The sun was warm but the breeze rolling in from the ocean tempered the heat. It was an almost unseasonably mild morning in Virginia Beach this weekend, and Ty Grady was enjoying it. He didn't often come this far south on the coastline, but the annual Neptune Festival being held had sounded like fun. And with his enforced time off, he'd needed something to do, he thought as he pushed aside the image of his boss's face the last time he'd been in the office.
Which was why, for some strange reason, he'd decided to enroll in the sand sculpting competition. He'd been amazed at some of the photos of the amateur entries. Hell, there were even local high school groups that got involved and created some truly inspiring pieces. He was decent enough when it came to trying his hand at most creative endeavours, so when the general call for signups came, he filled out the form and was given a set of basic tools, as well as simple guidelines. Size, content, and tips were included. He'd entered the Flash Design group. Three hours start to finish, with prizes awarded about fifteen minutes later.
Now all he had to do was pass the time until it started. He checked his watch. Just under and hour to go.
Looking around, Ty smiled as he noticed a couple guys in board shorts holding red Solo cups and smiling at him. The taller of the two had just enough scruff that it was giving Ty ideas, while the shorter of the two had richly tanned skin and a silver hoop in his left nipple that was, frankly, doing things for Ty, although he'd never considered himself much of a fetishist for piercings nor tattoos before, despite having one of the latter himself. Smirking, he made his way over to say hello.
Twenty minutes later, with two new numbers stored in his phone and promises that Jake and Aaron would be able to show him everything worth seeing in the city, Ty set off again. Jake had been nearly as tall as Ty, which would probably be fun, but Aaron and that silver hoop in his nipple would probably make an appearance in some fun little fantasies later. Especially after Aaron had gone up on his toes to whisper in Ty's ear, "I really like Marines."
Fighting back a shiver, Ty chanced a glance back over his shoulder and found Aaron watching him. He gave a little wave, and Ty smirked.
Maybe enforced time off wasn't such a bad idea after all.
He wandered onto the sand, enjoying the feel of it between his toes. The water was chilly as he stood just where it met the shore, but he figured this way he could say that yes, he went into the ocean on his trip.
He walked along, watching people, smiling at dogs, inhaling the salty brine as it sprayed over everything. He saw plenty of single people, and nearly as many couples. A distant pang went through him as he thought about what it might be like to come here on vacation with someone special.
Of course, knowing his luck, it would choose that weekend to rain.
A little further he came upon a very pretty young woman with a small kitten. Mostly white with tan and black stripes over it's head and down its spine to its tail, it had on a pretty blue harness that was clipped to a leash held in the woman's hands. He grinned, and she looked up at that moment. Her smile was shy, and she looked around, seeming concerned.
"Oh, no, sorry!" Ty said as he made his way over to her. She picked up the kitten and held it close, preparing to jump up and escape it looked like. He stopped and put his hands up, palms out, hoping to look harmless. "I just... I don't think I've ever seen a cat at the beach before."
"Oh, god, I'm sorry!" the woman said, covering her mouth with one hand. "God, I feel stupid."
"Hey, strange guy smiling and watching you? I'd say you have a right to be concerned. My apologies," he said, laying on his accent as he held out his right hand. "I'm Ty."
"Annie," she said, taking his hand and pumping it twice. "So I'm guessing you aren't from around here either, with that accent."
Ty shook his head. "West Virginia originally. You sound Midwest... Texas?"
Laughing, she nodded. "Yeah. Austin," she said, taking her hand back and scratching behind the kitten's ears.
"So do you normally travel with your pets?" Ty asked, cocking his head as he looked at the kitten.
"Oh she's not mine," Annie said. "I'm visiting my brother. He lives up in DC? But we thought we'd take a long weekend and come down for the festival. He just got Nita here, didn't want to leave her in a kennel or dump her with a co-worker."
"Aw, face like that, how could he?" Ty held his fingers out and Nita sniffed them, licking one a few times and mewling at him. He grinned. "She's adorable."
"Yeah," Annie said. "I couldn't believe it when Z said he was getting a cat. He's never been much of a pet person? But apparently someone in the office ended up with a litter, and she was the runt. Said he couldn't bear the idea of her being left out, just because she was smaller." Annie stroked under Nita's chin with one finger. "She's a little snuggler, too. Wherever Z is, she's not far, meowing at him until he picks her up and lets her curl up in his arms."
