Len Connor moved the last box of clothes into his new condo and sighed. He hadn’t planned on moving to Cedarwood, but after his stroke and Ross leaving, he wanted a fresh start near his son, Aiden. Since Aiden lived in the quaint little town, so would he. It seemed rather silly to live so far from his only remaining family member and, since he liked Cedarwood, the move seemed simple.
“Dad, you’re sure you want to live here?” Aiden asked. “It’s not like you to want to live alone.”
“I’ve got Cissy,” Len said. He’d never be alone as long as he had his dog.
“That’s not the same. You’ve always been with someone,” Aiden said. “Keye, Ross, there was Norman… It’s not bad, but it’s different to live alone. Plus, you loved Springdale.”
“I did.” He shrugged to hide his momentary wince. He’d loved the town of Springdale, but everywhere he went, he was reminded of things he’d done and places he’d gone with Ross. Sure, Ross hadn’t been the one, but the relationship had failed, and Len hated to fail. “Keye loved Cedarwood, so it’s okay. I needed a new start and you’re here. I don’t want to miss things with you and Matt. Now that you’ve got three dogs, I want to see my grandpups and Cissy wants to play with her…cousins? I don’t know the hierarchy in family dogs.” His Irish setter loved playtime with other dogs and he couldn’t wait for them all to have another play date.
“Dad.” Aiden frowned. The crease between his eyes, the one that deepened when he thought too hard, seemed etched into his face.
Len smoothed the line on his son’s forehead. “You’re right. I hate being single. I’m better when I’m with someone, but there isn’t anyone and I’m not settling. I did before and it got messy. The right one is out there looking for a silver fox—me.” He’d had the one back when he’d been married to Keye. Losing his partner sucked and he’d never find another man like Keye.
Aiden stared at him for a moment before shaking his head. “I know you’ve had boyfriends, but I didn’t need to know the silver fox thing.”
“Suit yourself.” Truth be told, he enjoyed embarrassing his son. Age didn’t matter. His son could be a hundred and he’d still give him hell.
“Your bed has been assembled,” Matt said. He wiped his brow. “All you have to do is add the linens. When is the rest of the furniture set to arrive?”
“Tomorrow. I scheduled the appointment with the movers for then so I could have all day to arrange my things.” He clapped Matt on the shoulder. “Thank you for putting that together. I’d have it all messed up. Give me a legal brief and I’m good. Parts for a bed? Yeah, it’d be a disaster.”
“It’s all good.” Matt chuckled. “I don’t know my ass from a legal brief, so we’re equal.”
“Do you have everything to get through tonight or do you need us to put anything else together?” Aiden asked.
“No, I’ll be fine.” Len folded his arms. “Do you have to work tonight?”
“I do.” Aiden rolled his shoulders. “I agreed to take a night shift to help out Dr. Carson. It’s just one night, but I’m not looking forward to it.”
“Neither am I,” Matt said, then kissed Aiden. “But we’ll get through it.” He turned to Len. “What are your plans for tonight?”
He loved that his son was happy. Matt was the best partner for Aiden. Where Aiden could be wound tight, Matt was loose. Len wanted that kind of love again. “There’s a mixer here at the complex. Everyone brings food, but since I don’t have anything to bring, I thought I’d just stop in for a moment.” He followed Aiden and Matt to the front door. “I don’t want to leave Cissy alone for too long, but I’d like to meet some of my neighbors.”
“And if someone happens to be there who’s handsome and single…” Aiden arched his eyebrow. “Or he’s hot, rich and single… Or those moving men will be hot.”
“I’m not interested.” He wanted a relationship, but wasn’t looking for a lover.
“Right,” Aiden said.
“Going to a mixer does sound like you’re starting to move on,” Matt pointed out.
“I want to be on my own a while. It’s been forever since I was independent,” Len said. “I’m enjoying it. I take Cissy for walks, only practice law when I want to, I’ve got the condo layout I want and I don’t have to tell anyone where I’m going. It’s nice.” He’d spent so much time catering to Ross, his ex-boyfriend. Now he could focus on his needs.
“You’re not lonely?” Matt asked.
“No.” He shook his head. “If I’m going to find someone, he’ll find me. I’m tired of looking and only finding dead ends.”
“Ross was terrible,” Aiden said. “I’m glad he’s gone.”
“Me, too.” He’d thought Ross might be his forever man, but once Len had had his stroke, he’d found out just what kind of a money-grubber Ross could be.
“Well, you’re better off.” Aiden tugged his keys from his pocket. “Just think before you dive into anything, and if you meet someone, make sure they’re out. No closet guys.”
“Make sure he’s clean,” Matt said.
