"Oh, no. Crap!" Drake Cuttington squatted and picked up Buddy. The puppy squirmed and whined, all the while trying to lick Drake to death. "No, no. Bad Buddy." Buddy yipped and wagged his tail, the solid thump of that appendage landing against Drake’s ribs repeatedly. "Jesus, when you’re full grown, that tail’s gonna be a rib-breaker. What kind of dog are you?" Buddy had spots, but he sure wasn’t a Dalmatian. Carlos had said the pups came from a shelter, so likely they were some kind of mix.
Buddy stretched his little head up and licked Drake’s chin. Drake’s irritation at having to clean up puppy pee lessened a great deal with that wet, warm show of affection. Still, there had to be rules.
"No doing that in the house, and especially not in my kitchen," he told the puppy. "You definitely need some training." Drake almost groaned at that. What did he know about puppies? He’d never been allowed to have a pet, not when he was a kid, and not when he’d hooked up with any of his exes. Honestly, he’d not been in a good place where he could have a pet since he’d left home at eighteen.
"You’re gonna need shots and all kinds of stuff," he muttered, thoughts racing as he imagined lists to be made and subjects to Google. He really didn’t know crap about puppies, babies, kittens or any other small, dependent-on-him life forms. Buddy whimpered and licked him right over the lips as he was mumbling to himself.
Drake sputtered and held Buddy away from him as he decided whether or not to be grossed out. "Well, dang it." Wow, he totally understood the saying about ‘puppy-dog eyes’ now. That had to be what Buddy was doing to him with those big brown eyes. Drake tried to hold out and be firm or whatever, but he caved and cuddled Buddy to his chest. "I’m so screwed. You’re gonna be spoilt as all get-out. But you still can’t use the house as your toilet, sweetie."
Drake rubbed the silky spot behind Buddy’s ears. "Whoa, that’s an addictive feeling. So soft. No wonder that crazy chick wanted a puppy coat."
Buddy rolled those big eyes up at him and Drake winced. "I didn’t mean she was right, just that, uh, that a chinchilla’s got nothing on this." He rubbed a little harder. Buddy made a sound that could only be called a groan and closed his eyes. "Rotten. You’re gonna be rotten."
Drake petted him a few minutes longer, then he had to clean up the mess because it was just gross. Tucking Buddy under one arm snugly, Drake went and got the Swiffer out. "Thank God for this thing," he muttered as he took it back over to the wet spot. In short order, he had the puddle cleaned up. He put the Swiffer out on the porch, reminding himself to clean it later. "Now, there’s got to be puppy supplies. I’d ask Carlos, Troy or Will but I’m pretty sure they don’t want to be disturbed."
Though they did have three puppies with them as well. Drake snickered at the idea of the three men trying to get their freak on with yapping, fluid-leaking puppies nipping at them. The puppies, all gifts for Will’s birthday, were sure to be giving the men grief.
Although, thinking about it, Drake didn’t hear any yapping or cursing. "Huh." Well, who knows? Maybe Carlos is a puppy whisperer or something and he got the other three to sleep so he could play with his guys. Whatever the deal, Drake only needed to worry about Buddy for now.
To that end, he went in search of puppy food. He knew his employers well enough to feel confident that they hadn’t just brought puppies and no supplies. It was with a sigh of relief that he found food and bowls in the washroom, along with what looked like four cages.
Drake frowned at them. Were those to lock the pups up in? "Have to be. I don’t think Carlos and his guys are into puppy play." Drake’s face heated and he glanced around, but nobody was around other than him and Buddy. He looked at the cages again. They were black and made of thin strips of wire. Plastic trays were in the bottom of them. He didn’t think he wanted to put Buddy in one. It seemed kind of cruel. Still, he’d do some reading, because Carlos wasn’t a cruel man, so he probably knew something about puppies and cages that Drake didn’t.
Drake took a blue bowl and set it on the floor. He put Buddy down, too, and the puppy ran right to the bowl. "Just a sec, sweetie." He chuckled at Buddy then went to the bag of dog food. It was open, and a shiny silver scoop was in it. The food itself reeked. Drake barely kept from gagging as he took some food out for Buddy. "Man, I am gonna have to look up dog food recipes. Surely there’s something I can make that won’t smell like stinky feet."
Buddy didn’t seem to mind the smell, diving into the kibble with an enthusiasm that Drake envied. He wanted to be that happy and appreciative of anything.
Drake used another bowl to get Buddy some water. If the puppy needed milk, Drake would deal with that later. He watched Buddy eat for another moment before he noticed a turquoise collar and leash laid out on the dryer. Hoping those were Buddy’s, he took them and examined them, shivering as soon as he touched them.