"So where is... Z?" If he was half as cute as Ty was imagining, he might just add a third phone number to his tally before the competition started. And really, anyone who loved a kitten as much as this guy clearly did had to be good looking. Ty was certain of that.
"Oh, he's somewhere getting supplies." Annie shrugged. "He entered the sand sculpting contest."
Ty hummed. "Did he? Well, I look forward to seeing what he does."
"Oh, me too!" Annie said. "I don't think he's ever done something quite like this before, but it should be interesting."
Ty nodded and scratched behind Nita's ears again. "Well, wish him good luck. Maybe I'll see you guys around again."
Annie nodded. "I will, thanks! Pleasure meeting you, Ty." She held out her right hand again.
Ty took it, nodding. "Pleasure was mine, Annie." He waggled his fingers at Nita, who meowed at him, then made his way back towards the competition tent.
A little over three hours later, Ty had what he thought was a pretty decent looking USMC crest. The judges were looking at it appreciatively, and he felt confident. Win or lose, it had been fun—though it did make him long for a decent beach back home in Baltimore and a few more free hours every week.
As he and the other contestants waited for the final verdicts, he heard several excited whispers. Turning, he saw one sculpture that took his breath away. It was the head of a dragon, and it looked like someone had drawn it rather than sculpted it from something as flimsy as sand and water.
It was gorgeous.
Ty looked around, trying to figure out whose it was, but everyone standing around it was appreciating it, not claiming it.
The judges all looked at it, making notes on their clipboards, and Ty got the sinking suspicion he'd just dropped to second place.
A few minutes later the judges stuck a white third place ribbon beside the sculpture two spaces to Ty's right, and they gave the artist a thin envelope. In front of his own they placed the red second place ribbon, a similar envelope handed over with their congratulations.
And in front of the dragon they set the bright blue first place ribbon.
A man with shaggy, curly black hair and a well trimmed beard stepped up, wiping his hands on a small towel. He shook their hands, accepted a thin envelope, and nodded a few more times before stepping back. Everyone made their way over to him, congratulating him. Ty watched for a moment. The man was tall—at least as tall as Ty himself, possibly even a few inches over. Broad shoulders under a tight t-shirt, nice arms—really, really nice arms, now that Ty was looking. A trim waist and long legs that were accentuated by simple blue board shorts.
Like he knew there were eyes on him, the man looked up, and Ty got a real look at his face. Jesus. He was beautiful. His eyes were warm and a little wary, and Ty would swear he saw fire burning just behind the brown of them. His mouth dropped open a little bit before he realised what he was doing. Snapping his jaw shut, he walked over to take another look at the dragon.
It was stunning. He really couldn't argue that. Comparatively speaking, nothing else in the tent came even close.
Which made Ty's already suspicious nature fly into high gear.
The judges were making way for photographers to come in and get shots of the winning pieces. Ty smiled, shook a few more hands, then looked back toward the dragon sculptor.
Who had disappeared.
Frowning, Ty shoved the envelope he'd been given into his back pocket and ducked out of the tent, glancing around until he saw the mop of unruly dark hair weaving through people. "Hey!" he called out.
Plenty of people stopped what they were doing and turned toward him, but the guy who'd done the dragon head pressed on. Groaning, Ty took off after him. "Hey, wait! You! Tall Dark and Handsome!"
The guy stopped at that, turning and blinking as he frowned at Ty. "What?"
Ty huffed as he came up in front of the guy. Fuck, he was even nicer to look at close up. "You're the dragon guy, right?"
One brow arched. "You mean the sand sculpture?"
Ty nodded, hands on his hips.
"Yeah, that's mine."
"I'm calling bullshit."
The man tilted his head. "You don't think I did the work?"
"I think you're no amateur."
The man's eyes narrowed and the corners of his mouth ticked up. "Are you... are you accusing me of cheating?" He let out a soft chuckle and shook his head. "Wow, ok. Sorry if you had your heart set on the uh..." He opened the envelope he'd been handed. "Dinner for two at Terrapin."
"What? No, I don't care about that, it's just a stupid competition!"
The guy laughed again, his tongue coming out to poke at the corner of his mouth. Ty's eyes were drawn to it before he could remind himself that this guy was a cheating cheater.
Amateurs weren't meant to be that good.
"What's so funny?" Ty demanded.
"If it's just a dumb competition, why are you so upset about it?" the guys asked.
