Entry for SlashBackSlash 4.0

Summary: A lifetime of living in a Southern homophobic town has taught Jasper to live in fear and secrecy. When his old boyfriend Peter returns after five years, Jasper can't ignore the way his body responds.

Disclaimer: Characters owned by Stephenie Meyer

Warnings: slash, explicit sex, language

Huge thanks to jfka06 for the last minute beta!

Please see all entries at: slashbackslash . livejournal . com


I sit at the corner of the bar, my usual seat. Maria's been suffocating me lately; couldn't get out of the house without her for two weeks. I hate when my routine is messed with.

"Buy you a drink?" There's a hint of a southern accent in the male voice, just enough to think this man should know better.

"Fuck off."

"Maybe later?"

I whip around in my seat. The man standing behind me is tall and thin. Blond hair so pale it makes mine look like golden honey. The black t-shirt stretched over his chest somehow makes him look impossibly thin, even as it clings to the contours of his pecs. My gaze travels back up to his face and the most beautiful smile lighting up his eyes.

"Peter." His name tumbles from my lips before I can stop myself.

"Still not interested?" He raises his left eyebrow.

Fuck. Still as cocky as ever.

"Been a long time," I say as I hold out my hand to shake.

He pulls me into a hug. I can feel his breath against my neck. My arms wrap around him and I can't help but notice how right it feels. We just fit against each other so perfectly. Our chests press together as he keeps his hold on me longer than strictly polite. I can feel his chest expand with a deep breath.

"You smell delicious."

I pull away. He's going to get us both thrown out of here. Or worse.

Peter sits down next to me and waves the bartender over. "Two more" – he glances over at my half-empty glass – "gin and tonics."

"You remember?"

"Of course. Helps that you're pretty predictable, also."

"I'm not predict—"

He laughs. "Yeah, keep telling yourself that."

I turn back to my drink, tying not to look at the infuriating man next to me and failing.

"So … you seeing anyone?"

"Maria. Maybe you remember her?"

He raises his eyebrows. "You're still in the closet, after all these years? Doesn't it get cramped in there?"

"Don't have much choice."

"You always have a choice."

I snort. The only other choice is fucking suicide. "That's reality."

"It doesn't have to be."

I look at him like he's lost his fucking mind. Because, apparently, he has.

"You're not thinking big picture."

"Oh, right. Big picture." I toss back the rest of my drink in one shot.

He finally shuts the hell up for a few minutes and I'm grateful. Not just because what he's talking about is ridiculous, but because the longer I listen to his voice, the longer I want to hear it. The more I want to wrap myself in it. Wrap myself around him.

I feel him turn around. I look up, half relieved and half afraid he's going to walk away. But he's just watching the three couples on the dance floor. "Want to dance with you," he whispers.

I swallow against the rock in my throat. It hadn't occurred to me until I heard him say it, but damn, I want to dance with him, too. "Can't." My voice is strained. Hoarse.

"I know." All of the confidence has left his voice, leaving only resignation. Our eyes meet. The desire in his face is plain as day. I can only hope my face is not as easy to read.

His fingers brush my hand. "This is no way to live, Jasper."

My hand burns where he touched me. I want him to keep touching me, to know if he feels that too, to feel that warmth throughout my whole body. But I also tense up, which he no doubt feels. What if someone saw the way he touched me? What if someone finds out?

"We could go somewhere where we could dance," he suggests.

"Where's that?"

"Somewhere … private."

If I was somewhere private with Peter, we wouldn't be dancing. At least, not in that sense of the word. "Maria's home."

"I've got a hotel room."

I try to picture it. Two men arriving at a hotel. Going in the same room. Would we be lucky enough to avoid being seen? Is there any situation in which this could happen and not look like two men who want to rip off each other's clothes?

Peter's lips quirk. "You're thinking about strategy, aren't you?"

"How –"

"Predictable, remember?" He laughs.

Maybe I am predicable. As predictable as the assholes who live in this town.

"It's not fair of you to come back and do this, you know. After leaving, without a word. You just … ran away."

