“Is everything okay? You’ve been sitting here quite a while.”
Asking for a spanking and for him to find my binkie would’ve been a slightly inappropriate response, especially since the man coming through the backyard was my best friend’s father.
“No, Mr. Hammond. Just thinking.” He winced, making me grin and feel lighter than I had in days.
“Please, Elliot, you’re twenty-four. A real adult. No more Mr. Hammond nonsense.” On one hand, he was right. Even though I looked young, I was a full-fledged adult with adult problems…but I liked calling him Mr. Hammond.
It was the closest I would get to calling him Sir or something even more perfect…like Daddy.
“But it’s a respect thing. You’re Ryker’s father.” To say that falling for my best friend’s dad made things difficult would’ve been an understatement of truly epic proportions.
He shook his head, tsking in a teasing way as he sat down on the steps beside me. My back porch wasn’t the best place to randomly contemplate my life choices, but it was where I’d ended up after drinking my coffee.
“I won’t complain about the whole mister thing as long as you tell me why you’ve been sitting out here all morning. I don’t even think you’ve had breakfast.” It was such a Daddy thing to say I almost smiled.
“Alright.” He’d find it out through the grapevine sooner or later. “I got fired yesterday.”
He winced, rocking to bump his shoulder against mine. Taking a moment, he looked like he was trying to figure out how to respond. But since I was still trying to figure out what to do, I understood. He finally just spoke like he’d given up trying to be polite. “Weren’t you dating the owner?”
I sighed, possibly being overly dramatic but it didn’t feel like it. I was at the point where pitching a fit like a toddler in Walmart who couldn’t open the bag of cookies they wanted sounded like a good idea. “Up until a few weeks ago.”
His groan had me finally smiling, making it easier to open up even more. “That’s part of the problem. He didn’t appreciate it when I made it clear I wasn’t going to see him anymore.”
James’s mouth narrowed into a thin line and his brows pulled together. “That is not legal.”
But that really wasn’t going to help me unless I was willing to sue him and draw lots of attention to myself.
And I wasn’t.
“He’s got a cousin who just graduated. So I’m out and the cousin is in.”
James grunted, going from frustrated to very unhappy with the situation. “Still not legal.” He looked a bit like he was ready to storm in and fix the problem himself, like I was still in school.
Yeah, not a good idea.
I’d done all the payroll and HR stuff at a small company for the past few years, learning the ins and outs of the company and the business in general from the previous head of HR, who’d wanted to retire. There was no way a new grad who hadn’t even majored in business would be able to handle it, but that wasn’t my problem anymore.
“I have a lawyer we can call if you want to take action.” He was a pretty commanding guy in a gentle Dad kind of way, so I knew taking a back seat and letting me make the decision was hard for him.
“I’m not sure it’s worth it. Seeing him every day was frustrating, and he’s a dick.” James chuckled, but I could see he wasn’t happy with my answer.
Giving me a side glance, he sighed dramatically, making me smile, which had been his goal to begin with. “I won’t push as long as you tell me that you got a good letter of recommendation and some kind of severance.”
I couldn’t hold back my wince, and my head went down as he sighed, genuinely frustrated this time. “Um, no. I wasn’t really thinking about that. It was a shock, and he was…well, I was uncomfortable.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw James narrow his gaze as he turned sideways on the step. “Did he threaten you?”
Thankfully, I could shake my head. “No.”
“It was just awkward, and he was angry.” Because he’d overheard me talking on the phone with Ryker and he’d been teasing me about my crush on his father. From what my ex had overheard, he probably thought I was head over heels for some new boyfriend, but I couldn’t exactly explain that to James.
“Once he fired me, I was focused on getting out, not the future. Oh, but I remembered to email my HR information and annual reviews to myself.” I’d felt proud of that, but when James smiled, silly delight rushed through me.
“That’s wonderful. That was a great idea.” James reached over and squeezed my shoulder. As I tried not to overreact, like by doing a ridiculous happy dance, he leaned back, bracing his hands behind him on the steps. “I want you to promise that you’ll let me call the lawyer if you can’t get a good letter of recommendation.”
His expression was carefully neutral, but I could see how tight the muscles around his eyes were. I knew that look. It was very similar to the one he wore when Ryker told him we were gay, and when he told his dad he was kinky, a serious I’m going to take care of you no matter what kind of look.
But thankfully, Ryker left me out of that coming-out part.
James wasn’t going to budge, so I nodded, hoping I wouldn’t have to follow through on that promise. “I will. I’m going to need it.”
I didn’t have that many good jobs to put on a resume. A handful of part-time office jobs in high school and college wasn’t that impressive.
I’d never thought being loyal and staying with the same company would come back to bite me in the ass.
