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Anti-Hero: Epilogue

ERIK - THREE MONTHS LATER

Seeing the Wild Heart Ranch sign as Javier drives us past the last bend in the narrow highway never gets old. A lot of things have changed over the last three months, but the sense of home has never left this place. I suppose Ant and I will eventually get our own spot, but Charlie and Justin are happy to have us stay in the bunkhouse for now.

My grin widens when we turn in from the two-lane. Ant is on one of the newer horses from Sparrow’s latest batch, followed closely by Bunny. Sparrow, our horse trainer, has always had a sixth sense about horses in need, and Sunshine was one of his rescues.

When he initially showed her to us, she was mangy and her hooves were in terrible condition. Now, less than three months later, her mane is silky, her hooves are in much better shape, and she trots under Ant like a dream. And Bunny has become one of her best friends.

Ant waves when he sees us and rides up to the bunkhouse, and Moose gives a low woof when he sees Bunny. Ant hops down, dusty and smelling of horse and sweat from a long day’s work. I let Moose out of the truck, and he pads over to Bunny and Sunshine, greeting them after a long op.

Beaming up at me, Ant throws his arms around my waist. “I missed you!”

It still causes a catch in my throat, knowing that such a special man lights up at the sight of me. It was enough to spend the last several months working with Hedy to address all my insecurities so I could be there for him.

“How did Imani’s visit go?” I ask, thinking about the young woman we found on a search-and-rescue mission near Vidor. She briefly stopped by today while on a road trip. “I’m sorry I missed her.”

“Great! She brought a huge chew toy for Moose and loved the horses. Which she called ponies,” he says, chuckling. “And she’s going to stop by again on her way home, so hopefully, you’ll get to see her then.”

“I’ll make a point of it.”

He smiles, leaning up to nuzzle my neck. “I’m gonna put Sunshine up, but I’m so glad you’re home.”

I bend and give him a chaste kiss as Javier and Levy wave from the truck. “Yeah? Why is that?”

Ant lifts his brow, a familiar, slightly evil look crossing his face. “I finally know what I want to be when I grow up.” He waves back to them and cups his hand around his mouth, calling out, “Are y’all still up for dinner tonight?”

“Yes, nephew,” Javier says, sticking his head out the window. “Levy and I need to go home and take a quick shower, but we’ll be back in time for dinner.”

Ant laughs and checks his phone. “Sounds good. Don’t be late, or you’ll have to deal with Bram.”

Everyone agrees, so Ant mounts Sunshine and takes off like a shot, Bunny and Moose hot on his tail.

He returns to the bunkhouse about twenty minutes later, giving me his best come-hither look. I follow him into the bathroom, where we disrobe and get into the shower together, our own little coming-home tradition. Given our size difference, I wash his hair, he washes my body, and then we each take care of the rest. No need to cause back strain.

I’m tempted to ask him what he’s discovered about himself, but I know it’s important to him to wait until all of us are together. Instead, I quietly allow him to tongue my nipples and stroke my cock to full hardness.

I’m generous like that.

Two minutes later, my cock is down the back of his throat, and his fingers are pushing inside me, searching for the spot that sets my hair on fire. I’m helpless against it, really.

The best part is, it’s my turn after he’s had his fun. With a lot of practice, we discovered we both enjoy it when I give him one specific thing to focus on when I’m taking the lead rather than commanding a bunch of different things at once.

My favorite is not letting him come until I say so, mostly because there are so many ways to get there. Sadly, I don’t have enough time right now to edge him properly, so I do what I can. Holding him against me, my front to his back, I loosely curl my hand around his neck, just as he likes.

“Hold your breath while I touch you,” I demand.

“Yesss,” he hisses.

“Ready?” I ask, stroking my free hand up and down his chest and sides.

He melts against me, nodding.

“Excellent. Hold your breath in three, two, one…go.”

He sucks in a lungful of air, and I begin with gentle, two-finger strokes, playing with his foreskin, cradling his balls, barely enough to get him hard. After thirty seconds, I remove my hand, and he quickly takes a deep breath before I resume my teasing, this time with more grip and faster strokes.

He starts to whine at the forty-five-second mark, so I show a little mercy and remove my hand, giving him just enough time for two deep breaths. This time I stroke him hard, trying to get him to the edge of coming as quickly as possible. He gets close—very close—and I pull my hand away.

“Bastard,” he says, sucking in air.

I return my hand to his cock before he’s had a chance to breathe as deeply as he’d like, and he bucks into the tight clench of my fist, whining. I get him to the edge again, and he elbows me, his signal he needs to breathe.

Grinning, I stroke once more, nearly taking him over before I release him.

“I hate you,” he says, panting.