"Would you have come with me?"

I shake my head.

"There's your answer."

I stare into the bottom of my glass. That was the whole damn thing, wasn't it? I wasn't important enough for him to stick around. "Maybe you should just go back to wherever you went."

His fingers curl around mine. "Is that really what you want? For me to leave?"

Yes. No. I don't know.

A throat clearing in front of us jerks me out of my trance and I pull my hand back.

"You fags oughta get the hell out of here," the bartender says in a low voice. The warning is clear. The next time will be loud enough for the other patrons to hear.

I can hold my own in a one-on-one fight. I might get lucky in a two-on-one. But several-on-one? Add Peter into the mix…There's no way I can defend myself and protect him, too.

I reach for my wallet, but Peter grabs my wrist.

"I got it," he says as I jerk my hand away from him again. Doesn't he understand?

I throw some cash on the bar and walk away. Keep the change, asshole.

Walking to my car, I resist the urge to punch the wall.

"Jasper, wait." Peter claps his hand on my shoulder.

I shove him off. "Thanks for getting me thrown out of my favorite bar, dickwad. I can't go back there now. You realize that, don't you?"

"I'm sorry."

"You're sorry. That's supposed to help?"

I want to punch him. Repeatedly. Right in that pretty face that I want to stare at while I fuck him 'til he screams my name.

"Come with me."

Fuck my cock for responding to the image of being alone with this beautiful boy. I want it so badly. Peter was the last cock I had, five long lonely years ago, and fuck, I want him again. Need him.

"Just follow me over, okay?" He motions to his car, though he hadn't really needed to point it out. It stands out like a tree in a prairie among the trucks and older cars. I can't believe I'm agreeing to do this, but I need to get laid. My cock needs some relief from being rock hard since the moment I saw his face. Jerking off in the shower, hiding from Maria, wouldn't be enough tonight.

It doesn't take Peter long to realize that my old truck can't keep up with his zippy sports car. There's no need for that kind of speed around here anyway. Where am I in a rush to be?

He slows down so I can follow him, even though I'm pretty sure I know where he's going. There's only so many hotels around here to begin with. I smile, imagining him and his trigger happy lead foot just itching to speed up again. He surprises me by turning onto the highway. Now I know he's cursing the way my truck shakes at only 55. I can hear him sigh and see him shaking his head.

As the miles pass beneath our wheels, I get more and more antsy. I can't remember what it's like to kiss him, taste him, feel his body move beneath me. I want to learn him all over again. Touch him everywhere. Taste him. Fall asleep holding him. Watch the rise and fall of his chest as he dreams.

I press my hand against my cock through the thick denim of my jeans. I'm too hard to be comfortable. How far are we going?

Finally, we pull off at an exit, a good 25 miles away. It's not a major city, but it's a far cry from the tiny little town we just left.

He pulls into the parking lot of some fancy hotel. He leans against his car while he waits for me to find a spot. Fuck. It's crowded. We probably won't be able to slip in and out without anyone seeing us together.

I approach his car but stop on the other side of it. "If you're staying the fuck here, why did you come to a bar in East Bell? Pretty sure there are closer ones. Hell, this is the type of place that probably has its own bar."

"It's not obvious?"

I shake my head.

He pushes off his car and steps up to me. The back of his fingers brush my cheek. "I went there for you."

With that, he gives me another breath-taking smile and heads for the door.

"Peter, wait. We can't just … walk in together."

"No one knows you here, Jasper. You don't have to worry about your secret."

That's what he thinks I'm worried about? Someone I know seeing me? "Last I checked, people didn't have to know you to want to hurt you."

"You're such a drama queen."

"You think this is a joke?"

He steps towards me and takes my hands in his. I start to pull away but he holds them harder. "You'll be safe. Trust me."

"Not just me I'm worried about."

He smiles. "Everything will be fine."

He drops my hands and heads for the entrance. I follow, but I keep a slight distance. Just enough to make it look like we're not together.

