Living on a Dare

A Shore Thing Novel (Book One)

by Grace Kilian Delaney

Living on a Dare - Grace Kilian Delaney - Shore Thing
Editions:Kindle: $ 3.99
Pages: 235

Stuntman Draven O’Connor never turns down a dare—even if it means getting down on one knee to propose to his former college roommate and friend. The same man he’s been crushing on since the first day they met. The same man that has grown distant over the past year. And the same man who just agreed to be his fiancé.

Julien Bouchard is tired of living a lie. He spent the past year exploring his sexuality in secret, enduring countless dates with women to appease his mother, and dodging his best friend, Draven, who knows everything there is to know about him, except the one thing that could change their friendship. Ready to face his friend, he meets him at a bar and is greeted by an unexpected marriage proposal. The dare isn’t surprising; it’s the scorching hot kiss that sends Julien’s head and heart in a tailspin—and gives him an idea for the perfect plan.

But his plan hits a bump when news of their fake engagement spreads to their families as fast as a wildfire, forcing them to confront their true feelings about each other and hope they don’t get burned.

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Genres:
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Pairings: MM
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: The Bet, Coming Out Later in Life, Fake Relationship, First Time, Friends to Lovers, Unrequited Love
Word Count: 63000
Setting: Boston, MA and Los Angeles, CA
Languages Available: English
Excerpt:

DRAVEN O’CONNOR

The blank screen on my phone mocked me. What the hell had I done to deserve the cold shoulder treatment? Things had been rough between us for the past year, sure. But being ignored by a guy that’d had my back for nearly ten years was a new low.

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I’d been in Boston for a couple days, leaving the sunshine and warmth of my California home to visit him, and aside from the I’ll try to see you text I’d gotten when I landed, it’d been radio silence. I left a voicemail in an over-the-top whining voice earlier in the day inviting him to meet me at the bar this evening and sent him a text when I’d arrived at the bar hours ago. He’d never cared if we went to a gay bar in the past, so whatever kept him away had more to do with me than my choice of venue, and that hurt like an SOB. I tried not to let my disappointment ruin my night, but it kept gnawing at my gut.

At least I wasn’t alone.

“Your boy Jules still ignoring you?” Tate, my older brother from another mother, asked. A tatted-up Boston native with a tough exterior and a generous heart, Tate called Los Angeles his second home. He was a co-owner of X-Trips, the stunt company I worked for. We met at a dojo in LA five years ago and the crazy motherfucker persuaded me to become a stuntman once he found out I was a former national gymnast. Best decision ever.

“Guess so. Unless his phone isn’t working right.” I drowned in my fourth beer, settling into my emo mood. All I needed were side-swept bangs and guyliner.

“That’s what you’re going with? His phone ain’t working?”

“It could happen.” I shrugged. Tate rolled his eyes.

Julien Bouchard had been one of my closest friends during college. Our lives had split in different directions and on opposite coasts after we graduated from UC Berkeley, but the distance hadn’t mattered because we constantly sent texts.

That changed last year after I flew three thousand miles to see Jules before heading overseas for a job. I was hurting from a bad breakup and needed some friend time. It killed me when he said he was “too busy with work to meet” after we’d made plans. The guy was a horrible liar. Always had been. His pathetic excuse made me feel lower than whale shit—to borrow a phrase from my Irish father—and it took months before I answered Jules’s texts with more than one-word responses. Yeah, I was butt hurt and probably more of a stubborn dickhead than I needed to be about it, but my ex left me in such a screwed-up state I wasn’t thinking clearly, and it’d distracted me at work, almost costing me my life and my friendship with Jules.

“When you gonna move on from that straight piece of ass?” Tate asked, tapping a finger by my beer to get my attention. “I’m tired of seeing you all mopey.”

“I’m not mopey.”

He scoffed. “Aight. And I’m the freaking Pope. He’s got you wound around his little pinky, and he hasn’t even given you the time of day for how long? A year? You know what I think? You keep lusting after your boy because it’s safe and it keeps you from dealing with the crap your ex left behind.”

