Excerpt for The Unexpected Gift of Love Anthology by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Unexpected Gift of Love


Shorts by Suilan Lee

The Unexpected Gift of Love

Monday Evenings, Thursday Dinner and Sunday Afternoon

Published by Suilan Lee

Copyright © 2018, Suilan Lee

Cover art by Liang Woo

License Notes

Thank you for downloading this free e-book. Although this is a free book, it remains the copyrighted property of the author and may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed for any commercial or non-commercial use without permission from the author. Quotes used in reviews are the exception. No alteration of content is allowed. If you enjoyed this book, then encourage your friends to download their own free copy. Your support and respect for the property of this author is appreciated. This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

Warning: This eBook contains scenes with adult language, and love scenes between adult males. It is intended for mature audiences only. If you are offended by such content, please remove this eBook from your files.


The Unexpected Gift of Love


Ryan spread bags of manure on the freshly turned soil. He bent to pick a large stick jutting out from under the boxwood. Spring was starting, and the owner of the Stonerose building behind him wanted his lawn neat.

His landscaping business kept up contracts with property owners in the Beachwood area. The Stonerose contract was the oldest one, and Ryan always made sure he worked on the property himself because the owner gave his landscaping business its first start.

Cleaning out extra broken sticks from under the boxwood shrubs, Ryan continued spreading manure on the fresh turned soil, pausing only when he reached the end of the small strip of shrubs. Removing his work gloves, he wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand and happened to look across the street.

He was back.

Ryan gripped his work gloves, openly staring at the black Cayenne SUV parked right at the entrance space of the one-star, no-tell motel across the street. The SUV stood out; its shiny paint too slick not to notice. Why would the owner of such a sweet car park there?

Ryan started restorative work on the Stonerose lawn three days ago. He noted the SUV his first day. Always parked at that same spot, Ryan glanced at his watch, yep at three o’clock without fail. He could set his time to the driver’s devotion to that parking spot.

The driver never came out of the car. He sat in the driver’s seat staring at the motel main office doors. Fifteen minutes later, he would drive out of the spot and head north, only to return the next day and do the same thing.

Today was no different. The man in the black SUV sat watching the motel, his window drawn down.

Ryan picked up the empty bags of manure and took them to the wheelbarrow full of weeds, sticks and dirt. Heading to his truck, he pulled out waste bags.

More than once, he found himself seeking out the black SUV in the parking lot across. He was busy stuffing twigs and decaying leaves from the wheelbarrow into brown bags when a hysterical cry filled the relative silence.


Ryan straightened up looking cross the street. The man with the black SUV was out of his car and struggling with another man. Their argument escalating, a girl in her teens jumped out of the back of the SUV, her intent clear. Ryan dropped the bag he held and took off across the street.

Recognition slammed through Ryan the moment he crossed the street and was a few feet away from the black SUV.

This was Ren Hill!

“How could you do this to us?” Ren was saying, his hands pushing back the man gripping his leather jacket

“Dad, stop, it’s not worth it,” the girl screamed, taking a step closer to the two men. “It’s not worth it! Dad!”

“Stay out of this, Kaya,” the unfamiliar man said. “How could you bring them here, Ren? This is irresponsible—

Ren scoffed and pushed off the man holding his jacket. He pointed to the one-star, no-tell motel, behind him.

“You’re the one who’s brought us this low. I can’t believe you are fucking that idiot in this place. You’re a bastard, Henry. If this is what you wanted, then you should never have married me. You should have left me to live my life with my kids—”


“Don’t touch me!” Ren shouted, pushing Henry away when he got close.

Henry retaliated with a punch on Ren’s left jaw. Kaya screamed, running to Ren, as Henry moved to follow his first punch with a second. Ryan intercepted the punch, using considerable strength to push the big, strong man away from Ren. The back-passenger door on the black SUV opened and a boy rushed out. Ryan held on to the man named Henry, when he started to reach for Ren again. Pushing Henry back, as the two kids rushed to Ren.

“You hit him,” Kaya, the girl said, her eyes filled with tears when she looked at Henry. “You hit Dad!”

“Get out of here,” the boy yelled, trembling with anger. He stood in front of Ren and Kaya in a protective stance. “Leave, Henry.”

“You call me Daddy, Kiyo,” Henry roared, his body vibrated with violence, the expression on his face harsh.

“I don’t think you qualify,” Kiyo said, his anger clear in his voice.

Henry reacted by trying to break away from Ryan.

“Hey, hey, Dude.” Ryan grabbed Henry’s arms and pushed him away from the upset family. “You’re making this worse. Why don’t you walk away?”

“Who are you?” Henry demanded.

“A concerned citizen,” Ryan said, keeping up a steady walk away from Ren and the kids. The girl was crying openly, the boy’s eyes looked red. It was upsetting. How could this Henry not be worried about making his kids upset?

Ryan shook his head.

“Why don’t you take a deep breath?” Ryan advised when Henry stopped fighting him. “They need time to calm down, so do you—”

“Get out of the way, that’s my family.”

“Yes, and you just punched your husband in front of your kids, in a parking lot,” Ryan said in disgust, understanding that this was the man that Ren called husband. What a piece of shit. “Your kids are freaking out.”

Henry stopped trying to get around him and met Ryan’s gaze. Henry frowned, and then as though finally understanding what Ryan was saying, he gaped and stepped back with a small groan.

“Shit,” Henry said.

“You’ve fucked up,” Ryan said, his tone laced with full on disgust.

Henry scowled at him and stalked toward the motel, Ryan hoped he would stay inside until Ren calmed down or left.

Ryan walked back to Ren, who was now sitting on the ground; Kaya had her arms around Ren’s shoulders. Her long black hair made a silk curtain that hid her father’s face.

Jesus, his mysterious man was Ren Hill. It was hard to believe. Ren owned a car dealership on Rand Street, a lucrative business. He was attractive, hard working and a good father. Ryan had first seen him at one of the Chamber of Commerce lunches he managed to attend.

Ren was openly gay and Ryan found that sexy as hell. Ryan’s business partner, Teddy, had thought they’d hit it off, so Teddy encouraged Ryan’s growing infatuation with Ren. For a while, Ryan had watched Ren from afar, gearing himself up on approaching Ren to ask him out on a date. Then he discovered that Ren had a husband and, two kids.

