Size: 5.00 x 8.00 in
Carter Hamilton and Riley Porter-Wright room together as Harvard undergraduates. An immediate friendship forms, but as the years pass it deepens into something neither man understands. As attraction simmers under the surface, lines begin to blur. When they move back to Manhattan, they gradually slip into the lives their families have envisioned for them.
Both men marry, but in time, Riley realizes he’s ended up in a passionless relationship like his parents’ while his career takes center stage. Although he loves his wife, Carter misses the emotional and physical connection he shared with Riley.
The weight of Riley’s feelings and his growing discontentment with his life eventually push him to tell Carter the truth about how he feels. Shocked and unable to face his own feelings, Carter rejects Riley.
As each man comes to terms with the lies they’ve told themselves, each other and the people around them, they find their lives changing in ways they never imagined. They soon discover that the truths they’ve been longing to tell shake the foundations of their friendship.
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Publisher: Pride Publishing
Pairings: M-M, M-M-F
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay, Questioning
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Cheating, Coming Out / Closeted, Find Love and Come Out, First Time, Friends to Lovers, Hurt / Comfort, Menage, Out for You, Unrequited Love
Word Count: 95425
Setting: Boston, Cambridge, Harvard, New York City, Manhattan, the Hamptons
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
“These rooms always look so much bigger online.”
Carter Hamilton flinched in surprise at the smooth voice behind him. Blinking slowly, he drew a breath to quiet his heart, then turned to meet a pair of lively blue eyes.
“Sorry.” A guy Carter’s age stepped inside the door, his expression sheepish. A smile lit his handsome face and an intriguing flush colored his cheeks. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Carter shrugged before standing up from the couch where he’d been reading. “I’ll live.”
“I knocked, but no one answered. The door wasn’t bolted, so I assumed no one was here.”
“Ah, that’s my bad.” Heat crept up Carter’s neck. “I got caught up in my book and didn’t hear you. I’m Carter and I’m guessing you’re one of my suitemates—are you Riley or Daniel?”READ MORE
Riley walked forward with a grin. Riley was lean and tall, though still an inch or two shorter than Carter, who stood six foot three. His stylish black shirt and trousers were immaculate compared to Carter’s T-shirt and jeans and his dark hair fell forward onto his forehead as he shook Carter’s hand.
A small smile crossed Carter’s face. He’d been exchanging messages with his suitemates for weeks. Daniel, who had yet to show himself, hailed from Philadelphia, while Riley, like Carter, lived in Manhattan, though the two had never met. They’d coordinated basic furnishings for their Harvard University rooms and agreed to fill in gaps later.
“I’m Carter Hamilton,” Carter told him with a laugh, “which you know. And since I was the first here, I guess it’s okay for me to say it—welcome to Wigg.”
Riley rolled his eyes, making Carter smile wider. He’d been amused by the freshman dorm’s nickname, too, but Wigglesworth was highly desired, with large suites and convenient placement for the university libraries. Carter watched Riley approach the window and frowned upon noticing he carried only an overnight bag and nothing more.
“You planning on staying?” Carter eyed Riley’s bag when he turned and cocked his head in question. “I know from your email messages that you’re not big on decorating, but one bag seems like taking traveling light to new extremes. You said you’d bring a fridge, too, in case you forgot.”
Riley glanced down at himself and laughed, the clear boyish sound echoing through the sparsely furnished common room.
“I didn’t forget. I did bring a fridge and more boxes and bags, too—they’re in a moving van stuck in traffic on Storrow Drive. One of the movers called me twenty minutes ago,” he added, drawing closer to set his bag against the side of the couch. “I’m not sure I buy their story, though. They probably got here hours ago and found someplace to have lunch and a couple of beers before they drop my shit off.
“Nice couch, by the way.” Riley nodded at the charcoal-colored couch Carter and his father had carried in earlier. “You picked out a bedroom already?” he asked, taking a seat.
“Not really. I got here late this morning, so we moved everything in and pushed it out of the way.” Carter sat down too, waving at the boxes and suitcases lining the wall to their left. “The way I see it, once Dan shows, we can figure out who’s going to share and who’s got the single.”
“Someone had a productive day,” Riley teased, raising his brows and making Carter laugh.
“Yeah, well, my parents wanted to stay and meet you guys, but I didn’t want them hitting rush hour on their way home. You’ll meet them soon, anyway—they’re already talking about their next trip up.
“I bought them lunch before they left,” Carter added, unsure why he was sharing so much information with a guy he’d just met. “I figured that was the least I could do after they helped me drag my stuff up three flights.”
Riley blinked several times, appearing vaguely surprised. “Your parents helped you move in?”
“Sure,” Carter replied with a shrug. “My dad’s an alumnus and my mom graduated from Wellesley—they enjoy visiting Cambridge.” He chuckled. “They were definitely excited to help me settle in, even if it meant manual labor.”
Riley’s expression became thoughtful. Looking down, he traced a frayed spot on the right knee of his jeans with his finger. In a flash, Carter understood Riley was on his own.
Riley glanced up at Carter again. “My parents couldn’t make the trip,” he said, his voice light. “They’re having dinner with friends tonight and didn’t want to be late. I took the car up from the city.”
Carter nodded. The idea of his parents choosing to socialize over seeing him off to school seemed utterly alien. Did it bother Riley that his parents were uninterested in what had to be an exciting day for him?
An impulse struck Carter to make Riley comfortable. “You know, you never told me where you live in the city.”