“That’s some deep pop psychology, right there. Your degree in bullshit is paying off.”

Problem was, Tate was too close to the truth. My little fantasy with Jules was perfect because there was no chance in hell he and I would ever be a thing. I’d yet to bounce back from the shitstorm that my closeted ex-boyfriend, Victor, had put me through. I hadn’t dated anyone since. Victor was full of promises and lies and acted like a dick when he didn’t get his way.

Tate pursed his lips. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Deflection. You can’t commit to anyone.”

“I can.” Even if I couldn’t, I wasn’t going to back down.

“Yeah? Aight, I got a dare for you.” He raised his eyebrows, dark eyes filled with fire that said the game was on.

“What kinda dare?” My mood brightened. This was how trouble started.

Messing with each other was the lynchpin of our friendship. We’d dared each other to do humiliating, stupid shit  since we met. Like wearing nipple pasties and G-strings while skateboarding along Venice Beach. Or running down the street wearing a speedo in the middle of winter and clucking like a chicken. Or singing karaoke to a One Direction song and dancing—something I never, ever should have done. Those were the tame, legal ones, BASE jumps aside. We lived for silly adventures, calculated daredevil risks, anything adrenaline-inducing.

“I’ll make it easy on you. You date the next person who comes through that door for the entire week you’re here.”

“A week? Pfft. That’s too easy.”

“Ha! Since your ex, you ain’t never been with a guy longer than a night in over a year.” Tate pointed a scarred finger as I opened my mouth to protest. “Don’t bother denying it.”

I couldn’t. But that didn’t mean I was going to let Tate have the upper hand. “Dating is overrated. Give me a real challenge.”

He smirked, and it was as if the devil himself was behind that grin. “I got it. Since you’re all commitaphobe. How about you propose to the next person who walks through the door.”

My stomach dropped out. Boom. Gone. The very notion of a proposal made my skin itchy. I’d dared myself into a corner and there was no going back now. Besides, it wasn’t a real proposal. Hell, maybe the unfortunate guy might find it hilarious that some semi-buzzed dude proposed to him.

“You, my friend, have a deal.”

Tate raised his glass and clunked it against mine. “It’s gonna be some knuckle-dragging sixty-year-old dude with death breath and a beer gut,” he said, a smirk lining his lips. “Or a lesbian.”

“Not marrying a lesbian.”

“How ‘bout the knuckle-dragging sixty-year-old?”

“There’s nothing wrong with a silver fox. After all those years of experience, I bet they know how to work it, even if it is old and wrinkly and their balls dangle so low they knock between their knees.”

Tate contorted his face like he’d taken a bite of something sour. “I think I puked a little in my mouth. Damn, why you gotta be like that, Dee?”

“You went there first.”

A cool blast of air swished through the bar as the door opened. This was it. The man I was to marry, or at least attempt mounting for the night—maybe the week if he was a good enough fuck.

“Oh my God.” Tate burst out laughing, pointing to the door of the bar. “It’s Jules! Fate is mean to your sorry ass.”

Jules was adorable in that pretty, all-American way. I studied that face for years, admiring the best pair of bow-shaped lips and the cutest double-dimpled smile that sent my heart fluttering. Every. Damn. Time. Some things hadn’t changed. I wished they would because the sight of Jules smiling when he saw me took my breath, and most of my anger, away.

“Draven, it’s really good to see you,” he said as he hugged me as if he hadn’t spent the past two days ignoring my existence. At six-foot-two, he stood an inch shorter than me. He was thinner than my bulky, muscled frame and fit perfectly in my arms.

“Good to see you, too.” A heartbeat passed, and we were still embracing. I wasn’t letting go until he did. Wasn’t that some etiquette thing? Unless my sister was full of shit when she said it, which was possible. My aggravation melted further as I slyly buried my nose against his neck, inhaling the smell of the cool, outdoor air mixed with his spicy cologne. Having him in my arms was like embracing a lost part of me and made me realize I missed him more than I was mad at him. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t call him out on his bullshit.