What a fucking blow to the head that was. Ryan had thought fate was being cruel with him. Gorgeous man, great smile, infectious laugh, successful, why wouldn’t he be spoken for?

Ryan sighed.


God, what was he to think now.

“Are you going to be alright?” Ryan asked when he reached the trio.

“We’re fine,” Kiyo said, his tone unfriendly.

“Kiyo,” Ren admonished. “Be nice. Sorry about the drama. We—,”

Ren broke off and started to get up to his feet. Ryan hurried to his side taking his left arm, even as Kaya supported her father on his right side.

“There’s blood on your lip,” Kaya said, with a hiss, she moved to touch her father’s swollen bottom lip and Ren took her right hand in a gentle hold.

Ryan watched Ren press a soft kiss on the back of his daughter’s hand, then press that delicate wrist to his chest.

“Does it hurt?” Kaya asked, her voice wavering, her eyes filled with tears.

“No baby,” Ren said, trying for a smile when Kaya gave him a skeptical look.

Ryan fell in love.

Ren’s lip was busted and the blood meant there was a cut on the inside. He was hurting, even as he tried to assure his daughter. The injury took nothing away from Ren’s handsome face. Ren was half-Japanese, his lineage giving him a stamp of exotic. Straight black silky hair cut short on the sides and left long on the top. His eyes so striking, Ryan wanted more than a second to look into them.


Ryan blinked, met inquiring brown eyes and he exhaled.


“What’s your name?” Ren asked again. “I’m sorry you got tangled in this—

“Ryan,” he said.

Of course, Ren wouldn’t know him because he’d made a conscious effort never to meet the man face-to-face. It was hard to want something he could never have.

“And it’s no trouble. You needed help,” Ryan said.

“I shouldn’t have,” Ren said in a low heartbroken tone. He pulled Kaya into a light hug and rubbed her back. “Anyway, thanks.”

Ren’s gaze lingered on the motel entrance, his shoulders tense.

“What’s done is done. Kiyo, let’s go. We still need to do grocery shopping. The fridge is empty.”

Despite the upbeat tone Ren used with his kids, he looked heartbroken. Those proud shoulders slumped in defeat. Ryan lifted his hand to offer comfort, but then he met Kiyo’s mistrustful gaze and stopped.

Ryan watched Ren urge Kaya into the back, while Kiyo slid into the front passenger seat. Ren spared Ryan one last glance and a wave, before he entered the black SUV and drove out of the parking lot.

Guess Ryan now had his answers, why a man would park his expensive looking car at a one-star, no-tell motel parking lot.

To catch his husband cheating on him, he thought grimly.

That bastard Henry deserved a beating for breaking a man like Ren’s heart.


How many times?

Ren wondered.

How many times had Henry gone to that ugly little place with that prissy little idiot? Ren closed his eyes, his thoughts filling with images of a naked Henry, lips locked with that stupid little assistant, their breaths coming fast, steeped in passion. Henry sharing what was his, giving what they shared with another, giving away what was theirs—

The betrayal seared Ren to the core.

Tears stung the back of his eyes, he started to bite his bottom lip to stop them, but pain stung through him. His lip hurt, swollen because of a cut on his inner lip. He still couldn’t believe Henry had punched him. Hit him with fists Henry said he would only use to protect their family. The tears stung, and then fell down his cheeks, untamed.

Ren turned up the shower, his knees going weak, unable to fight the pain blooming inside him. He slid down the glass shower stall, sobs took over and he sat on a tiled floor he’d watched Henry install years ago. He hoped the shower would hide the sound of his sobs.

Where had he gone wrong? What had he done for this to happen? Why didn’t Henry love him anymore? Why?

God, why?

Kaya and Kiyo, what was he supposed to tell them now?

Sorry, your Daddy is going on a long vacation.

Ren scoffed, the sound a mix between a sob and disbelief. As if, they would believe him. Teenagers saw through everything. He couldn’t help wishing them a little younger; maybe eight, or seven, and then he would just pretend Henry was on a long vacation. Kaya and Kiyo would forget Henry, and that would be that. Now…there was no way he would accept Henry back in this house. His kids would have to know the truth, and learn how to live through a divorce. The thought of it sent more hurt sweeping through him.

Pressing his face into the cool tiled wall, hoping to stop the tears, Ren wished he ignored the signs of Henry’s betrayal. Wished he ignored the rumors from his office staff—, that stupid story about Henry being seen at The Red Motel in the afternoons that drove him mad.

Ren wished he had not decided to take a car from his lot to confirm these rumors. Two weeks, he parked in that stupid seedy motel, waiting like an obsessed maniac. Henry was careful. He must have been taking a taxi to the motel. Ren would give himself fifteen minutes, if he didn’t see Henry, then he’d tell himself the rumor was wrong, that his staff was deluded. Henry would never treat their family so lightly.

Then, there was today.

Ren had not meant to go with the twins. Kaya and Kiyo got home after school and the fridge was empty. They insisted on tagging along to get groceries. Unable to resist, he pulled into the one-star, no-tell motel parking lot telling the kids he was looking for his wallet. He should have kept driving, and then they would have all kept living in blissful ignorance.

Ren closed his eyes, seeing it all again.

Henry driving the little blue Toyota, and parking right in front of the motel entrance. Henry coming out of the driver’s side, a wide smile on his face as he went around to open the door for the young man, who looked just a few years older than their Kiyo. The quick kiss on that—boy’s—lips. Their hands clasped—

Ren slapped his palm on the wall, hoping to dispel that memory. Still, it wouldn’t disappear.

In that moment, his heart had plummeted. It had felt like a sinkhole opened in his chest, and swallowed his very reason for existing. One minute he was sitting in the car, the next he was racing across the parking lot intent on fighting that young man for Henry. Then Henry had sent the punk into the motel to protect him. Rage and hurt swirled inside Ren, growing into a dark cloud, wrapping around him.

Ren pressed his hand against his chest…the pain of that…Henry protecting that punk from him.

Ren swallowed hard, and tried not to drown in the debris of a love that no longer existed.


Two hours later. Ren, working on the power of pure rage, packed up all of Henry’s clothes, shoes, his paperwork, and a collection of Spiderman comics…everything that had Henry’s stamp on it. He arranged the packed suitcases and boxes right at their bedroom door. When there was nothing else to pack, he turned to their bed. His gaze on the sheets they bought together from the mall a few months before.

