Castle Roland

Forever 2 - Changes

by Jack Schaeffer

In Progress

Chapter 15

Posted: 25 Feb 16

FOREVER 2 - Changes
By Jack Schaeffer
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.

"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation." - Robert F. Kennedy, Senator and U.S. Attorney General

The gleaming white Gulfstream, with its bold blue stripe down the side, perched at Centennial Airport under the bright sun, engines whining in anticipation. I still had trouble believing it was mine. Sam stirred next to me in the backseat as Ben parked the car in front of the hangar.

"See you on board, guys," said Ben, grabbing his small backpack from the front seat. Outside, he adjusted the leather holster under his arm and threw a black sports jacket over his shoulder. Ben was mine, too, in a manner of speaking. Private jets and body guards. Everything in my life was so different now.

"You still want to do this, Jack?" asked Sam, dragging himself awake. He looked deep into my eyes, infusing me with his confidence and strength. I had a daunting task in front of me today. I wished we had time for him to infuse something else into me, but we had a schedule to keep.

"Yes. Let's do it," I replied, sounding more confident than I felt. Sam nodded and we slid out of the car, walking hand in hand to the front of the aircraft.

"Morning, guys," shouted Captain Ron from the top of the stairs, straining to be heard above the engines. We scrambled up into the much quieter cabin. "We'll have you airborne in ten minutes. Great day for flying."

"Cool, Ron," replied Sam. "Anything to eat on board?" I laughed. Sam had wolfed down a large stack of Maggie's hazelnut pancakes with real maple syrup for breakfast barely an hour before. He had the metabolism of a hummingbird.

"I'm sure there's something in the galley," said Ron. "Coffee's on if you want some." He left to do his final inspection and safety checks. I assumed Justin was already in the right hand seat in the cockpit. Ben was seated in the back row, his eyes closed.

"You're awfully quiet this morning. Long night?" I said, stowing my suit coat in a narrow closet.

He cracked an eyelid and groaned. "Peggy and I hooked up after her catering event last night. My ass is dragging this morning, but I'll be fine by the time we get to Oklahoma City. Assuming you don't yap at me the whole way," he said with a wry grin. I smiled. He closed his eyes again.

The rear lavatory door popped open and Justin stepped out, wiping his hands on a towel. He looked up at me and smiled.

"Mornin', Jack. Lav's are all cleaned up and ready to go."

"Good morning, Justin. And why is my co-pilot cleaning the bathroom?" I asked.

"Somebody's got to," he replied with a blank look.

"Well...yeah, but don't we have a service for that?"

He shrugged. "We used to, back when Phillip Franklin first bought the plane and had us flying more. But lately it's just been Ron and me - seems silly to hire it out when one of us can do it."

I nodded, dropping the subject for now. Sam came back from the galley, a large chocolate chip muffin in one hand and a tall travel mug of coffee in the other.

"Moanin', Jufin," said Sam with a mouthful of muffin.

Justin grinned. "Mornin', Sam. I see you found the muffins. Good thing I got one before you climbed aboard."

"This is so good. Where'd you get 'em?" asked Sam after he swallowed.

"Ron's wife Nancy made 'em, I think."

"Mmmm. You want a bite, Jack?" said Sam

I looked at the offered half eaten muffin. " thanks. You enjoy it, Sam." He smiled and took another big bite.

"Jack," said Justin. "I just want to say thanks again for letting Gary and me crash at your house after the party. I haven't been that wasted in a long time. I hope I didn't make a fool of myself." Sam snorted and I elbowed him in the side.

"What?" said Justin. "Oh shit...tell me...what did I do?"

"Well...thankfully most of the other guests had gone home already, so..."

"Jack! Tell me!" His face was pale now.

"It was no big deal. You and Gary started getting a little...frisky...and one thing led to another, and somehow you ended up in the pool."

"Huh. I don't remember my clothes getting wet," he said.

"That's because you weren't wearing any," said Sam, grinning.

"Oh fuck," said Justin, lowering his eyes, his cheeks bright red. "I'm sorry, guys. I hope I didn't embarrass anybody."

"No harm done. Like I said, by that time it was only Sam and me, Sully and Mark, and you and Gary. Everybody else had gone home. We were all out on the pool deck. Somehow you and Gary ended up in the hot tub in just your underwear, and at some point, you ripped yours off, tried to get his off, he resisted, and then you got out and ran over to the pool and jumped in, screaming about freezing your nuts off."

"What did Gary do?" asked Justin, looking horrified.

"Laughed hysterically, same as the rest of us," said Sam, chuckling.

"Shit. I can't believe I did that to Gary. No class," said Justin, disgusted with himself.

"Gary seemed fine to me," said Sam. "I gave him a couple of towels, he went over to the pool and wrapped you up when you climbed out, and then he kissed you. You sort of melted in his arms. Then you leaned on him for support while Jack led you guys to the bedroom downstairs. We didn't see you again until lunch on Sunday.

Justin grunted. "That was a helluva hangover, man. My head hurt till Tuesday." He rubbed his temple in remembrance. "No wonder Gary was so quiet the next day. I've gotta find a way to make it up to him."

"Why?" I asked. "I mean, it's none of my business, but Gary didn't seem upset. Nobody was. Sully and Mark definitely enjoyed your little show - Mark said something about the joys of foolish youth - but that was it. It's not like you guys had sex on the deck."

"I don't know. Gary's not comfortable with 'foolish youthful behavior'. He's a high class professional criminal attorney with a stellar reputation. He's uneasy in more relaxed social settings. I was surprised he even agreed to come to the party. I think he said yes just to meet you guys. Then he started drinking with me, which he almost never does, know the rest. I'm sure he felt embarrassed the next day after losing control."

"But...he didn't lose control," said Sam, confused.

"Sure he did...of me. He lost control of me, and when I get crazy in public, even in a fun way, it drives him crazy in a bad way. We almost broke up over it several times in the early years. I felt like he was constraining me, trying to mold me into something acceptable in his world. I rebelled at first, but eventually I settled down, because in the end, I knew I'd be lost without him."

"'re saying you're an extension of him, and he's an extension of you? What you do reflects on him, and vice versa?" I asked.

"Exactly. It took me forever to figure that out. No matter how much I don't want it to be true, it is. If I'm going to be with Gary, then I have to think about what I do and how it reflects on him. Obviously I blew it at the party. Thanks for telling me, guys."

"No worries," I replied. "I hope it works out with you and Gary."

"We'll be fine. He's the forgiving type. Actually I'm surprised he didn't give me a ton of shit for showing my junk to the boss," he said, smiling sheepishly at me. I blushed.

