Asher raced down the steps two at a time. He hadn’t expected his mother to show up just moments before he walked out the door for work. Lilly’s arms had been loaded down with birthday gifts and cupcakes. There was no way Asher would ever turned his mother away, but now he was running late for work.
Damn her delicious lemon-lime birthday treats with coconut cream frosting. She knew they were his favorite. Asher smiled, thinking about the box of homemade goodies he left sitting on the kitchen table back at the apartment. His willpower dissolved the second he smelled the tropical aroma. If he hadn’t stopped to devour two cupcakes, he might have made it out the door on time, but chances of that happening evaporated when he peeled back the paper layer on another cupcake.
If Asher didn’t catch the C15, there wasn’t a chance in hell of getting to work before his shift officially started. Asher swore under his breath. Ziggy was going to be pissed at him if the bar filled up with Friday regulars and he still wasn’t there.
Deciding to wait until he was on the subway before sending Ziggy a quick text to give him a heads-up that he was running late, Asher hit the pavement at a flat-out run. The sidewalk outside his apartment building was crowded. He sidestepped several people before breaking into a jog towards the subway. The cool, autumn breeze ruffled his hair as he raced along the busy street.
“Hey, handsome, where are you rushing off to?” Michael’s sexy voice sliced through the crowd.
Asher misjudged his footing and nearly collided with a teenager walking along with his head down, wearing a pair of neon-green headphones. “Whoa,” Asher muttered under his breath, catching the kid by his shoulders before both of them took a tumble onto the pavement. The kid’s wide eyes glanced up, but a lopsided grin flashed across his face as he and Asher danced in an awkward shuffle before they untangled themselves and continued on their previous paths.
Michael Waters was leaning against a shiny, metallic-blue Porsche Boxster convertible parked half a block from Asher’s apartment. His arms were crossed over his broad chest while his long legs crossed at the ankles. His sexy grin was alluring, making Asher briefly forget about where he was going.
“What are you doing here?” Asher asked, surprised to see him.
“Waiting for you,” Michael said, pushing himself off the roadster. His tailored business suit perfectly matched the sleek lines of the exotic automobile.
Asher quickly closed the space between them. “That’s great, Mike, but I’m running late. If I don’t leave right now--”
Michael silenced Asher with a kiss. At first, Asher stood there, completely stunned, but within seconds he melted into Michael’s warm embrace.
“Mr. Burkhart, you’re not going to work today,” Michael said, and waggled his dark eyebrows.
Confusion pulled the corners of Asher’s mouth into a frown. “What about my shift? Ziggy will be furious if I blow-off work.”
Michael quickly threaded his fingers between Asher’s and pulled him back towards the apartment. “It’s all been taken care of. Ziggy arranged with Jimmy for you to have the entire weekend off for your birthday.”
“Really?” Asher asked.
“Yep,” Michael said, grinning from ear to ear.
“That’s so sneaky, Michael, I love it!” Asher almost skipped as they walked up the block holding hands.
“It was a close call, so I enlisted reinforcements when I thought I was going to be running late for your surprise.”
“Are you telling me that my mom was in on this, too?”
Michael nodded his dark head. “Lilly was planning to deliver your cupcakes earlier today, but when it took longer at the car rental place--”
“You rented a Porsche?” Asher was shocked, glancing over his shoulder at the beautiful car parked on the corner.
“Yep, it’s ours for the entire weekend. Speaking of which, your cute ass had better hurry up and get packed, because we have to get on the road soon if we’re going to make it out of the city before rush hour.”
Asher couldn’t believe Michael planned all of this just for him. “Where are we going?”
Michael clucked his tongue and waved his index finger, chiding Asher’s questions. “No! No! No! Do you know how hard it was keeping all of this a secret? There’s no way I’m going to ruin the surprise. Now, go get packed so we can get this show on the road.”
The air grew moist and salty as they approached the shore. Michael wouldn’t tell Asher the secret destination for their weekend trip, but when Michael drove towards the coast, it wasn’t hard for Asher to figure out they were heading to a seaside getaway.
Sunshine warmed the cool, autumn breeze whipping through Asher’s hair with the car’s top down. It was perfect weather for a long drive. The manicured lawns slowly disappeared and were replaced with sparse clusters of wild beach grass growing along the sandy dunes. Cresting the last hill, the ocean came into view. The evening sky was splashed with pinks, lavender, and assorted shades of blue that cascaded until meeting the sea.
“I haven’t been to the beach in so long,” Asher’s soft words were swept away with the wind.
“Happy birthday, babe,” Michael said. His sweet smile accentuated his deep dimples. Instead of parking the car at one of the posted tourist spots, Michael continued driving north to the small coastal town of Bonagrace Bay.
It was a quaint seaside community. The buildings appeared slightly weathered, but well maintained. The clapboard homes were painted predominately blues and grays with crisp white trim.
Michael pulled into a pebbled driveway and parked. While he grabbed their bags from the trunk, Asher sat in the car, amazed by the ocean view. It was perfect. The Burkhart family had always loved the beach, yet Asher hadn’t been able to bring himself to visit since Allison passed away.
“This place is incredible,” Asher stammered, mesmerized by the Victorian-style bed and breakfast perched on the edge of the ocean. The hand-carved sign announced their arrival at the Bonagrace Bay Inn.