“You always give the best hugs,” he said, his brown eyes shining brighter as he released me. I should be over my stupid college boy crush. But when he looked at me all wide-eyed and happy, as if I held the sun and moon, I fell right back into it. It was a good thing I lived on another coast. It kept me from pining away—mostly.

“Just for you, man. Just for you.”

“Tate.” Jules reached for Tate and gave him a far quicker and less intimate hug than the one we exchanged.

“I thought you were blowing me off like last time.” I let the dig hit.

“My promotion gave me no downtime. I’m sorry,” he explained for the thousandth time.

Thing was, he didn’t look me in the eye as he spoke, and I knew from that small tell that he was lying. It stung, but I had things I’d dodged telling him about my life. Maybe we’d outgrown our tried and true friendship, and I’d been naïve to think trust between us would remain forever unchanged.

“You’re here now.” I clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Sit. Join us.”

Tate dragged another bar stool over to our high table. “How’s our big-city-corporate-boy?”

“I’m good.” Jules rested his forearms on the table and fidgeted.

“Well, Dee just made a little wager.” Tate’s smile stretched as wide as a crocodile’s, and I knew this conversation was veering into unsafe territory.

“Oh, did he?” Jules asked, intrigued. He’d been no stranger to our dares and had even participated. Like when I’d dared him to moon the graduating class, I never thought he would’ve gone through with it. There was photographic evidence. But that had been the younger version of my friend, not the suit-and-tie guy.

“Yup. Why don’t you tell him, bro?” Tate leaned back, lacing his hands behind his head, reclining like he was on the beach.

“Yes, why don’t you tell me?” Intrigue sparkled in Jules’s eyes.

“This doofus dared me to propose to the next guy to walk through the door and guess who walked in?”

“So, who was the lucky winner?” Jules’s sweet, bespectacled gaze sent my heart thumping and my balls tingling.

A dare was a dare. I finished the remainder of my beer, gathering the last bits of liquid courage, and got down on one knee. My throat clogged as I took his smooth, warm hand into my rough, calloused one. I suddenly felt sober.

“Julien Bouchard, will you marry me?” This wasn’t real, I reminded myself as I looked upon Jules’s perplexed face. Why did he have to be so freaking gorgeous?

For a breath, we stared at each other. A playful smile upturned the corners of his lips. How often during our friendship had he looked at me with that same honey-like gaze that let me know what I was doing was insane, yet he loved the absurdity of it and was all-in? I felt like we were kids again, the troubles of our adult friendship disintegrating with each silent second between us.

“You’re crazy.” He shook his head and laughed, ringing and honest. God, I loved that sound.

“Is that a yes?” I needed him to say yes and not because of some half-baked dare. This was my Jules, and I didn’t care if he claimed he was straight or not. This pretense was the closest we would ever be as a couple. Less than a half hour together and my world seemed brighter, better, and my heart beat stronger in my chest. This was why I stayed on the West Coast. It hurt to be so close to him and not be able to be with him.

The bar room seemed quieter and I felt eyes upon us.

“Hmm,” he said and smiled wider.

I hung onto my breath. Sweat formed in my palms. “Jules, you’re killing me here.”

“It’s a yes. Yes, I’ll marry you.”

I swooped him up in a hug, happiness flooding my body as the bar crowd erupted into hoots and hollers. Tate, being the asshole that he was, chanted, “Kiss, kiss, kiss,” getting the entire pub to join him.

Jules shrugged. “We shouldn’t disappoint them.”

“Are you serious?” A kiss. In front of people. I was floating, ignoring the cement block of reality cautioning me.

“It’s not as if we haven’t kissed before.”

“You remember?”

After a freshman Back to School party, Jules staggered home to our apartment and fell asleep on the living room floor. I picked his sorry ass up and dragged him into his bedroom where he palmed my face, told me I was handsome, then kissed me on the lips before passing out. He never brought it up, never acted interested, curious, or any different toward me after it’d happened. I figured he’d been too drunk to remember. A week later he started seeing a woman and tamped down any hopes of him being interested in me.