"Just tell him you were angling for a promotion," said Sam, grinning. I punched him hard in the arm. Justin laughed and turned back toward the cockpit. Sam pushed me toward a pair of leather seats and we buckled in.

As the engines screamed down the runway, the only man's junk on my mind was Sam's. I casually dropped my hand on his crotch, squeezing softly. Sam grinned and slid down, spreading his legs to encourage my explorations. His dick grew hard and tight against his zipper.

I leaned over to whisper in his ear. "One of these days, I want you buried in my ass at takeoff. I want to feel the g-forces pressing you deep inside me."

Sam gasped and grabbed my hand, stopping my strokes. "Fuck, Jack," he hissed. "You're gonna make me cum."

"Too bad we aren't alone, or I'd do that thing you like," I whispered. Sam groaned, then leaned over and kissed me softly. It was sweet and full of promise. I sighed and rested my head on his shoulder.

In a week of getting fucked by Sam, sometimes twice a day, I had learned a few things. My words, as much as my touch, had the power to turn him on and push him to the edge. Or I could give him a look, the one that said I need your dick in my ass now, and he'd cross the room and take me right on the spot. We were getting very, very good at making love. We sure practiced enough.

About the time the plane leveled off, Sam was more or less back in control of himself, and Ben started snoring softly.

"Somebody jumps out of the cargo hold mid-flight, looks like we'll have to defend ourselves," said Sam.

"Yeah. He's wiped. He and Peggy had a late night. I didn't even know he went out last night, did you?"

"Nope. I'm sure he had his guy patrolling the grounds, though, plus the guy down at the gate."

"Does it ever seem like overkill to you, all the security?" I asked.

"Yes and no. Maybe we don't need guards around the clock at the house, but no amount of security is too much if it keeps you safe, Jack. We can't let another crazy like Arnold Turner get to you. Charles may not always be around with his shotgun, and as studly as I am, I'm no match for flying bullets. But I'd take one to keep you from getting hurt."

"Sam...I..." I started. He put a finger gently on my lips.

"You don't have to say it, Jack. I know you'd do the same. All the more reason why we can't take a chance on either of us getting hurt. Or anybody else on the team."

I leaned my head on Sam's shoulder. "I love you, Sam."

"I love you back, Jack." Sam squeezed my hand.

"Speaking of the team, they've worked their butts off this week, haven't they," I said.

"I'll say. Simon's out at the new building every morning before seven to meet with Chris and the construction crew, then he holes up with you and Todd the rest of the day. Mason and Danny are glued to their computers from daylight till dark. And Will juggles IT and all the legal issues thrown at him by everybody else. I worked with him a lot this week. I'm telling you, Will is super smart."

I gasped. "Crap!"

"What?" he replied.

"I just realized we've been running so fast this week, I don't even know what you've been working on."


"So? I've completely ignored you! I'm so sorry. Please forgive me, Sam." I couldn't believe I'd been so myopic as to be unaware of his efforts the past week. Where was my head?

He laughed. "Relax. It's all cool. You've been tied up mostly with Todd and Simon. My biggest job has been helping the guys coordinate the physical move to the new place next weekend, assuming the construction gets done. Todd suggested I start a big chart to track everything. The guys keep giving me things to add to it, and I check them off when they're done."

"I still can't believe I didn't know, Sam. I feel horrible," I said.

"Why? You have a job to do, Jack, and it's not babysitting me. I'm fine. I like working with the guys, way more than I thought I would. Hopefully I'm able to take some pressure off."

"Hey," he said, pulling my chin up to his face. "At least I get you all to myself at night. And we haven't exactly wanted to talk shop in the evenings." He kissed me. My toes tingled.

"You do have a way of distracting me from my professional responsibilities," I said with grin.

"I can't help it, when you've got the hottest ass I've ever laid eyes on. You know how hard it is - and how hard I am - watching you walk around the bank in your tight suit pants, or lean over the conference table to grab a file, or fuck...just look at me from across the room? I can't get enough of you."

"It's not just me?" I said.

"What do you mean?"

"Well...I mean...I start to feel...empty when you're not in me. It's embarrassing."

"Embarrassing? I think it's fucking hot!"

"Really? I don't want you to think I'm some kind of slut or something," I said.

"Jack...I would never think that. Has it been too much? I can dial it back. I know I get a little...demanding sometimes," he said. He actually blushed.

"No! Don't you dare change anything. I like it when you get a little demanding. It turns me on big time."


I nodded.

He leaned closer and whispered seductively. "So you liked it when I pushed you up against the shower wall, and made you stand perfectly still while I opened you up with my fingers, then slowly pushed my rock hard cock deep inside your ass?"

I nodded, my pulse quickening.

"And you liked it when I bent you over the back of the couch in the living room and pounded your hole, holding your arms behind your back so you couldn't push me off?" A tiny gasp escaped my lips as I nodded again.

Sam unbuckled his seatbelt and stood up, pivoting to stand in front of me. He reached down and unfastened my seatbelt, letting his fingers graze my hardening dick. He smiled down at me, then slowly sat on my lap, facing me, his legs straddling my hips. He leaned into my face until our lips were nearly touching. "Do you like it when I invade your space like this?" he whispered, his blue eyes dancing.

"Yes," I whispered back.

"You like knowing for a certain fact that when I get you home tonight, my dick is gonna be all the way down your throat and deep inside your ass until I'm satisfied?"

"Yes!" I squeaked.

"So...are you saying you like me?" he asked with a cheeky grin.

"Not even a little bit, you jerk," I said, grinning back.

Then he kissed me.

It was like the first time all over again. White heat, sparks flying, tongues battling for control. My dick was so hard it hurt. Not being able to just rip our clothes off and go for it created a powerful tension, the restraints of time and place adding fuel to the fire. I could feel Sam's heart pounding in his chest as I stroked his nipples through his dress shirt. I pinched them a little harder, and Sam ripped his lips from mine, gasping for air. His eyes were wild with lust and need.

I started to speak, but Sam put a finger to my lips. Our eyes remained locked in a heated embrace. My senses were on hyperdrive. I could hear blood rushing through my veins, the gentle hiss of the airplane slicing through the atmosphere, even Ben's soft snoring coming from the back row. I could feel Sam's rigid cock pressing hard into mine, the pressure of his thighs squeezing, holding me down.

Sam grabbed my hands, interlocking our fingers, and pressed them back against the leather seats. His eyes flared as he slowly ground his dick into mine. I moaned. He pressed into me again, sliding his cock along mine. Another soft moan escaped my lips. I saw it - his eyes telling me he wanted this. Don't try and stop it - let him take me where he wanted to go. I nodded in surrender.