Opening his mouth, Ty hesitated. Closing it again, he crossed his arms. "Because I have standards. And morals."
"Yeah, you're a regular Mother Teresa," the guy muttered. "Are we done here?"
"No!" Ty glared at him.
"Then do you mind if I go get some water while you accuse me of trying to swindle a prize in a beach contest?"
Ty shrugged. "Whatever, man."
Rolling his eyes, the guy walked away. Fuming, Ty followed. He couldn't even pinpoint why he was so upset about this—he'd lost nothing, really. He'd had fun and he'd won second place and seriously, why was he making this into a thing?
The guy stopped at a familiar blanket, and Ty gritted his teeth. Of course. Of fucking course.
"Ty!" Annie beamed up at him. "I see you've met Z!"
'Z' gaped at Annie, then turned to Ty. "How do you know my sister?"
"He likes Nita here," Annie said.
Sighing and rubbing his forehead. Z nodded. "Fine, fine. We any water left?"
"Yeah, course we do." Annie opened up the small cooler behind her and pulled out a bottle of water, which she handed over immediately.
"Zane," the guy said before taking a drink.
"What?" Ty asked.
"My name," he said, lowering the bottle, "is Zane."
"Fine. Zane." Ty cleared his throat. "How does an amateur pull out something like that?"
"Or you had things ready before you started."
Annie stared up at them as Nita meowed. Zane pursed his lips. "Tell you what. You give me something to sculpt, and I'll do it. Right here, right now. You want to see if I'm the real deal?"
Ty nodded once. "Yeah, I do."
"Then give me something to make. If I can't do it, I'll forfeit the win and hand over the spoils."
Narrowing his eyes, Ty asked, "And... if I lose?"
Smirking, Zane held up the gift certificate. "You help me spend this tomorrow night."
Ty blinked at him. "...what?"
"Not too quick, are you?"
"What makes you think I'd want to go on a dinner date with you?"
Zane licked his lips. "I never said date." He pointed at Ty. "You said date." He waved the certificate. "I just wanna go to dinner."
Ty sucked his lips between his teeth as he considered the idea. "What are you, a lawyer?" he asked, his nose wrinkling at the end of the question.
Zane's smile turned softer, but Ty felt that perhaps it was the more dangerous one. This was a smile he could fall into, if he spent enough time looking at it. "Do you accept my terms or not?" he asked quietly.
Ty glanced at the certificate, then back into Zane's eyes.
Ty was kicking himself.
On a whim, he'd flashed his tattoo at Zane and challenged him to replicate it with sand. Then he'd sat down on the blanket to play with Nita while Zane worked.
An hour and seven minutes later, a beautiful replica of Ty's tattoo sat upraised in the sand and Zane sat across from it, smirking at him.
They'd exchanged numbers—purely for the purposes of coordinating when to go for dinner, of course—and now Ty was wearing the only pair of slacks and the nicest button up shirt he'd brought. Apparently the place was rather on the pricier side of things—which Ty had not planned for.
He was waiting outside his hotel, hands in his pocket and trying to resist the urge to pull out his phone. He hadn't gone out last night, hadn't called Jake nor Aaron, too hung up on Zane and what he'd agreed to to want to lose himself in anyone else.
An older model pickup truck pulled up to the curb, and Ty noticed the DC plates. That would be Zane then. Before the truck had even fully stopped, Ty was opening the door and hopping in. "Hey," he said, doing a double take at Zane's outfit.
Zane was dressed to the nines in a beautiful suit Ty was certain cost more than at least three of his own. Hair was out of his face but still artfully tousled. The scruff on his face was untouched, though, and Ty found he liked that. It made Zane far more human in that moment.
"Hope you weren't waiting long?" Zane asked, pulling back onto Atlantic Ave.
"A minute, maybe," Ty said.
"Good. Good," Zane smiled. "So. Since you mentioned date..." He caught the corner of his bottom lip between his teeth as he smiled. "Am I allowed to ask questions?"
Ty hummed as he cocked his head to the side, considering Zane. "Quid pro quo?"
"Look who sounds like a lawyer now," Zane said, smiling as he took a left off of the main strip. "Fair enough, though. So." He tapped fingertips against his lips as he waited at a red light. "Where are you from?"
"Bluefield, West Virginia," Ty said. "That the best you can come up with to start?"
"I'm warming up," Zane said, flashing a brilliant smile at Ty. "Favourite high school memory?"