I glance around the lobby. This place is fancier than any hotel I've ever been to. I exhale in relief when I realize the only person here is the employee.

"Hey, Edward." Peter waves to the man behind the check-in desk.

Edward smiles when he sees Peter. "Good evening yourself, handsome."

My jaw drops and I stop walking. I can't help it. Edward is … well, gay. He's so far out of the closet I'm not sure he even knows what one is.

Peter chuckles as he walks back over to me and closes my mouth with his hand. He links arms with me and pulls me forward. "This way, baby."

I hear Edward sigh loudly behind us. "Damn, boy, you sure did get lucky tonight."

Peter's still chuckling when we get into the elevator.

"I … what … he … Is this a gay hotel or something?"

"I'm pretty sure hotels can't be gay." He winks, but then turns serious. "Not everywhere is like East Bell, Jasper."

"You're on a first name basis with the staff? How long have you been staying here?"

He shrugs. "Maybe a week? And no, only Edward. We just got to talking one day."

"Talking and…? Have you, ya know, taken him to your room?"

Peter rolls his eyes. "He's not my type."

"Oh." I'm more relieved by this than I want to admit to myself. "So when he said about you getting lucky tonight…"

"He meant because of you, clueless."

"Yeah, but I mean … well, have you gotten lucky the other nights too?"

He smirks. "Awfully interested in my sex life, aren't you?"

I shove him against the wall of the elevator, my forearm across his chest. "I don't want to be just another lay to you. A single fuck in a long line of one night stands."

We're both breathing heavily and staring into each other's eyes. He doesn't respond for a moment.

"You've never been 'just a lay' to me. How can you not know that?"

I lower my arm and step back from him. I turn towards the front of the elevator and stare into the reflection in the metal. "Maybe because you left. What am I supposed to think?"

Ding. The door opens, but neither of us moves. Finally he steps out, turns to face me, and puts his hand over the door opening to prevent it from closing.

"I haven't been with anyone else for a long time. I don't want a one night stand. I want you."

The rational side of me tells me to push him away, hit the door close button and go back home. Getting involved with Peter again is a sure way to get my heart broken. Again.

But I look at him and all I want is to kiss him and press my body against his and do all those things I've been told all my life are wrong, wrong, wrong even though they feel so right.

My eyes slide down his body. He's so beautiful and perfect. My cock stirs to life again.

I nod for him to lead the way.

He grabs my hand and intertwines our fingers together. I stiffen immediately and try to yank my hand away, but he holds tight.

"It's all right."

He doesn't release my hand until we're standing in front of his room and he needs to get his key out. I stand behind him, staring at the back of his neck. My eyes flutter closed as my nose skims the back of his neck. His scent brings back so many memories of hot summer days when we'd had to jump in the pool to wash away the sweat from our sex.

He moans when my lips press against his skin. That tiny sound sends me over the edge. I need him and I need him now.

"Dammit, open the door already," I growl.

"Sorry … dis-distracted…" He gasps when I scrape my teeth where the curve of his neck meets his shoulder.

He finally, finally gets the door open. I push him through and kick the door closed behind me. I shove him against the door and my lips crush his. He tastes just the way I remember, which only fuels the memories and makes me harder for him. I grind my hips against him and he gasps against my mouth.

"Want to fuck you," I pant as my hands work their way under his shirt and against his belly.

"Yes."

He's everything I've ever wanted in a partner. Lean muscle and hard body. The manly scent of sweat in my nose and the salty taste on my tongue. I yank his shirt up and over his head. His chest is still as smooth as it was when he was 18. Fucking gorgeous. I want to explore every inch of his skin. Learn him all over again. One night will not be enough.

Never just a lay.

I hear his words in my mind and I stop. I don't want this to be just a quick fuck, either. I want to take my time with him. Savor every moment.

I pull back.

He opens his eyes. "What? What's wrong?"

I have to catch my breath.

"Oh, hell no, Jasper. Don't do this. Don't pull away."

I shake my head. "I'm not, I promise. I have every intention of fucking you tonight."

He moans.