Sam quickened his pelvic grinding. Keeping our hands locked against the seats, he leaned over and kissed me, stoking the fire and pushing it downward. I felt it in my own nipples, lightly rubbing against my shirt, along with the tingling sensations of approaching orgasm building rapidly from deep within my ass. Sam pressed harder now, intent on his goal.

All rational thought short-circuited. I started pushing up against his downward thrusts, adding to the friction. He gasped and I could see he was close. I nodded, letting him know I was right there with him. He smiled and kept sliding our cocks together. I knew without looking down we both were leaking heavily.

I was struggling to hold out for him, hovering on the brink. Without warning, he sucked in a mouthful of air and started to shake all over. The tremors of his orgasm pushed me over the edge, and I matched him pulse for pulse. It seemed to last much longer than usual - maybe it was an altitude thing. A minute later our breathing slowed, our heartbeats returned to normal, and Sam fell against my neck, releasing my hands. I wrapped my arms around his back and held him close.

No longer lost in lust, rational thought returned, and we simultaneously realized we had a big problem. Neither one of us had a change of clothes.

"Oh shit, Jack, I'm sorry. We're a mess," he said, leaning back.

I smiled. "No worries. We go commando. You take the front, I'll take the rear. We clean up as best we can and meet back here." He smiled, gave me a quick peck on the lips and leaped off my lap.

"Sam?" I said. He stopped and turned.

"I love you."

"I know," he replied with a huge grin, then literally ran to the front lavatory.

The next fifteen minutes involved trying to rid my suit pants of all carnal evidence. Thankfully they were dark navy blue, so after wiping them off with a damp wash cloth, and a couple of minutes under the blow dryer, I put them back on, sans underwear, and checked the mirror. Good to go.

Sam came out a few minutes later looking sexy as hell, carrying his soiled underwear wrapped up in a hand towel, same as me. I could see the outline of his big dick hanging against the still damp spot on the front of his dark grey pants. My ass twitched. I couldn't wait to get this trip over with so I could get that thing inside me again.

We met in the aisle and gently kissed. I smiled and took his towel and dirty underwear, along with mine, and hid the pile in the bottom of a closet across from the galley. Returning to Sam, we sat across from each other at the four-seater table. It was odd not to see Todd's crap spread all over it. This was normally his domain when we flew.

"Don't let me forget to grab our underwear before we leave tonight," I said. "I don't want Ron or Justin finding them. We'd never hear the end of it."

"That was so hot, Jack. Fuck...I lose all control when you kiss me like that," said Sam.

"Like what?"

"Like you just did. I don't's like you kick it into a different gear. You kiss me like that and everything inside me catches fire, and I swear there's only one way to put it out."

" I'm like your little firefighter?" I teased.

"More like little arsonist," he laughed. I reached for his hand across the table, and we sat there in a comfortable silence, gazing into each other's eyes. Until Ben grunted, made some strange gargling-type noises, and settled back into a soft snore.

"Yikes," said Sam. "I'm glad he didn't wake up when we know."

"Me too," I said.

Sam looked deep into my eyes. I was so used to this move, I calmly let him in. I don't know what he saw, but his eyes clouded over. "Are you really okay, Jack? I've pushed you pretty hard this week."

I knew what he was asking. For a guy who was very mild-mannered and easy going outside the bedroom, Sam was aggressive and dominant in our sex life. More shocking was the fact I liked it - even needed it. I'd spent my whole life being in control of everything around me, both personally and professionally. I had to be to survive. Sam made it possible to let my guard down and give in to my deepest desires.

"I think I'm okay," I answered. "I mean...yeah...I am. Physically I'm fine. I feel good. So far I've enjoyed everything we've done. I had no idea I would feel the way I do about it."

"How so?"

"Well...growing up it was all fantasy, right? Until you, I'd never done anything with anyone. I always assumed getting fucked would feel good physically, otherwise why would anybody do it. But...I never counted on the head trip."

"The head trip?"

"Yeah. There's something mysterious and amazing about having you inside me, Sam. It's like it resets a switch inside my head, or somewhere deep down in my soul. Like there's something in there out of whack, and when you fuck me, it fixes whatever's broken or out of alignment. Half the time I don't even care if I cum. Does that make any sense?"

He paused and thought about it. "Kind of. There were a few times when I was with Jeremy, and he was being sweet and nice to me...yeah...I see what you're saying. It does sort of create a connection...or something...on the inside." I saw a flash of pain cross his face, then it was gone.

"Are you okay, Sam? Are you satisfied with our sex life?"

He nodded. "Oh yeah! Sex with you is amazing. I can't imagine it being any better."

I took a deep breath. "Sam...can I ask you something?"


"I know you said you didn't like it much when do I say it? Forced you?"

"I hated it. I still can't believe I let him do it."

I swallowed hard. "Would you ever...with me...would you ever want to do it with me?"

"You mean have you fuck me?" he asked softly.

"Yeah. Only if you wanted to, though. I don't know if I'd be any good at it, but I'd try if you wanted me to." He squeezed my hand. His eyes were suddenly moist. Uh oh.

"Jack...I...shit." I squeezed his hand tighter and waited. And watched, as Sam waged a mighty battle deep inside himself. It played out on his face as he wrestled with his inner demons. Finally, he sighed and leaned back. He never let go of my hand.

"Maybe...yes," he whispered, looking into my eyes. A single tear fell over the edge on his left eye, and he wiped it away with an annoyed sweep of his hand. I nodded as I realized the full gravity of what he was saying. Sam trusted me.

He had been so brutally betrayed by Jeremy Reynolds, physically and emotionally, I knew trusting me in this way was a gigantic step of faith. It humbled me, and came with a heavy weight of responsibility. Sam wasn't just offering me his ass - he was handing me the final piece of his heart, saying, "Here...I want you to have this...but please don't break it."

It all made sense. When I first met Sam I was terrified of my own shadow. But he had proven himself trustworthy from our first night together, sitting on the beach in Hawaii. I knew he would never intentionally hurt me, physically or emotionally, so I willingly submitted to whatever he wanted to do sexually with no fear. I knew my heart was safe in his hands, therefore my body was in no real danger, no matter how rough he might get.

Now Sam was saying he was ready to do the same with me - to trust me with everything.

I looked across the table into his deep blue eyes and smiled. "Only if and when you want to," I said. He grinned.

"We'll see. But tonight, your ass is mine, Schaeffer."

"Oh goody," I replied, and Sam laughed.