Disgust filled him at the thought of Henry coming to him after he’d been with that punk. Ren grabbed the edges of the sheets, unhooking them from the mattress corners. He rolled their bedding into one big roll and with a harsh sob carried them out of his bedroom.

The first outward crack came when he reached downstairs to find his teenagers sitting on the couch in the living room. With the television off, no videogames on, and no book for Kaya, it was enough to tell Ren they worried.

Why weren’t they upstairs sleeping?

Ren frowned, knowing he needed to take out the beddings. Put them into a trash bag or something, because he was never going to sleep on them again. Heading to the mudroom in the back of the house, he was surprised when Kiyo and Kaya followed him.

In the mudroom, Kaya hurried to a wall cupboard they used for supplies. She pulled out the roll of black trash bags. She tagged one off and handed it to Kiyo. Together, they put the beddings into trash bags. Kiyo took the trash bags out to the bin, slamming the lid closed. He came back into the mudroom and they all stood staring at each other.

Kaya’s beautiful eyes were red; she looked like she had been crying. Her long hair in a ponytail, she was in her pajamas, and an old sweater with an anime character on the front. He had bought her that sweater during his last trip to Tokyo. That she still wore it even when she was a cool teenager made her even more adorable. Her feet in heavy socks, she was geared for a camp on the couch.

Kiyo, leaning in a stubborn stance by the door was also in an old t-shirt, and pajama pants. A light sweatshirt was the only nod to the chilly night air.

They should both be asleep, Ren thought. He should push it. They had school in the morning.

“It’s a school night,” he said, in a whisper, when none of them moved.

“We are top students,” Kaya said, matching his tone. “Tomorrow is Friday. They can miss us for a day.”

“Still,” Ren said, sure he was the adult here, and should therefore insist on the—

Kiyo pushed off the wall and came to wrap Ren in a tight hug. It was a rare gift. He usually needed to surprise Kiyo to get this much out of him, hell even ruffling Kiyo’s hair would get him snapped at. Ren closed his eyes, his arms going around his son. The motion seemed to jolt Kaya into action as she launched herself into him too, wrapping her arms around him and Kiyo.

When he felt Kiyo tremble, and his t-shirt soak with tears, Ren realized that he wasn’t the only one betrayed. Henry had walked into their lives when the twins were six. They fell in love too, loved Henry like a father for ten years. Their hearts were broken too.

Ren closed his eyes thinking he needed to find the strength to be there for them. He should never have let it go so wrong. Holding his children, Ren sighed. They came first, as it had been when he became their father.

“We’re going to be fine,” Ren said, holding them tighter. “You’re right. We deserve a weekend off. I’ll call the school in the morning.”



Six months after the encounter at the one-star motel parking lot, Ryan spotted Ryan Hill again. It was fall, the leaves changing into gorgeous orange and brown colors. The Saturday morning was beautiful, the kind to inspire lazing around doing absolutely nothing.

Ryan sat at a table outside the Enclave, a popular local coffee shop in Downtown Eastlake. He sat across his business partner and best friend, Teddy King. They were enjoying a rare day off. Teddy was waiting for his wife’s shift to end at the nursing home a few blocks away where she worked as a nurse. She had requested half the day off, and wanted to clear her vacation time with the HR office. Teddy and Nadine were driving to Put-in-Bay for a much-needed weekend away.

Or, as Teddy had put it, a let’s-go-make-a-baby holiday.

Ryan smiled, watching Teddy eat scones with relish. Teddy seemed to be stocking up on energy for the coming pleasurable exercises.

Jeez, married couples bothered him sometimes. Seeing Teddy so happy, so absolutely blissful and sure of his life with Nadine, Ryan couldn’t help feeling a bit jealous. He had yet to find his own mate, his lifetime partner. Sometimes it felt like he wouldn’t.

Reaching for his coffee mug, he took a sip and happened to glance up. He placed his mug on the table with a little bang when he saw Ren Hill crossing the street in the company of his two teenagers.

Ren was laughing, as he listened to a story the boy was telling. The girl walked with her fingers tangled with Ren’s, she smiled, occasionally adding to the story. They looked happy, far from the unhappy trio he met six months ago.

Ryan couldn’t tear his gaze away.

They chose the table behind Teddy. A blessing and a torture, Ryan thought as Ren sat facing away from him.

“Daddy, if I win the design contest, will you take us to New York?” the boy asked. “I would pay for half the expenses from the design prize money, and you’d only need to foot the accommodations bill.”

Ryan remembered Ren calling him Kiyo that day. Kiyo looked animated, open, none of the angry, unfriendliness he’d shown Ryan in sight. Then again, he couldn’t blame the kid; the circumstances were less than ideal that day.

“And the food,” the girl said with a laugh. “You’re an endless pit, you know.”

Ren chuckled, and Ryan found himself smiling.

“Let’s not forget spending money,” Ren said, his tone teasing.

“And room service,” the girl added.

Her name was…Ryan frowned trying to remember. It had sounded almost similar to the boy.

“Kaya, don’t be such a spoilsport,” Kiyo said, scowling at his sister.

Kaya, Ryan nodded, exotic names for beautiful kids. It suited them. Kaya and Kiyo, Ryan wondered which one was older.

“I’m only pointing out you’ll need more than the little money you’ll win at the contest,” Kaya said.

She was obviously the Hermione Granger of the family.

“Ohmigawd!” Kiyo gave her an exasperated sigh and turned to look at his father. “Are you sure you didn’t adopt her? How is she my twin again?”

“I saw you both born,” Ren said, taking up the menu. “I’m quite sure you came out after her. Definitely both mine.”

“And don’t you forget it,” Kaya said to her brother.

Kiyo made a face at his sister, and Ren chuckled.

“Alright, order something,” Ren said. “I promise to think about your proposal, Kiyo.”

“Thank you,” Kiyo said, validated, giving his sister a triumphant smile.

Kaya rolled her eyes and studied the menu with an elegant shrug of her shoulders.

Ryan smiled, dragging his gaze away from the little family only to find Teddy staring at him.

“If you’re going crazy, let me know first,” Teddy said, pushing his empty plate away. “I usually need a notice, Ryan.”

Ryan cleared his throat and picked up his mug. He tasted the coffee and was disappointed to find it lukewarm. Giving up on the coffee, he shrugged.