Ty felt his heart break just a little. "Off limits," he said. "And what about my question?"
"Technically, you've asked just as many as I have." Zane pulled into a small parking lot, throwing the truck into park and winking at Ty. "But I suppose I could concede the floor just this once."
"Oh god, you are a lawyer," Ty groaned.
"Would it help if—"
"Nope," Ty said.
Zane laughed—actually laughed, and Ty was struck again by just how incredibly good Zane looked. Yes, he was hot. His hair was begging to have Ty's fingers in it, messing it up, and his lips looked both kissable and fuckable, and Ty had seen the way he looked when he wasn't in a suit; Zane was a very, very well built man.
But aside from all of that, he just looked... good.
He looked like the kind of guy Ty would actually call the morning after.
Swallowing, Ty shot Zane a weak smile and got out of the car. "It's dinner, Tyler, what the fuck are you trying to make this into?" he muttered to himself.
Zane held the door for Ty, which made Ty's cheeks pink. The hostess smiled brightly and didn't so much as bat an eye at Ty's clothing, though when he looked around he noticed that no one else seemed to going quite as casual as he was. The tips of his ears burned, and he tried not to make a run for the door. A hand on his lower back startled him, and he turned to see Zane looking at him funny.
"You OK? You looked like you zoned out on me."
Ty frowned, not liking that he'd been so obvious in letting his mind drift. "I'm fine," he said.
Zane pursed his lips, but just then the hostess grabbed two menus and asked them to follow her to their table. He gestured for Ty to go first.
Tamping down his unease, Ty strode forward and followed the hostess to a small, intimate table set for two. Zane waited for him to choose his seat, then sat down opposite. They took their menus and the hostess left them with assurances their server would be out to see them in just a moment.
Opening his menu, Ty glanced at the selections. He'd barely had time to browse the first page when their waiter appeared, introducing himself as Anthony. "May I bring you anything to drink? Bottle of wine, perhaps, or beer? We also have excellent cocktails."
Looking at Zane, Ty said, "A bottle of your best wine."
Zane's brow rose, and the waiter paused. Waving a hand, Zane reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. Ty frowned. Surely they weren't being asked for identification? Neither of them looked under thirty...
Instead of his driver's license, Zane pulled out a sleek black card and held it out. "I'm certain this will cover anything you need," he told Anthony, who took the card and inclined his head.
"Of course, thank you sir. I'll be back in just a moment with that. Would you like to put in for any appetisers?"
Zane looked again at Ty. "The fried mushrooms, please." He turned back to the waiter with a smile. "Thank you."
Anthony nodded once more, then turned and left the table, walking quietly. Ty watched him with narrowed eyes. "What was all that about?"
Humming, Zane picked up his menu again. "I'm going to go out on a limb and say you didn't look at the prices on the wine list." He flipped a page over. "Bordeaux isn't my usual preference, but I'm certain this one will be excellent."
Ty opened his mouth, then closed it and flipped his menu to the wine selection. He scanned quickly, not finding anything that seemed outrageous. He was about to mention this when he made a choked sound and blinked. Shit. "Oh God, I..." He looked up at Zane. "I didn't know."
"I figured as much."
Zane shrugged one shoulder. "Not much to be done now. They'll have opened it already, likely letting it breathe in a decanter."
Ty sighed softly. This was not quite the revenge he'd imagined. He's thought maybe one or two hundred dollars at most for the bottle, not...
He raised his menu a bit as his cheeks heated. This could possibly end up being a very, very long night.
Dinner was fabulous. The wine was, as Zane had mentioned, excellent. A bit stronger than Ty usually went for, but god it was good. Their meals were exquisite, pairing very well with the wine, and Ty was trying to figure out if he could manage a dessert or not. It seemed Zane was as well—and he was smiling, which Ty was grateful for. Conversation had been slightly awkward at first, but they'd found a rhythm, asking about family and work to start. Zane was, in fact, a lawyer up in DC. Partner, in fact, which Ty was begrudgingly impressed with.
It also explained quite a lot about his lack of reaction regarding the wine.
"Listen," Ty said, leaning forward. "I'm sorry."
"About what?" Zane asked as he poured the last of the wine from the decanter into Ty's glass.
Ty looked pointedly at his drink, then at Zane. "I'll pay you back for this," he said, holding the glass by the stem.