"Leather," he murmured. It was stupid, but just feeling the smooth, cool material, Drake’s nipples ached and his cock twitched. He’d always loved leather, the look of it, the scent. Was it his imagination, or was the washroom now smelling slightly of leather? Drake sniffed and almost moaned. He fiddled with the buckle of the collar then stopped himself. Something was percolating in his brain and he didn’t really want to go there, especially since he was never going to have sex again. Possibly not even with himself.
Okay, he didn’t have that kind of self-control, but masturbation was all he was going to do for relief from now on. His scare with HIV was still riding on his shoulders. Drake realised then that, for the first time since his ex Rigo had called and told him he’d tested positive for HIV, he had managed not to think about the fear he’d been dealing with for over a week now.
Drake’s tests had come back negative so far, but he was so afraid to hope they’d keep on being negative. He was even more afraid to think they wouldn’t. HIV wasn’t the death sentence it used to be, but it was still nothing to treat lightly, and people were still dying because of it.
Buddy’s loud slurps and the skittering of his nails on the cement washroom floor snapped Drake out of his brooding. He had just enough time to shout "No!" then there was water all over, including on him. "Buddy," Drake whined, looking at his wet pants legs and the spreading water on the floor. Buddy sat and wiggled his little butt as he wagged his tail. Of course he sat in the water, and his tail slung droplets of it, too.
The back door squeaked as it was opened and Drake turned just enough to see Saul ‘Salt’ Johnson step into the room. "Got a problem there, Drake?"
Salt always looked at Drake in a way that made him think Salt might be interested in him, but Drake just wasn’t up to going there with anyone. Drake faced his adorable, messy puppy again. "I have to bake two cakes for Will’s birthday, and make y’all lunch and dinner. I don’t know what to do with Buddy."
Salt came farther into the room. "Buddy, huh? He’s a cute little bugger, ain’t he? Looks like he’s part Aussie and part heeler, maybe."
"Part Aussie?" Drake asked, peering at Salt, and trying not to let it show that he thought the guy must be off his rocker. There was no way Buddy had come from Australia, and how would Salt know if he had?
Salt just grinned and winked at him, sending something like panic skittering through Drake. "Well now, I don’t rightly know where he comes from, but I’d think it’s in the US. I meant he’s probably part Australian Shepherd. Good dogs, pretty, too. Easy to train and energetic."
"Energetic’s an understatement," Drake muttered as Buddy leapt up and started barking. "He’s— Is he barking at the water?" Buddy bounced and slapped his paws down, sending a shower of sprinkles out.
"Yup, looks like," Salt agreed. "Want me to take him out for a walk? I can get him outta your hair for a while, let you get some cooking done."
Drake bit his bottom lip, debating. He wanted Buddy to love him best, did that make him petty? Then again, he wouldn’t be able to keep Buddy if he lost his job and was homeless.
"That his leash and collar you’re holding onto?"
Drake remembered the leather in his hands and despite his best effort not to, he blushed. "Er, yeah. I was"—getting turned on by it—"waiting for him to get done eating and drinking so I could put it on. Now he’s all wet."
"That he is." Salt came over to where Buddy was splashing and having entirely too much fun spreading the water all over. He bent and picked up the puppy. Buddy looked tiny in Salt’s hands. Drake looked away, not wanting Salt to think he was interested. Salt was probably a good guy and all, but Drake simply had never been attracted to guys so much older than himself. And, he admitted silently, he always dated jerks. Always. That was another reason for his intended celibacy.
"Looks like he’s got a crate, too. That’s good. Puppies like feeling safe, and they’re pack animals. Those kennels become like a den for ’em once the dogs get used to them."
Drake glanced at Salt. "They aren’t cruel? Like, locking the poor dogs in jail or whatever?" He felt like a fool for asking, but reminded himself he wasn’t out to impress Salt. Besides which, Buddy was his. "I don’t want him to hate me."
Salt gave a crooked grin and rubbed Buddy’s belly. "Aw, nah. He won’t. He’ll try to guilt ya out of it, but it’s better to put them in there than let ’em tear stuff up. Lots of dogs end up being dumped because their owners don’t bother training ’em, but just like a kid, they gotta be taught how to behave. It’s best to do that with love, not force."
"Okay." That was a lot to think about. Drake would deal with it later, because he just had to know something. "But—I just got him. Is he going to think he’s yours if you take him now?"
"He’ll figure out he’s your little boy in no time," Salt assured him.