Aydin loves Brandon. He sees the changes in his boyfriend and wants to help, but how do you help when you don't know the problem exactly? To compound the problem, Brandon's brother, Benson, has started causing trouble. Benson doesn't want his brother to be gay, let alone in a relationship. Aydin found the strength to admit he wanted to be with Brandon. Aydin's come into his own. Will he be enough for Brandon or will the crushing outside influence be too much to overcome?
They've come together for Valentine's Day, but can the romance last?
“Holy shit, I’m scared.”
Brandon Kidd blew out a long breath and rubbed his hands on his jeans. Every year, the fine art students were subjected to a review. The professors wanted to ensure the students were progressing where they should be in their individual programs as well as performing up to standards. He hated these reviews. The idea of standing in front of three professors and discussing his accomplishments in the painting and drawing programs made his stomach churn. If they’d wanted him to produce an exhibition for the student gallery or even set an exhibit up at one of the many local galleries, he could do that in his sleep.
Besides, why was he having his review in February? The rest of the reviews wouldn’t be until April. He stood back and debated the placement of his works on the wall. Fuck. He never should’ve switched majors from a generic fine arts one to a focus in drawing and painting. The students who had been in the drawing and painting departments the longest chose first, and, of course, they chose the farthest out dates. He’d chosen his major after many of them and now had one of the first dates for his review because the others wanted more time to prepare.
Part of him cared about his review. This was the meeting to determine if he was ready to move in the program. A grade depended on this review. But the rest of him didn’t care much. Why? He knew his talents and how he’d progressed since focusing on drawing and painting versus a general fine arts focus. He knew his abilities, and passing shouldn’t be a problem. Still, he couldn’t tamp the nervous energy down. He arranged the photographs one more time, then stepped back to admire his work.
Looking at Aydin warmed him to his core. They hadn’t even had sex yet, but he couldn’t imagine his life or art without Aydin. He tended to march straight into fucking on the first date, but something about Aydin made him think twice. He wanted to move slower and get to know him better. The choice couldn’t have been better. They’d become friends as well as lovers, and the relationship was solid. They weren’t competing for dates or within their respective programs at the college. He couldn’t wait to see Aydin. They weren’t living together, but might as well be since they were together so much.
As soon as he finished the review, he’d head straight to the apartment, then to Aydin’s. Christ. It was Valentine’s Day, and he couldn’t even spend it with the one he loved—not yet.
The door creaked, and Brandon straightened his spine. He turned, but instead of the trio of professors, Jake Bunch strolled into the room. His dark eyes shimmered.
“How’s it going?” Brandon stuck his hands into his pockets. “You’re not on the review team. What’s up?”
“No, I’m not. I wouldn’t want to be. Think about it—everyone’s afraid of the team for fear they’ll be yanked from their programs. Doesn’t sound fun in the least.” Jake strode up to the photos of Aydin. “Who’s the guy?”
“Are you being reviewed soon?” He wasn’t sure why Jake was there and didn’t really give a fuck. “You could see my work in the gallery. I’m part of the painting exhibition, and I’ve got photos up at the Feve Gallery.”
“I know. I saw them. You do good work,” Jake said. He stood in front of a photo of a nude Aydin. “So who is the guy?”
Damn. Jake wasn’t letting up. Brandon eyed the photograph. He knew that one well—Aydin, completely nude, reclined on the chair. He’d arranged the lighting to keep half of Aydin’s body in shadow—leaving the sexy part to the imagination of the viewer. Getting Aydin to pose hadn’t been difficult, but convincing him to pose with the possibility of his entire body being shown proved nearly impossible. If Aydin knew anyone besides Brandon had seen the image, he’d probably flip out, but the photo had turned out so striking…
“Well?” Jake turned his attention to Brandon. “I’ve seen him.”
“You have,” Brandon said. “It’s Aydin Madison. He’s in the theater program and a whiz with lighting. He’s also my boyfriend.” For a split-second, he wasn’t sure what Jake would say and worried he would act like a dick.
“You and him?” Jake’s blond brows rose. “I never would’ve put you and him together. Never.”
There was the insult. Brandon suppressed a groan. “Why?” He’d never been attracted to Jake, and right now, he wanted the man out of his life for good. Jake hadn’t even show up on his radar.
“He’s so boring. Aydin’s still a virgin,” Jake said. “He let you photograph him? This has to be Photoshopped. He’s afraid to piss outside for fear someone will see.”