“How far is Nadine?” Ryan asked.

“Almost upon us,” Teddy said, nodding behind Ryan.

Ryan shifted, looking back, to see Nadine walking toward them in blue scrubs, her cheeks flushed. She was a beautiful woman; the luxurious brown hair falling down her back was her most striking feature. She reached them fast, leaning to give her husband a quick kiss. She kept her hand over Teddy’s shoulder as she straightened to look at Ryan.

“Hey you,” Nadine said. “Looking forward to a weekend flying solo?”

Ryan grinned.

“Grilled meat, cold beer and ESPN, what more could a guy ask for?”

“I hate you,” Teddy told him, and Ryan laughed. “I’m already going to miss your big screen. No need to rub it in my face.”

“Can’t help it,” Ryan said, as Teddy stood, his arm around Nadine. “You two lovebirds go have fun.”

“We will,” Nadine said.

She extricated herself from Teddy’s arms and came over to give Ryan a hug. Kissing his jaw, she whispered, “Try and go out, Ryan. You might get lucky.”

Ryan smiled.

“I’ll think about it.”

Nadine straightened up and returned to Teddy’s side. After a few more jokes, the happy couple walked away, heading to Teddy’s car parked across the street. They drove off minutes later with a quick honk and a wave at him.

“It is you.”

The words came soft and full of pleasure.

Ryan shifted in his seat, to find Ren Hill standing by the chair Teddy had vacated.

Ren smiled and Ryan forgot his words.

Ren held out his hand, and Ryan took it in a daze, his fingers closing over Ren’s warm hand. Elation sweeping through him, Ryan cleared his throat, forcing his brain to function.

“Hi,” Ryan said, getting to his feet.

“Ryan,” Ren said. “We’ve—”

Ren broke off, his cheeks flushing with embarrassment.

“Yes, we’ve met before,” Ryan took over, thinking Ren didn’t need to feel any embarrassment over that incident. “How are you doing?”

“Good,” Ren said, his hand still in Ryan’s, none of them making a move to break contact. “Uhm…you remember my son and daughter. We came out to get some art supplies for Kiyo and stopped for coffee. Kaya thought she recognized you—”

“I remember them,” Ryan said, still holding on to Ren’s hand. Staring at their clasped hands, Ryan forced himself to let go of Ren’s hand, although he didn’t want to.

“I never thanked you properly,” Ren said after a moment. “I—I should have asked for your full name that time.”

“Pape,” Ryan said, quickly. “Ryan Pape. I have a landscaping business; our shop is down the street. P & T Landscapers, we shape up your garden.”

“I’ve seen your trucks around,” Ren said with a smile.

Ryan felt a sense of accomplishment at this small acknowledgement. Their business had grown, enough to afford him weekends off, a man had to be proud of that.

“Ren Carr-Hi—,” Ren stopped, his gaze dimming for a moment. “I’m Ren Hill, mine is the Car Dealership on Rand. It is nice to meet you, again, Ryan.”

“You too,” Ryan said.

Ren glanced at the half-empty mug of coffee on the table.

“I’m sorry, I’m keeping you—

“Not at all,” Ryan said, not about to give up this very rare chance. What were the odds, the one Saturday he decided to take it easy, he’d run into Ren?

“Well, if you don’t mind another cup of coffee,” Ren said. “Can I buy you one? We’d like to thank you properly.”

Ren shifted, indicating his kids too. The two teenagers watched them, Kiyo’s gaze speculative, Kaya’s full of interest. Ryan smiled and nodded his assent.

“I would love a second cup of coffee.” Ryan took his cell phone. He slipped a twenty-dollar bill into his and Teddy’s bill. Then moved around his table and joined Ren at his, taking the chair to Ren’s right.

Ryan sat across Kiyo, with Kaya to his right.

“Kiyo, Kaya, you remember Ryan,” Ren said it as a statement.

“Hey,” Kiyo said, giving Ryan a short nod.

Kaya was friendlier and she treated him to a beautiful smile.

“You’re handsome,” she said. “Built up, do you do serious wrestling? Or play football?”

Ryan chuckled.

“I used to play football in high school. Now, I dig up land, redo lawns and design gardens.”

“A man who works with his hands,” Kaya said with a smile. “That’s so earthy.”

“Says the girl who can kill a plant by looking at it,” Kiyo said with a short laugh. “Dad gave her a miniature rose last year for her birthday. We checked on it a week later and it was dead.”

“That was so not my fault,” Kaya protested. “How was I to know I’m not supposed to over water it.”

“You drowned it to death,” Kiyo chortled.

“These are my kids,” Ren said, looking at Ryan with a rueful smile. “Topics can range from outright coups, mayhem and sometimes murder.”

“Don’t forget gory,” Kaya added.

“Or sappy,” Kiyo supplied, his gaze on Kaya. “She thought you were like a hero, her eyes twinkle with stars when she talks about you jumping in when Dad got punched by that bastard.”

“Kiyo,” Ren chastised.

“What? You call him that too when you’re talking to Brian.”

Ren gave a sigh, and looked at Ryan a tad mortified.

Ryan grinned.

“And Brian is?” Ryan asked, hoping to God Brian wasn’t someone important in Ren’s life.

“Dad’s lawyer,” Kaya supplied. “The best there ever was,” she added. “He made it so that Henry would never hurt Dad again.”

“You’re divorced,” Ryan said, elation filling him when he met Ren’s gaze.

“Yes.” Ren nodded. “Henry, the man you saved me from that day, is my ex.”

“Good riddance,” Ryan said, with a satisfied nod.

Finally, the tide was turning his way.

Ryan spent the better part of his morning drinking coffee with Ren, Kiyo and Kaya. The kids were entertaining, their stories fantastic, especially after they relaxed around him. Ren listened more than he shared.

Ryan found that endearing, how easy it was for Ren to defend either kid in an argument, how he encouraged them to state their thoughts. He pulled Ryan in to the fold with a simple word or wave of his hand so that Ryan kept up in the conversation.

Then Kaya’s phone buzzed and she sat up, looking at her father.

“Dad, my violin class is almost,” she said. “Tina is almost here. Can I sleep over her house tonight? We’ll have a girl’s night.”

“Sure, baby,” Ren said, reaching for the bill. “Kiyo and I can make dinner.”

