Truth & Tenderness

By: Tere Michaels

Evan had no clue, because when he’d experienced a breakup like that—breaking up with Matt all those years ago—he’d told no one, not until those horrible few weeks nearly knocked the last bit of life out of him. And then only because his depressive grief threatened to derail his entire life, a fact his friends and his boss at the time couldn’t overlook as he fell apart. Evan just hadn’t been able to hide it anymore.

Evan knew what it felt like to miss someone so badly you thought it might actually kill you.

“I’m so sorry,” Evan murmured, moving closer to Casper, touching his arm gently. “For both of you.”

Casper’s pale blue eyes got shiny, but he threw that smile back into place and hitched his shoulders back into perfect posture once again. “Thanks.”


“No, it’s—I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be getting into this right now. This is your big moment, and I know your whole family is out there waiting to see you sworn in.”

The brief stutter in Casper’s expression was worse than tears, but Evan also understood stoicism in the face of emotion because you knew damn well if you started, you weren’t ever going to stop.

“Find us at the reception. You have a lot of friends out there. I’m sure everyone would be glad to see you,” Evan said.

“We’ll see. And anyway, you and I will be getting a lot of time together come tomorrow.”

Evan nodded and gave Casper a little salute before heading over to where a woman in a headset was lining people up.

Time to become Captain Evan Cerelli.

Chapter 2

MATT LEANED back in the comfortable leather chair, letting it creak against his weight. It was “his” chair, for when he made the drive up to work with Jim in his fancy-schmancy garage office. Most folks might just throw some yard sale finds in a concrete-walled bunker, but no, Jim had money and people who knew how to spend it.

And it showed.

The walls were painted a rustic tan, with stylish black curtains on the two windows. One looked out at the tree-laden property and the other faced the pool and patio. When the weather was nice, Matt brought the twins up and let them loose on the understated luxury of upscale rural living, which meant they sat in the pool or the hot tub until he had to bribe them to get in the car. The furniture—from the huge overstuffed leather couch to the matching recliners and vintage tables—begged you to stay a few hours more. Work, nap. Catch a game on the huge screen on the far wall.

Plus the double-wide stainless-steel fridge over in the house always appeared full, as if by magic, tempting Matt’s stomach and luring him away from his desk at times other than Jim’s enforced lunch hour.

“You know the rules, young man,” Jim would say as Matt threw a vintage throw pillow in the shape of a pug at his head.

Today Matt and Jim were working on end-of-the-month billing and their schedule for the rest of March. “All the invoices are out, we have the installations scheduled.” Jim thumbed through a stack of papers from the middle of their shared desk, which was the approximate size of Matt’s old studio apartment.

“Wow, we’re efficient.”

“I’m efficient. You charm people into giving us business,” Jim pointed out, placing the papers into the wire basket marked “completed” in his neat block handwriting.

“The perfect team.” Matt righted the chair, reaching onto the desk to get his phone. No new alerts or messages—all was right back down in Brooklyn, apparently. Evan, in full captain mode, was rarely home before nine, and the twins were midway through their freshman year of high school, piles of homework keeping them busy when they were home and not out doing sports or color guard. Once Matt fulfilled his duties in purchasing food, paying bills, and leaving cash out for the kids, he was free to roam.

Which generally meant up to Jim’s house.

“Next up.”

Matt sighed. “Lunch?”

“It’s eleven thirty!”

“By the time you’re finished setting up the spread and pouring me a beer….”

“You’re ridiculous,” Jim said, but he was laughing as he stood up. “Okay, I’ll see what Georgia left us. But you have to start working on the camera layout for Bennett’s new offices.”

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