding and just let go. “Okay.” He wasn’t even sure what he was agreeing to—maybe something about oak trees.
Cole was still looking at the slowly sinking lawn chair. “Do you want me to fish that out for you?”
“I didn’t mean for it to go in.” Obviously. David felt like an idiot. “Don’t worry about it. I can get it.”
“Okay,” Cole agreed, and he shifted his weight, obviously gearing up to leave.
David felt a flash of panic. He didn’t want to be alone, and he didn’t want to explain the situation to anybody new. “Stephanie and I are splitting up,” he blurted out.
Cole nodded cautiously. “I’m sorry.”
David let himself sink onto the foot of a non-submerged chaise longue. “Because of…because of where you saw me.”
Cole frowned. “I never said anything to her about that…”
“No. I didn’t mean…” He snorted a bitter half-laugh. “I didn’t mean that we’re breaking up because of me being there that night. I meant it’s because of the reason I was there.”
“David?” Cole sounded impatient, and David pulled himself out of his self-pity long enough to look up at him. “David, it was a gay bar. I don’t know a lot about you, but I bet the reason you were there is because you’re gay. Is that the word you’re looking for?”
Again, so simple for someone else. But David needed to learn to make it simple for himself too. “Yes. That’s the word I’m looking for.”
Cole was silent for a moment, then lowered himself onto the foot of the chair next to David’s. “Do you want to say it?” He sounded like he wasn’t sure why he was letting himself get dragged into David’s drama, and David couldn’t blame him. Still, it was good to have someone to talk to. Even if he was a bit pushy. “It’s one syllable, David. You can start with just the word, and then add the ‘I am’ later, if that’s easier for you.”
This time, David’s laugh was more genuine. “Gay. There. Are you happy?”
“Can you do a little more?” David didn’t have to look over to know that Cole was smirking. “Can you do the ‘I am’?”
David really wasn’t sure he could. He looked past the pool to the overgrown shrubs beyond it. “Are those staying? In the new garden?”
It took Cole a moment to catch up. “The yews? Probably not. They can be gorgeous around water. I’m setting up a trip down to the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, taking a few clients to see the place and get ideas.” He stopped. “I think Stephanie’s planning to go, so maybe you don’t want to come. But you could look it up online. They have a reflecting pool surrounded by lawn and a tall yew hedge, and it’s really just…awe-inspiring. But that garden’s more Japanese-themed, and more naturalistic than what we’ve been planning for here.”
“So what are you planning for here? I mean, I’ve glanced at the drawings, but it’s hard to fit them onto what’s here now. Can you walk me through it?” David had no idea what he was doing. He didn’t give a good goddamn about gardening, and given the conversation he’d just had with his wife, it seemed pretty damned unlikely that he’d ever see this set of plans come to fruition. But it was nice to just sit there and listen.
Cole started off calmly, but he got more enthusiastic as he went, to the point that he stood up and urged David to come with him. They walked through the property, Cole pointing out features that David had never noticed, explaining the potential that lay latent in the soil. He only understood half of what he was hearing—pergolas, arbors, tumbled stone, roman paving—after a while he gave up on the details and let himself absorb the general impressions instead. And the general impression he developed was that he was going to be very sorry to miss seeing the finished product.
They looped back around to the pool, where the lawn chair was now fully submerged. Cole stopped and turned to David. “So, that’s the plan. I could make it clearer if I had my sketchpad.”
“No, I think I got the idea. In general, at least. It’s going to be beautiful.” David grinned. “Well worth the money.”
Cole nodded. “I like to think so.” He checked his watch and made a face. “I have to go. I’m meeting with a contractor in West Van in half an hour, so…I’m probably already a little late.”
“Yeah, of course. I’m sorry to have kept you.”
“No, it’s fine. He’s always late too.” Cole smiled gently, and it made David feel like everything was going to be okay.
“Hey, Cole?” he said.
David took a deep breath and said, “I’m gay.”
Cole’s smile was slow and sweet. “Congratulations. And welcome to the club.”