"What's wrong with you, Cole?" Sarah stared at her friend over the flimsy coffee container. "You have to go pee pee? You've been twitchy ever since we got here."
Cole laughed and gave her the finger. He opened his mouth as if to give a smart-ass answer but then bent over his latte instead. Not looking at her, he carefully blew on it and took a sip.
Sarah settled back. Cole was obviously dying to tell her something, and she knew from experience all she needed to do was sit. If he waited more than ten minutes before spilling everything, he'd probably keel over from the strain.
The clatter of students milling around the student union coffee shop made the silence less noticeable. They continued drinking.
Two minutes of just downing caffeine. Impressive. Cole was hanging tough.
He shifted again in his seat and shut his eyes, grimacing. Sarah frowned, suddenly a little concerned. Cole was a genius--a real, measured-by-testing genius--but that didn't mean his emotional IQ always matched his intelligence. She was sure it was a challenge to be five to ten years younger than his academic peers, and Cole didn't always meet that challenge. In fact, Cole could be kind of a pain in the ass. Right now he was acting like he had a literal pain there.
Oh. Ohhhh, boy. He might actually have one. Please God, no. She might have to venture into TMI territory to find out.
Cole had been more than forthcoming about his sex life in the two years they'd been in grad school together. That was a problem for him. Younger and smarter in some things had made him vulnerable in others, especially since he was open about his sexual preferences and desires. Gay at the university was one thing; gay and dedicated to BDSM was another.
"Has someone hurt you?" She hoped that question would get the job done. Sarah could be more direct if need be, but she also probably didn't want to know all the particulars.
"No." His prompt answer was a relief. Of course, he had to add, "Not any more than I want to be."
"Ooookay." Sarah put down her cup. Sometimes a friend had a duty to ask more even if she'd so much rather not. "Have you met some new dom?"
"You know I have. I told you about him." Cole didn't look up from his latte, but he didn't sound reluctant to answer.
"You mentioned you'd met someone new at a club a few weeks ago, but you didn't say anything more." That wasn't like her Cole at all now that she thought about it. "Is that the guy?"
"Fuck yeah. I was incredibly lucky that night. He hardly ever goes to clubs. Says they're too fake for his tastes." Cole squirmed again. "He isn't into scenes. Not public ones."
"So you've been--um--doing things outside of clubs?" Sarah wasn't sure which sounded more dangerous. Cole wouldn't know danger if it came and bit him on the butt. Especially if it bit him on the butt.
"At his place. Sarah, it's...intense. And really sexy." Cole grinned at her. "That's all I'll say unless you want me to go on. I know how you get."
"And I know how you get, so thanks for shutting up." She grinned back at him, and Cole shifted his weight again. Sarah sighed. "All right, Cole. Why are you acting this way? Something is going on."
Cole leaned over, then glanced around to make sure no one was listening. Oh God. He felt the need to keep something private. This was going to be a doozy.
"Because I have a butt plug in me. A big one. It's driving me crazy. Especially because it's pressing on my fucking prostate."
Sarah made a faint protesting noise and covered her eyes. "I don't want to know."
"When I see Jeff after work, he's going to take it out and replace it with--"
"Don't want to know, don't want to know. Don't. Wanna. Know." Sarah covered her ears instead.
Cole pushed down one of her hands and whispered, "Unless you want to pull it out for me. Jeff might get mad, but it would be worth it if your dainty, lily-white fingers would take care of things for me right now. It might even be fun."
Sarah clenched her dainty, lily-white fingers and smacked him on the shoulder with her plastic spoon.
Cole leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. Stunned, Sarah dropped the spoon on the table. For such a demonstrative guy, Cole pretty much kept his hands and lips to himself. Well, at least around women. She'd seen guys pass him around like an appetizer at parties. Obviously that kind of touching was different for him.
Oh, shit. After remembering some of those party images, she felt a sudden pang of lust. She took a deep breath. Now she could see herself testing that butt plug, imagine what Cole's tight ass looked like holding it. His gasp when it moved. Damn it, she didn't need to have that thought in her head. Talk about waste of time! Cole was completely off-limits. He'd never be her appetizer. Friends. They were friends. She'd gotten over her stupid crush long ago. That didn't mean she couldn't admit to herself he was sexy. In an off-limits way. She didn't need to start thinking he was available after working so hard to forget he was hot.
"I knew I'd make you do that, but you did ask." Cole sounded a little too smug.
Sarah looked up. Oh Lord, how could he know about her completely inappropriate thoughts?
Cole rubbed his shoulder, grimacing as if she'd really hurt him. Then he stopped and winked.
Oh. Right. Very funny. She'd hit him. They had a standing joke about his smart mouth and his need for punishment.
"Actually what I really wanted to ask was what you had planned for Christmas." She didn't care if it was an obvious change of subject. Cole could go on pushing her buttons for hours. Besides, she did want to ask.
Last year Cole went with her to see her parents. Cole had way too many experiences with judgmental families like his own, and he'd been apprehensive about the whole thing, especially meeting her officer father. But Dad had been Dad, and Cole had been Cole, and everyone had a great time, just the way Sarah expected. This year Mom and Dad had shipped out to Japan, so neither she nor Cole would be seeing their families. She'd hoped they could hang out together for the two weeks while the grad dorms closed during winter break.
"I've been wanting to tell you! I'm planning on a trip to a ski lodge in Wyoming all during break."
"You don't ski." Sarah skied but couldn't afford a weekend, much less weeks at a resort. Life was so unfair.