“I can stop.”

“Don’t you fucking dare,” he says, taking a final deep, deep breath.

This time I don’t play around. I stroke him hard, needing to see him spend as much as he needs the release. Within seconds, cum rockets from his pretty cock and he melts against me. I hold his softening shaft for a few more seconds just because I can.

“Fuck, I missed you,” he breathes out as I let him go.

The timing could not be better because there’s a knock at the front door.

“That’ll be Bram with the chickens,” he says dreamily, sucking on my nipple before pulling me down for a kiss.

We quickly rinse and dry off. I wrap my towel around my waist and send his little naked butt to our room. Bram isn’t surprised when I open the door wearing just a towel.

“I hope I didn’t interrupt your homecoming tradition, but Nacho and I have been waiting in the car, and we need to get these chickens started.”

I laugh, not sure if I should be disturbed or warmed by the fact our friends know us so well. I decide it’s a good thing. I let them in, grinning at the two enormous chickens he brings in with him. He roasts them at home, then finishes them off in our oven for a crispy skin. He’s told me how to make the perfect roast chicken before, but frankly, I’d rather let him do the honors.

“Why so many chickens?” I ask as Nacho brings in two more. It’s a good thing we have a double oven.

“Javier said Ant had a big announcement, so he invited the family over.”

Gael informed me that I am officially part of the family, whether I like it or not, and that makes me so proud I can hardly stand it.

I’m about to close the door behind Nacho after his third trip to the car when a perfectly manicured hand lands on the door.

“Erik, old chap, hope you don’t mind,” Tolly says, looking me up and down. “Was in the area and thought I’d pop in.”

“I notice you tend to pop in on Fridays,” I say, raising my brows.

“It’s a lovely tradition,” Tolly says, adjusting his collar as red flashes up his neck, “and Bram makes the best roast chicken on the planet.”

“Yeah, Tolls. That’s why you show up here on Friday nights,” I tease, smirking. “As it happens, you’re in luck. The Hernández family will be joining us as well.”

“Oh. Well. That is a good bit of luck. I’ll get the second leaf,” he says, going to the storage closet with a bit too much familiarity.

I don’t mind it, not one bit.

I do love our smaller dinners though. By comparison, it was damn near cozy when we had Trip and Sam over last Friday while their kids stayed with Wyatt and Desi.

I realize, belatedly, that I’m still wearing just a towel, so I excuse myself and get changed while Ant finishes doing his hair. I put mine back in a simple ponytail, and he grins, lightly tugging on it.

“I love your hair so much,” he says, playing with a loose piece.

“Yeah?” I ask, pulling out the folding step stool from between our dresser and the wall, popping it open for him.

We laugh as he steps up, though we use it often because I fucking love putting my arms around him.

“Yeah,” he answers, twirling a strand around his finger. “It’s the prettiest brown, and you can tell you love the sun. It’s the first thing I noticed about you—after your height.”

I stitch my brows together. “How did I not know that?”

“I don’t know. I mean, I kept my hair long for over a year.”

“Wait, what? You kept your hair long for me?”

He shakes his head. “Not for you. For me. Because it reminded me of you.”

“I had no idea,” I whisper, touched. A thought comes to me. “Oh! So when you cut off your hair, you meant something by that. More than just independence.”

He nods. “I was so in love with you, and I couldn’t make you see me. So I decided to stop copying your look and wear my own. It made me feel better.”

I shake my head, still not believing I missed that. “I like it when you do things for yourself. Tonight, whatever it is you’ve decided, just know I’ll support you.”

He throws his arms around my neck, hugging me so tight I can practically feel his heartbeat against mine. “I’m going to hold you to that.”

“God, I love you,” I whisper into his hair, “and I’m so proud to be yours.”

He responds with a passionate kiss, and we stand there, kissing for far too long, getting lost in each other. We’ll join our friends soon, but it’s in these moments that I see our future. Not the specifics, just the general shape of things. And I can’t wait to see what we do next.


ANT

My family piles into the house, and even though we’ve had some fairly dramatic circumstances, their fun and warmth fill the space every time they’re here. Even better, I know Erik feels it, and little by little, they’re rebuilding his faith in family.

Ginger and Beckett have a founder’s celebration at the group home tonight, but they join us at least once a month for our Friday tradition. I’m glad I listened to Erik about reaching out to Ginger—having someone to talk to who went through the exact same experience has been invaluable.

One thing I recently asked Hedy about was the fact I’ve started crying over how grateful I am. I wasn’t sure if maybe there was something wrong with me. She just laughed. “Ant, that means you’re not just healing, but you’re recognizing how good things are for you right now. That, my friend, is the good stuff.”

