While he was in the shower, his pillow had acquired a box. Flat, square, wrapped in green silk and with a silver bow on top. It sat quietly, minding its own business, and yet… Jack’s neck grew tight at the sight as if he was under threat.
He knew what day it was, of course.
Gareth’s and his birthdays were only 15 days apart and he’d been undercover for both of them the previous year. So he’d known that Gareth would want to celebrate.
They had spent a long weekend in Ludlow, indulging in fresh produce and Michelin-starred cuisine until Gareth was as close to a food coma as he ever got. The night out drinking with Aidan, Alex and a few army friends should have concluded their joint birthday celebrations, but Jack should really have known better.
He startled when Gareth snaked his arms around Jack’s waist and nudged him closer to his side of the bed.
“Open it. It won’t bite.”
Jack hesitated long enough for Gareth’s patience to wear thin. “You’d think birthday presents come with a danger warning!”
Jack wasn’t sure what they came with. He didn’t do birthdays. Never had. In fact, he’d only looked up the actual date when he needed his birth certificate to enlist in the army. The day itself had never meant anything to him.
When his lover nudged him again, impatient for Jack to get on with the process of accepting birthday gifts, he reached for the box in its green silk wrapping and started to undo the silver bow.
He lifted the lid with something very close to trepidation. And his breath caught when he saw what lay inside.
A wide, brown leather cuff with sturdy buckles nestled in folds of deep green velvet. Fixed to the leather, so it would circle his wrist like the charm it had always been for him, was a replica of his tattoo made from hammered silver.
Jack couldn’t breathe. His fingers trembled as he touched the uneven surface of the silver and stroked the sharp points of the stylised 69. He’d had the ink done after leaving the army. To drag himself out of the pit he’d been wallowing in. To remind himself what was important. And he’d often wished he’d gone for something tangible, like a brand or a scar, something he could feel under his fingers when he needed a reassuring touch.
This…. Gareth’s gift… was simply perfect.
“Here, let me.” Gareth reached around Jack and lifted the leather from the box. The buckles clinked softly as the cuff slid around Jack’s left wrist and Gareth’s fingers worked to fasten the straps.
The deep brown leather looked good against Jack’s skin. The cuff’s tight fit sparked more immediate needs and he leaned back into Gareth’s hold, resting his head against his lover’s shoulder until Gareth’s arms tightened once more.
“Open the other one.”
He hadn’t realised he was still holding the flat box. Or that there was another, smaller case tucked against the box’s lower edge. He fished it out and flipped the lid, and this time the contents produced astonished laughter.
“I am NOT wearing that!”
“Not even at home?”
Gareth’s low rumble so close to his ear sent shivers racing over Jack’s skin. As did the anticipation in his lover’s voice. Gareth Flynn was a solid wall of hot skin and tight muscle against Jack’s back, but he sounded like a tiny tot on Christmas morning. And really, what did it matter? Nobody but Gareth could see him.
The metal was cool against his skin as it hugged the outer edge of his ear, the black teardrop pearl an unfamiliar weight. It jangled a little when he moved his head, but Jack was too turned on to worry whether the earring made him look ridiculous or not.
Not until Gareth turned him to face the mirror and he found that his tattoo – his lifeline – had taken on a life of its own. The silver cuff earring with its black teardrop pearl might be more suited to Jack Sparrow than Jack Horwood, but the leather cuff sat on his wrist as if he’d worn it for years, a solid, tangible reminder of Gareth Flynn in his life.
Jack kept his eyes on the mirror, riveted by the sight of the tattoo on his temple and it’s solid representation on his wrist. Heat raced along his back, starting from every point of contact between his skin and Gareth’s. Tendrils of fire curled in his gut and he reached back and hooked one arm around Gareth’s neck to pull him closer.
“Think anyone’ll mind if we’re late today?” he wondered aloud.