excerpt from Lovers

“We need to talk,” Nicco said.

“Nothing to talk about.” Rider feigned a casual shrug. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“You’re pissed off.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Like hell.” Nicco leaned out of his seat into Rider’s space. “I know when you’re pissed off, and right now you’re near boiling point.”

Rider pushed Nicco away.

“Back off. I said I wasn’t mad. I get it; we can’t tell your folks or anybody else.”

Nicco crossed his arms over his chest, muscles bulging beneath the short sleeves of his black T-shirt. Typically hot blooded, he’d stuffed his heavy jacket in the overhead compartment before they sat down.

“Ry,” Nicco said. “Come on.”

Rider tried to visualize them walking into Nicco’s childhood home and announcing they were a couple. It was ludicrous. In fact, Nicco acknowledging their relationship anywhere outside their own apartments took some stretch of the imagination. For the first time, Rider let it sink in that by opening this door between him and Nicco, he’d effectively sentenced himself to a life of hiding. And that wasn’t something he was willing to do. Nicco was still staring at him with that know-it-all look he got when he thought Rider was being obstinate.

“I get it, okay?” Rider barked. “As far as your family’s concerned, there’s nothing between us.”

Nicco’s mouth fell open. “Since when has there ever been nothing between us, you dickhead? My folks know you’re the best friend and partner I could ever have — Lord knows I’ve told them often enough. Ben gives us enough ribbing about how touchy-feely we are with each other, and Ma loves that we’re so close.”

“Yeah, I’m good enough to be your best friend and partner, but not good enough to be your lover.” Rider wished he could just let it go, but he couldn’t help himself; the words were tumbling out of his heart, completely disconnected from his brain. It was unfair; he would be proud for the whole world to know he was in love with Nicco, but Nicco would never be anything but ashamed, because he was brought up to think that being gay was disgusting and dirty. Sure, Nicco knew better than that, but it was hard to overcome years of conditioning.

“Rider.” Nicco rubbed a hand over his face. “You know my old man. And my brother –”

“Ben isn’t a homophobe,” Rider cut in. “Have you forgotten his best friend is gay?”

“How could I forget?” Nicco’s voice held an unmistakable edge, but his jealousy at the mention of Alex was only a temporary balm to Rider’s feelings.

“My dad would not take it well,” Nicco said. “And we can’t ruin Thanksgiving for the entire family.”

Nicholas Santori was a tough, seasoned ex-cop with a military background who would probably flip his shit if Nicco came out as bisexual. Added to that, the holidays were big events for the Santoris. Rider knew all this, but he still had trouble giving up the dream.

“I get it. I really do,” Rider said softly. He stared at his hands. “It’s just — I don’t want to pretend, Nic. This may be easy for you, but it’s not easy for me.”

Nicco took one of Rider’s hands in his. “It’s fucking hard for me. You’ve been the most important person in my life for years, but I never realized until recently that we could be even closer than we were. You’re everything to me, you ass, whether the rest of the world knows it or not.” He reached out and tilted Rider’s face with a finger. Nicco’s eyes were dark with emotion, and as he leaned over to kiss Rider, Rider melted into him.

The softness of the kiss and all the feelings Nicco put behind it drowned Rider in emotion, and he reached up, pulling Nicco closer, fingers delving into his curls. The sound of someone clearing their throat across the aisle brought them apart. For a moment, Rider had forgotten where they were, and it was obvious from the look on Nicco’s face that he had, too. Nicco leaned back and turned to look out the window, face flaming.


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