“Can’t,” Kiyo said his gaze on his phone as well. “Tim and I have a videogame playoff tonight. Tim is picking me up. Can I sleep over too?”

Ren’s gaze narrowed moving from Kiyo then to Kaya. They both smiled at him hard. Ren reached out and ruffled Kiyo’s hair.

“Fine, as long as you promise to be home for dinner tomorrow night, both of you.”

“I will,” Kiyo said, moving his head away from Ren’s fingers. In the next minute, a honk on the road had Kiyo standing. He kissed his sister’s cheek, and patted Ren’s shoulder.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Pape. See you later, Dad.”

One second Kiyo was there, the next he was gone.

Kaya was more elegant in her exit. She came around the table to kiss her father’s left cheek. Standing by Ren’s side, she met Ryan’s gaze.

“Thank you for that time, Mr. Pape,” she said, her tone sounding older than her years.

Ryan gave her a gentle smile.

“I was happy to help, Kaya.”

She nodded and squeezed her father’s shoulder, then hurried away. A second later, a fire red Porsche pulled up to the curb, and Kaya got in the passenger seat. With a quick honk, and a wave at Ren from the driver, the car sped off.

Ren sighed.

“Then they disappear on you in a blink,” he said, his tone wistful. “I miss when they were ten and needed me to drop them off at their friends’ houses. Those were fun times.”

Ryan sat back.

“You have beautiful kids.”

“You have any kids?”

Ryan shook his head. He was thirty-four, going on thirty-five. All this time, he’d never thought of having kids, until today, watching Ren interact with Kiyo and Kaya. There was a deep intimacy between them. A very strong bond, that Ryan envied, one he wanted to be part of.

“Do you want kids in the future?” Ren asked.

The question was normal, harmless, but from Ren, it seemed important. Ryan found himself nodding.

“Sometime,” he said. “When the timing is right.”

Ren smiled.

“You can’t always plan for everything. Sometimes fate blind-sides you.”

Yes, Ryan knew that. He had no doubt Ren understood it too.

Thinking of Teddy and Nadine who were heading off to enjoy each other’s company and maybe make a baby, Ryan decided he too would try living a little.

Meeting Ren’s gaze, he took courage by the horns.

“Ren, invite me to help you make dinner,” Ryan said.


Ren took in a deep breath, trying not to run when he met Ryan’s blue gaze. The man was serious. Ryan was handsome. He didn’t have Henry’s slick neatness, never would, Ren suspected. Ryan had a rugged, earthy type of presence. Broad shoulders, as Kaya had put it, body sculpted by hard work and big hands that fit his profession.

Ren couldn’t remember ever dating a man like Ryan. He’d always preferred the slicker types like Henry, or even Brian, his lawyer. Granted, he hadn’t dated in over ten years, so what did he know?

“Ren?” Ryan prompted, not giving up.

“Well, now that the kids are out tonight, I don’t need to cook,” Ren answered, pushing his mug of coffee away and reaching for the bill.

Ryan smiled, his lips curving into the sexiest curve, Ren felt the stirrings of attraction. The following panic was familiar. Since Henry’s betrayal, he could barely look at another man without panic plaguing him.

Ren’s phone buzzed a message and he glanced at the screen to find a message on the family chat group.

Give him a chance, Dad.” Kaya wrote. “There is nothing wrong with dating again. You can’t be unhappy forever.”

Whatever Kaya says,” Kiyo wrote. “She’s the boss of us. You know she’s always right.”

Ren stared at the message and once again wondered who was the parent. He’d thought the sleepovers a bit too perfect.

“You have to eat too, don’t you?” Ryan asked, placing his hand over Ren’s right hand, drawing his attention. “I only want your time. No strings attached. I’ve wondered for a long time what it would be like to spend time with you. But—

Ryan broke off and drew his hand away.

“You were married and off limits,” Ryan explained, his tone soft. “Now, you’re free—

“And a mess,” Ren cut in, thinking honesty was best. He didn’t want to give Ryan false hope. “I’m damaged, Ryan. The last few months have been tough, and I don’t know that I can give you what you’re looking for.”

“How do you know what I’m looking for?” Ryan asked.

Ren got his wallet from his pocket, slipped two twenty dollar bills in the little folder as their waiter passed by.

“You’re a good-looking man,” Ren said. “No baggage in sight. You should be out on a date on such a beautiful Saturday instead of helping me make dinner.”

Ryan grinned.

“What if it’s what I want to do?”

Ren stared at him.

“Can’t we be friends spending time together?” Ryan asked. “My friend just ditched me for a weekend with his wife. Your kids have left you to go to their friends.”

“So, we’re fighting loneliness together?” Ren asked when the waiter brought back his change.

“Absolutely,” Ryan said, as Ren stood. He followed suit, determined to get a yes from Ren. “Well?”

Ren chuckled, unable to resist Ryan’s hopeful gaze. With the twins out for the night, the house was going to be huge, lonely and too quiet. Sometimes, when he had work to do, he savored that silence. Lately though, the silence was getting to him, it made him sad, and alone. Studying Ryan, he wondered what it would hurt.

“I’m probably going to regret this, but, okay.”

“No regrets,” Ryan said with a wide grin, falling into step with him. “What’s for dinner?”

“I’m quite sure it’s after midday,” Ren said, his hands in his pocket as they walked down the street. “A bit early to think about dinner.”

“I bet your house runs a daily menu,” Ryan said. “What’s on the list?”

Ryan was right. It was the only way to manage a house with two full-grown teenagers. Kiyo ate for three, while Kaya needed constant prodding to eat. A menu was the only way to manage them. Of course, when they got bored with the menu, it forced Ren to go back to the drawing board to come up with new exciting foods to add in.

“It’s chicken tonight,” Ren said. “Kiyo likes to grill the chicken on the BBQ and make chicken burgers.”

“Looks like I get to grill the chicken tonight,” Ryan said with a smile.

“Are you sure it’s what you want to do?” Ren asked, sure a man like Ryan would have a dozen other things to do, more exciting than hanging out with him.

“Definitely,” Ryan said, smiling at him. “I’m a pro at grilling chicken.”

Ryan’s smile made him pause, made him wonder, in that magical way attraction started. Panic would have set in by now, but Ryan was comfortable.

Ren frowned. Maybe it was because Ryan had stepped in when Henry would have slammed a fist into his jaw. Ren hated to think of Henry punching him, it had made him feel useless, discarded. Then Ryan had stepped in, pushing Henry away, holding him off.