"I like skiers. And cowboys. Jeff owns a place there." Cole crumpled his cup and tossed it into the garbage.
"Oh. Jackson Hole?" Sarah snickered. "I could see you headed there just for the name."
So now she knew this Jeff had money, was a skier, and maybe was a little pretentious. Two out of three wasn't bad. Especially if he had a ski lodge.
"Grand Targhee. Jeff says it's even better than Jackson Hole, although not as many people have heard of it."
So unfair. Sarah had heard of it, and everything she'd heard agreed with what Cole--who was obviously clueless--had said. The place wasn't even that pretentious. If Cole's new man turned out to be perfect, she'd have to be happy Cole was going away with him on the kind of holiday break she'd want.
And that was so unfair double time. It also meant she had no one to share Christmas with. She didn't need another reminder that she'd worked too hard, frozen too many people out, had no life. Cole, who bubbled over with curiosity and energy, always made even the bleakest times fun. She'd been counting on him to carry her through this first really big holiday without her parents.
Well, she'd have to get over it. A military brat got used to being around strangers. Maybe she could scrounge up enough money to take a little road trip by herself or get a fancier hotel than she'd planned. It didn't sound like fun now, but she would work on it.
"You wanna come along?"
Sarah stared. "This Jeff person wouldn't mind?"
"My Jeff person suggested it."
"Right. I find it hard to believe you two chatted about me in between all your wild bouts of red-hot sexual passion." Sometimes Cole heard only what he wanted to hear.
Cole laughed again. "Everything about me is hard, baby, but it's a genuine invite. Please say yes. It wouldn't be Christmas without you. Last year was fun. This year will be too."
It was so tempting, especially with Cole smiling at her. On one hand, she might not be comfortable having Christmas with two men who liked their BDSM noisy--at least Cole said he did.
And on the other hand, there was skiing. She didn't have to be around the guys all the time.
But on the third hand, she didn't know anything about Jeff except Cole liked him, and Cole's taste in men usually sucked. In a bad way.
Then again, she didn't have anything better to do.
"Sarah," Cole whined.
Indecision was bad. He always took advantage if she didn't say a firm no. Enough. She already had too many hands. She would tell him--
"I'd need to meet Jeff first. You know about me and following protocol. Comes from growing up in the military."
Cole looked down at the floor. That seemed kind of sneaky. His fingers tapped the table. Yes. Definitely sneaky. "You already know him. Not well, but there are school connections."
What did "school connections" mean?
"Shit, Cole! Is he one of our professors?" That would be just like her boy. God, she hoped Cole wasn't taking a class with this guy. Not that he couldn't ace any class he wanted, but it would look bad.
"No." Cole denied the question a little too fast.
"But he is a professor, and we had him before." She knew how to play this game. Cole wouldn't lie, but he was very good at evasion.
Jeff. Who did they know named Jeff? What the hell kind of name was Jeff anyhow? It sounded short and friendly, but it was a nickname for pompous full names. Geoffrey, Jefferson... "So can we meet?"
"I'll check things out with him." Cole was hiding something. Even worse, he wasn't immediately giving in and telling her everything. That meant whatever he wasn't saying had to be big.
Jeff. Damn it. Jeff...
Jeffries. Quentin A. "A for Asshole" Jeffries the Third.
"No." Her stomach lurched. "Cole, tell me it's not who I think it is."
"Um. I know you didn't like him much when you had him, but--" Cole's look had changed from sneaky to nervous.
"Cole. You are not with the man who single-handedly made me switch my undergrad major because he was such a jerk. Right?"
Cole squirmed again, and then caught himself with a little gasp. Sarah wasn't entirely sure if it was a sound of dismay or pleasure.
"Stay with me here. You expect me to spend a couple of weeks with that man? The one who told me I wasn't meant to be an English lit major?"
"Um. Yes?" Cole took a deep breath. Then he released and began to talk fast. "I know you, Sarah. How would you live with yourself if it turned out things went really wrong, and I was stranded up there with an asshole? I don't have a car. You owe it to me and your mother-hen complex to come along and make sure I'm safe."
The things she said next weren't coherent, but they were loud. She stopped when people began to move from their tables.
"Don't try to outsmart me on this, Cole Stewart. I'm not going to let you manipulate me."
"All right." He said it quietly, all his usual exuberance gone. "I'm sorry. I just wanted... I'm sorry."
Oh, shit. Not the crushed Cole.
"I'm sorry too."
"What if...Would it be all right if he talked to you? Maybe you two could work something out."
"I said I was sorry, not that I was giving in."
"It wouldn't be giving in. You could reach a compromise."
"Let me understand what you're saying here. You think the nastiest advisor I've ever had--who is also your big bad dom--will compromise with me? I'm not seeing it. What do we have to compromise on? Will he take a vow of silence while I'm there? Swear to pretend to be a decent human being for Christmas?"
"C'mon. He's not the way you remember him. What if he would work with you? If you would?" Cole looked around at the people nearby. Thankfully they had stopped staring. He inched a little closer, leaning across the table. "You're my friend. I think Jeff might be...important. I never missed having a real relationship until I met him."
"But he can't be the one. He's--" Sarah swallowed hard. She looked at Cole's still baby face. Sometimes he didn't just play at being innocent. Sex he knew about. People? Not so much. She couldn't finish that sentence and crush him again. "Of course you want someone special. You deserve someone like that."
"But nothing. All right. You win. I want to see him." And when she did, she'd kill Dr. Quentin Asshole Jeffries for lying to Cole.