“I wasn’t that drunk that night. Just kiss me, you idiot.”

Jules grabbed the front of my shirt, and his sweet, velvety lips met mine, obliterating my thoughts. Electricity surged as our mouths moved against each other, a Jacob’s ladder of lust climbing higher and higher, the sweep of his tongue along mine completing the final arc. Desperate and clinging to this moment, to him, I deepened the kiss, taking what I never thought he would give me so willingly. A clipped cry escaped him, and he wrapped his arms around me tighter. This kiss had gotten out of hand even for a dare.

Reluctantly, I stole a final taste of Jules, admiring the blown pupils and swollen lips with pride when I finished. That proud moment lasted two seconds before reason hit me like a bucket of ice water. What the hell did I do? Why on earth did Jules kiss me all deep and dirty like that? Did he do it to give Tate the ultimate fuck you? To prove that he could play along and give as good as he got? My dream kiss shouldn’t have happened. Not like that. Not ever like that. I should’ve stopped myself. But then, it was so good. Those lips felt so right. And so freaking wrong. That kiss was going to be the third wheel in our friendship.

Jules fidgeted, refusing to look at me. I was about to ask if he was okay, but my loudmouth friend had other plans.

“A toast to the engaged couple!” Tate announced loud enough for the entire bar to join in. “May you guys have a long, healthy, and happy marriage!” He winked and took a sip of his beer as the bar patrons whistled and cheered. The bartender congratulated us and gave us a free shot, which Jules didn’t drink.

My head was spinning when a guy dressed in an expensive button-down and tight black pants approached. He gave me a cursory glance like I was a worthless turd and turned his attention to Jules. “Julien,” he said in a salty tone.

I hated this unknown, preppy dude and wished he’d fuck off.

“Garrett? Good to see you.” Jules bristled, making no move toward the man.

Jules didn’t hug him. He always hugged me. Whoever Garrett was, Julien disliked him. Good. We had that in common.

“I thought you said you couldn’t make it out tonight?” Garrett gave me the stink eye, sizing me up. He puffed his chest out. I stared the fucker down, mentally filing away to ask Jules why this guy acted like I’d cockblocked him. Maybe Jules had experimented with him? God, I wanted to punch the fucker more if he’d had Jules in a way I’d never had, the way I’d dreamed about.

“Things changed,” Jules replied. “Besides, I haven’t been here for long.”

“Long enough to get engaged?” Preppy nudged his chin at me, scowling.

“Yeah, well, you know Jules.” I jumped at the chance to put him in his place. “I take advantage of every second I have with him.” I kissed Jules’s temple and pulled him to my side, marking my territory. ‘Cause fuck this guy.

“You must be Draven. Julien’s told me about you,” Garrett said, offering his hand, which I shook. Smooth. A tech geek or pencil pusher. Maybe Julien’s coworker. “Congratulations. I’m sure you’ll be happy together.”

Huh. A complete stranger knew who I was because Jules had told him about me, and though upset, he didn’t seem to be surprised that I had my arm around Jules or that we were engaged. This night kept getting weirder and weirder, more like the dreams I’d had as a freshman where Jules realized he and I were a perfect match and really should be together.

“Thank you,” Jules replied. “We were about to leave, weren’t we?” He placed a hand on my chest.

He’d pretended to be my boyfriend in the past when someone I didn’t like had hit on me. I’d done the same for him, like now. I knew this game, and I was relieved he was comfortable enough to exchange casual touches. It made me wonder if I’d overreacted and blown the earlier kiss and its repercussions out of proportion. Of course I had. It meant nothing to Jules. Why would it? We were friends. Nothing more. My buzz must have distorted the entire thing.

But I didn’t feel drunk. Or buzzed.

Taking his lead, I put an arm around his shoulders. “We were. Got some celebrating to do, if you know what I mean,” I added, waiting for the beady-eyed man to squirm with jealousy. He clenched his jaw. Not the hissy fit I was hoping for.

