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"Not this one," the sales assistant says, hurrying after Harold.

"Oh?" Harold pauses with his hand on the display button. He can't see inside the holding cell yet, but the muted scent of its inhabitant comes through strongly: a virile scent, pleasing and intriguing in a way none of the others have been so far.

"He's not ready for sale," the assistant says. "Please, the others are much more suitable." She makes the mistake of grabbing Harold's sleeve in an attempt to pull him back.

Harold raises an unimpressed eyebrow until she shrinks back. "They were not suitable, as they do not suit me," he says, with cold precision. "Would me going in present a risk to my safety, or his?"

The assistant hesitates, but she shakes her head.

Harold stabs the display button, mostly as a pointed rebuke to the assistant. He's already resigned to spending this heat completely unattended, and hoping the alpha supply proves more tempting in a few weeks.

The curtain withdraws, and only the bars separate Harold from the alpha.

"Dear God," Harold says. "What have you done to him?"

"He was in far worse shape when we received him," the assistant says defensively. "I told you he wasn't ready."

That isn't much of a reassurance. The man behind the bars is malnourished, wounded, and curled up in the corner of his cell. His facial hair is wild, unkempt. He's naked but for his chastity belt and collar.

The sales assistant, apparently still trying to salvage her commission, says, "He wouldn't let any of us close enough to care for him when he's awake, and he's a very light sleeper."

The worst thing is that her commission may be safe after all. The alpha looks up. Softly, Harold says, "May I?"

After a short eternity, the alpha nods. Harold pushes another button, and the door opens. He walks inside to the assistant's increasingly loud protests. "You need to eat, and bathe," Harold tells the alpha. "Would you let me help you with that?"

The alpha's nostrils flair. In a soft voice, raspy with lack of use, he says, "Yes."

Up close, the alpha's scent is more like a stink. He needs a shower urgently. "I'm Harold," Harold says. "What's your name?"

"Reese." Reese clears his throat. "John Reese."

"Excellent. I'll take care of some matters, and then you can come home with me and I can put you in better shape." He holds Reese's gaze. "Is that acceptable?"

Reese nods. Harold turns around. "I'll take him," he tells the assistant.

"It's two weeks wait minimum," the assistant says, and Harold says, "Now."

She blinks, but within another moment Harold has the forms, a shift to dress Reese in and a leash to attach to his collar. Money does have its privileges.

~~

Harold endures an uncomfortable ride with an uncomfortable Reese in hope that the sooner Reese is settled in his new home, the better. "I prepared a suite for you," Harold says, for lack of anything better. "Of course I couldn't know anything about your preferences, so please don't hesitate to tell me if anything needs changing."

"A suite," Reese says. His voice is very blank.

Harold smooths his cuffs and tells himself it's ridiculous to be nervous. "I hope it's to your liking."

The suite he prepared for Reese shares a bathroom with his own, and that's where they're headed first. "Bath or shower?" Harold asks.

"Shower," Reese says. "I can wash myself."

Harold holds himself back. There's shadowed bruises on Reese's flank, raw and fresh. Scent can do a lot, but trust is more than mere chemistry. "Would you prefer to?"

A muscle ticks in Reese's jaw. "I don't want to be a bother."

Well, that's plain enough. "You are not," Harold says firmly. "I asked you to come home with me where I can care for you. I don't make offers I don't mean, Mr. Reese."

Reese recoils from the last words. "I'm not a Mr.," he says harshly. "You know what I am."

Harold regards him thoughtfully. "How would you prefer I address you?" Reese shrugs. "Shall I call you John?"

It's a gamble, but it works. John jerks his gaze away and down, and nods. Harold gently takes his chin - moving slowly, giving John time to withdraw. John holds still.

"I don't want to hurt you," Harold says. "Or to make you unhappy. I'd like for you to be clean and comfortable - and you're my best source on how to achieve the latter."

John shivers, and pushes minutely into Harold's hand. Then he steps away. "I'll take care of it myself," he says. At least John allows Harold to unlock his chastity device so he can shower thoroughly.

~~

John doesn't keep him waiting long.

"I brought you here," Harold tells him, "because I will be in heat soon, and need attending. I see no reason for this not to be a mutually beneficial endeavor."

John's ears turn red, and Harold smells his arousal over the scent of soap. Fascinating.

Then fascination shifts into worry, because John flinches and his scent sours with shame. "John? What is it?"