She was not lying.

So yeah, I have to dash away a few rogue tears as my family and friends join us in the living room, but it’s a small price to pay.

Gael walks into the living room and skids to a halt when he sees Tolly on the couch. I crack up because, while my cousin is a ton of very cool things, smooth he is not. Tolly rises to greet him, and Gael’s eyes warm in his presence.

I’m pretty sure Tolly’s been in love with Gael since the second they met. Unfortunately, the timing was wrong. I’ll give Tolly this—he’s been patient.

Maybe the timing isn’t so wrong anymore.

By way of greeting, Tolly tugs up the hem of his pants, showing off his new boots.

“They fit!” Gael goes straight to him and kneels. Tolly swallows hard as Gael gently guides his foot to his knee, palpating the shoe. “It’s a perfect fit. I’m so pleased.”

“You’re pleased? These are by far the most supportive, comfortable, beautiful shoes I have in my entire collection, and that is saying something.”

I tease my royal friend. “I heard Tolls here has an entire room in his castle dedicated to shoes, so that’s quite the compliment.”

Gael shrinks back. “You own a castle?”

Tolly holds up his hand. “It’s a manor house, which is impressive enough in the English countryside, I suppose. I don’t know, however, if I own it or if it was bequeathed to me. I’m rarely there. Which is to say, I have no rooms dedicated to shoes or clothing articles of any kind. Give me a sturdy pair of shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and some flip-flops, and I am a happy man.”

Gael relaxes just a little. I remember the first time I told him Tolly’s entire name. He nearly died then and there.

Still, he straightens his shoulders and nods. “I’ll send you my finest flip-flops.”

“Oh? That would be lovely. I may also need to order some work boots as I seem to now be the owner of a small ranch just down the road.”

Erik turns around and stares at his friend. “You bought a ranch?”

“It seemed like a smart addition to my portfolio. This is a growing part of Texas, and I’m told vacation rentals do well out here.”

“What do you mean by just down the road?” I ask.

“As I understand, you’ve got the Barlowe brothers’ property, Wild Heart Ranch, and the Hernández property. I believe my ranch abuts the Hernández property.”

Yaya and Emil sneak a look at each other. “Oh, so you’ll be our neighbor? How lovely. We’ll have to invite you over for dinner when you’re in town again.”

“My plans are to visit again around Christmas, so your generosity is most welcome.”

That old dog. I shake my head.

I’ve spent the last three months working with the horses and getting my family set up here. Wimberley, as they always have been, was helpful in getting the paperwork processed. It turns out my trafficking visa smoothed the way for bringing in my family. I’m sure buttloads of Wimberley’s cash took care of the rest of it, but I’m told not to ask questions.

Even though I cut short my revenge path, I did make quite a bit of money. Erik was right. Wimberley gave me the full value of New Orleans’ property. When I learned our neighbors were retiring, I made an offer on the land. The main house was lovely, and my family stayed in the bunkhouse until the renovations were done last month.

No one adores my family as much as Erik and I do, but we were relieved to see them go. I don’t know how many more silent orgasms I could’ve endured.

That’s a lie. I can endure many, many more as long as they come at Erik’s hands.

“Hey, what has you smiling?” Erik asks, wrapping his arm around my shoulders.

“Silent orgasms.”

He chokes on the beer he’s just sipped, laughing. “Excellent. We’ll save that thought for later tonight, but we’re about to begin dinner. You ready?”

I hug him close and nod. “I very much am.”

We gather around the table and begin as we always do, with our good, grateful, and leave-behind things. Bram orchestrates tonight’s round so that I go last. When it’s my turn, I take a deep breath and smile nervously at everyone.

“So…the one good thing from this week is I now know what I want to do. I appreciate that I’ve been given the time to figure it out. Finally, I am leaving behind a few old restrictions I didn’t realize I’d been putting on myself.”

Erik kisses the top of my head. “And what is it you want to do?”

“I’ve actually done the first thing I want to do,” I say, grinning at him. “Antonio Allende is not a name I recognize. I don’t know who that guy is. Ant Hernández, on the other hand? He is who I am inside. He is who I am most proud of.”

I open the envelope I’ve hidden under my plate, handing Gael the documentation inside. “This came in last week, and I wanted us to all be together when I showed it to you.”

He unfolds the papers, then holds them to his chest. “It’s a notification that your name change request was approved.”

I nod, and he reaches out to squeeze my hand.

My family surrounds me, pulling me into a group hug, nearly smothering me. My grandparents are in tears—happy ones. I feel sad my mother was estranged from her family in the end, but had she lived, I know the warmth of this family would have drawn her back in. I don’t say this out loud, but taking back her maiden name is my way of doing that for her after her death.