“I’m sure. My mother said to say hi, by the way.”

Who in heck brings up their mother in a bar? He must live in his parents’ basement surrounded by economic books and maps. Preppy finished his goodbye and moved toward the back of the bar where a game of darts had begun.

“Was that dude for real?” Tate hitched an eyebrow, staring at Julien. “He couldn’t have been more obvious that he was into you than if he’d pissed on your leg. What’s up with that?”

“Was he?” Julien asked in a tone I recognized, the one that said he knew damn well Garrett was into him but it wasn’t up for discussion.

“Aight. You go on playing pretend, Mr. O’Connor-Bouchard, but that dude was all up into you. Have you switched teams in the past year or something?” Tate was nothing if not blunt.

But I kinda wondered the same thing. First that kiss, then that guy, Garrett, acting like he had a claim on Jules. I thought Jules might be bi-curious, but he always dated women and never said anything about men, so I tamped down that pipe dream. But damn, my Bi-Fi was picking up a strong signal.

Jules removed his glasses and wiped them with the bottom of his shirt, avoiding eye contact with Tate and me as he spoke. “Garrett thinks because our families run in the same circles, he’s got some ownership over me. We’re friends. More like acquaintances.”

“Yeah, well, he was mad jealous over our boy here when you were searching for his tonsils.” Tate pointed his thumb at me. “You better take your man home and celebrate.”

“Is this another dare?” Jules goaded.

“Yeah, right.” Tate scoffed. “The two of you will get all cuddly on the couch, keeping it all G-rated. Don’t mess with me. I’ve known Dee too long,” he dismissed. “But it’s cool if you want to leave. I’m gonna hang a little longer. Maybe annoy your lover boy Garrett with a game of darts.”

“He’s not your type,” I stated. “You like the pretty ones.”

“Truth.”

“Can we go somewhere else?” Julien asked.

“Of course.”

“Are you finally gonna tap that?” Tate asked quietly as I hugged him goodbye. “Jules ain’t as straight as he’s playing, mark my words, bro. He was way into that kiss.” Tate validated what I’d tried to dismiss. Maybe Jules wanted out of here so we could talk about his newfound sexuality—and everything else that’d happened this past year.

“Jules was just going along with the dare.” Giving Tate any more than that explanation was like adding gasoline to fire. “I’ll see you later.”

“Jules,” Tate called, “don’t let him chain you to the bed. My boy’s got a rep.”

“Who says I don’t like it that way?” Jules quipped with a smirk, putting Tate and his smart-ass mouth in place.

I’d called a rideshare to get to the pub, leaving my rental at the hotel to avoid driving drunk, so Jules unilaterally decided to drive me back to the hotel in his fancy Audi. He was in deep concentration, fixated unnecessarily hard on the road ahead, his shoulders making a break for his ears. He was so tense. Definitely should’ve had that shot before we left the pub. Seeing him like this seriously amped up my protective instincts.

Placing a hand on Jules’s shoulder, I massaged the muscle, digging into the trapezius that was as taut as piano wire. Slowly, the muscle gave way, and he relaxed. I never shied away from showing affection, but with him I was pathetic. I touched him whenever I could and used whatever excuse to justify the contact, something that had started in college when we’d met. Back then, he’d worn thick-rimmed glasses, a style he hadn’t deviated from, and was a shy nerdy type, far from the confident adult version of himself he’d grown into.

When I had answered his ad for a roommate, I had told him up front that I was gay. He said okay and gave me a tour of the apartment. We had lived together for less than a month when I developed a full-blown crush. I was a natural hugger, but I feared every hug with Jules made it obvious that I had a thing for him, so I started keeping my hands to myself. He noticed the change in my behavior.

“You hug everyone,” Jules griped, sitting on the fancy Crate and Barrel couch his parents bought, wearing a preppy polo shirt. “Is there a reason you stopped hugging me?” Those brown eyes were wounded, and when he aimed them at me, it was all I could do not to pull him into my arms.