"I'm meant to serve," John says. "I. I shouldn't--" but arousal wafts off him once more, sweet and tempting under the harsh tones of fear and pain.

Odd. Harold tilts his head, puzzled. "I should think enthusiastic service is better than indifferent or reluctant service. Is there some reason to think your desire should interfere with your performance?"

John's eyes widen, his pupils dilated. "I'm not what you think." The lean muscles in his shoulder tighten. "You don't know what I've done."

Harold takes a deep breath - a mistake, since it only makes him more aware of John's scent. "You're upset," he says abruptly. "It's perfectly natural that you should be. This is a new place, and you barely know me. Once you've acclimated, I'm sure everything would seem simpler."

John doesn't answer. He allows Harold to lead him back to his suite.

"I'll give you some time to rest and get your bearings," Harold says. "I'll have the staff bring you a dinner tray." He only stops to uncover the basket near the door. "These are for you," he says, stumbling over the words. "To help the, ah, acclimation process."

He flees the scene then, to his office, on a lower floor.

For as long as twenty minutes, Harold buries himself in work. Then he caves in and turns on the security cameras he'd placed in John's suite. The sight does not disappoint.

When Harold decided to bring home an alpha, he surveyed the relevant literature. All of which was adamant that time to become used to an omega's scent was highly beneficial to a mating, and would help an alpha feel more at home in a new space.

Harold can't quite tell if John's feeling at home, but John has his nose buried in a handful of white fabric - Harold's undershirt, if he's not mistaken - and he's rubbing some other piece of Harold's dirty clothing against his restrained cock.

"Well," Harold says faintly. He leans back in his chair, spreading his legs. "Well, well."

He can still smell John on his clothes and hands. With an alpha's scent so strong in the air, it's very reasonable that he's. Becoming slick.

It's awkward. Harold had had much better things to do as a boy than attend to the interests of the flesh. Now his flesh is willing, but his spirit is very embarrassed by the whole thing.

Harold firmly tells himself there's no use in misgivings. He'd committed himself now, and after all, his desires are only natural. He touches himself briefly, tentatively. On the screen in front of him, John moans and thrusts against the bed, tongue darting out to taste Harold's underwear.

Of course, rubbing himself as John is doing is unlikely to give him any comfort: at best he will frustrate himself, at worst he may strain something. The chastity device will not allow genital contact.

The literature was very firm that keeping the alpha contained was for his own good, as well as the omega's. Containment would help an alpha feel secure, and encourage a healthy trust and dependency on the omega to provide for his needs. It also prevents him from hurting himself by knotting too early, or in dangerous positions.

Nonetheless, Harold finds himself wondering. Reese's strong thighs bunch and release, his want tugging at Harold's heartstrings. Perhaps just for a little bit....? And yet, he's reluctant to interrupt Reese so soon after giving him privacy.

Harold resolutely turns off his screen. He's sure John will come out on his own eventually.

~~

At dinner time, Harold takes the tray up to John's room with his own hands, and knocks on the door.

There's a pause, then, "Come in." John sounds uncertain of the words: it's likely he never had the option to deny anyone entry to a space he occupied.

John, sprawled on the bed, is a magnificent sight. Harold swallows audibly and rests the tray on the desk before he drops it. John's skin shines with sweat, his musk almost overwhelming, his hips still shimmying in tiny motions despite him making a very visible effort to hold still.

Harold blurts, "Would you like me to remove the device?"

John's eyes darken. He takes in a deep breath, eyes fluttering shut as he catches Harold's scent. No doubt he can smell Harold's response to him. "Maybe you shouldn't."

Harold approaches him cautiously. "What are you afraid would happen?"

The movement of muscles in John's shoulders almost distracts Harold from hearing his answer. "Can't you imagine what I could do to you, Harold?" His tone is mocking, but Harold thinks he hears something brittle underneath.

"I don't believe you'll attack me," Harold says frankly. "Or hurt me intentionally - or unintentionally, for that matter."

In the worst case, there are automated tranquilizer dart shooters hidden in the ceiling beams, but Harold thinks it best not to bring those up.

John's hand clench and release in the covers, like a big cat kneading. "Fine," John says abruptly. "Your funeral." He lets his crotch jut out to Harold, a vulgar display.

Intentionally so? Harold ignores the potential ramifications to work on the buckles. Under his hands, John's stomach trembles minutely.