"You really do like getting fucked, don't you," he said, grinning.

"I like it a lot. I need it, Sam. You don't think that makes me weird, do you?"

"Nope, not as long as I'm the only one enjoying your sweet little butt."

"As Billy would say, my ass belongs only to you, Sam."

"Hot diggety," he said, and we both burst out laughing.

Ben grunted loudly, twisted in his seat, then settled back down again. Sam and I waited until he was snoring again.

"I don't want to wake him up if we can help it. He gets cranky with no sleep," I said.

"Yeah, we don't need 'cranky'. I want him alert and keeping you safe," said Sam.

I sat back, lost in thought. On the one hand, I liked having Ben around. He was totally cool with protecting a gay couple. He teased us mercilessly, and we gave him back as good as we got. It was the right dynamic for the unusual situation we lived in. Another plus - he was very dedicated to his job. After the Arnold Turner affair, I didn't feel safe until Ben took over our security permanently. But did I still need a full-time body guard?

"What are you thinking, Jack?" asked Sam.

I sighed. "I was talking to Charles the other night, and he told me the Franklins never had security guards or drivers. They were obviously wealthy. Plus, they were publicly known in the medical research world - he was the CEO of the company at one point. If anybody would have had a target on his back, it would have been Phillip."

"So? They never had a homicidal maniac come after them."

"Not that I know of. But don't you think Turner was just a fluke? I can't imagine it happening again."

"You don't think anybody could be gunning for you?"

"I don't see why they would. I mean, our company is a week old. I'm not a public figure in any way, and I don't intend to ever be one. I'm sure Clyde managed to hide my identity so I don't even show up in the company's corporate structure."

"How'd he do that? Aren't you the CEO of Schaeffer & Associates?"

"In practice, yes. But on paper, Todd is the main guy. My trust owns the company. This way, all transactions are done by the company, and no one is the wiser. And if they do dig into our corporate structure, all they'll see is the shares are owned by the trust, which is a legal dead end."

"Even so, your company's already starting to make waves. Think about it. Just this week your team backed some pretty heavy hitters into a corner."

"You mean Myron and Aaron Davidson down in Ft. Hancock? How so?"

"You bought the medical clinic right out from under them! If they ever find out about your relationship with Andy and Mike and put two and two together, they'll know they were played. As it is, they'll be furious when the clinic stays open with the same gay doctors."

"My team was never able to determine if the Davidsons had anything to do with trying to shut the clinic down. We still don't know who convinced the Salus Society to stop funding it."

"But you went ahead and bought the building?"

"We thought it was the only way to guarantee nobody could bounce them out of the community. They built the clinic - they have a right to stay there."

"I agree, but somebody doesn't want Andy and Mike practicing medicine in Ft. Hancock. They somehow stopped their funding. Whoever it is, if they find out you're behind keeping the clinic open, they could fix their sights on you."

"I doubt there's much they could do to me or my company. We aren't beholden to anyone or anything. Besides, I don't see how they'd ever find out. Todd and Simon structured the deal through a local company called Bain Brokerage. They've been around the area for a dozen years, buying properties and managing them for a small profit. Bain bought several buildings in Ft. Hancock from the Davidson brothers this week. Nothing points to us. Unless they dig into Bain, they'll never know. Even Andy and Mike don't know it was actually my company behind the deal. All they know is their lease was renewed by Bain yesterday with no restrictions."

"Let me guess - you now control Bain Brokerage," said Sam, smiling. "Is that why Todd had me working with Clyde this week, setting up subsidiaries for S&A? One of them now owns a majority share in Bain?"

"I think so. To be honest, the details escaped me once Danny and Todd started arguing about real estates taxes and filing fees."

"The two of them do go at it, don't they," said Sam, chuckling.

"Yeah, but it's how they work together. They respect one another deeply, so their squabbling somehow brings out the best in each of them. I just try to stay out of the line of fire."

Sam laughed. "You're a great leader, Jack. You're learning to play to your team's strengths. No wonder they accomplished so much in just a week. How'd Bain get the Davidsons to sell them the clinic building?"

"My guess is by offering more than it's worth on the open market. Simon suggested we buy more properties than we really wanted, to avoid any focus on the clinic. Bain put together a package deal and the Davidsons went for it. I think Simon picked a couple of their properties which were real losers, knowing they'd jump at a chance to unload them. Whatever he did, it worked. They didn't even counter."

"Simon's a sneaky devil, isn't he. So now you own a bunch of worthless buildings in Texas. Did I hear Todd say yesterday you also bought the house Andy and Mike rent?"

I nodded. "A different deal, but also through Bain. I don't know how he did it, but Simon tracked down the owners and made them an offer they couldn't refuse. Turns out it was a brother and sister who live in Dallas. I guess they inherited it five years ago from their grandparents. They tried selling, but couldn't find a buyer to cover the balance on the mortgage, so they were renting it until the market turned up. The deal closes today. Now Andy and Mike won't have to worry about getting evicted because the owner doesn't want to rent to gays."

Sam looked confused.

"What's the matter, Sam?"

"I don't get it. You fixed everything for Andy and Mike - the clinic is now in your control, and their house is now yours, too. So why are we going to see the guy at the Salus Society?"

"Because the clinic still needs operating funds. We took away the immediate local threat, but they have to have a steady influx of cash to keep the doors open. And I want to know who tried to shut them down."

"You've got millions, Jack. Why don't you just fund them yourself? Why stir things up?"

"I will, if it comes to that. But I have a different idea, which is why we're paying the good folks at the Salus Society a friendly visit."

"What are you going to say to the guy we're meeting? What's his name again?" asked Sam.

"Nelson Weaver, the managing director. And I'm thinking of offering him a sizeable donation." Sam looked at me like I had grown a third eye. I laughed.

"It's not funny, Jack. Why would you give them a dime after they discriminated against Andy and Mike, just because they're gay. Mason said they are definitely a Christian-based organization. I hardly think they'll roll out the red carpet for the two of us."

"First of all, there are two sides to every story. Not every Christian organization hates gays, and we have no idea where the Salus Society stands on that issue, or the real reason why they stopped their funding. Nobody would talk to Mike when he called. The best Mason could do was get us an appointment today. I intend to ask Mr. Weaver face to face. It may very well be they do discriminate against gay people, in which case I will NOT be giving them any money, and we'll find a different way to get the clinic funded."

"As for you and me, unless not wearing any underwear is a dead giveaway, I don't think we particularly stand out as gay men. But we probably shouldn't hold hands when we walk in."

Sam smiled, then looked at me with a strange expression. "You remember when I told you how my dad taught me character matters more than money?"