“I know.” He’d listen because his son and son-in-law cared, but he knew the rules. “I’ve been around the block a few times.”
“Make sure he’s got his own form of income,” Aiden said. “That he’s okay with pets, that he’s not trying to move in on day two…”
“Son, I know.” He loved Aiden’s protective streak.
“I know you do.” Aiden’s brow furrowed. “I can’t help it. I’m a worrier.”
“And I appreciate it.” He hugged his son. “I’ll ask the appropriate questions when I meet someone. Not earlier.” Who’s the parent and who’s the child now? He hugged Matt. “Be good. Both of you. Come over whenever you want. Cissy and I are always open.”
“Thanks, Dad.” Aiden waved. “Call if you need help.”
Matt waved and followed Aiden out to the sports car.
Len stood on the porch and watched them leave. He’d had a decent relationship with Aiden, but when he’d dated Ross, he’d pushed his son away. Things were back on track and he had no desire to screw up again. He petted Cissy. “Well, Ciss, it’s just us. Think this is a good place? I do.”
Part of him enjoyed his freedom, but part of him preferred to be in a relationship. Having someone around was safe, comfortable and reliable.
Kind of like a dog.
Except a dog wasn’t there to warm the bed or kiss him good night.
“I’m going to the mixer,” he said. He wasn’t sure why he’d declared it, other than to force himself to follow through with his decision. Cissy didn’t care and wouldn’t answer him. As long as he returned, she’d be happy.
Len massaged his forehead and closed his eyes. Maybe he’d stay home. He could meet the neighbors any time. When he opened his eyes, a man was strolling up the front lawn.
“Hi,” the man said. “So you bought six-seventy-two. My name’s Brandon Newsome. I’m in six-seventy-six. It’s a good neighborhood. We’re all cozy.” He stuck out his hand. “How are you? Are you going to the mixer?”
Jesus. The guy talked a lot. Would he be able to get a word in edgewise? “I’m Len and yes, I bought this place.” Cissy growled and he scratched her head. He wasn’t sure if she thought Brandon was too chatty or a threat. Either way, if she wasn’t happy with him, then Len wasn’t either. “This is my rescue, Cissy. She’s very protective.”
“I can tell.” Brandon didn’t lean in to offer his hand or act like she existed. “So, the mixer, you should attend. People go there to meet, talk…some date. It’s a good time.”
Len’s pride flag waved on the porch. He nodded to the rainbow. “You do realize I’m gay? Is that going to be a problem?”
“No. I’m gay, too. Cleve, Devon, Sam and Norton are, too,” Brandon said. “The mixer is to get to know our neighbors. It’s a good time and while some date, most just have long chats.”
“I might attend.” He’d said he would, but wasn’t convinced. “Thanks for mentioning it.”
“I hope to see you there.” Brandon paused. “So you know, David will get with anyone who asks, Patrick has a thing for silver foxes, so be advised, and Devon only dates younger men.”
“I see.” He’d never remember who did what, but that didn’t matter. He wasn’t looking for a partner.
“Come and have a fun time,” Brandon said. “I’ll be there. See you.” He waved and walked down the lawn to the sidewalk.
Len pinched the bridge of his nose. Cissy trotted into the house first. He followed her, then closed the screen door. Part of him wanted to attend the mixer. He’d like to meet the others in the condominium development. But part of him wasn’t sure. He’d forgotten how tricky the dating game could be and didn’t want anyone to think he was on the prowl. Maybe no one would ask and he’d be able to fly under the radar.
At eight-thirty, he headed to the community room in the administration building. People were already milling about. Many stood together chatting. Len wished he’d brought Cissy. Since he’d left the courtroom full time, he’d realized he wasn’t much of a people person. Cissy relaxed people and encouraged conversation. He’d rather stay quiet and observe.
Brandon rushed over to him. “Oh, my God. I’m glad you arrived. I hoped you’d be here. The party is so dull. Come over here and I’ll introduce you to everyone.”
“I’m fine. I’m only staying for a moment.” He hadn’t brought a dish to share.
“Don’t worry about it. You need to meet people and we need your fresh face.” Brandon linked arms with him. “Let me introduce you to the guys. You know we really should get together some time. I’ve got a great wine selection.”
“Whoa.” He stopped in his tracks. “Are you asking me out?” Sure sounded like it.
“Yes.” Brandon held tight to Len’s arm. “You’re hot, young and we’re sexy together. It’ll be good.”
“How old are you? I’m probably old enough to be your father,” Len said.
“I’m fifty-two. You’re what, fifty-three?”