“I thought you were asking about him because you didn’t know him.” Piss outside? What the hell? Did he detect a hint of jealousy? But directed toward whom? Him or Aydin? Brandon wasn’t sure. And why was Aydin’s virginity any of Jake’s business?
“I take it you haven’t been with him yet.” Jake snorted. “Huh. I’d have thought you would’ve plucked that cherry already.”
Jesus. “For a guy who wandered in here and has no business being in on my review, you’re awfully nosy,” Brandon said. “My relationship with Aydin is private.”
“Except he’s in your photographs.”
“Those are my art. He agreed to pose, and I took the shots. I’m proud of them.” Damn proud. He’d gotten the shadows the way he’d wanted and managed to work the sepia tones enough to draw out the details in each image.
“But why Aydin? There are sexier guys on campus. You could put out a casting call. I’ll bet you have a hundred men show up.” Jake tipped his head. “Art needs beauty, not blandness. He doesn’t even work out. Just runs, last I knew.”
Brandon’s jaw ached from clenching his teeth. He really wanted Jake to leave. “I’m trying to prep for my review. You’re messing with my focus.” He suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. “Go. I need to prepare.”
“Oh?” Jake smiled. He inched closer to Brandon. “I could relax you.”
“Not a chance. I’m not getting caught doing anything that’ll jeopardize my review.” He ushered Jake from the room. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but whatever it is—the answer is no. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you liked the art, but I need to get my focus back. Get in my zone—without your help.” He scoped out the corridor. The professors weren’t anywhere in sight. Good. “Thanks. See you.”
He stayed in the hallway. He didn’t want to appear to eager, but he wanted to make sure Jake didn’t say anything to the professors to screw with the review. He doubted Jake would intervene, but after the odd conversation, he didn’t trust Jake. Besides, he didn’t want to possibly have to do the review a second time because the first time he hadn’t passed.
Think positive thoughts. Yeah, right.
Brandon headed back into the classroom. If part of the process involved dicking with him and seeing how he dealt with pressure, then he’d be fine. He could handle pressure.
The door creaked again, but this time, the three professors strode into the room. He squared his shoulders. He might be laid back about a lot of things, but not his grades or standing in the fine arts program. “Hello, professors. Welcome.”
Here goes nothing.
Brandon sighed. In the last hour, he’d been asked what seemed like a hundred questions about his work, his methods, and his subject matters. He didn’t care. He’d passed. Hot damn and hell yeah. He packed up his artwork into the portfolio case, then texted his friend Georgie. He wanted to store his sculpture in the gallery vault and return two of his photographs to the gallery for showing. The one thing he didn’t want to do was leave his work unattended. Jake’s arrival bothered him, and he refused to give Jake a chance to do something unforgivable.
He heard footsteps and tensed. Georgie? When he turned to the doorway, Aydin smiled.
“I heard you passed,” Aydin said. “Need some help?”
Brandon wobbled into the table. He hadn’t expected Aydin to come to the school of art. He hadn’t told Aydin about the review in case he didn’t pass. “How’d you find out?”
“Georgie.” Aydin grinned and folded his arms. “She said you’d be tense, and I should be extra nice.”
He loved how Aydin was stronger since they’d paired up. Aydin had confidence now and stood taller since he’d stopped hiding within himself. The self-assurance appealed to Brandon.
“Well?” Aydin nodded to the case. “She’s on the way with the cart, but I can babysit the portfolio while you take your stuff down to the gallery.”
“You’re a gem.” Brandon kissed Aydin hard on the lips. He’d been the one to pass, and Aydin showing up had been the best reward. He’d so blow Aydin tonight.
“Get going.” Aydin laughed and clapped Brandon on the shoulder. “The faster you get done, the faster we can get to the surprise Valentine-slash-you-passed celebration.”
Brandon paused. “Surprise? Celebration?”
“Of course.” Aydin sat on the table and placed his hand on the portfolio case. “Go.”
“Right.” He darted out of the room with the two framed photographs in hand.
Georgie pushed the cart down the corridor. “Sorry. I’m coming. I got sidetracked.” She brushed her hair out of her eyes then steered the cart and Brandon into the classroom. “Aydin said you were on edge. I hear you passed, though. Congrats.”
“Yeah. I was worried.” He shoved the photographs into Aydin’s hands, then moved the metal sculpture from the table to the cart. He’d done some of his best soldering on the abstract couple. “I’ll hold onto it while you drive the cart so this doesn’t fall.”
“Then put the photos on the lower rack, and we’ll go,” Georgie said. She winked in Aydin’s direction. “Hey, you. We’ll be right back.”