"Sure. I was convinced once you found out I was loaded, you'd dump me like a hot rock."

"Hardly. What you're doing today - confronting Weaver - you're walking in there with more character than all your money could ever buy. You're right, we don't know the full story. It takes balls to look a man in the eye and ask him straight up. I'm proud of you, Jack. I've got your back."

"Thank you, Sam." I couldn't look at him or I'd start crying. Damn! First he gives me his trust, then he gives me his respect. Between his confidence in me, and Amanda Franklin's admonishment to "do it afraid", I might just be able to pull this off.

"Gentlemen, this is your co-pilot speaking," came Justin's voice over the cabin PA system. "The captain will be doing a walk through the cabin before we land in Oklahoma City. Make sure you're decent back there. He's old and we don't want to give him a shock. And strap in tight, might be a little bumpy on the way in."

Sam hopped up, washed his coffee cup in the galley sink, dried it, and locked it away in a cabinet. He looked across to where I had hidden our cum-filled underwear and winked at me. I smiled at my co-conspirator and he pulled me into his chest, wrapping me up in his big muscular arms. He hugged me until Ron crashed the party.

"Sorry to interrupt, guys, but you need to find your seats. Anything lying around back here needs to be locked down."

"I think we're all set, Captain," said Sam.

"Great. See you boys on the ground."

Ben was standing up in the aft section, yawning and stretching, his hands pressing against the cabin ceiling. He stowed his backpack under a seat and moved up to sit across the narrow aisle from Sam and me.

"Feeling better, Ben?" I asked, cinching my seatbelt tight across my lap.

"I'm good. Do we have an agenda for today?"

"Lunch first, then our meeting is at one this afternoon. I don't know how long it will last, but then straight back here and fly home," I replied.

"Roger. Our ride will be waiting at the hangar. Anything I need to be concerned about with this meeting?" said Ben.

"Sam and I are meeting with the managing director. I doubt there will be anybody else in the room, but I trust your instincts, Ben. If you feel like you need to be with us, just say so."


Nothing more was said as the plane started shaking and dipping up and down, like a runaway roller coaster. I grabbed Sam's hand and he squeezed until it hurt. We all sucked air as the wheels hit the runway hard. My stomach lurched as we bounced up ten feet, only to settle down for good a moment later.

"Damn," said Ben, as we were thrown forward by reverse engine thrust and heavy braking. The plane swerved sideways to the left, then a sudden shift had us sliding in the opposite direction. We all had white-knuckled grips on our armrests. Ron and Justin managed to wrest control from the cross winds, and the plane settled into a straight line, coming to full stop moments later.

"That was fun," said Sam, sarcastically. "You alright, Jack?"

"I think so. Hope the plane is."

"Me, too. I love this thing," said Sam. I looked over at Ben. He seemed a little shaken.

"You okay, Ben?" I asked.

He swallowed. "Yeah." He didn't look okay.

"You look like you've seen a ghost," I said.

"Kind of. I was on a plane that crash landed in Italy, back in my military days. Flashbacks suck."

"Were you hurt?" asked Sam.

"No, not really. We lost the landing gear and an engine from under one wing, but the plane held together. Just bumps and bruises. The two-star general I was protecting at the time was shaken up pretty good, though. He insisted on travelling by train for the duration of our NATO tour."

"I hope we don't have to take a train back to Denver," I said, as the plane started moving again. We taxied for a couple of minutes, finally coming to a stop. The engines cycled down to a soft idle, and I unbuckled my seatbelt. After the rough landing, I was a little shaky on my legs.

The cockpit door opened and Ron walked back toward us.

"Everybody okay back here?" he asked.

"We're good," said Sam. "What about you guys?"

"Sorry for the rough landing, guys. The cross winds were worse than we thought. Justin's up there giving the tower holy hell right now. We should have never attempted to land with those gusts. Well...all's well that ends well, I guess," said Ron.

"Is the plane okay?" I asked. "That was quite a bump on the landing."

"She's a tough bird, Jack. But Justin and I will give her a close going over while you're doing your thing today. If I find any problems, I'll text you. Planes are made to take a hard landing here and there. I think we'll be fine."

"Will we be able to take off again later?" asked Sam.

"The winds are forecast to die down by this afternoon, so I think we'll get out with no worries."

"Keep us posted, Ron," I said.

"Have a good afternoon. See you in a few hours," he said, then turned to go back and let down the forward stairs.

Our car - yet another black SUV - was waiting on the tarmac as advertised. I had no idea how Ben arranged such things. He wasted no time throwing his backpack in the cargo space in the rear. Sam and I slid in back, and he jumped into the driver's seat.

"Fast food or fancy lunch?" asked Ben, slipping on a pair of Revo sunglasses. I looked at Sam and he shrugged. He'd eat pretty much anything.

"Something easy. You pick," I said, settling back and leaning my head on Sam's shoulder. He held my hand and kissed the top of my head. I closed my eyes, hoping to settle my nerves a bit before the meeting.

Fifteen minutes later, Ben pulled into a strip mall and parked in front of a Subway restaurant. We had the place to ourselves. I ordered a roasted turkey sub, Sam went with a steak and cheese smothered in hot peppers, and Ben ordered a footlong meatball with extra sauce. Brave man - I'd be wearing most of that. We found a table near the back of the restaurant and sat down to eat. Ben and Sam ripped into their sandwiches. I just picked at mine.

"You're not eating, Jack. You nervous?" asked Sam.

"A little," I replied.

"Well, I doubt you're in any danger. Shouldn't have any trouble," said Ben, taking another big bite of his sandwich.

Sam and I exchanged looks. "And how do you know that?" I asked.

"What? You think I just wing it with security?" asked Ben. "As soon as Todd told me your plans to come here, I started surveillance and background checks."

"Background checks? On who?" asked Sam.

Ben looked at his phone. "Nelson Weaver and Sherrie Walker. Far as I can tell, they're the only regular staff at the...Salus Society. What's up with that name?"

"It's Latin. It means health or healing, according to Mason," I said.

"Well, Mr. Weaver and Ms. Walker check out. Threat assessment zero. No history of violence or trouble with the law. No questionable financial transactions. They've both been at this place for over ten years."

"Any chance of surprise guests?" asked Sam.

"I had a buddy do a little reconnaissance yesterday. You should be safe enough."

"What kind of reconnaissance?" asked Sam.

"He drove by the office building and watched for a while. It's a small outfit, very little foot traffic. The only visitors he saw were FedEx and UPS. Two doors, front and back. Only two cars in the lot. License plates match cars registered to Weaver and Walker. He's sitting there now, keeping an eye on the place."