"I just want to slow down. Enjoy this beautiful body of yours. Make you tremble, make you scream."

"Fuck," he says in a long, low breath. "Gonna come just from your words."

"Don't worry, baby, you'll be coming tonight." I give him a slow, seductive smile before reclaiming his lips. More gently this time. My tongue trails along his bottom lip, then follows along to the upper one. I suck in his full bottom lip and hold it between my teeth. I could kiss him forever and it still wouldn't be enough. His tongue presses against my lips. I release his bottom lip and let him explore my mouth. We move in perfect unison, as if we've always been lovers, not separated for five years.

My hands slide down to that perfect chest of his. Smooth and hard and just Peter. He squirms in my arms when my fingers graze the sides of his waist. I chuckle against his lips.

"No fair. "

"I could stop touching you if you'd prefer." It's a lie. I'll never be able to stop touching him. Not before my dick's been buried into that perky ass of his and he's screaming my name while he comes.

He whines. "Don't stop."

He's working my shirt off now. As soon as it's over my head and tossed on the floor, I start on his belt and fly. I can't wait to get my hands on his cock.

I push his pants down and realize we're still wearing shoes.

"Off, off, off." I mutter as I push his pants down to his ankles.

He kicks off his shoes and shuffles out of his pants. I look down his body. All he's wearing is a skimpy pair of underwear that leaves nothing to the imagination. I can see the ridge of the head of his cock through the stretchy fabric and the spot of moisture at the tip.

I kneel down in front of him and run my hands up his legs. His hands immediately tangle into my hair. I position myself so his cock is the level of my mouth. I slowly lick around the edge of his underwear on the left side. He shudders. I smile as I repeat the movement on the right.

"Jasper," he begs.

I place my mouth over the bulge and simply breathe, letting the hot air enclose him. I take a deep breath of his scent. Delicious.

"Please, please, please," he chants.

"Yes, baby?"

"Suck me. Oh, God, suck me."

"All in good time," I promise.

I wrap my lips over his cock, still covered in the fabric. His pleading gets more desperate.

I trail my fingertips up and down the insides of his thighs, brushing his balls every few passes. He gasps every time I do.

Once his leg starts trembling and he puts a slight bit more weight on me, I take mercy on him and peel back the underwear. His very hard cock bursts out, grazing my face. I trail my nose along the length of him and lick off the remaining pre-cum from the tip. Finally I can't take it anymore and I take him into my mouth. I work him over with my tongue and long, up and down strokes. God, it's been so long since I had a cock - his cock - in my mouth. It's like being in Heaven, and we've only just started.

His fingers tighten in my hair. "Not much longer," he gasps.

I give one last, long suck before popping off. "I'm not close to done with you yet."

"I want ... I want..." He's still trying to catch his breath.

"Yes, baby? What do you want?"

"You. I need to taste you too."

I stand up again and cup his face. "You will, I promise." I seal my promise with a chaste kiss on his lips. "Go wait for me on the bed. I'll be right there."

He stretches out on the bed, his cock in his hand, while I take off my boots and then undo my jeans. I step out of my jeans and walk over to the bed where he's waiting. I'm not wearing sexy underwear - I don't own any - but his eyes are glued to my cock. I make a show of grabbing myself and stroking and moaning.

"Fucking tease."

I chuckle. "And you love it."

But the truth is, I can't wait another minute to have his mouth on my cock. I shove down the underwear and crawl up on the bed. I straddle his chest, still stroking myself. "I'm gonna fuck your mouth, then I'm gonna fuck your ass."

He whimpers. I rub the tip of my dick across his lips. His tongue peaks out. I moan when he swipes it across the slit. Then I grab his head and push my dick in. I go slowly for the first few strokes so he can adjust, but then I let go. And God, it feels so good. So hot and wet.

I thrust a little further each time, and Peter takes more and more. He takes all of me deep into his mouth. I can only do that a couple times before I have to stop, panting. I don't want to come yet.

I roll off of him. "Please tell me you have supplies."