Kaya sometimes narrated that story with such flair; it felt as though Ryan was a knight.

“What?” Ryan asked, when Ren stopped.

Ren looked into Ryan’s blue eyes.

Well, Kiyo was right. Kaya was never wrong. Maybe it was time to live a little.

“Dinner sounds great,” Ren said, smiling at Ryan.


One dinner at Ren’s house turned into twenty. Ryan remembered each one, because he loved Ren’s home. Tucked into the end of a street, the backyard morphing into adjoining woods, it had two floors and every room filled with warmth. From the furniture, comfortable and lived-in, to the little knick-knacks on shelves and pictures on the walls, everything belonged. He discovered rooms with each visit. Funny, the twins conspired not to be in the house each time he visited.

Sipping his beer, Ryan paused at the entrance into a room Ren called the studio. The wall across was made up of floor length windows, and the walls on each side covered with drawings.

“This is Kiyo’s place,” Ren said, coming to lean on the door next to him. “Kaya’s practice room is in the back of the house. On a good day, she can practice for five hours straight. We invested in soundproofing or there was going to be world war III over the noise.”

Ryan shifted to study Ren as he talked about his children.

“Kiyo likes quiet when he works. He was around eight when he started drawing. He’s grown this room, changing it as he matures. He is so talented; I sometimes catch my breath at the sight of him.”

“Do you know you’re in love with your children?” Ryan asked.

Ren chuckled, and crossed his arms against his chest.

“They keep me sane. At times, they are the only reason I live.” Ren dropped his gaze to the floor. “The only reason I get through.”

Ryan figured Ren was thinking about his ex-husband, that bastard Henry. Henry who damaged Ren’s heart, leaving a wound too deep, too raw still. Placing his beer bottle on a small table right by the door, Ryan took a step closer to Ren.

He wanted to erase the pain Henry gave, replace it with the love growing inside him. Because, yes, spending time with Ren only fanned a burning love for the man and his little family. He loved that Ren worked hard to keep his business afloat, to provide for his children. He loved how Ren nurtured Kiyo’s talents, and acknowledged Kaya’s intelligence. Ren was a damn good father.

Most of all, Ryan loved how hard Ren worked to hide his loneliness, his broken heart. Ryan wanted to put that heart back together, and give Ren a love he deserved.

“Ren,” Ryan said, bringing his hand up to stroke Ren’s lips, as they parted on an exhale.

Ren met his gaze.

“We’ve been spending time together for almost a month now. You’ve managed to keep me at arm’s length, and it drives me crazy.”


Ryan brushed his lips against Ren’s, stopping him.

“I care about you,” Ryan whispered. “I want more than friendship with you, Ren.”

Ren closed his eyes, and brought his hands up to Ryan’s chest, ready to push him away.

“Give me a chance,” Ryan said. “Give us a chance, I promise not to hurt you.”

“Henry said the same thing,” Ren said, pain in his words. “I trusted him, Ryan, with my children, and my heart. He hurt me, damaged us.”

“I know,” Ryan said, meeting Ren’s gaze when he opened his eyes. And there it was: the pain Ren hid with expertise. Real and deep, it took Ryan’s breath away. “Still, take a chance on me.”

Ren shook his head, afraid, unable to take that step toward Ryan.

“I’m not Henry. I don’t mind waiting for you to trust me, Ren,” Ryan said, bending his head, pausing with their lips an inch apart. “Now I’m going to kiss you, because I’ve been dreaming about it for ages.”

Then he sealed their lips in a searing kiss that had them clinging to each other. Ryan kissed Ren, sipping on delicious warm lips, taking and sweeping his taste, an addiction growing; it felt like he would never get enough. Wrapping his arms around Ren, Ryan pressed his body into Ren’s and held on as one kiss turned into many, and the realization that he wanted Ren for life took hold.


Remembering Ryan’s kiss the next morning, Ren touched his lips with a smile, his body tingling at the feel of Ryan holding him close. Gosh, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been kissed like that.


Kaya’s voice broke into his thoughts and he glanced up, guiltily.

“What are you thinking about?” Kaya asked, her smile told him she could guess.

She saw too much, Ren thought, passing her the plate of fruit salad he’d prepared.

“How you need to eat your breakfast and leave for school,” Ren said. “Where is Kiyo?”

“Taking a shower.” Kaya sat at the kitchen table. She stabbed her fork into a pineapple slice. She ate it slowly, her gaze on him. “Did you do it with Ryan?”

Ren choked and spat out the coffee he sipped, and placed the mug on the counter.

“What now?” Ren asked, reaching for napkins.

“Guess not,” Kaya shrugged. “When will you cave in? We’ve given you plenty of time alone.”

“Excuse me while I recover,” Ren said, wiping the mess he’d made. He was going to need to change his shirt. “I can’t believe my sixteen-year-old daughter is asking me if I got laid.”

“Almost seventeen,” Kaya said, “Almost legal.”

“You are too smart for your own good,” Ren said, dumping dirty napkins into the trash.

“Well, are you going to?” Kaya asked. “Sleep with Ryan?”

“I’m not discussing this with you.”

“He makes you smile,” Kaya went on as though he hadn’t spoken. “You’re happy again. It’s nice to see that, Dad. Can’t you give Ryan a chance?”

“When was I never happy?” Ren asked. “I have you and Kiyo to keep me that way.”

“You pretend to be happy, sometimes. You smile, and laugh when we make jokes, but I’ve heard you crying in the shower, more than once.”

Ren stared at his daughter.

“Once I came in to your bedroom to bring you a cup of coffee and heard you in the shower after Daddy moved out. Then when you signed the divorce papers, and when Henry returned the house keys.”


“I just want you to be happy again, Dad,” Kaya said, her beautiful eyes full of hope. “Ryan is a good guy, and it doesn’t mean you have to marry him. Only date him. We checked him out with Kiyo.”

“You checked him out?” Ren chuckled. “Did you join Homeland Security without my knowledge?”

“Funny,” Kaya said. “We checked out his business. The landscaping place downtown. He took us out to lunch after school, and then to a movie. It was fun. He didn’t make lame jokes and talked to us like we have brains. He’s a good guy.”

Ren imagined Ryan being hounded by his kids, and shuddered. The man hadn’t said anything about it.