“Alright, we’ll take it one step at a time.” He turned his head and looked back at the house. “Your dad said a few years ago that they paid this off. Are you going to be okay?”
That was easy to answer.
“Yes, it’s paid off. The deal when they moved down to Florida was that I put the rent money that I was going to pay them into a savings account until they decide to sell.”
Having older parents meant they’d been ready to retire by the time I was in college, but they’d planned well. Ryker thought that was part of why I was so comfortable with my attraction to James. To me, he just didn’t look like a dad since he’d been so young when Ryker had been born.
“That’s good.” More of the tension eased out of him. “What did your parents say?”
That made me sigh again. I really hadn’t liked where that conversation had gone. “They want me to move down to Florida.”
His sympathetic wince had me chuckling. “Yeah, that was basically my reaction, but they had a point when they said there wasn’t much holding me here anymore.”
With no job and no romance, the only things I’d miss if I left were Ryker and my slightly unhealthy obsession with James.
“Hey, Ryker and I aren’t nothing.” I couldn’t decide how serious he was, but his indignant look made me grin.
“Well.” I shrugged, mostly teasing. “Ryker seems to have his new guy and you’ve been busy with that realtor.”
An overly bubbly woman who made my teeth ache.
She was the exact opposite of me in every way. Outspoken. Flirtatious. Female. And not a seemingly submissive bone in her entire body. She’d been the perfect way to remind myself that I needed to start looking for someone else to date.
It didn’t matter that James said he was bi if the only people he’d ever gotten remotely serious with were women. My newfound resolve to have a life had led me to say yes when my boss had asked me out for the thousandth time—it had definitely been an unfortunate choice.
Honestly, the number of bad decisions I’d made in my dating life had me thinking that therapy might be in order. No one accidentally made this many terrible choices. James’s shrug had me tuning back into the conversation and finally noticing the tight look on his face. “We’re, um, not seeing each other anymore.”
His expression said there was a story behind that statement, but because of so many reasons, it wasn’t my place to ask. “It sounds like we’ve both had a time of it lately.”
James let out a dry chuckle. “I think your difficulties trump mine.”
Sitting straighter, the shadow on his face was gone in a flash and he smiled. “But that just means you have to stay to keep me entertained.”
Looking around the yard like it would tell him exactly what to do, he nodded. “Pancakes. This is definitely a pancakes kind of morning.”
He stood up, waving me toward the gate he’d installed between our houses years ago. “You never keep real ingredients. I’ll cook.”
I huffed, frustrated by the way he knew me so well but not in the way I wanted. “Ryker brings real stuff when he comes over. I think I’ve even got some sort of mix where you add water and, poof, it’s pancake mix.”
James actually winced as he shook his head again. “I don’t even have words for that.”
He was so serious I had to laugh as I rose to follow him. Even if it was a terrible idea to hang out with him when I was feeling vulnerable, there was no way I could deny him. “Alright, but you have to make me bacon too.”
At his scoff, I shrugged and tried not to laugh. “I’m walking all the way over there just because you’re a breakfast snob. I deserve bacon.”
And I always burned it when I cooked it, so I’d given up buying it.
“How do you know I even have bacon?” That made me snort as I followed him across the yard.
“You always have bacon. It’s one of Ryker’s favorite foods.” And having it around meant he could tempt Ryker into staying for a big breakfast-for-dinner meal whenever he stopped over.
James chuckled as he pushed the gate open. “Ryker’s not the only reason I keep it around. I can remember more than a few times where you ate your fair share and his.”
Grinning, I shook my head. “Oh no, I’m not that greedy.”
I really was, but Ryker never minded because it was one of the ways he’d always taken care of me. He might not have ever been my Daddy or Dom but he’d been practicing on me for years.
James didn’t even try to hide his chuckle as he grinned and led the way through the gate he’d put in the fence years ago. We had too many memories together from when I was just a child. It was just another small reminder of why he’d never see me as anything other than Ryker’s best friend. But I pushed away that melancholy thought as I made my way through their backyard and up onto the back porch.
Their house was almost a mirror image of ours, but he’d updated it about five years ago, and the whole place looked great with a farmhouse style that Ryker and I had picked out. James hadn’t managed to find enough opinions about what it should look like to please the contractor or the designer, but Ryker and I hadn’t had that problem.
Ryker had enough opinions for all of us and he’d made sure I found some too.
Having a Daddy Dom as a best friend was helpful sometimes.
Gesturing toward the stools at the counter, James headed toward the fridge. “Sit down and tell me what you’re thinking.”
Pulling out milk, eggs, and bacon, he turned back to me. “Ryker and me aside, do you want to move?”
There was a tension in his voice that had me wondering what he was thinking, but asking was out of the question. Our relationship had never worked that way.