He undoes one latch, then a second and a third, and the mess of metal and leather comes tumbling down to reveal John's member, soft but quickly growing erect. "I think I need to sit down," Harold says weakly. John's cock, not fully hard yet, is already large enough for Harold to find intimidating.

John freezes, darting glances, as though he thought he'd need to catch Harold if he swooned.

Harold settles himself on the bed next to John. "Is this alright?" he says, not paying as much attention as he should to John's affirmative response. He rests a hand on John's thigh, noting the hard clench of muscles under his fingers and the way John's cock twitches and bounces.

John's responses, his body - everything about him is fascinating. "I'd like to touch you," Harold says.

John makes a desperate sound in his throat. "You bought me."

Slowly, with wonder, Harold says, "I did, didn't I?"

The skin on John's cock is very soft to the touch, a lovely contrast with the firm muscle underneath. Harold yields to temptation and squeezes, just a little bit. It makes John tense up, like he's trying to keep himself still.

"I'm not sure we should attempt penetration right away." Harold's half talking to himself, the way he does making plans. "Perhaps acclimation needs to be mutual."

John's hand twists in the sheet, but he remains silent as Harold gets up and divests himself of his clothes. That is, until Harold drops his pants: then John, in a desperate tone, says, "Let me taste you."

Harold blinks at him, startled.

John speaks quickly, like he's afraid of being reprimanded. "I can put the chastity device back on. I won't move unless you tell me to."

If this keeps on, John will wear himself out long before they get to the purpose for which Harold purchased him. An idea occurs to Harold. "Would you be comfortable in a mating framework?"

John shudders. Then he nods, once, the movement stiff.

The framework folds into the wall. John helps Harold pull it out and re-assemble the joints. "It should be quite sturdy," Harold says, testing the thick metal framework. "Oh, wait," he says, when John moves to lie inside it. "We haven't put the padding in place yet."

John narrows his eyes at Harold, but at Harold's direction, he goes to the cupboard to fetch the thick padding and the covers.

When everything is in place, the framework looks like a second bed, just wide enough to hold a single person. In place of bed posts, it has thick metal rods connecting to a second rectangular frame, hanging from the ceiling by chains. John lies on the mattress, and allows Harold to strap him into place. The straps are good padded leather, with heavy buckles. Even if John struggles, he will neither get out nor hurt himself.

Harold climbs into the omega's seat. It takes him a few moments, but he gets there. The seat is motorized, and Harold takes its remote control and presses a button until he's sitting above John's chest, looking him in the eye. "Are you comfortable?"

"Fine," John says hoarsely. His eyes are glassy.

Harold's face is warm. He never really used a mating framework before, and it seems very awkward. He knows it won't allow John to be hurt or suffocated, but it seems rude to put his genitals right on top of someone's face.

Still. John is an alpha, and he asked. There's little point in Harold being a prude. He pushes the button and tries not to feel nervous as the seat moves to position itself over John's face.

He's not sure what he's expecting. The first thing that happens is that John pushes his face up and presses his cheek against Harold's inner thigh, then lets out a long, ragged breath.

It makes Harold feel tender towards him. "It's all right," he tells John. "Everything is all right."

Even after that, John doesn't go for his genitals right away. He nuzzles Harold's thighs, and his ass cheeks, mouths at the skin. John keeps taking huge gulps of breath, like he's trying to hoard Harold's scent now that he has access.

Harold feels himself grow wetter at the thought, and then John moans, and John's mouth tentatively touches Harold where he's soft and open and sensitive.

John nuzzles him, sucks at his flesh and pushes his tongue inside, moaning all the while, muffled enough that Harold can't tell if John is trying to say anything. He moves the chair up, just enough to ask, and John says, "Stay, please stay," in such a broken voice that Harold lowers himself again right away.

It does feel good. The seat supports Harold well enough that he can lean back and not worry about his back, his neck, about anything but feeling John's mouth on him. With the dizzying scent of alpha arousal and the urgent suction John applies to him, climax comes fast and easy, making John groan and press his face closer to Harold's heated flesh.

"One moment," Harold tells him, tries not to feel guilty as he navigates the chair upwards, enough to turn it in place. He's facing John's cock now, and while a part of Harold is worried, another part is greedy to feel that girth in him. There's something incredibly satisfying about the idea.