“You are,” Ren walked around the table to where Kaya sat. He put his arm around her shoulders and pressed a kiss on top of her head. “Unbelievable.”

“Is that a good unbelievable?” Kaya asked, tilting her head to look up at him.

“It is an I-love-you-to-death unbelievable,” Ren said, making a mental note to call Ryan.

He dropped a kiss on Kaya’s forehead, just as Kiyo walked in looking like he’d rather be back in bed.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Ren said, moving to sink his fingers into messy hair. He chuckled when Kiyo only grunted, and sat next to his sister, his eyes still droopy.

Ryan placed the bowl of cereal and fruits before Kiyo.

“Better eat, or you’ll miss your ride into school,” Ren said.

“Can’t you drop us off?” Kiyo complained. “Mrs. Wagley’s car smells of pepper. I always want to sneeze in there. It ruins my nap into school.”

“Wish I could,” Ren said, shaking his head. “I have an early meeting with the bank, and now I have to stop over Ryan’s office. He must be worried about me sending my agents in to scope him out.”

Kiyo lifted his head from the table, to scowl at Kaya.

“Told you he’d find out.”

“I told him.” Kaya shrugged.

“Then why did it need to be a secret?” Kiyo asked, shaking his head.

“Because,” Kaya answered, her all time answer to everything.

Ren smiled.

“Alright, you have two minutes,” Ren said.

Kiyo grumbled and dug into his cereal like a creature possessed by raging hormones. One minute they sat at the kitchen table, the next the front door was slamming and they were gone to school.

Ren sighed. Kaya’s comment about turning seventeen left him unsettled. He didn’t want to think of them growing older. Because then he would have to think of his kids going to college, and leaving him alone in this great big house.

Children, he thought, grew up too fast.


Ryan was busy filling out plant orders for the garden center. He had a big job on the outskirts of town that was starting later in the afternoon. Then Ren walked in to reception looking delicious in a grey suit, tailored to perfection and a white shirt open at the collar.

“Will you sign first?” Teddy’s tone sounded teasing, prompting Ryan to finish writing his name on the forms. “Now you can ogle to your heart’s content. You can even take him into your office and close the doors.”

Ryan smiled and used the pen he held to poke Teddy’s arm.

“Hey,” Ren said, approaching them. “Morning.”

“Morning,” Ryan said, staring.

Ren looked too handsome and kissable, definitely kissable.

“I’m Teddy King.” Teddy extended his right hand to Ren. “Ryan’s business partner. Sorry, he’s a tad brain dead right now.”

Ren chuckled and shook Teddy’s hand.

“Do you mind if I steal some of his time?”

“Not at all,” Teddy said. “You can even steal him for the day if you want. He barely takes any time off, unless you force it on him.”

Ren grinned.

Ryan ignored Teddy and took Ren’s hand, leading him to his office. He closed the doors behind them and pulled Ren into his arms. His lips locking with Ren’s, he took in the taste of coffee and strawberries. God, kissing Ren was addictive. He moaned at the taste, then Ren locked his arms around him, and he was a goner.

Ren broke the kiss first.

“We need to talk,” Ren said, when Ryan peppered kisses along his jaw.

“No, we don’t,” Ryan said, trailing kisses to Ren’s neck, sucking on sensitive skin. “Let’s play hooky and neck in here until Teddy closes the doors in the evening.”

“I have a meeting in a few minutes,” Ren murmured, his fingers digging into Ryan’s t-shirt.

“Is that why you look so damn delicious?” Ryan lifted his head, to meet Ren’s gaze. “Your suit turns me on.”

Ren smiled and extricated himself from Ryan’s hold.

“I heard you took the twins out,” Ren said. “They came in—

“I thought it was a secret,” Ryan said, refusing to let Ren get away from him. He wrapped his arms around Ren’s waist, and held him. “Kaya said it was.”

“Kaya is a smart cookie,” Ren said, meeting Ryan’s gaze. “She told me this morning they came to scope you out.”

“I knew they were up to something,” Ryan grinned.

“Kaya worries,” Ren said, holding Ryan’s gaze. “About everything.”

“She loves you,” Ryan said, thinking he was in love with Ren’s kids too.

Ryan had known what they were doing when they showed up at his office. Kaya’s pointed questions as she asked if he made enough money to live, or if he’d ever married, had kept him on his toes. He’d felt like he was going through an intensive interview.

“I’d expect nothing less from yours, Ren,” Ryan said. “Plus, we had a good time. I was going to keep the secret too.”

Ren laughed.

“You’re handsome as hell when you laugh,” Ryan said, his heartbeat skipping.

Ren bit his lip, and reached up to rub his fingers over Ryan’s jaw.

“I don’t know what to do about you,” Ren said.

“Give in,” Ryan suggested, hoping Ren would give him a chance.

Ren touched his lips, meeting Ryan’s gaze.

“It will take time, but I promise to give whatever we have here a chance. See if it grows into more.”

“That’s all I ask,” Ryan said.

“The twins will always come first,” Ren said.

“As they should,” Ryan agreed.

Ren nodded, and pressed closer into Ryan.

“Now that we have that sorted, why don’t you show me just how much my suit turns you on,” Ren said, leaning up to press a soft kiss on Ryan’s ear.

Ryan grinned and tightened his arms around Ren, excitement filling him at the prospect of convincing Ren that what they had between them would last forever.



Two years later, on a sunny May afternoon, Kaya and Kiyo stood side by side holding their high school diplomas while Ren took a picture. The memory immortalized, Ren stood watching his two babies wave to their friends. They were finished with high school and would be heading to college in the fall.

Three months, and his house would be empty. Once again, he wished they were younger.

“Hey, take a deep breath.”

A strong arm went around his shoulders and he turned into the warmth offered.

“They’ve grown up on me,” Ren said, his face buried in Ryan’s chest.

“Kids do that,” Ryan soothed, rubbing his back. “I’ll let you cry on my shoulder later.”

Ren chuckled and took in a deep breath. Taking in Ryan’s woodsy scent, it calmed him down, gave him the strength to smile. He stepped out of Ryan’s embrace just as Kiyo took the camera out of his hands.

“Your turn,” Kaya announced, standing next to her brother. “Smile Dad, you look so happy beside Ryan.”