"Of course." He gets up and rummages in a suitcase on the other side of the room. He tosses a bottle of lube and an unopened box of condoms onto the bed next to me. "Hope these are to your liking."

"Get on the bed, you smart ass."

He takes his time lying face down on the bed, stretching out his long, lean body. I slap his ass lightly and then squeeze each cheek in my hands. His ass is so perfect. Round but firm. I press my lips to his right cheek and then suck in a piece of skin. I release it with a "pop" and admire the red mark left behind. I grab his cheeks again and pull them apart. I flatten my tongue and run it down from the top of his crack to his hole, swirling at the end.

I hear a muffled cry and look up to see him clenching the sheets in both hands and his face buried into the pillow. Flicking my tongue back and forth only intensifies his cries. One final lick and then I reach for the lube. He hisses when the first drops hit his sensitive skin. Once I'm sure he's good and wet along his entire crack, I lean over his body and kiss the middle of his back. His fists unclench and he turns his head to the side, sighing softly.

I spread his cheeks once more and slide my cock along the crack of his ass.

"Jesus, fuck!" he yells.

I just laugh.

"A little warning next time?"

"Oh, that's no fun."

I slide my body against his several more times, until I can't take it anymore. He's panting and moaning and I suspect he's getting close, too. Sitting back on my heels, I rub more lube on him, swirling my finger around his hole. Finally, I push one finger in.

"Ooooh," he breathes.

I scoot next to him and lean over so my lips are just a hair away from his ear.

"Getting ready to fuck you," I whisper as I add a second finger.

He shivers. "Ready now."

I suck his earlobe into my mouth while I spend just a little longer making sure he's ready. His hips start moving against the bed.

"Please, now."

I trace the outer edge of his ear with my tongue. "I need to hear you say it."

"Fuck me, Jasper," he gasps. "Need … you … fuck me."

The pleading in his voice, the sheer want, goes straight to my cock. This man will be the death of me.

I pull back from him and reach for the box of condoms. "Roll over."

I roll on the condom and lube up while he rearranges himself. He places his feet flat against the mattress, his knees wide and open for me. I kneel between his legs and lock eyes with him as I press my cock against his hole.

He nods.

I push in slowly. Oh, God. He's so hot and tight. I have to stop and catch myself on shaky arms and concentrate to keep from blowing my load. I won't last long like this.

I lean down to kiss his lips. He holds my face with both hands, keeping my lips on his. Slowly I pull out and push in again. His moan vibrates against my mouth.

I had every intention of fucking him hard and fast, but now that I'm buried in him, surrounded by his scent, pressed against his body, I want to enjoy every moment. I keep the pace slow, but press in as deeply as I can on each stroke. Breaking the kiss, I focus on his eyes again. His hands slide down my neck to my shoulders, down my arms.

I intertwine my fingers with his, leaning forward so his hands are above his head. My body presses against his cock. I kiss his chin, his neck, his lips, anywhere I can reach.

"Come with me, Jasper. Please… please, come with me."

His voice is saturated with desperation, as if his very life depends on this. Just hearing it, and thinking about our orgasms shooting together, brings me to the very edge. I lean back, and take his cock in my hand. He wraps his hand around my hand and together we stroke him until he arches his back and my name falls from his lips repeatedly in a chant.

As soon as the first drops of his hot come land on my hand, I'm shaking and crying and coming deep inside him. It's so intense I have to squeeze my eyes shut despite how badly I wanted to watch streams of come shoot from his cock and land on his stomach.

I fall against him, spreading his come across both our bodies, but I don't care. I've never come so hard in my life. As we both catch our breaths, I kiss him gently.

...

Hours later, I'm still awake. Peter is nestled against my chest, snoring softly. I watch the rise and fall as he breathes. I still can't believe this isn't a dream. I'm really here with Peter, after having the best sex ever in my life. Lord help me, but I want him again. Would twice be enough? No. Nothing will ever be enough. I'll always want more. And what I want isn't a possibility.

