“Let me see.” Pike grabbed Zack’s hand, examining the rapidly forming blood blister. Zack’s hand was heavy in his. Warm. Right. “It didn’t break the skin at least. And I don’t think the finger’s broken.”
“It’s fine.” Zack yanked his hand back, as if he too had felt the jolt of electricity between them at the contact. “Let’s get this done.”
The remaining slats were a hassle and a half to get in place with fiddly little spacers that made Pike moan about the simplicity of box springs. Zack told him to suck it up. “Too late now. Just got to finish the job.”
Finally, they were able to wrestle the mattress into place on top of the platform.
“We did it.” Pike flopped down onto the bed.
“What are you doing?” Zack loomed large over him.
“Celebrating.” Pike hooked Zack’s leg with his foot, sending him off balance enough to tug him down next to him. “See? Isn’t it great.”
“It’s a bed.” Zack sounded a bit breathless, body right next to Pike’s. “Nothing special.”
“Yes, it is.” Pike turned so they were face-to-face. “We built it. We’re not falling to the floor. That makes it special.” What really made it special was the guy next to him, not that Pike was saying that. God, Zack was pretty to look at, all blond hair and pale winter-sky eyes and long, straight nose. He wasn’t movie-star handsome like his friend Harper, but he was hot as fuck in a boy-next-door kind of way. And God, those muscles under his tight T-shirt, which was slightly damp with sweat. Pike wanted to touch the fabric, feel the warmth of the guy next to him.
Pike shifted. Not much. Maybe an inch, but Zack did the same and suddenly his face was right there and—
“I better get bedding on the bed. It’s not good to lay on it bare.” Zack hopped up off the bed like he’d been burned. “And it’s late. You probably need sleep.”
Not here was the heavily implied message there. Pike heaved himself off the bed. So much for that. And hell, if they kept having these weird bonding moments followed by Zack freak-outs, Pike was in for a long-ass year.
Three long days of training, capped off with a four-hour monster-mash test of endurance and skills, and Zack was so fucking grateful to be home that he sat a minute in his truck in the driveway, letting the stress roll off him, relieved that Pike’s little beater car was nowhere to be seen. Zack totally wasn’t fit for human consumption right then.
He’d been paired with Cobb and Harper along with Rodriguez for the monster mash, competing against the other guys on the team. Thank God Cobb hadn’t been in one of his moods, but still Zack hadn’t wanted to test him. He’d beaten feet to get the hell out of there the second they were dismissed.
He’d spent the whole competition just waiting for Harper to say something to Cobb about his new roommate and all hell to break loose. But Harper had been strangely subdued and uber-deferential to the senior chief, leading Zack to wonder if maybe the senior chief had said something to him. God, what a clusterfuck. All he needed was the senior chief thinking he needed protecting. He was just as tough as anyone else on the team. And they’d come in a very respectable second in the competition, working together to run through the obstacle course carrying a two-hundred-pound dummy before assembling a radio. That part Zack was good at, and damn proud of it.
Proud but tired as fuck. He hauled himself out of the truck, unlocked the front door and bent to unlace his boots and kick off his socks. He hadn’t slept much the past three days of training, and while the other guys were getting their Friday beers and anticipating getting their weekend swerve on, all Zack was anticipating was a chance to go to bed early. Early as in before Pike got back. Tomorrow they’d already arranged via text to do some major work in the kitchen, and if Zack was going to be up for a whole day of close proximity to Pike, he needed some rest.
But first, food. He straightened, intending to head to the kitchen, but did a double take at the state of the living room. Gone was the mangy shag carpeting, revealing nicely swept hardwoods in need of refinishing. All the tack strips around the perimeter of the room had been removed as well. In the center of the room, the large, faded and stained blue couch from the senior chief had been covered with a black slipcover and looked almost respectable opposite the newly assembled IKEA entertainment center with Pike’s TV and all his gaming equipment. Pike had put a small throw rug between the couch and the TV, a brightly colored nubbly number that Zack would have expected in a bathroom, but which added a certain whimsy to the otherwise bare room.
It reminded Zack of the mail-order purchases his grandmother had been fond of, cluttering her house with colorful doodads and stacks of mail—
Mail. Hell, he’d forgotten to grab that on his way in. No way was he putting his boots back on just to step out onto the little porch. He opened the front door, musing about how he bet Pike would have liked Grandma and—
Swish. Fuck it all to hell, the bigger of the two cats snuck between his legs, barreling toward freedom.
“Gizmo!” Zack yelled, like the cat was going to slow down at the sound of his name. Sure enough, he just kept right on going, off the porch and into the front yard. Hell. No time to grab his boots now. He couldn’t let the cat out into a strange neighborhood. Pike would kill him if anything happened to the cat. He darted after him, prickly dried grass and plants stabbing at the soles of his bare feet. Gizmo paused to dig in front of a cactus and Zack almost had him—
“Motherfucker.” A particularly sharp rock dug into his foot right at the same time the cat bolted. Zack had no choice but to follow suit, chasing him into the neighbor’s yard. He hadn’t met the neighbors yet but didn’t have time to worry about that as the cat was sprinting through their yard, past some plastic kid toys and a basketball hoop, around the back and through an unlocked gate, totally trespassing.