His Little Sunshine by Della Cain
It had been one year since Declan and I decided to walk away from the hectic always-working-have-to-get-bigger-and-better hamster wheel that was his career. It had been mine, too. Only, unlike Declan, I wasn’t the one on products in the stores, advertisements on the sides of buses, and on everyone’s television. In many ways, I was the man behind the designer.
And I didn’t mind not being the center of it all. I loved Declan like a brother and knew that if I just paid my dues, eventually I’d be able to get my own career going. I’d get a little office and help people with too much money make beautiful spaces and possibly even get into a magazine or two. But it had been getting tiring to the point I was pushing him for the sake of pushing him and hating myself for it.
His courage, his strength to say, “Stop the wheel,” had terrified me. You’re only as famous as your last success, and what he wanted us to do would have no recognition, not in public spaces anyway. To every one of his fans, it would look like he was vacationing…slowing down. His projects were too personal to be slapped into magazines.
Still…I said yes, and here we were about to celebrate the best year of my career, a career that looked nothing like the one I envisioned when heading off to school.
I turned onto the ranch Declan and Holden shared. I’d spent quite a bit of time here over the past year. The first project Declan and I worked on was for his own nursery. That had been so outside my area of expertise at the time. I didn’t understand the whys or the whats when we dove in, and that project taught me so much not only about the kinky design market but about how to listen to what people need and provide it for them.
My car wasn’t the only one there, which was good. The traffic I’d run into wasn’t fun, and I hated to think Declan’s friends were stuck in it. Two hours was a pretty lengthy time to drive for a slice of cake and a beer around a fire pit. Although, judging by the picture, the cake was pretty impressive for homemade.
I climbed out of the car, half expecting Fluffy the dog to be running toward me. He and I got along really well, mostly because I cowered to his begging. It was hard not to with those eyes looking up at you. He was probably in the barn with Serena, Holden’s horse.
I opened the back door of my car and grabbed the platter of fruit I’d brought. It was from the grocery store and nothing fancy, but everyone liked fruit, and it was a way to contribute. I loved that this was a homemade-cake, cheesy-fruit-platter kind of event. The party the television station threw to celebrate Declan’s show’s one-year anniversary had been black tie, snooty, and fake. This would be friends and fun. So much better.
“Incoming fruit platter,” I called into the house as I managed to open the door without dropping my contribution. “The party can now begin.”
Luke greeted me at the door, wearing a little party hat like you found at the dollar store. “Declan’s in the barn with Holden and a few others, but they should be back soon.”
“I’ll bring this into the kitchen.” The place was decorated in the very same feel of the cake—homemade with love. It looked a little bit more like a little kid’s party than celebrating a business milestone, but, for Declan, that was perfect.
He had a side I knew about but hadn’t seen…a little side. While working on his nursery, he gave me a glimpse of it through his choices, but he never overshared—probably because of how I reacted. I was curious and wanted to know more—know everything, but also, I grew up where you didn’t talk about things you did behind closed doors…ever. And you sure didn’t mention it if those things were done with someone of the same gender.
When I came out as gay during my teen years, my parents decided I was bisexual and never got past that mentality. Had I been bisexual, I’d have considered that a half win. But, to them, bisexual meant straight but wanting to rebel for a bit. It was all kinds of messed up. And the phase thing? I couldn’t even address that.
Instead, I kept my distance and never discussed my social life, even when my mom asked me if I’d found a “good woman to settle down with,” because the conversation would go nowhere. They would never accept my gayness, and I’d come to terms with that. But coming to terms didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt or I didn’t wish it was different. It just was what it was.
“He’s coming.” Evan giggled. “Hide.”
I realized I was part of a surprise party. Had he not seen or heard all the other cars pulling in? It seemed not.
I ducked behind the recliner and, as they came in, I did like everyone else and yelled, “Surprise!”
“I invited everyone over. How can this be a surprise party?” Declan looked around in confusion, meeting my eyes for a second as if I knew. I just shrugged.
“It’s not a surprise party,” Luke explained. “It’s a surprise playdate.”
Playdate. Littles. Friends from…what had I walked into?
“One of my favorite memories of first being little was when Daddy had my friend Bobby come over to play,” Daniel explained. “He was super naughty, and I got a spanking. Best. Day. Ever.”
Spanking? I thought this was all about celebrating a year in business, and now it was a playdate with a side of possible spankings. It was all too much.
“We brought prezzies,” Kasper added. “Fun ones for your anniversary.”
“The one I’d not be having if it weren’t for your persistence,” Declan said.
When I signed the NDA and was able to tour Kasper’s nursery…that had been eye-opening. Kasper hadn’t even been there, possibly for my benefit, or maybe he thought I might be judgey. I wouldn’t have been.
It was all so new and touched a part of me I didn’t know I had and, because of that, it made me uncomfortable. But even if it was one of the other remodels we did that I couldn’t connect with at all like the fancy puppy kennels we helped arrange for our last job, I wouldn’t have judged. I knew what being judged felt like.
“And Evan brought candy,” Daniel announced with glee.
I didn’t blame him. Declan had given me some of Evan’s fancy candy for my birthday last year, and it was every bit as yummy as his reputation suggested.
“There are rooms upstairs boys can get changed in,” Holden said.
Oh. They were doing this now. They were all going to be dressed in clothing designed for infants and toddlers and drinking bottles and I didn’t even know what. I sort of wanted to stay and watch. I’d seen enough down the Internet rabbit hole to be very curious while at the same time knowing I was in over my head.