The charming home had a grand entrance with a wide, wrap-around porch supported by large stone pillars, but Asher’s eyes were drawn upward to the illuminated widow’s walk perched above the roof. “I wonder how many lovers have waited up there for their men to return home from the sea,” Asher pondered out loud.
Michael grinned and handed Asher his bag. “‘…When my hope, and my heart, and my all went down, to the heart of the heaving sea.’”
Asher shook his head at Michael quoting Dandridge. Poetry and romance, there was no doubt this man was full of all kinds of surprises.
Several old-fashioned oil lanterns hung from the front porch lighting the way to the main door. A petite, elderly woman was curled up, reading a book, in one of the large wicker chairs on the porch. She pushed her glasses on top of her head and walked over to meet them.
“You must be Michael,” she said. “We spoke on the phone. I’m Sophia.” The woman offered her hand to Michael, then Asher, before ushering them inside after a brief introduction.
The house was decorated with the same blues and grays as the rest of the town, keeping with the nautical feel. Her home was warm and inviting. Asher closed his eyes and inhaled the fresh clean aromas mixed with the tangy salt from the ocean.
“Your room is ready,” Sophia said, handing Michael the key. “I put you in our best suite on the third floor. There are extra pillows and blankets in the closet. It’s been getting chilly after the sun sets. If you boys need anything before morning, just let me know. Breakfast starts at six o’clock--”
Asher scowled when she mentioned the early morning hour.
“Not an early riser?” Sophia winked at Asher, while tilting her silver head. “Don’t worry, darling, you guys are my only guests this weekend so you tell me what time you want breakfast served, and I will prepare a feast fit for a king.”
Waves crested and crashed on the sandy shore. Asher sat on the balcony, high above the beach, enjoying the crisp morning breeze. The beach was deserted. Only the soft sounds of the ocean and caws of the seagulls broke the peace.
The sun-bleached planks on the private balcony were starting to warm under the autumn sun. Wicker and iron furniture was old-fashioned with a modern twist, just like all the accommodations at the Bonagrace Bay Inn.
As Michael stepped out onto the balcony, Asher glanced at him before turning back to the mesmerizing motion of the sea. It was relaxing.
Michael pressed a kiss to the back of Asher’s neck, but his lips didn’t remain there long. “I’ll race you to the water,” Michael teased. Before Asher could climb out of his chair, Michael kicked off his shoes and ran down the stairs towards the water.
“Hey, wait!” Asher chased after Michael, but there was too much of a head start.
Asher was gasping for air when he reached the icy water several paces behind Michael. “No… fair…you… cheated!”
Michael laughed as he linked his arms around Asher’s waist and pulled him closer for another quick kiss. “I thought your sadistic little therapist gave you a clean bill of health. Didn’t she say you were good as new?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean you get to cheat,” Asher said. He playfully bumped his hip against Michael’s as they started down the beach, walking hand in hand. The breeze coming off the water was cool, but the sun overhead was warm; together, the two made the perfect combination for a romantic stroll along the shore.
“You know, working with Jackie got me thinking about going back to school,” Asher said, stealing a glance at Michael. “When I dropped out, I never gave it a second thought. My family needed me so I just walked away with less than a year to go, but I think it might be time to go back and finish my degree.”
“That sounds like a great idea,” Michael encouraged with a smile. “Working as a sports therapist would be a lot different than slinging drinks at Chapel Chase.”
Asher rolled his eyes. “Dude, I happen to like working at Chapel Chase, but you’re right, it would be nice to have a grown-up career to be proud of, and making more money wouldn’t hurt, either.”
“You could also do more with the Turtle Island Fund,” Michael said softly, with his gaze fixed on the horizon.
Asher suddenly stopped walking. “What do you mean?”
Michael shrugged his shoulders. “I know you want to take a trip to visit Turtle Island, but if you had the time and appropriate funding, you could turn Allison’s dream into something even bigger.”
Intrigued, Asher urged Michael to continue.
“Ash,” Michael spoke softly, “Turtle Island could be much more than just honoring your sister’s memory. You told me that she was studying to be a teacher, well, what better way to teach kids about turtles and other sea creatures than taking them to experience it firsthand?”
The mention of Allison made Asher lightheaded. He missed his sister so much. Teaching about the ocean was always her dream, but he never imagined that he could make her vision a reality.
With his heart pounding inside his chest, Asher leapt forward, tackling Michael to the ground. Michael gasped when the wind was unexpectedly knocked out of his lungs, but he didn’t struggle to get away. Straddling Michael, Asher quickly covered his mouth with hot kisses. “You’re amazing,” Asher purred between rough kisses. The waves crashed along the sandy shore, inching closer and closer with the tide.
“We’re going to get drenched in about two seconds,” Michael chuckled, when the rising water was almost upon them, humping in the sand like crazy teenagers.
Reluctantly, Asher rolled off Michael and helped him to his feet. They quickly dusted the sand off their clothes and moved just moments before the icy water reached them.
I'm so sorry about the very long wait. When I got sicker and sicker, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to finish this story, but I have. I'm back and I will be posting every Wednesday until it's done. Thank you so much for all your encouragement. When I was stuck in the hospital it meant so much to me, getting messages from you guys!!