Which is why I carefully extract my limbs from him, making sure I don't wake him up. I dress in the dark, hoping I'm grabbing the right clothes. For a minute I consider taking his shirt instead, just to have it to keep with me forever. Then again, it probably wouldn't fit across my chest.

I've never come home this late before. What the fuck will I say to Maria? With any luck she'll be sleeping and I won't have to deal with it 'til the morning.

I slip out the door, closing it slowly so it doesn't slam and wake Peter up. The hotel is eerily quiet, but it is three in the morning. The ding of the elevator echoes in the empty hall, startling me.

The lobby is empty, and I head for the door, thankful I drove myself here. As the automatic door opens, a voice behind me says, "What's with the walk of shame, sexy? Doncha think he deserves more than waking up alone?"

I whip around. Edward has appeared out of nowhere.

"What are you doing here?"

He rolls his eyes. "I work the overnight shift, obviously. Don't change the subject."

"I wasn't aware we were having a conversation."

"Why are you doing this to him?"

"What the fuck do you know about me and Peter?"

"I know that every single night he goes out and comes back alone, looking like the world's ending. And every single morning he's refreshed and determined all over again."

"Determined to do what?"

"Find the man he's in love with. Based on the look on his face last night, I'd have to assume that's you."

I shake my head. "Peter and I are ancient history."

He raises his eyebrows. "I don't think he got the memo. He put a lot of effort into looking for you. I thought it was sweet. Now I feel bad that he wasted his time. For the record, I think it was pretty cruel of you to spend the night with him if you're just going to leave him like this."

I shake my head. "It'd be cruel to lead him on when there can't be an 'us.'"

"So you're a coward."

"You don't know nothin' about me."

"You're right. I don't know why you'd throw away the chance to be with a man who loves you and I'm guessing you love him, too."

I sigh. "It's complicated."

"I'll bet it's not nearly half as complicated as you think it is."

I don't respond right away. "Can I ask you a question?"

He smiles. "You just did. But yes you can ask me another."

I roll my eyes at him despite myself. "Are things … all right … for you?"

His forehead wrinkles. "That's a pretty open ended question. I'm going to need to you be more specific."

"Have you … had any problems, you know, being gay?" I whisper the last word.

"'Gay' is not a dirty word, you know."

I snort. "It is where I'm from. Less than half an hour from here."

He nods. "So that's the problem?"

"If people knew about me and Peter… it could be dangerous. He could get hurt."

"Oh I see. Breaking his heart is for his protection." The sarcasm drips from his voice.

I pound my fist against the counter. "He broke my heart when he left me five years ago! No goodbye. No explanation. Just gone."

"So you thought you'd return the favor?"

"You know what? Fuck you. You don't know shit about anything."

"No? I don't know what it's like to be gay? For everyone you've known your whole life to look at you differently? Just for being yourself? You asked me if I've had any problems being gay. No, my life hasn't been all sunshine and roses all the time, but hell, whose life is? But it's not so bad or so dangerous that I have to hide who I really am to everyone."

He's breathing heavily by the time he's done. I think about what he said about doing the same thing to Peter that he did to me. I remember the anguish and depression I went through when I realized he was gone and not coming back.

Edward's right. I owe Peter more than that.

I look sheepishly at him. "Would you get in much trouble if you let me back into his room?"

His eyes widen and then he smiles. "I can just make you another key. It'll be our little secret."

He punches some keys into his computer and swipes a card through the machine. "Room 528, Mr. Peter's Boyfriend."

My heart clenches. I love the way "Peter's Boyfriend" sounds. I can't bring myself to tell him I'm not going to stay with Peter. I'm just giving him the courtesy of saying goodbye and why.

"Thanks," I manage to say through my tight throat.

I try to open the door quietly but the sound of the lock disengaging is loud as hell. I hope it didn't wake up Peter.

"Who's there?" Peter tries to sound brave, but his voice sounds hoarse. I can just make out the outline of his body by the window.

"It's just me."

We step towards each other

The light from window falls on his face and I can just make out the tears.

He runs to me and wraps his arms around me, squeezing tight.