Sam grinned at me. I nodded in agreement - Ben was very good at his job. Feeling a lot less nervous, I took a full bite of my sandwich. Turned out I was really hungry. I even ate a few of Sam's potato chips.

We arrived at our destination ten minutes early. Ben cruised through the collection of single-story, modern bungalows arranged inside a large oval of flat land. Each building had yellow brick walls and a high pitched roof. In front, a dozen parking spaces pushed up against the sidewalk. Two clusters of pine trees swayed in the strong winds, filling in the common area behind the office buildings.

Ben parked. A small plaque on the building we faced identified the Salus Society headquarters. Nice, but hardly impressive.

Ben's phone buzzed. He glanced at the screen, then looked to his right, stared at a man in a blue Toyota 4-Runner, and nodded. The man nodded back.

"We're all clear. You guys can go in. I'm going to take a stroll back behind the buildings, keep an eye on the rear entrance. Text me when you're ready to roll."

"Thanks, Ben. We shouldn't be long," I said. I turned to look at Sam. He smiled, kissed me softly, and focused his deep, blue eyes right into my soul.

"You've got this, little man. Ready?" I nodded. "Okay then, let's go."

We exited the car and strolled up to the front door. I pulled on the handle, but it was locked. Sam noticed a doorbell and poked it. Somewhere inside a pleasant chime announced our presence on the front stoop.

"May I help you," said a sweet voice with a strong Southern accent.

"Yes," I said, in the general direction of the speaker above the doorbell. "My name is Jack Schaeffer. I have a meeting with Nelson Weaver."

"Oh my, yes....yes, of course. Come on in," said the sweet voice. The door lock clicked, and Sam pulled it opened, waving me through first. I winked at him and walked in. His hand brushed the small of my back. It's the little things.

The small lobby area was sparsely furnished. Nothing fancy, but not too shabby. Simple and utilitarian. A couple of side tables, some lamps, maybe six chairs total, arranged in a conversational cluster around a low square table. The carpet was beige, the walls were beige, the fabrics were beige. An overgrown green ficus tree standing in one corner near the window provided the only color in the room. Its leaves needed serious dusting.

A small woman sporting a platinum blond beehive came around from her desk. "Welcome to the Salus Society. My name is Sherrie. May I get you gentlemen anything? Coffee, tea, water?"

"No, thank you," I replied, shaking her delicate hand. Up close, she had to be in her fifties. The shock of magenta on her lips was odd. I tried not to stare.

"If y'all change your minds, just let me know. Why don't y'all have a seat in the conference room there across the hall. Mr. Weaver will join you shortly."

"Thank you," said Sam. We moved into the small conference room and found seats on the far side of the brown formica-topped conference table. My chair squeaked as I sat down, but thankfully didn't collapse. There was nothing else in the room, just a table and six chairs. No pictures, no credenza, no telephone, no big computer screens. Just beige walls to stare at.

Thankfully the managing director only kept us waiting two minutes. Nelson Weaver arrived flustered, settling his bulky body in a chair across from us after offering his hand in welcome. He sighed heavily.

"I'm so sorry, gentlemen, for my unfortunate delay. I was speaking with one of our regular donors, and ending a conversation with her can be quite difficult at times. But never mind that, how may I help you?"

"Mr. Weaver, thank you for meeting with us on such short notice. We really appreciate you taking time out of your busy day."

"No problem. And please, call me Nelson. We aren't very formal around here."

"Fine. I'm Jack, and this is my partner, Sam."

"Nice to meet you both. My assistant said you had some questions about making a donation to the Salus Society. How can I help?"

"Can you tell us a little more about what you do here and how you choose the projects you fund?" I asked.

He smiled for the first time. "I'd be happy to. The Salus Society has been around for about forty years now. I am the third managing director for the organization. We focus exclusively on supporting medical professionals whose purpose is to better the health and welfare of underprivileged communities. We fund free medical clinics, medical testing and immunization programs, and physicians and dentists who specialize in providing routine outpatient procedures."

"How do you choose which organizations to support?" I asked.

"It's a process. Three medical doctors, two dentists and two local church pastors sit on our Advisory Board. I meet with them once a month to discuss operations and any new requests for funding. Part of my job is to conduct background checks, perform peer reviews, and ultimately interview potential recipients. The Board makes the final decision on who we support."

"I see. You mentioned part of the Board is made up of pastors. Would you say the decision to fund a particular organization is heavily based on church concerns?"

His eyes clouded over for just a second, then Nelson's smile returned. "I'm not sure what you are asking?"

"I'm just wondering how much autonomy the Salus Society has in making its decisions on which projects to fund."

"If you're asking is there a specific denomination or group of church leaders directing our operations, the answer is no. If you don't mind my asking, is this a particular concern of yours?"

I paused, not expecting his challenge. I wanted to hold Sam's hand for moral support, but that wasn't an option. I swallowed and forged on.

"Not...necessarily. I'm just trying to understand what factors influence your decision making process."

"I see. Well, the decision of who to support is largely based on the impact a particular individual or group can make on the community it serves. Those who demonstrate a solid operational plan with proven results will receive the highest regard from our Board. As you can imagine, we have limited resources, and our goal is to partner with medical professionals who are changing people's lives for the better."

"So you do not have specific requirements for an organization to adhere to particular church teachings or doctrines?"

"Of course not," said Nelson, now visibly irritated. "We obviously won't support an organization that is openly hostile to Christians. We could hardly be expected to do so, since the vast majority of our funding is provided by people of Christian faith. But I can assure you, the men and women who dedicate their lives to serving indigent people - of all faiths - possess certain characteristics. The very work they do could be said to support the basic tenets of Christian charity, if not in doctrine, then certainly in action. I'm curious...why the heavy focus on church involvement? Are you really here to discuss making a donation, or find ways to criticize what we do?"

Clearly he was offended. Floundering, I looked to Sam to rescue the conversation, but he just looked at me. I stared into his blue eyes, silently begging him to take over.

"Well? I'm waiting for an answer," said Nelson. Sam nodded to me, and I knew what to do. I turned back to the man across the table and tried hard to smile.

"Nelson...I didn't mean to offend you with my questions, and I sincerely apologize. I promise you, we are not here to criticize your organization," I said. "Let me ask a different question. What factors would influence the Salus Society to withdraw support from an organization they had previously funded?"

"Can you be more specific?" he asked, clearly on guard.

"Well...let's say you've been funding a medical clinic for years. Why would you decide to no longer fund the clinic, assuming they are, as you said, still making a significant impact in their community?"