“I’m sure,” Aydin said. He wiggled his fingers. “Thanks for the tip.”
She bowed her head once. “Anything for you, doll. I’ll have him back in a moment.”
From his hairline to his chest, Brandon’s skin heated. When he’d first met Aydin, this sort of interplay wouldn’t have happened. Hell, their first date hadn’t gone this well. Aydin kept retreating within himself. Now? Aydin had come into his own. Brandon kissed Aydin once more, then took the photos from him and placed them on the lower rack.
“Ready?” Georgie pushed the cart from the room. “I don’t know why you were worried about the review. Everyone knows you’re one of the golden children in the art department.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” He stayed beside Georgie. “How’d you get sidetracked?”
“Last-minute visitor to the gallery. The guy refused to leave. I can’t lock up until everyone is out.” She shrugged. “Jake said he had to visit me.” She snorted. “I know that was a lie. He’s always full of bullshit.”
“You knew?” Brandon blurted. “I mean, he is, but why’d you think he was lying this time?”
“He’s not into me.” She stopped pushing the cart, then opened the storage room door. “I’m not a guy.”
“Oh.” He held the door as she pushed the cart into the room. When she held up the key, he let the door swing shut. “Well, that’s his loss. You’re adorable. He’s crazy to not like you.”
“You aren’t interested,” she said. “You’re with Aydin—which I think is so cute.”
“That’s different.” He moved the sculpture onto the empty shelf, then picked up the photographs. “We’re not hitting on you.”
She pushed the cart to the side, then held her keys. “I know. I’d be shocked if you did.” She fluttered her hand and escorted him through the doorway, then locked up. “Now to the gallery. We need to replace those photos.”
“We do,” he murmured.
“Anyway, he wanted to supposedly see me, but I knew better and kept an eye on him. That’s what took so long. I wanted to be sure he wasn’t doing something else,” she said. “He lingered in the photography section, and I didn’t trust him.”
“Does he normally go to the gallery and do bad things?” He wasn’t sure what to think about Jake now.
“No, but I had a weird feeling.” She placed the photos, one at a time, on the wall, then stepped back to admire her work. “Great. The collection is back in one group.” She turned to Brandon. “I go with my gut response. When I’m worried, I don’t ignore it.”
“Smart.” He hugged her. “You’re a good friend.”
“So are you.” She clapped him on the back, then led him out of the gallery. “Now I can lock up and go home.” She tapped the keypad. “Turn away.”
He studied the dirty carpet leading into the lecture hall. The sound of jangling keys echoed in the quiet building. He’d forgotten how loud small noises could be when there weren’t a couple hundred students milling about.
“Okay.” She stuffed the keys into her pocket. “It’s Valentine’s Day. What’s on your docket?”
“I’m not sure. Aydin said something about a plan and celebration. I’m the lousy boyfriend this time. I hadn’t gotten him anything and was going to on the way home.” The tips of his ears burned. “I was so worried about the review, I kind of forgot it was Valentine’s Day.”
“You forgot?” she blurted.
“I did.” He walked beside her. “I was going to get him flowers.”
“Flowers?” She stopped in her tracks. “Are you serious?”
“He likes them.”
“He doesn’t like them. I thought he did, but he just ate the ones I got him for Christmas because he didn’t want them to go to waste.” When she started walking again, he fell into step beside her. “I know what he likes—now.”
“Flowers, eh?” She laughed. “And what else? Some hey-hey?” She elbowed him. “Right?”
He wasn’t about to tell her the other gift would be a blow job.
“Well, good.” She stopped at the classroom door. “I hope you have a good night.” She poked her head into the classroom. “Bye, Aydin. Have a wicked hot night.”
“That’s the plan.” Aydin left his spot on the desk and picked up the portfolio. “Ready?”
Heat slid through Brandon’s body. He couldn’t wait to get home. He’d strip Aydin down and taste every inch of him. “Yeah.”
“Good. Let’s go. I drove, so we can blow this popsicle stand.” Aydin carried the case out of the room. “Goodnight, Georgie. Do you need us to walk you out?”
“Nah, I’m meeting my friend Durand upstairs.” She waved. “Night! Do all the things I can’t do but want to watch.”
“We will,” Aydin called.
Brandon stood rooted to the spot for a second. Do all the things I can’t do but want to watch…holy shit. And Aydin hadn’t batted an eye. Damn. Excitement radiated through Brandon. He had the guy, the grade, and good friends. Now, he’d have a hot Valentine’s Day. Fucking sweet, indeed.