Ren grinned, as Ryan kept his arm around his shoulders. Kiyo took their picture and then hurried to his side to show him.

The two men standing on the steps in the picture did look happy. Ren barely recognized himself. Ryan stared at him in the picture, love shining in his eyes. Seeing it, Ren looked up and wasn’t surprised to see Ryan’s gaze still full of love.

It was an unexpected gift, Ren thought.

One that found him in the middle of a terrible storm. If he hadn’t been stalking his ex-husband at that one-star, no-tell motel, he might never have met Ryan and discovered this extraordinary man. The past two years felt like a dream. Ryan’s patience gave Ren the courage to dare trust again. He had come to depend on Ryan, come to love how Ryan cared for the twins. He felt desired when Ryan made love to him, held him, kissed him. There was never doubt that Ryan would leave him, or stray. Sure, the fear still existed, born from Henry’s betrayal, but Ryan’s uncomplicated love washed that fear away time and again.

Ren felt a warm wave wash over him and he blurted the words out with no hesitation.

“I love you,” Ren said, knowing Ryan had been waiting to hear them for ages.

Handing the camera back to Kiyo, Ren turned to face Ryan and repeated.

“I love you, Ryan.”

Ryan gripped his arms and leaned to kiss him hard. Ren chuckled when Ryan swept him up and gave a triumphant laugh. When Ryan put him down, Ren turned to his kids to find them both smiling.

“What, no complains about soppy displays of love?” Ren asked when Ryan kept holding his hand.

Kaya swiped a hand over her eyes and cleared her throat.

“Well, it’s about time, Dad. Maybe you’ll let him move in now, what with us going to college and all.”

“Yeah Ryan,” Kiyo said. “Kaya is the boss of us, and now you. She’ll nag until you pack up your house and move in.”

“Are you sure?” Ryan asked, looking at Ren, then at the twins.

“You’re family,” Kaya said, once again her tone sounding much older than her years. “You make my Dad happy, and that’s all that matters, Ryan.”

Ren squeezed Ryan’s hand.

“Your Dad makes me happy too,” Ryan said, holding Ren’s gaze.

“Okay, we can celebrate later,” Kiyo said, breaking the moment. “Time to party and eat as much as possible. High school’s out for good!”

Ren chuckled, and watched Kiyo run to meet his friends waiting in the parking lot.

Kaya, as always was more graceful in her exit. She kissed Ren’s cheek, then leaned into Ryan and kissed his cheek too.

“See you guys in two days,” Kaya said, hurrying away to meet Trish and their friends. The girls were going on a camping trip to celebrate graduation.

“And then they’re gone,” Ryan said, turning to Ren. “Wanna sleep over my house?”

Ren smiled.

“Are you sure you don’t wanna move in tonight?”

“I figure if I have you at my place, you’ll help me pack up in the morning,” Ryan said, leading him down the steps to Ren’s car.

Ren unlocked the doors and handed the keys to Ryan. Once they settled in, he turned to look at Ryan.

“How about we spent the weekend in your bed,” Ren said, “and worry about forever later.”

Ryan grinned.

“Did you say forever?”

Ren nodded, taking Ryan’s free hand.

“I love that word,” Ryan said, starting the car. “Ren Hill, mine forever, now that’s an unexpected gift.”



The Unexpected Gift of Love is a story first published as a prompt response on the site.



Monday Evenings, Thursday Dinner


Sunday Afternoon

There was nothing spectacular about their first meeting. Nothing earth shattering, in fact it was all so very ordinary, it made Reed feel unremarkable. Who wanted to admit they met the love of their life reaching for the same box of cereal? One box of bran flakes with raisins led to him falling head over heels for a man with smiling eyes and the sexiest mouth ever created. He had stared too long…he always stared too long at Kristos. It was impossible not to, so fucking impossible. A man like Kristos was hard to ignore, harder to resist when he smiled back and proceeded to take the darned cereal box hostage.

Reed had clung to it too, as though there weren’t a whole row of the same brand. Why that particular box had seemed so relevant, Reed didn’t know. Well, to be honest, he had wanted a reason to continue staring at Kristos. To keep talking to him, to see his eyes brighten in amusement. That deliciously sexy mouth curved just so, into a smile that made Reed’s heart dance and his blood pressure rise in all the most delicious of ways.

Kristos Stephanos.

Reed pressed his hand to his chest to calm his fluttering heart now.

There wasn’t a part of him that man didn’t own. It was unfair. How thoroughly Kristos mattered. Utterly devastating.

Because, after three years of merging their lives into one big wonderful entity: molding routines around each other, carving their loft in Brooklyn into a gorgeous space, getting grocery shopping down to an art, and finally getting Kristos to stop dropping towels on the bathroom floor…their world crumbled into pieces.

They had fought three days ago.

Loud, mean, and damaging. Enough for Kristos to walk out of their shared loft. He wasn’t sure whether Kristos had left to save them, or end them.

Reed closed his eyes at the memory of their war of words.

Make no mistake. Their fight felt like a WAR.

Yes, the word war fit. There just was no other way to describe it. Reed rather imagined bombs dropping, like in the 1920s, like in the WWI and WWII documentaries Kristos liked to watch on NatGeo. A bit dramatic to describe their fight, but shit, that was what it felt like. Walls crumbling around them, debris in the air, making it hard to breathe. The man he loved walking out the door after calmly saying they needed space from each other.

As though their life had a stop button to push and say, enough, let’s stop for a minute. Oh hey, that’s blown over, push the start button again, let’s keep moving forward.

Reed scoffed still rubbing his chest. It was necessary. The ache in his chest wasn’t something he could stop. Not with medicine, not with sleep, not with oblivion from drinking bottles of wine. He’d tried each one, and still, the ache stayed.

Reed was terribly afraid the feel of Kristos in their bed was the only thing that would cure this pain, his arms thrown over Reed in possessive abandon. Or the simple pleasure gained watching Kristos working at his desk in the corner of their living room on Monday evenings. Having Kristos sit at the kitchen table helping him cut green beans for Thursday dinner. Or folding laundry while Kristos ironed on busy Saturday mornings. His personal favorite was late Sunday afternoons, cuddled together on the great couch in the living room at their loft. Reed reading a book, while Kristos dozed and read whatever page Reed was reading. This ache inside him would only be cured if he got that back. Get back to those beautiful ordinary experiences that turned their life extraordinary.

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