"Oh, thank God, Jasper. I thought you left."

"I did. I mean, I am."

He pulls back and looks at me. "What are you talking about?"

I wipe the tears from his face with my thumbs. "I just came back to say goodbye. I didn't want to just leave without telling you why."

He jerks away and turns on the light. He sits on the bed, staring at his hands. "You mean the way I did."

"Well, yeah. I'll be honest, Peter, that sucked. When you left...just took off with that girl, what's her name?"

"Charlotte," he whispers.

I nod. "You could at least have said goodbye."

"Jasper, I'm so sorry. You're right, I shouldn't have left like that, but if I'd said goodbye… looked in your eyes just one more time… I wouldn't have been able to leave. But I couldn't keep living like that. If I stayed, someone would have found out about us. And then what would have happened?"

"So you understand why I'm leaving. And why you should go back where you came from."

"No. That's why I'm here. That's why I came to find you."

"But you just said "

"We were wrong then, Jasper. You're still wrong now. We don't have to hide who we really are. We can be ourselves. We can be together."

"You sound like Edward."

Peter tilts his head in confusion. "Edward? Were you talking to him tonight? Did he tell you to leave?"

"No! He just made me realize that I couldn't leave without saying goodbye. But that shit about being who we really are? He said something like that."

"See? Edward can be out and proud, even here. We don't have to hide."

"You know what the guys on the ranch are -"

"Forget the ranch. Come with me."

"What?"

"Come with me. Up north. It's like a different world in some ways. We don't have to live in hiding like this."

I shake my head. "I can't."

"Why not?"

"I... I gotta work the ranch."

"They'll find someone to replace you."

"Maria –"

"Maria will be better off with someone who actually loves her. Do you really think it's fair to her, what you're doing? Giving her a half-life? Will you marry her? Have kids with her?"

The idea makes me want to fucking puke.

"Excuses, Jasper. These are nothing but excuses." He takes my hands in his. "Come with me."

I swallow and try to imagine what he's suggesting. Big city. A different world.

"I don't know how ... I don't know what I'd do. Being a cowboy is all I know."

"So maybe you'll learn some new stuff."

I study the pattern in the carpet. "Do you think I could make it? I never did go back to finish high school."

He lifts my chin. "I think you'll do great. You can get your GED if you need to. Maybe even go to college."

I laugh. Jasper Whitlock going to college. That'll be the day. "Yeah, right. I'll go to some Ivy League school and major in what? Philosophy?"

"I mean it, Jasper. You can do anything you want. You're smart, strong, resourceful, strategic... You have a lot to offer a company."

"I don't want a desk job."

"You won't have to. You just have to find the thing you like."

"I like being a cowboy."

He sighs. "I know. You'll always be a cowboy, won't you?"

"It's who I am."

He stands and returns to the window, staring out into the night. Even from behind, I can see his erratic breathing.

I think about his words. About going home to Maria, about more excuses and lies. Peter's right. She'll be expecting marriage and kids and a life together after all these years. That's not what I want. Not with her.

The alternative? What if what Peter says is true, and we really can be together as lovers? No hiding. No living in fear that I'll have to protect myself or him. Moving away from the only home I've ever known? Leaving the life I know? Terrifying. But I won't be alone. Peter will by my side.

I step behind him, put my hands on his hips, and rest my chin on his shoulder.

"Please don't." His voice is strained. "If you're going to leave, just leave. I won't come back."

"I'm not going anywhere without you."

He turns around. "What?"

"I love you, Peter. I've got a second chance, and I can't lose you again. This ain't living. I want to go with you and find a new way to live. For you. With you."

He throws his arms around my neck and kisses me deeply. I break the kiss by chuckling.

"What's so funny?"

"Guess I'm not so predictable after all, am I?"

He laughs. "This time, I'm glad."

I cup his face in my hands and kiss him, slow and gentle at first but quickly building to needy. I pull him down on the bed with me. "Hell of a lot of condoms left. I'll show you how unpredictable I can be," I tease as I shut off the light.