Beneath him, John's breaths are ragged but he's quiet otherwise. It sends a pang through Harold, how hard John is trying to be good. Harold is determine to give John the best working environment he can, so to speak.

The base of John's cock turns deeper red, growing even thicker. "Are you knotting?" Harold says, incredulous.

(Other parts of him have a different response; he feels himself drip on John's face, and promptly turns puce himself. Sex is so incredibly undignified.)

John makes a high-pitched noise, quickly stifled. "I can put the device back on," he offers once more.

"How would that even fit?" Harold says, staring at John's impressive size. It's a marvel the device could keep all that restrained to begin with.

"I'll make it fit." John's tone is grim and determined.

It knocks Harold out of his daze of arousal, and he is abruptly ashamed. John is quite helpless, and it's Harold's responsibility to treat him well. "That won't be necessary," he says, tries to keep his voice as soothing as possible. "One moment more...."

He drives the seat forward, so that he can reach John's cock without bending awkwardly, and as importantly he can reach the drawer next to the wall. What he needs is well within reach, and Harold smugly congratulates himself on being well-prepared.

When he puts the knotting brace on John, John's stomach clenches, the muscles there rippling. John's cock spews a few clear spurts of pre-come. Harold reaches for them without thinking, puts his finger back in his mouth. The taste is... he can see why John would ask to lick Harold, if he finds Harold's flavor as compelling as vice versa.

The brace molds itself to John's knot, putting enough pressure to ensure the knot won't swell further without suppressing it, keeping it from bruising or straining while unsupported by an omega's channel. It doesn't seem like John is coming, but he does quiet considerably after the brace is in position.

"Would you like me, ah, to return to my previous position?" Harold asks.

John makes a choked, desperate noise. His cock pulses out more precome. Harold finds that while he already misses the sensation of John's mouth on him, he wants even more to feel the alpha inside him.

He turns the chair around for a better view of John's face, fiddles with the brace so that it covers half of John's cock, the other half free to be used. "I'm going to undo the hip strap, so you can thrust," Harold said. "Can you be still while I mount you?"

"I can," John says, fast. "I can."

He does; he is absolutely motionless while Harold works himself into position, biting his lip in concentration. Harold is pleased with John's obedience. John moans when Harold says so.

"All right," Harold says once he's settled. "Slowly, please-- ah!" Even careful and controlled as John is, John's member is a lot to take in, so to speak.

John makes a thin keening noise, his hands bunched into fists. "Please," he says. His forehead is dewy with sweat. "Please."

Harold touches the closest part of John - his hip - in an attempt to reassure. "You're doing well." His own voice is strangely thick. "It's only, oh my, it's quite." He swallows the rest of the nonsense trying to climb out of his mouth. "You're very good," he tells John, firmly. "Now thrust up. Don't worry - the brace and the bindings will keep you from overdoing it."

The strength of John's thrusts makes Harold glad he's sitting securely: just thinking about it makes him weak at the knees. "Oh, yes," he says, dreamily. "That's very good. Mm, yes."

John sobs, his hips jerking with a steady rhythm.It's easy for Harold to lose himself in it, easy to wrap his free hand around his own cock and tug it to the same rhythm. John makes another inarticulate noise at the sight.

"Keep going," Harold says, meaning to be encouraging, "and after, you can lick me clean."

"Your hand," John gasps. "Can I-- after--?"

"Oh, John," Harold says, moved. "Of course you can."

He feels John's cock twitching inside him at the words. Deserving of a reprimand, to achieve climax without permission, but Harold is tenderly disposed at the moment. He has a feeling he will quite spoil John anyway, and he can't bring himself to regret that.

At any rate, Harold's own orgasm comes soon enough and easy enough that begrudging John his own release seems churlish. Harold closes his eyes and contracts around John's thickness, relishing how full he feels. He sags in the hold of the chair and basks in a sensation of well-being.

"Please," John says. Harold drives the chair forward and presents his hand, allowing John to lick it worshipfully clean.

~~

"There's the question of acclimatization," Harold says. They're lying together in John's bed, John wearing his chastity device once more. "I doubt I could take your cock all at once without preparation."

John closes his eyes and lets out a low moan. "Jesus Christ," he says, "you can't just say things like that. Let a guy recover."

"Oh," Harold says, weak and guilty. He should probably let John rest, too. "Would you like me to leave?" He'd get up already if he weren't so wonderfully spent.