What was I supposed to do? Just stand there and ogle? Or color or play party games with them? Maybe I was supposed to leave.
“Yes, go on up and get ready. I’ll meet you in the nursery.” Declan’s words calmed my racing heart a bit.
They were going to play in the nursery. I didn’t need to follow them and, most likely, I wasn’t wanted there. I couldn’t blame Declan for this. He’d had no idea. And I was the odd man out. Of course they wouldn’t plan everything around me. Nor should they.
Might’ve been nice if they’d let me know, since this party was sort of mine, too, but I got it. I did. Declan was the star. He always had been and, at the end of the day, I’d always be the “other one,” and if I could be the “other one” and do what I loved for a living, I was fine with that.
They grabbed their bags from the car and headed up, and I just stood there unsure of my best move. Holden had offered for me to join them, and it brought back something he’d said earlier about playing. I’d been so oblivious, I hadn’t realized what he meant at the time. I’d been warned of the playdate, just too clueless to figure it out.
The last thing I wanted to do was make this party uncomfortable for Declan. The way Daniel spoke, this was a huge deal, and I wanted him to relish every second of it. Finding Holden had changed his life for the better in so many ways. This was good for him, and me being in his way was not.
Declan stopped beside me. “Is this too much for you?” The sincerity in his tone reminded me why I loved working with him so much. Had I said it was, he’d have called everyone down for lopsided cake and grocery store fruit platters without a second thought.
“No. It’s fine,” I lied. “I’ll just head to the barn and hang out with Coral or maybe check out the calves.” Or go to my car and watch a movie on my phone.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Don’t worry about me. I knew what I was getting into. Holden asked me if I wanted to play or not,” I explained. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but he didn’t need to know that. “Just being nice. Not because he thought... I’m going to check on the horses.”
I went straight to the barn in case they were watching me to make sure I truly was fine.
And I was.
Even if a small part of me now wished I had stayed for a few minutes. You know…just out of curiosity…not because I wanted to join in. I wasn’t little, probably, and even if I was, I sure didn’t have a daddy.
I opted to check out the cows. There were recently born calves, and I was a sucker for baby animals. I’d just pretend that these were going to be pets and not dinner. Some parts of me were far too city for this place.
Strolling, I took in the gorgeousness that was this ranch. During our off-season, Declan lived here full-time, and I understood why. The city noise and everything needing to be fast fast fast wore on you. This had a calming effect.
I found the calves easily enough. One was tinier than the others and isolated from them, my guess because it was so young. He or she, I didn’t know enough about them to know which without really looking, was in the corner of his stall on a huge blanket.
“You must be a pretty special calf to have such a pretty blanket.” I leaned over the beam. “I bet it’s because you are so adorable.”
“More like stubborn.” Quinn. Quinn was here. Of course he was. He lived here, too. Not in the house with Declan and Holden, who happened to be Quinn’s cousin. He had his own house, but he was part of the ranch. No part of his being here should’ve been a surprise.
And yet it was.
Butterflies fluttered in my belly the way they always did when he was around. There was just something about him. Not that he looked at me twice—not like that. I wasn’t altogether sure I was his preference. For all I knew, he exclusively enjoyed the company of women.
“Stubborn? They look so sweet.”
“Sweet and stubborn.” He chuckled while coming up next to me. “She refused to wear her calf blanket, so we had to improvise.”
“She wanted a human blanket?” It didn’t look like something I’d put on my bed, but, being in my industry, I was kind of a snob about textiles.
“A calf blanket is more of a jacket than a blanket, and little Honey over here managed to get hers off like a boss.” Quinn stood next to me, mimicking my posture and looking out at Honey. “So, she won, and got the nice blanket.”
“She’s so small.”
“She is, but she’ll catch up. She’s healthy and, did I mention stubborn?”
I couldn’t help but let out a chuckle. “You may have. Do you need me to wait somewhere else? Am I in your way?”
“Wait?” he asked and turned to face me. I could see the movement out of the corner of my eye, but I continued to face forward. Being so close to him, hearing his voice…it had parts of me stirring that were hardly things I wanted to announce.
“The anniversary party is a little—private.” I wasn’t sure how much Quinn knew. Holden was pretty open, and they were cousins, so my guess was a lot more than I did. But also, they were cousins, so maybe nothing. I learned a long time ago that family was complicated for everyone, not just me.
“I figured Holden told you about that.” So he did know.
“He did but…I sometimes don’t recognize things right in front of me.” How embarrassing was that and, yet, not telling him felt dishonest somehow.
“So your plan is to…?”
“Stay here until later?” It wasn’t much of a plan.
“How about this? I need to do a couple more things and then grab a shower, but after that, how about we go into town for dinner?”
“Like a date?” It came out before I could catch myself. “How about you forget I said that?”
“How about you consider it anything you like and let me know when you’re done blushing.”
I buried my face in my hands.
“I’m going to pretend that’s a yes.” He pushed himself away from the gate-door thingy we were leaning on. “I’ll be ready in about an hour. Wanna meet me here or down at my place?”
Was I really going to do this? It wasn’t like I had anything better to do and really, even if I had twenty awesome things to do, spending time with Quinn…alone sounded fabulous. But also, he said it could be what I wanted, and lately, I’d become so confused about what that even was. Did I want a boyfriend or maybe a dom or possibly a daddy or maybe just a fuck buddy? I didn’t have a clue. But I wanted something…something that wasn’t so lonely.
“I’ll meet you at my place, since you are too busy making a pro and con list for both options to decide.”
“I wasn’t,” I protested. “I was…it wasn’t a list.”
“But it was something.” He saw me.