"We wouldn't, generally speaking. However, as a donor-directed charitable organization, we are required to honor the wishes of our donors."

"What does that mean?" asked Sam. Nelson looked at Sam.

"It means our donors can direct where their funds are spent. For example, the woman I was on the phone with earlier - she has donated to us for years, with the understanding all of the funds she gives will be directed to vision care services only. Her father was a practicing ophthalmologist and went on many missionary trips, performing cataract surgeries by the hundreds in India and Africa. Her giving is a way for her to continue his legacy. We have several different groups we fund who provide such services around the country."

"So...if we were to make a donation, we could request the funds be given to a particular organization?" I asked.

"Yes. We provide all potential donors with a list of the medical organizations we support. You can choose to direct your donations to a specific project, a group of projects, or to the general fund, leaving the choice to us."

"So if I'm understanding correctly, you're saying decisions on who receives support are heavily based on donor wishes, and not subject to outside interference."

"For the most part, yes, I think that's a fair assessment. The Advisory Panel has, on very rare occasions, made the decision to withdraw funding from an organization, but to my knowledge, only when there has been a proven charge of financial malfeasance or difficulties."

"Meaning...they turned out to be not nice people?" asked Sam.

Nelson smiled grimly. "Sadly, yes, that's exactly what I mean. Thankfully it's only happened once during my tenure here over the last twelve years."

" there any other reason why the Salus Society would withdraw funding?" I asked, now slightly confused.

"None that I know of. As I said, we are a donor-directed operation. If a donor decides they no longer want to support a particular organization, there is little we can do to prevent it. We counsel donors to avoid abrupt changes in funding, as these can harm an organization dependent upon our support. To minimize the impact of one donor's decision, we spread funding for each project across as many different donors as we can."

If what he was saying was true, there must have been one major donor supporting the medical clinic in Texas. That donor must have pulled the plug on Andy and Mike. But why not explain this turn of events to the doctors? Why leave them in the dark?

"Nelson...I have just a couple more questions. If you can't answer them, just say so." He nodded. "It has come to our attention there is a medical clinic in Ft. Hancock, Texas which the Salus Society has supported for a number of years. They have suddenly had their funding withdrawn. We came here today to find out why, and to see if we could find a way to get their funding reinstated."

Nelson's eyes registered his shock. "How do you know about this? Who sent you here? What's this really all about?"

"No one sent us. We know the doctors who run the clinic personally. They told us, and we'd like to help if we can."

"But...I don't understand. I haven't even..." His voice trailed off as he looked down at his hands. A strange sadness washed over his face. Nelson looked sideways, avoiding our eyes for the first time. Sam and I waited as Nelson slouched into his chair, debating with himself - should he confide in us or not? Finally he sat up straight in his chair and looked at us.

"I don't know why I'm doing this, but if you really want to help, I'm going to tell you what I know. Maybe you know something I don't. I can't reveal any donor's name, of course, just as I would never reveal yours should you gentlemen decide to partner with us. All I can say is we have received a number of calls from donors who have requested we suspend all funding to the medical clinic immediately. Normally we require a sixty day notice before such changes take effect, to give us time to remediate the impact, if we can. I've been working diligently to find other funding. Just when I think I've got it covered, I receive another call. They say the same thing, and I'm back to square one. I'm running out of time. I don't want to have to notify the doctors running the facility of the change in status. I don't know how they found out."

Sam and I looked at each, stunned. He didn't know? What was going on here?

"Uh...sir...didn't you send a registered letter to Dr. Andrew Munroe and Dr. Michael Branson, informing them of the loss of funding and requesting they close their clinic at the end of this month?" asked Sam.

"Excuse me? I did no such thing! First of all, I've already managed to secure funding from other sources to cover half the loss to the clinic. If I get no more cancellations, I'm hopeful I can restore the full amount within a month. That's my job, gentlemen. I find money, and get it into the hands of those who can do the most good with it. The clinic in Ft. Hancock is one of our biggest success stories in the last decade. They don't know this, but I've spoken with several community leaders there and they all rave about the good being done at the clinic. To be honest, I was shocked when the requests came to cease funding. I did everything I could to change their minds, but it's like someone is deliberately poisoning the well, so to speak."

I pulled a document from my briefcase. "This is a copy of the letter the doctors received. It's on Salus Society letterhead, signed by you. You're saying you didn't send this?" I pushed the letter across the table and Nelson grabbed it. He read it quickly, his face reddening with each line.

"Where did you get this?" he asked.

"Dr. Michael Branson gave it to us," I said. "He's tried to call here several times for answers, but is rebuffed by someone with each call. He asked us to look into it, which is why we're here."

"I did not write this letter. This is not how we do things here. Give me a minute to think," he said. He stared at the wall to our left for several minutes, working out something in his head. I saw his eyes flicker with an idea.

"Gentlemen, hang tight for a minute, if you would," he said. "Sherrie, can you come in here for a moment," he yelled across the hall. A flustered Sherrie appeared in the doorway a few seconds later.

"Sherrie, did you write this letter?" He handed it to her. Her hands shook with fear as she read it.

"No, sir, I would never do such a thing. Besides, that's not how I sign your name." She leaned in closer and half-whispered. "But I might know who did."

"These boys know all about it, so no need to be secretive. Who do you think did this?" She looked very uncomfortable. I felt bad for putting her in this situation.

"Dr. McAdams, sir."

"Barney? Why would he do something like this? He has no authority to act in this manner. His role is advisory only." Sherrie shifted nervously, wringing her hands. Nelson stood up, his bulky size towering over her small figure. "Spill it, Sherrie. What else?"

"He...he...he asked me for some blank stationery after y'all's last meeting. I didn't think it was a problem, so I gave him a few sheets of letterhead. He called me the next day and said if either of the doctors from that clinic called here, I was to politely refuse to answer them. He said it twice - be polite, but tell them nothing. And whatever I did, don't bother you with it. You're much too busy with more important things, he said."

"And you did what he said?" She nodded, nearly in tears.

"When Dr. Branson called again yesterday, I was beside myself. I planned on speaking to you about it this afternoon, after your meeting. It didn't feel right, keeping the doctor in the dark, bless his heart. What's going on, Nelson?" she begged.

"I'm not sure, but I'm going to get to the bottom of it. Can you boys wait here for a few minutes while I make some calls?"

"Of course," I replied.

"Pull it together, Sherrie. I need your help. Get me a list of every donor who currently funds the clinic in Ft. Hancock. I need names and phone numbers. Bring it down to my office. Quickly now." She turned, grateful for something to do, and Nelson followed her out.