“I’m fifty-nine. Aiden’s thirty-nine. See?” He wasn’t ashamed of his age, but he wasn’t looking to date a man younger than his son. The age difference wasn’t too bad between him and Brandon, but he wasn’t interested in him. Brandon was too forward for his taste.
“Who says we have to be exclusive?” Brandon asked.
“Maybe once I’m all moved in, we could have coffee together.” He’d put getting together off as long as possible. Maybe Brandon would forget.
“Sure, sure.” Brandon ushered him over to a knot of men. “So, guys, this is Len. He lives two doors down from me. He’s middle-aged, fit and looking for a good time. Len, this is Terrence, David, Patrick and Clyde. Oh.” He paused. “And Elise.”
“Elise?” He spotted the lone woman in the group. “Hi.” He nodded. “Nice to meet you, but I’m not looking for a good time. I’m still getting my legs under me here in the development. Brandon assumed he knows what I’m thinking.”
One of the men ushered Brandon aside. Len stayed out of the way. He refused to get involved in a spat.
Elise bumped shoulders with him. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He smiled. “As you can guess, I’m new.”
“I figured it out by the way Brandon held on to you.” She laughed. Her blue eyes sparkled and she had pale streaks of lavender in her hair. She sighed. “What brings you to Cedarwood?”
“My son. He’s a doctor.” Oh God. He sounded like an old person. “I wanted to be close to him and his husband.” Yep, he sounded old.
“Nice.” She tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. “Is he at the hospital?”
“He works in the emergency room. Dr. Connor. Aiden.” He had to learn to talk to people again.
“I don’t know him, but I try not to visit the ER.” She bobbed her head. “I try not to get hurt, either.”
“Smart.” He hated small talk. “Since Aiden and his husband, Matt, live here, I thought I’d come back. Cissy doesn’t care where we live as long as there’s a big couch and space on the bed.”
“Is Cissy your wife?” She crinkled her forehead. “I hope she’s actually a dog. Making someone live on the couch sounds odd.”
“My dog. I met her when I volunteered at the shelter in Springdale. She was there for a long time and I couldn’t pass her up.” He loved talking about Cissy. “She’s older, but you’d never know it looking at her.”
“The older ones, the ones with nuances, are the best. I met my cat, Grover, that way. He’s missing an eye. Almond, my dog, came from a breeder,” she said. “I adopt, but she was going to be put down because she was too old to breed. Made me mad, so I adopted her on the spot. Been the best decision ever.”
“Good for you.” And the dog.
“She’s twelve and going on six. I’ll bet she’d love Cissy,” Elise said. “Almond and I volunteer at the shelter here in Cedarwood. Stone, he runs the shelter, doesn’t turn any animal away and doesn’t put any one down. I’ll give you his number if you’d like to volunteer. We can always use more people.”
“I’d love to help out.” He nodded. Cissy would love having new dog friends to visit.
“Really?” she asked. “We get a lot of people who claim to love volunteering, but once they do it a while, they realize they don’t really love it.”
“I volunteered for five years in Springdale. I used to go over to the shelter when I had rough days in court and after I split from my then-boyfriend.” Len stuffed his hands into his pockets. “The dogs are great therapy animals—even if they don’t have the label. They helped me get through the rough times. Cissy has been the best.”
“Good.” She handed him a card. “Call Stone. He’ll like you.”
“Thanks.” He’d call on the next day the shelter was open. He yawned. “I’m heading out. It’s been a long day of moving and we’re not done.”
“We’re? Is there a boyfriend in the mix?” She grinned. “I hope so.”
“No. My son and Matt helped. The hired moving men will come tomorrow with the majority of my stuff,” Len said. “I didn’t want to burden Aiden and Matt with everything. They’ve got enough on their plate.”
“Understandable,” Elise said. “Since it appears you’re single, don’t let Brandon fool or spook you. He’s always on the prowl. He can’t settle down and doesn’t want to. He wants a good time. If that’s not what you want, then don’t even try with him.”
“Noted, but I hadn’t planned on it. He sort of attached himself to me.” He had his eye on someone else, but that someone wasn’t interested, so he’d be happy being single.
“As long as you know what Brandon’s up to, you’ll be fine.” She patted his arm. “If you yawn again, I’ll get a complex. Go home and rest. You deserve it. See you around.”
“See you and thanks.” He left without looking back or hunting for Brandon. He’d rather not have contact with him again. Bone-deep weariness had set in and Cissy probably wanted to go out.
Len walked back to his condo. He’d said he didn’t mind being alone—save for the dog—but it wasn’t the truth. He missed having a boyfriend. The nights were still chilly, despite the change in the spring air, and he hated having an empty bed.
One day, he’d find Mr. Right. Hopefully, Mr. Right would turn into Mr. Forever.