“You froze up the couple of times I did, so I backed off.” Truth.

He shrugged one shoulder, mouth tugged to the side. “I don’t mind.” The words were timid, barely audible and had me clearing the room in two long strides and engulfing his slim form in my arms with a tackle. So much for restraint. That was the first time I had heard him laugh, an honest, out-of-control laugh with a vocal peal morphing into a wheezing giggle. I pinned him to the couch and realized my instincts had been correct; being close to his body wasn’t a good idea. Well, my body thought it was a good idea, but my roommate didn’t deserve to be exposed to my...excitement.

The reason for his rigid behavior became clear when I met his parents, the people Jules referred to as the Frost Queen and her Bourbon-Loving King. There was no love in his home. No touching. No hugs. Even praise was stilted. “We’re proud of you darling. Kiss kiss.” Who the heck did that? My parents were the complete opposite. They knew I was queer before I did and had my back through everything, including getting me to gymnastic practices and competitions at all hours and everywhere in the country. Mom disliked that I’d become a stuntman only because she was a worrier. She was still proud of me and supported me. Dad was the same. Hard to believe this suit-and-tie guy driving me to my hotel room was the same Jules I’d spent my formative years with, and that he’d flourished with such little support from his family. I would’ve been lost without mine.

The happy pop tune on the radio intensified the uneasiness between us.

“You alright?” I asked, kneading my way to his other shoulder. Didn’t take much to reach it in this tiny car. I didn’t know how he was comfortable in this expensive deathtrap. Give me my RAM 2500 any day. “You’re not upset about what happened at the bar, are you?” I asked, even though I was eighty percent sure whatever was on his mind wasn’t the kiss. Okay, more like sixty percent.

I’d never kissed Jules with full-on tongue action, complete with moan-inducing bliss. What if he was freaking out about his reaction to it? He had surprised me by diving wholeheartedly into it, and his enthusiastic response had my dick perking up, whiskey-limp-dick be damned. But this was Jules, and I’d fantasied about kissing him for too many years, and I was used to kissing guys. I could brush it off for the dare it was. Maybe Jules couldn’t.

“No, no. It’s not that,” he said, risking a glance in my direction. The short amount of conversation we’d had before I got down on one knee hadn’t cleared the air between us entirely, and there was more to be said without anyone else around.

“This is the exit.” I pointed at the off-ramp that he was about to miss. He jerked the wheel, getting into the turning lane and cutting off another driver who honked their horn and shouted something involving family lineage.

“A little notice would’ve been nice.”

“I didn’t think the large neon sign with the word hotel on it was difficult to miss.” I grinned.

“Guess I was a little distracted by your mad massage skills.”

He wasn’t blushing, was he? It was hard to tell in the darkness of the car, but I recognized the way he shied away. This sexy, sweet, coy side of Jules was something I hadn’t seen since he was nineteen, and my dick thought that was an open invitation to play. Down, boy.

“If you think a one-handed shoulder rub feels good, you should let me do your entire body.” I blamed the lingering effects of alcohol and my hard-on for the slip-up. I was about to apologize, again, when Jules opened his mouth, the words suspended on his tongue. He looked away and pulled into a parking spot.

“Let’s go have a drink,” I said, unlocking the car door. “I hear the bar here makes a killer mai tai.” Jules hated mai tais, and he knew I knew he hated them. I’d been the one taking care of his sick self while he’d puked a stream of mai tai after a luau party. That hadn’t been the first or the last time I’d looked after him. Being an athlete on scholarship had put a severe dent in my partying, but I’d always gotten my revenge on Jules by banging cabinets and pots at four in the morning before leaving for gymnastics practice.

He shook his head. “Not. Funny.”

“It’s funny.”

“I’d love to join you, but some of us have to go to work bright and early in the morning.”

“Then why’d you usher me away from Tate? Were you jealous?” I batted my eyelashes at him, holding my hands in a prayer position against my cheek.

“Please,” he said with an eye roll and pushed me away. “I wanted to make sure you got back to your hotel safely. I don’t trust those people you can summon by an app.”