I turned to Sam and whispered, "Holy crap! We stirred up a hornet's nest, didn't we?"

"I'm afraid so. I'm glad he's letting us stay to see how this plays out. You okay, little man?"

"Yeah, now that he knows we're on the same side. Whatever's going on, I hope he can put a stop to it."

Sam tried to distract me by whispering sexy things he planned on doing to me later, but it only made me more nervous. I watched through the open door as Sherrie flew up from her desk, rushed to a printer, and pulled off a sheaf of papers, presumably the donor list. She gave me a flat line grin as she raced down the hallway to Nelson's office. I could hear him yelling on his phone, but I couldn't make out what he was saying.

Twenty minutes later, Nelson and Sherrie returned. He issued orders. "Send an email to every name on this list. Here's the text for it," he said, handing her a piece of notebook paper. "Let's try to get postal letters out today as well. I'll start phone calls in a little while. If anyone calls, put them through to me, okay?"

"Yes, sir. I'm on it." She sat down at her desk and concentrated on her computer screen.

"If you need us to get out of your hair, we can. We certainly don't want to be in the way of you doing what you need to do," I said, standing up as Nelson came back into the conference room.

"No, no. Sit back down. I have information for you, and maybe a question or two." I looked at Sam and slowly sat back down in my chair.

"Bernard McAdams is a retired physician and now the pastor of a small church here in Oklahoma City. He's managed to find his way onto several charity boards. Apparently he has also taken it upon himself to launch a crusade of sorts against the medical clinic in Ft. Hancock. I've spoken to all but one member of our advisory panel, and they each told me he has been lobbying to have the clinic removed from our approved list. A few seemed inclined to agree with him at first, but I believe I was able to help them see things more realistically."

"Excuse my interruption, but...why? Why would McAdams want to shut down the clinic?" I asked.

"Ah...yes. Well, that brings me to a question for you. You arrived here today with some very specific concerns about our funding decisions. Did you think the Salus Society intended to shut down the clinic because Dr. Munroe and Dr. Branson are a gay couple?"

I looked at Sam and he grinned. Nelson was full of surprises. I swallowed hard. "Yes...Nelson...we thought that might be the reason. But we didn't know for sure, and I wasn't comfortable making any assumptions, so I decided to come here and ask you in person. I was hoping it wasn't true."

"It's not true. The fact that Dr. Munroe and Dr. Branson are gay did not escape me during the review process, back when we all worked together to establish the clinic in the first place. You'd have to be willfully blind not to see they were in love with each other. As are the two of you, if I'm not mistaken." He smiled widely.

"You are not mistaken," said Sam, reaching for my hand under the table. He looked at me, willing me to stay put. I forced myself to breathe again.

"The members of the advisory panel had no objection to funding a project run by two gay doctors?" said Sam.

"We discussed it. It doesn't come up often, but we're citizens of the modern world, same as everybody else. What is important to the Salus Society is bringing first class medical care to the needy, not the romantic involvements of the doctors themselves. So long as their personal relationships don't interfere with providing quality medical care, and they aren't publicly advocating against the church in some way, it's a non-issue for us."

"I take it Dr. McAdams does not share this opinion?" said Sam.

"Apparently not. He only joined the Board three months ago. How he discovered the sexual orientation of the doctors, I don't know. Maybe another Board member told him. At any rate, from what I can piece together so far, he's called every donor who supports the clinic and encouraged them to withdraw or redirect their giving. Thankfully less than half agreed with him. What good he hoped to accomplish by shutting down the only medical care facility in a one hundred mile radius, I can't imagine. At the very least, it's clear he does not possess the ideals and vision of the Salus Society, and his involvement has been terminated effective immediately. We are not a personal platform from which to pontificate certain points of view."

"This is very good news, Nelson. Thank you very much," I said.

He nodded. "Actually, it's you I need to thank. I might never have looked internally for the root of the problem, without you taking the time and the expense to come here today. I will call every name on the list and personally apologize for this fiasco. Hopefully I can persuade some to reconsider. We'll see. And...I have been directed by the Board to do whatever necessary to ensure full funding for the clinic. I will call Dr. Branson this evening and tell him everything. I don't want to disturb him during clinic hours. I would appreciate it if you would give me the opportunity to make this right, and avoid speaking with him until I've had a chance to do so."

"Of course. And we'd like to help, too." I reached inside my suit coat and pulled out a piece of paper. "I have a check here from The Phillip and Amanda Franklin Foundation in the sum of one hundred thousand dollars, payable to the Salus Society. Do you think you could find a worthy project to fund with this money?"

Nelson smiled broadly. "Why, yes...I believe I have the perfect project in mind. A couple of doctors in the Texas desert are in need of some new equipment for their clinic. I think this will be more than adequate." I handed over the check, and he studied it for a moment.

"Phillip and Amanda Franklin...I've never heard of them," said Nelson.

"The Franklins were pioneers in medical research. They believed advances in medicines could make a huge impact on the quality of life for others. Like the Salus Society, we intend to carry on their legacy and follow the Franklins' vision to change people's lives for the better in every way we can. It's an honor to partner with you, Nelson. I hope this is just the first of many worthwhile collaborations."

Nelson looked at us across the table. "Gentlemen, I am humbled by you taking the time to come to see me today. Lesser men would have assumed the worst and gone their own way. Thank you, both, for your respect and the trust you've shown me and my organization. We won't let you down."

We stood up and all shook hands, sealing the relationship. I had a very good feeling about this new partnership. And I was relieved Andy and Mike would not lose a dime of their funding.

As we stepped out of the conference room, Sherrie was all smiles again. Her boss was happy, so she was happy. We said our final goodbyes and departed.

The earlier strong winds had diminished. Hopefully we would be able to take off with no worries. I texted Ben to let him know we were ready to leave. He sauntered across the lawn from behind the office, and together we all piled into the SUV. Sam pulled me into a big hug.

"I'm beyond proud of you, Jack. You solved the big mystery and got Andy and Mike's funding restored. You're doing it, man. You're really doing it."

Ben started the car and backed out of the parking place. He nodded to his guy in the blue Toyota. "We're doing it, Sam. All of us. You, me, everybody on the team." I kissed him gently. "Even Ben."

" gettin' sweet on me, Schaeffer?" said Ben with a grin.

"You wish," I replied. "Hey, can't you make this thing go any faster? I've got a hot date tonight with my man."

"Floor it, Ben," said Sam. Ben and I rolled our eyes in tandem, then we all burst out laughing.

Changing lives made me happy. Apparently it also made Sam horny. Lucky me.

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