“Olly, that dog is a menace. He needs more training, a bit like you.” Aiden’s tone betrayed his exasperation.
“Parker is just exuberant.” Olly gave his best friend in the world an aggravated glance. “He’s high on life. And I am very well trained, thank you very much. Ask Joe.”
Aiden snorted. “I’d sooner ask Heath to give me a foot rub and feed me grapes.”
“I’d like to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.” Olly laughed, simultaneously scanning the edge of the trees for his dog. “Where has he got to?”
“He’s not living up to his namesake, is he?” Aiden muttered. Parker was named after Lady Penelope’s chauffeur in Thunderbirds.
“He’s loyal and brave and…cleverer than he looks. Parker is the perfect name for him. What do you think I should have called him? Fang or Brutus, I suppose.”
“Fluff Butt, Hairball, Drool Monster… Want me to go on?”
“He does not… Okay, well he does drool a bit, but only when he gets excited.”
“The only time that animal is not excited is when he’s asleep.”
“He can’t help it, it’s in his genes.” To the best of Olly’s knowledge, and the educated guess of his friend Drew at the local animal rescue centre, Parker’s genes were from a spaniel retriever mash-up with a bit of old English sheepdog thrown in. He was pale yellow, long-haired, and had huge floppy ears and enormous paws.
“I think we had better get off the beach and follow him into the woods, don’t you?” Aiden turned away from the shoreline, extending his strides. “I have to get back to work soon. I can’t believe I let you drag me out here.”
“You spend too long in that dungeon you call an office,” Olly said. “You’re turning into a vampire. I know you like to look all pale and emo, but you need your vitamin D.”
“Trust me, I get plenty of D. And you’re a fine one to talk. My diet is far better than yours. You’d exist on sugar and caffeine if Joe let you.”
“Sugar comes from beets. Beets are a type of vegetable. Chocolate comes from cocoa beans. Beans are also vegetables. Coffee comes from…”
“Enough already.” Aiden shook his head. “You’re never going to convince Joe that any of that stuff is good for you, so I don’t know why you bother. Now, stop thinking about sugar and concentrate on finding your daft dog.”
“Nag, nag, nag. You’re worse than Joe.” Olly crossed the treeline into the semi-darkness of the forest, which covered one side of the island housing The Edge, the training centre where he and Aiden both lived and worked. He and Aiden had explored every inch of it, but preferred to walk along the shore. Parker, however, had other ideas. The woods meant rabbits and other small mammals that he could chase. It was easier to dig in the soft leaf mould than it was on the pebble beach, and he loved to shove his nose into burrows, nests and boggy patches. A frantic beating of wings and general disturbance in the trees gave Olly a clue as to where Parker was. He exchanged a glance with Aiden and they set off in the direction of the kerfuffle. There weren’t any proper marked paths through the trees, just animal tracks, and it took some effort to move through the undergrowth.
“We’re heading towards that hollow where the badger sett is, aren’t we?” Olly asked.
“He’s too big to get down those holes.” Aiden growled under his breath.
“It won’t stop him trying.” Olly sped up as best he could, scrambling up the incline that led to the lip of the hollow. “Whoa!” Momentum carried him forwards and he tumbled down the steep slope, finally rolling to a stop in a patch of damp grass and moss. Something wet swiped across his face and he opened his eyes to find Parker giving him an enthusiastic tongue bath. He burst out laughing, batting the dog away as he rolled to his knees. “Where did you get to, Parker? You had me worried there for a minute.”
Parker gave a gruff bark then nosed at Olly’s pocket for treats. “You don’t deserve treats.” Olly slipped him a biscuit bone anyway.
“Are you okay?” Aiden skidded to a halt at his side. “That was a spectacular tumble.”
Olly gave himself a pat down. “I had a soft landing. I’m fine and I found Parker.”
“So I see.” Parker gambolled around Aiden’s legs, almost knocking him over. “What were you doing, you daft mutt?”
“From the amount of dirt around his snout, I think he’s been trying to find badgers to make friends with,” Olly said as he staggered to his feet. He brushed at his clothes in a vain attempt to remove some of the muck. “I’m filthy.”
“No kidding.” Aiden picked a piece of twig out of Olly’s curls. “Are you sure you haven’t damaged anything other than your dignity?”
“My dignity is fully intact, thank you very much.” Olly attached Parker’s lead to his pale blue collar. “But we had better be getting back. I’ve got loads to do.”
“Wedding plans?” Aiden asked.
Olly nibbled his lower lip. “There’s so much organising involved.” He sighed.
“What’s wrong? You have been a bit quiet lately, come to think of it, and I am your best man, so if there’s anything I can do to help, you know you just have to ask.”
“It’s nothing—well, it is but it isn’t. I mean, I really, really want to get married, but…”
“But what? Spill it, Olly.”
“I’m not sure I want such a big event.” There, it was out in the open. Olly couldn’t meet Aiden’s eyes.