John responds by curling up closer to Harold. "Don't." His arm tightens minutely around Harold's waist. "Stay."

And here Harold thought he'd be the one giving the commands in this relationship. He lets it go, amused and fond. "As I was saying, I'd probably need gradual stretching. I have several devices that could do...." He trails off as John tenses. "John? What is it?"

"I could use my hands," John says, voice low, body thrumming with tension. "I'd make it good," he hurries to add. "I wouldn't hurt you."

"Of course not." Harold strokes John's hair. "It would take patience, of course, but you have no shortage of that, do you?" Harold's intimate parts chime their agreement with this strategy. "Mm. When would you like to try?"

John shudders, and goes very still. "Now," he says, voice still low. "The mating frame--?"

"I'm sure we can manage this without it," Harold says. He spreads his legs as far as he's comfortable doing. "Don't push my legs any further. Do you--?"

The question is lost as John is suddenly on him, grabbing Harold's good hip hard. John's other hand quests between Harold's legs, rubbing and touching Harold where he's soft and open.

"Mm." Harold closes his eyes. "Two fingers to start, I think."

Two of John's fingers slide inside him with no effort whatsoever. John adds a third after a few thrusts.

Heat engulfs Harold's cock. His eyes fly open to see John sucking him fervently.

Harold squirms and curses, but John doesn't give him another finger until Harold climaxes. Only then, with Harold's muscles loosened, does John push a fourth finger inside him.

"Is that enough?" John asks hoarsely.

It's good; it's very good. And still Harold answers, "No." He allows John's continued fingering for a few more minutes, though, before demanding he progress.

John's thumb at his opening makes Harold's breath catch. "Ah," he exhales, weakly.

John's hand remains steady. "Should I stop?" he asks.

Harold closes his eyes. "Not at all. Keep going."

He shouts when John's entire hand breaches his entrance, can't help it, but he tacks on quick reassurances - "Yes, it's good, very good," - to spare John anxiety.

John turns his hand and curls his fingers expertly. It occurs to Harold to wonder how many prior partners John has had, merely as a curiosity. He'll have to ask at some other point.

"Keep still now, please." Harold keeps his eyes shut and focuses on getting his breath back, on getting used to how full and stretched he feels. "This is a remarkable sensation. I wonder how different penetration would be."

John whimpers, but his hand doesn't so much as twitch.

It deserves recognition. "I very much appreciate the care you're taking, John," Harold says. "And your skill. You're performing admirably."

John snorts. "If I were really that good, you wouldn't be using all those long words."

Harold huffs in response. He gives himself a few more moments before he asks John to move again.

Now, admittedly, forming words becomes a difficulty. Nevertheless, Harold tries. "This is good," he says, as John pushes into him, filling him utterly. "This is very good."

Instead of replying, John bends down to suck Harold again. Harold gives up speech in favor of squirming, trying to push up into John's mouth and down on his hand at the same time, Harold's hands fluttering over John's recently cut hair.

Coming, when Harold gets there, washes over him long and slow, like the tide, and leaves him pleasantly satisfied. "Of course, we'll have to repeat this some additional times," Harold muses.

John makes a tiny pained noise.

"Oh, of course," Harold says. "Shall we use the mating frame? Or perhaps do without, this time?"

"Fuck the mating frame," John grates out. His free hand clenches into a fist as he maneuvers himself so Harold can remove the chastity device; it helps that John is both strong and flexible.

Once released, John doesn't try to remove the hand still inside Harold. Instead he takes himself in his other hand, jerking quick, and stares at Harold with considerable heat.

"Are you picturing how I might feel around you?" Harold asks, for curiosity's sake.

John groans. "I am now." He spills even as he's still talking, his thighs snapping forward.

~~

The acclimatizations - of all kinds - proceed well. By the onset of Harold's heat, he's comfortable taking John's fist, and John is... not quite comfortable to be outside of both the mating frame and the chastity device, but less obviously anxious when without both.

For the heat itself, John will be strapped into the mating frame, both for John's peace of mind and for Harold's convenience and comfort. Until the heat is fully in force, however, Harold indulges himself by having John perform oral sex on him outside the mating frame.

John is still in his chastity device. "I would have liked to touch you," Harold says, somewhat wistfully.