“You’re such a snob.”

“No, I’m not. Don’t you watch the news?”

“Jules, take a good look at me. It’s cute that you worry but no one is going to mess with this, and if they’re stupid enough to try, I can protect myself.” My recently awarded black belt wouldn’t matter much against a gun. But I wasn’t going to point that out.

“I always worry. You take so many risks. Have you seen what you do for a living? Because I have, and it scares me half to death.”

Could I love this man any more? Nope. Impossible.

I clapped a hand on his shoulder. “I’m a big boy.”

“I know.” He pushed up his glasses and gave me a one-shouldered shrug. “Forget I went all parental on you, okay?”

“Forgotten. Even if it’s about the most adorable thing you’ve ever done.”

Laughing, he pushed my hand off his shoulder. “Shut up.”

“You sure you won’t come in for one drink? It’s probably last call by now.”

“I can’t. I’ve got a presentation to finish before I go to work tomorrow.”

I should’ve been grateful he carved out this bit of time, but I was a selfish bastard and greedy for more.

“Fine,” I groaned, being way too extra. “Since you’re being all goodie-two-shoes tonight, can I see you tomorrow? We could kick it like old times.”

He chuckled. “Old times? That consisted of you falling asleep in front of the television or me being drunk and you being entirely too sober and taking care of me.”

“The latter, preferably.”

“I can’t. I’m having dinner with the parents, and you know how they are if I cancel.”

“You’re avoiding me. I thought we were done with that shit.”

He tossed his head back and took a breath. “I’ll try to meet you, okay? That’s the best I can do.”

It wasn’t okay. I worried he would ghost me tomorrow and I would never find out the real reason why our friendship had hit such a terrible snag. Or why he went all open-mouthed with that engagement kiss.

Reaching across the console, I pulled him into my arms. He resisted at first—that sometimes happened after he talked about or saw his parents. They brought out an arctic divide, making him regress to that hands-off mentality he’d been subjected to as a kid. He got over it, growing pliant in my arms, soaking up my affection. I could hold him all night. Just like this…except, well, the car was uncomfortable. Inside my hotel room would be better.

No. It. Wouldn’t.

I inhaled, breathing in his scent, getting a final fix of Jules. The product he used in his hair had remained unchanged. It always messed with my head when I smelled it on other people. Totally creeping on my friend proved my dry spell had lasted too long. Kinda like a vampire stopping himself from drinking blood, getting next to a hot meal he could fall in love with and—

Yeah, I’d had too much to drink. Or I was still high from that kiss.

Freed from my arms, he sank back into his seat, a long exhale escaping him.

“Jules?” I wanted to ask what was wrong, why was he so tense, and why he kept blowing me off, but more than that, why he wasn’t entirely himself. As touch-and-go as our friendship had been, the tug in my heart at seeing him distraught had me sincerely worried. “Seriously, is everything okay? I know it’s been a while since we had a deep talk, but I’m here if you need me.”

“I’m okay,” he said with a small, forced smile. “I’ll text you tomorrow after dinner.”

I’d heard his promises before.

“You better.”

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Anne Pine on Goodreads wrote:

Such a fun read! I love the friends to lovers trope, and this does not disappoint! There's just enough angst to add some drama without taking away from the lighthearted feel of the story that makes it so funny and sweet. Both the main and supporting characters are likeable (when they're supposed to be), and the foundation for what I assume will be the next book's love story is set up nicely.


About the Author

Grace Kilian Delaney penned epic tales of romance years before she got the idea that one wasn’t half bad, and her publisher agreed–after a few attempts. She grew up a Masshole, and relocated with her husband to California, where the snow stays on the mountain and looks fantastic from so far away. Instead of children, she is ruled by an ancient cat that is alive by sheer will alone, a dog that demands his walks, and plot bunnies that leave messes all over her kitchen table.

When not writing, she finds ways to make money that do not involve going to an office, and spends her free time singing, playing piano, or exercising.


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