“No.” I found myself shrugging. “I mean, it’d be nice to see my parents more, but I can’t picture living in Florida.”
Or being that close to them, honestly.
With my luck, the only Doms in their area would end up being their new best friends. “This has always been home, but they have a point.”
I left that last part unsaid, but as he started heating up two pans, he turned and gave me a skeptical look. “Do they?”
He went quiet for a moment as he opened the package of bacon and started getting it ready. “I understand moving because you’re passionate about it or because the job you want or need is in another place.”
Setting the package back down near the stove, he turned to me, leaning against the counter. “That’s not the case here.”
Bracing his hands on the counter behind him so his chest was spread temptingly, James studied me and I had to fight the urge to shiver. “Do you want to move? Ignore what your parents are saying.”
I found myself shaking my head before I’d even thought about it. “No. I can’t see living anywhere else, but I have to admit that it might be practical.”
James’s expression tightened, making me feel like I had to explain.
“My parents could sell their house. They have a lot of equity tied up in it.” They might not need it right now, but that wasn’t the point. “With the local grapevine, even if I do get a recommendation, it might be easier to get a job—maybe even a better job—if I move.”
Who knew what shit my ex had been saying?
“And to be honest, I think it’s clear my dating life sucks.” I shrugged, dropping my gaze to the counter as he shifted to lay the bacon in the now hot pan. “Maybe it’s for the best.”
At the very least, it had to be healthier than pining for James.
There was a substantial pool of gay guys to date. That wasn’t the problem. But my interests were so narrow, dating wasn’t easy. I wanted a mature Daddy—well, if I couldn’t have James, I wanted a mature Daddy. But fate had a terrible sense of humor, and most of the local guys I’d met who were into BDSM were either young, very taken, or both.
James scoffed, and that, plus the beautiful sound of bacon sizzling, had me finally looking up. He glanced over his shoulder, frowning. “Am I just supposed to listen to your list or may I explain why you’re wrong?”
Smiling would’ve definitely been the wrong response, but even when he thought I was an idiot, he was perfect. “You may educate me.”
He could try, anyway.
At the very least, I liked listening to him talk.
But I wasn’t sure I was all that wrong.
He went back to poking at the bacon for a moment before he seemed to decide that it was time to make the pancakes. As he moved around the kitchen getting flour and all kinds of things I couldn’t describe, he let out a breath and shot me a very serious Dad glare.
On anyone else, it would’ve looked frustrated and just boringly Dad-like, but on him, it looked sexy and made my knees wobbly.
He was worried about me.
God, I was such a sap.
“First of all, there are lots of small- and medium-sized companies around here that could use good HR help.”
When I couldn’t argue with that point—not that I’d really started looking yet—he kept going. “Second, if that ass thinks that he can badmouth you without consequences, he’s got a few screws loose.”
The firm tone in his voice had me fighting the urge to squirm. Thankfully, he kept going and didn’t notice my weird reaction. “Third, if your parents decide to sell and you don’t want to rent somewhere else, well, then move in here.”
While I sat in shock, he vaguely gestured toward the back of the house with his spoon. “With Ryker’s newfound love, I can pretty much guarantee he’s not going to move back into his old room and there’s always the guest room.”
He started mixing flour with some kind of powder before looking over his shoulder at me curiously. “Didn’t you pick out the bedding in there?”
At my dumbfounded nod, he continued like it was nothing. “Then see, it’s perfect already.”
As he finished adding all the random ingredients that seemed to make pancakes, he spooned batter into another hot pan and shrugged. “And as for dating, are you sure you’re putting yourself out there enough?”
As I sat there, convinced the conversation couldn’t get any more awkward, James proved me wrong. Turning back to me, he raised one eyebrow. “What kind of guys do you like?”
The universe was out to get me.
Sometimes losing your job is the best thing that can happen.
When Elliot’s left without a job or a plan for what should come next, he thinks the universe might be trying to tell him something. Luckily, his best friend’s father is right there with advice and whipped cream-topped pancakes to make everything better. But what James can’t help with are Elliot’s feelings and the way he longs to be more than friends with the tender man—the man who Elliot knows would make the perfect Daddy.
James has been careful to keep his relationship with his son’s best friend innocent and friendly, nothing more, even if the wide-eyed cutie is everything he wants in a man…and possibly everything he wants in a sub. But when an overheard conversation between the two best friends changes everything, James has to decide if he’s ready to put it all on the line for the sweetest sub he’s ever met.
Author’s Note: While this is book one of the new series, the prequel is currently in the Dirty Daddies 2021 Anniversary Anthology. The prequel is Ryker (James’s son) and Corey’s story, but you don’t need to have read it to enjoy this book.