"Why would you do that?" Zane asked him, sitting back in his chair and grasping his own glass.
Ty's mouth hung open as he tried to find the words to explain. "You... you do realise I ordered it to be an ass, right?"
"Of course I did."
"Because I asked you to join me for dinner," Zane said.
"You didn't ask me to blow your money like that."
Zane shrugged and sipped his wine. "It's good wine."
"It is," Ty agreed. "It's also very, very expensive."
Zane shrugged again, then picked up his menu. "Dessert?"
Ty stared at him. "...are you for real right now?"
"The creme brulee sounds good but honestly if you've had one you've likely had them all, and the apple tart sounds quite promising," Zane said, trailing off as he looked up. "Preference?"
"Preference," Ty repeated. "On your dessert?"
Zane's cheeks pinked a bit. "I... well, I'd been hoping you might share it with me, honestly."
Ty blinked. "Share... dessert?"
A shy, quiet smile spread over Zane's face. "Yeah. It'd be a shame to not try something, I think, and if it helps you can justify it by saying I don't think I can eat the whole thing myself at this point."
Biting his lower lip, Ty looked down at the table. "Apple tart," he said.
Zane raised his hand, and a moment later Anthony was back. "Dessert tonight, gentlemen?"
His smile still in place, Zane said, "Apple tart, please. Two spoons."
The late evening air was still a bit warm as it hit Ty's face. Ty was far more relaxed now, walking barefoot along the boardwalk with Zane at his side. Zane was likewise barefoot, and had lost the jacket and tie he'd worn for dinner. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and the ends of his slacks were rolled up just far enough that they wouldn't drag over the concrete. His neck and the top of his chest were just visible where his shirt was unbuttoned at the collar and lay open.
It was a very good look for him, Ty had to admit.
The crowds on the beach hadn't died down much from the daytime. There was music everywhere—some of it piping through speakers on restaurant patios, some of it filtering through the air from a small outdoor amphitheatre set between the boardwalk and the main strip. The scents from the other restaurants hit Ty's nose and made his mouth water despite how full he was. And with nearly every step, Zane's hand had brushed his own, until finally he'd simply grabbed Zane's fingers and held on. Zane had looked at him in surprise, then smiled and turned his hand to knit their fingers together. Zane's hand in his was warm and dry and Ty couldn't stop the smile that spread out as they walked and continued talking.
They finally stopped in front of the large statue of Neptune, staring up at it as they stood close to one another and listened to another band playing in the park just behind them.
Ty turned. Zane's eyes were a little wide, his lips thinned as he looked back at Ty. "Zane?"
Zane's tongue wet his lips. "Aw, hell," he said, low enough it was almost inaudible over the band. Then he tugged Ty's hand, wrapped it back around his own waist, and kissed Ty. His free hand cupped Ty's cheek, the rough pad of his thumb stroking along Ty's cheek as he angled their heads and deepened the kiss. Ty's mouth opened against Zane's, just enough to breathe him in.
A soft noise echoed through them. Ty felt a bit lightheaded, his right hand settling near his left where it was still linked with Zane's own against the small of Zane's back.
Teeth dragged gently over Ty's bottom lip, and Ty kissed back a bit harder, pressing as close to Zane as he could. This time Zane growled, the sound reverberating through Ty's body.
It was a sound Ty wanted to hear again. Preferably first thing in the morning.
When Zane pulled back, Ty chased him, prolonging the kiss and holding him tight. The kiss broke with them both out of breath, and Ty opened his eyes to see Zane staring at him with wonder.
"Yeah," Ty said. He swallowed. "I... uh..."
Zane chuckled. "Did I really just kiss you speechless?"
Laughing a little louder, Zane let out a breath and leaned his forehead against Ty's. "This was fun." He grinned. "You know, aside from you being an ass for a while."
Ty snorted. "You're a lawyer. Are you saying you've never been an asshole at dinner before?"
Zane laughed again, louder this time, then tipped his head forward and kissed Ty once more. "Can I... I mean, if you're not busy," he said, "would you like to... do this again?"
Ty hummed. "You know, I still have my winnings from yesterday. Could totally do that."
"You know I never even looked at the prizes?" Zane asked. "What's yours?"
"Dessert," Ty said. "So. Tomorrow? Let me make up for being such a jerk at first?"
Smile still in place, Zane nodded. "Sounds like fun."
Ty pulled him in for another kiss. "Then it's a date."