“And have you talked to Joe about this?”
“I… Haven’t found the right moment.”
“He so going to spank your behind if you don’t tell him.”
“But he’s been so good about researching all the arrangements. What if a huge wedding is what he wants more than anything in the world?”
“Joe may be all stern and Dommy, but when it comes to you he’s as sappy as they come. Whatever makes you happy is what he’ll want.”
“But I want him to be happy too. This wedding isn’t all about me, it’s about us.”
Parker led the way out of the woods to the path that headed back to The Edge, sniffing at every interesting smell they passed. Olly let him have his way, concentrating on not falling over again.
“And that’s why you should be talking about it, not keeping things to yourself. Joe would be devastated if he thought you were doing something just because you assumed he wanted it and not because it made you happy.”
“There’s no maybe about it. Talk to him.”
They circled the main building to a back door where Olly could wash the worst of the mud from Parker’s paws with a hose. “You get on—I know you have to get to work. I’ll see you later, ’kay?”
“Sure. Talk to him today, Olly. I mean it. You won’t be happy or settled until you do.”
Aiden disappeared into the building, leaving Olly alone with Parker. “Well, boy, let’s get you clean. Can’t take you inside in that state, can we?”
Once Parker was as clean as he could get without a full bath, Olly took him inside to the boot room, where he kept a stack of old towels. He gave him a quick rub down, and when he was satisfied that the dog wasn’t going to track dirt through the building, he took a shortcut to the courtyard that granted access to the stable mews cottage he shared with Joe. He fed Parker, who scoffed his food in ten seconds flat before curling up in his bed next to the fireplace and dropping off to sleep.
“So much for having a confidant,” Olly grumbled. “You’re asleep, Aiden’s at work with his secret squirrel stuff, Reuben’s out of bounds in the kitchen. I suppose I could call Kai or Christian, but it’s a bit early. Bite the bullet, Olly. Much as I hate to admit it, Aiden’s right. I should talk to Joe.”
Without bothering to change out of his mucky clothes, Olly wandered through the main building, taking a circuitous route to Joe’s office, which was situated off the main entrance hall. There were a few people around, and he waved to those he knew and greeted those he didn’t, but didn’t stop to chat. If he got distracted, he’d never talk to Joe, and that was what he needed to do.
Despite it being late summer and still warm, there was an open fire burning in the grate of the massive fireplace in the entrance hall, which always seemed to be a bit draughty. The flagstone floors were covered by bright rugs and the furnishings made the space cosy, but the number of people coming in and out of the front door meant that it was difficult to keep it warm. For that reason, Joe often kept his office door closed, but Olly could see that it was open a crack. He didn’t need to knock, but he gave the mellow oak a soft tap anyway before pushing his way inside. It had been less than two hours since he’d been snuggled in bed with Joe, but his breath still hitched when he met his lover’s icy blue eyes as Joe looked up from whatever paperwork he was dealing with.
“What on earth have you been doing?” Joe asked, his tone mild. Olly wasn’t deceived by the gentle enquiry. He nibbled on his lower lip. “No, you don’t have to tell me. You’ve been out walking Parker, haven’t you? I suppose he got into some kind of trouble and took you along with him. Or perhaps it was the other way around.”
“Sir,” Olly whined. “We don’t get into trouble, we have adventures.”
“Adventures that end with you covered in mud and with a grazed elbow.”
Olly inspected the offending arm. He hadn’t noticed the small graze that was oozing a couple of spots of blood. “Oh, I didn’t realise… I wonder how I did that. Probably when I fell down that hill.”
That statement got Joe to his feet and stalking around his desk. “You took a fall?” He pushed his office door closed and turned the key. “Take your clothes off, Oliver. I want to look you over.”
Olly sighed. He should have known that Joe wouldn’t be satisfied with him saying he wasn’t hurt—he had to have the proof of his own eyes.
“But I want to…”
“Yes, Sir.” Olly stripped to his underwear then stood, placid, while Joe inspected him.
“Hmm. A couple of bruises, some scratches and that graze. You’ll live.”
Olly fidgeted, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Being in such close proximity to Joe when Joe was fully dressed and he was clad in skimpy underwear had an inevitable effect. He crossed his hands in front of his groin and attempted to look demure.
“You really think you can hide anything from me, Oliver?”
“No, Sir,” Olly mumbled.
“I think some quiet time is called for.” Joe gestured to the armchair in the corner of his office. “You may sit there while I carry on working. Think about why it’s important not to worry your Dom by throwing yourself around in the woods.”
Olly knew it was useless to protest, and besides, he liked being in the study while Joe worked. He curled into the chair, plumping the cushions to make a nest.
“Are you warm enough?”
Joe returned to his seat and bent over his papers, grumbling about some kind of error on an invoice. Olly let his eyes drift closed. He ignored his aching cock and allowed himself to daydream about Joe bending him over the desk for a spanking. He smiled. It wouldn’t be the first time.