John lifts his head, face shiny and messy from Harold's... fluids. "Don't say stuff like that." His voice is raspy, wrecked from taking Harold's cock down his throat.

"Does it bother you?"

Instead of answering, John goes back down to lick and suck at Harold's entrance. Harold lowers a hand to feel John's tongue on his fingers. His own hot, swollen flesh. The slippery wetness of it all.

John retreats again. Harold sees in his face something rapt as he watches Harold touching himself. Harold spreads his fingers, opening his folds wide, and is pleased at John's ensuing shudder.

"Please," John says. Harold is even more pleased at this. Training John to communicate his wants had been a rather difficult part of acclimatization, but now John will ask without Harold resorting to hours of teasing. Good. It was rather time consuming.

"You want the frame?" At a later point, Harold wants to have John ask for more specific things, but for now he's merciful. He also is in something of a hurry to get John on the frame, instead.

Practice has made them quick at managing the frame. Harold has John out of his chastity device and strapped in place within a few minutes, and himself settled above John shortly after.

John hardens rapidly, and Harold permits himself the luxury of playing with John's cock as it does, fascinated by the contrast between the softness of the skin and the hardness of the muscle underneath.

"Harold." John's voice is barely audible. "Please."

Of course, John must feel considerable performance anxiety, all things considered. Even so, Harold is loathe to give up playing with him. "Just for a moment longer," Harold says, coaxing. "Can you bear it for me?"

John sobs, muscles jumping under Harold, but he allows Harold's examination to continue without comment.

"There we go," Harold murmurs when he finally lets go of John's cock. He's feeling lightheaded, feverish. That would be the heat. His entrance contracts with expectation, eager to try taking John's cock in for the first time.

Despite all the work they put into acclimatization, it's slow going. Harold thinks he likes it this way, feeling John opening him up, filling him. Beneath him, John groans like he's dying. "Very good," Harold says, panting a little. "You're doing so well, John."

John whimpers. When Harold looks down, he can see John's abs clenching and fluttering, as though eager to thrust. It's futile, of course: John can hardly move, restrained by the frame as he is right now.

The frame does all the work for Harold, keeping John in place and moving Harold slowly on him.

"Harold." John's voice is low and cracked. "Harold, I can't, I'm going to..."

Harold reaches to pet John's face. "You can." If he knots prematurely, Harold has toys they can use, but he thinks it's best to refrain from mentioning that right now.

True to Harold's expectations, though, John manages to refrain from coming until he's snugly inside of Harold. "Very good," Harold says, drunk on pheromones and pleasure. "You can let go, John."

John does, with a long, desperate grunt. Harold's eyes shut of their own volition, his attention turned inwards to where John's cock swells, stretching him further than he's ever gone before. John whimpers a sound very like Harold's name.

"It's good," Harold says, eyes still tightly closed. His hand gropes for John's and holds it. "Oh, you are so good."

John makes a sharp, high noise, then goes lax under Harold, John's cock spurting intermittently inside him.

Harold takes a deep breath. He feels utterly unhurried, at leisure to contract around John's cock and take his pleasure. Harold's body feels sluggish, not sated yet but no longer consumed with lust. He lowers his fingers to touch himself, murmuring comfort at John's desperate grunts. He rubs his cock and rocks in place.

"I wish I could do that for you," John says, panting.

Harold lowers his free hand to caress John's face, touched. "Shh. Enjoy knotting while it lasts." He purposefully clenches hard, and John's breath hitches. "I'll let you lick me clean after, if you like."

John opens his mouth, but no sound comes out. His knot pulses inside Harold and his eyes roll back. Harold closes his eyes and falls into a string of quick, hard orgasms.

~~

Two months later, Harold has arrived at two conclusions:

1. The literature was right. John is completely, utterly spoiled.
2. Harold doesn't mind in the least.

True, it can be a nuisance sometimes - Harold will be hard at work when suddenly there'll be a presence behind him, not quite rubbing against him but close.

On the plus side, it keeps Harold from overworking, or ignoring his heats as he'd done before. And Harold can hardly compare between the smirking, strutting alpha who shamelessly inserts himself into Harold's personal space and the flinching stray he'd found at the store. John is a joy to look at, now, well cared for and loved, and he has proven immensely affectionate in return.

Still, for form's sake, Harold says, "Am I ever going to get time to finish this project?"

"Maybe next week," John says, crowding close to be petted. "You have other things to do right now."