Cover art: Les Byerley
A drama club geek and a consummate jock—hardly a formula for friendship. Yet Caleb Richards and Kevin O’Brien have been best friends since high school. Kevin’s free spirited ways brought Caleb out of his shell, and Caleb introduced Kevin to a world outside of sports. When Kevin came out to Caleb as gay, all the things he’d thought were wrong about himself suddenly seemed right…except for his inability to say the four words that could open the door to his ultimate happiness: I love you, Kevin. Years later, when Caleb finally faced his fear and plans to finally tell Kevin, “It was always you,” he’s a bit too late: Kevin tells him he’s found someone. How will a friendship ever become more now?
Publisher’s note: It Was Always You was originally published in the Friends to Lovers anthology.
Caleb Richards entered Sidewalk Café and was immediately blanketed by the warmth of the live fire at the end of the room. Folding his coat over his arm he scanned the throng of diners, immediately locating the man he’d come to meet: his best friend, Kevin O’Brien.
Making sure his head was raised high, he paced across the room, a mask of happiness firmly in place. Each Wednesday night, without fail, they met for dinner, and just as consistent were the tales of Kevin’s newest sexual conquest. It bewildered Caleb that Kevin could work his way through so many men and never fall for one of them.
Of course, despite Caleb’s attempts to convince himself he wanted Kevin to settle down, for someone to make an honest man of him, he couldn’t deny the relief flooding through him when, once again, Kevin remained single and available.
As Caleb approached their table, Kevin stood—his wide smile melting Caleb’s heart—and strode to meet him. As soon as familiar arms wrapped around him, Caleb settled into the welcoming smells and sensations. The fresh, clean scent of Acqua di Gio filled Caleb’s nose, causing his knees to wobble and his body to sink against Kevin’s. Kevin’s grip tightened, bringing Caleb’s body even closer to burly chest muscles. Suddenly held at arm’s length, Caleb found himself staring into two crystalline, blue eyes, the color of the sky on the clearest of spring days.
Kevin shook his head and one corner of his plump red lips pulled up into a lopsided grin. Caleb’s breath caught in his chest as he took in the prominent dimples accentuating the creamy white skin of Kevin’s face, and his black silken hair. Slightly mussed, Kevin’s hair portrayed a relaxed appearance, one which said, I just ran my fingers through it. It’s only hair.
Kevin held Caleb at arm’s length, a hint of concern revealed by the crinkle at the corner of his eyes. “Hey, C.” He pulled Caleb in for another hug and ran his hand vigorously along Caleb’s back. With breath carrying the slight hint of José Cuervo, Kevin whispered into Caleb’s ear. “You’re frigid.”
Caleb managed a chuckle. Kevin was the only person to use that nickname with him, and Caleb couldn’t help but melt each time he did. Reveling in the sensation of Kevin’s touch, he attempted to keep his rapidly hardening cock from brushing against Kevin’s leg. After another moment, Kevin slid to Caleb’s side and guided him to the table.
Once safely in his seat with a glass of water in hand, Caleb’s equilibrium returned. “So, who are you going to tell me about today?” He’d managed to infuse a casual air into his voice, but this moment, the part of the routine where Kevin talked about his latest conquest, was anything but.
Kevin stared at his hands, as if studying the tendons running along the smooth skin and disappearing at the juncture of long, slender fingers. When he raised his head to meet Caleb’s eyes once again, the sparkle which accompanied Kevin’s bright mood seemed different, more smoldering. Reaching across the table, he gathered Caleb’s hand in his, the warmth of Kevin’s palm radiating along sensitized nerve endings and causing the hairs of Caleb’s arm to stand on end. “Actually, he’s not a conquest. I think I’ve met the one.”
In an instant Caleb’s heart sank to his stomach. For years he’d expected this moment to come, the moment when Kevin would finally find someone he wanted for more than a night. As much as he loved his best friend, Caleb couldn’t help the jealousy that prickled up his spine and rang in his ears. Once again, it took all of his energy to maintain the mask of calmness. “Really? Tell me about him?”
Kevin stared at him, eyes darting back and forth as if searching for something. The intensity of Kevin’s gaze bore down on him, and for the briefest of moments, it seemed Kevin’s levity faltered. His shoulders slumped just a fraction of an inch. Then he was back to normal. “Well. His name is Jason. I met him at the gym the other day. He was running next to me on the treadmill and we began talking. Then we saw each other in the steam room and he was checking me out—”
“Let me guess. You saw him in the steam room and the next thing you know he’s on all fours in your bedroom.” As much as hearing about Kevin’s escapades rubbed salt into an open wound, Caleb so wanted this story to end the same way all the others had.
Kevin laughed a sort of breathy chuckle and his face took on a dreamy expression. After a moment, his focus returned and he continued. “No. I asked him if he wanted to grab a drink and we headed to The Boiler Room and spent three hours just talking.”
Caleb nodded and smiled, but Kevin’s words coalesced into a buzz that made Caleb’s heart beat feverishly. Kevin had never gushed about a guy. He’d talked about looks, hot sex, the way he let guys down. This was the first time Kevin had seemed excited about a conversation with a guy.