“Ant Hernández has a nice ring to it,” Erik says, kissing my hand as everyone takes their seats. “I can’t wait to hear the next part.”

Grinning at his impatience, I continue, “As for what else I’d like to do, I’d like to keep working with the horses. That has been so healing, and I’m oddly good at it, I think.”

Levy smiles at me. “You’re very good at it.”

I keep going. “I’m sure I could stop there and be satisfied, but something is missing.”

Erik’s expression is thoughtful. “It’s hard to have a regular job when there’s so much work to be done.”

“Exactly. Initially, I assumed that meant being the one to take down the people who hurt me, but that didn’t go the way I thought it would.” I rub my chest, looking at a table full of people who’ve done nothing but love and support me. “The idea of me going after those people must’ve terrified you. Probably made you worry about my sanity too.”

An amused-sounding grunt leaps from Gael’s throat, but he coughs back a laugh and gestures for me to continue.

Narrowing my eyes at him, I also fight back a laugh. “Still, you supported me in the best way, and going on that trip gave me the opportunity to fall in love with Erik.”

We exchange disgusting, schmoopy looks, just like I’ve seen on the rest of the loved-up suckers here. It’s not so bad, really.

Erik pulls me in for a brief kiss, then I continue. “The trip also allowed me to discover that what Javier told me all those months ago was true. Revenge always takes its pound of flesh, and making my life about revenge is a sure way to stay in darkness.”

I toast Javier for his wisdom and send up a small prayer, a promise to live in such a way as to make him proud. In this time we’ve had together, he’s become something of a surrogate father to me, and that’s one of those things that’ll make me cry tears of gratitude if I think about it for more than thirty seconds.

He smiles back at me, patting his chest. Mijo, he mouths, and I wipe another tear.

“I’ve realized, though, that I can’t sit back and do nothing as innocent people get caught up in the human-trafficking machine. I think Charlie and Justin have it right. Sure, I could call Wimberley right now, and they would let me join Anders and Hopper on their little mission.”

I’d secretly told the group chat about my announcement tonight, and they were so supportive that I say the next part without hesitation.

“I’d rather focus on the kids who are like me, though. It won’t be easy, but I know I can help. So, Charlie and Erik, if the offer to go on those kinds of ops with you is still open, I would like to do that.”

I look up at Erik, who is smiling down at me with shiny eyes and so much pride. “I think that sounds perfect for you,” he says, holding me close.

“To be clear,” Charlie interjects with a smile, “you’re still good with a little violence, right?”

“Yes,” I say, smiling at how thrilled my murder buddies were to learn I’d at least have the willingness and opportunity to take out a bad guy here and there.

I make sure, however, to tell Charlie what I told them. “I just don’t want that to be my focus. So, fuck yeah, but with some limits.”

“Language, mijo,” Abuela warns.

As funny as that is, no one laughs because no one wants to piss off Abuela. God, I love her.

“Deal. You’re hired,” Charlie says, amusement playing in his eyes as he comes around the table for a hug.

Gael follows, wrapping his arms around me. “You have worked so hard to be who you are today. You are my best friend and always have been.”

I return his hug, and we pull back, laughing at each other’s tears.

I hold up my hands. “Okay. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. I just want to enjoy and appreciate this time with everyone.”

Everyone raises their glass and toasts to family.


LATER THAT NIGHT, after multiple silent orgasms, I’m laid out across Erik’s chest, boneless and happy.

“So you’re really okay with everything?” I ask carefully.

His arms come around me, snuggling me closer. “I’m more than okay. I’m excited and proud to work with you. I just need your opinion on something.”

“Yes?”

“I heard what you said about your name, and I think I might want to do something similar.”

I kiss his chin. “Really? You don’t want to be Erik Bash anymore?”

“Erik Bash is…fine. But Gael said I was already a card-carrying member of your family. So…Erik Hernández could be nice. Maybe not now or next year, but…something to consider.”

My smile is so big that my cheeks hurt. “So this is not a proposal?”

He shakes his head, biting back a grin. “Absolutely not. I’m just asking you to consider the possibilities.”

I kiss up his neck and nibble his ear. “Consider the possibilities considered, Mr. Hernández.”

He sits up against the headboard, his eyes rolling back in his head. “Fuck, that’s sexy.”

Chuckling, I move to straddle him so I can look into his soulful, perfect eyes. “Yeah, it is.”

“New rule,” he declares. “Whenever we’re naked and alone, that’s all you can call me.”

“Then, Mr. Hernández, I’d like to request the privilege of sliding down this perfect cock of yours.”

“Permission granted,” he says, then whispers in my ear, “For as long as we both shall live.”


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