Riley smiled, though a trace of melancholy flickered in his eyes. “West 86th Street. That’s where my parents live, and I suppose I’ll be there for a while longer. What about you?”
“East 63rd Street.” Carter grinned. “That’s funny.”
“We live in the same city separated by twenty-three blocks and the Park. Doesn’t seem like much when you consider we had to come to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to meet.”
Riley’s eyes brightened. They chatted easily about their trips from New York until the door banged open, then watched a figure shoulder its way in with a stack of boxes. The boxes landed on the floor with a thump, revealing a cheerful-looking guy with a wiry build, golden-brown skin and inquisitive gray eyes.
“Dan Conley,” he said, flashing a smile. “My dad’s parking the car. You guys want to arm wrestle now or later to settle the whole double vs. single room thing?”
After a quick discussion, it became clear Dan and Riley preferred the single room, while Carter was willing to share the double. He sat on the couch with Dan’s parents, watching his new friends flip a coin. Dan won the toss and celebrated with an exaggerated touchdown dance, complete with slo-mo action that made Riley roll his eyes.
Riley’s movers arrived then and made short work of bringing his load of boxes and bags upstairs. The trio started arranging furniture and unpacking, with Dan’s parents providing useful—if unsolicited—feedback.
After the rooms were in some order, the Conleys insisted on taking all three suitemates to Grendel’s Den for dinner. They got to know each other better over sandwiches, while Dan’s parents asked Carter and Riley about their families. They had a pleasant evening, though Riley shared little about himself and even less about his parents. He talked easily about New York and the traveling he’d done during school vacations but shut down personal questions. He wasn’t rude—if anything he seemed the opposite, with his open expression and bright gaze, but spent more time listening to the others than talking about himself.
It was late when Carter finally dropped onto his bed with a grunt. Dan had already been asleep for an hour and Riley had headed for the shower while Carter closed his eyes and took mental inventory of his sore muscles.
The sound of the bathroom door opening roused Carter from his dozy thoughts. He peeled an eyelid open to peer up at his roommate, who was moving around the bedroom and taking pains to be quiet. Like Carter, Riley wore a pair of dark sleep pants, though he had forgone a T-shirt. Droplets of water fell from his still wet hair, shining in the low light as they rolled over his bare shoulders and back. Carter was still trying to understand why he’d even think such a thing when Riley turned, looking pensive. Carter rolled onto his side and propped his head on one hand.
Riley jumped, startled by the sudden movement. “Jesus, Carter!”
“Um, just Carter will do—no need to get formal.” Carter bit his lip against a smile.
“You scared the shit out of me. I thought you were asleep, you sneaky bastard.”
Riley’s words were sharp, but the glint in his eyes told Carter his irritation was mostly for show.
“Sorry. Consider it payback for scaring me earlier today.”
Carter pushed himself up to pull back the bedding and slip underneath the duvet and sheet. He watched Riley puttering about, getting ready for bed and his amusement faded. Despite his roommate’s smile, Carter sensed Riley had something on his mind. He lay quietly, worrying his lower lip with his teeth until Riley sat on the edge of his own bed.
“Is this bothering you?” Carter asked, waving one hand in a vague circle. Riley eyed him blankly. “The room-sharing thing, I mean. I know you’ve never had a roommate before, so I can sort of see where you’d be feeling weirded out.”
“No, I’m—” Riley began before pausing, his lips pressed into a thin line. He blew out a slow breath before he spoke again, his voice low and calm. “I’m okay. It is a little weird sharing a room. I mean, my room at home is bigger than the whole suite.” He grimaced a bit at Carter’s laugh, and shrugged. “But you probably guessed that already. You come from the same world.”
Carter reached up to fold his hands behind his head. “It does seem like culture shock in a lot of ways. I have almost a full floor at my parents’ and now I’m sharing three rooms with strangers. In the middle of freaking Red Sox country, no less.” Both guys laughed. “I like it, though. Yeah, it’s small and all bricks and ivy but it feels…I don’t know, right. At least to me.”
“I get it.” Riley ran his hands over his damp hair with a sigh. He was quiet for so long Carter wondered if he would speak again. “My parents aren’t the warmest people in the world. You probably gathered that when I told you they couldn’t be bothered to even meet me here.”
Carter nodded, Riley’s words settling over him.
“I’m used to it,” Riley added, rubbing his forehead. “I’ve never known any different. Oh, my parents have always taken care of me and they’ll give me almost anything I ask for. Except for their attention. They leave that to the nannies and minders and secretaries, who give me attention because they’re paid to.”
The air grew heavy, charged with emotion Carter understood Riley didn’t want to acknowledge.
“My parents aren’t interested in me.” Riley held up a hand when Carter opened his mouth to protest, though he didn’t meet Carter’s eyes. “They’re not, trust me. I’ve known it for a long time and I can’t remember when I last sorry for myself about it. My parents aren’t interested in each other, to be honest—they can’t even drum up enough feeling to fucking fight with each other.”
Riley’s words came more slowly as he continued, dropping his fingers to trace a spot on the right knee of his sleep pants. Carter had watched him do the same thing a few times already, always when he seemed to be masking some emotion.
“Watching the Conleys today,” Riley said, “listening to you talk about your parents and to them after they called… I started thinking, Carter. I’m so used to the way my parents behave I’m almost at a loss to understand how normal families function.”
“I’m not sure my family is what you’d call normal, Riley.” Carter’s voice was quiet. “They’re certainly not average compared to Dan’s parents. The Conleys are pretty well off, but we both know Dan’s here on a partial music scholarship.”
Riley made a dismissive noise. “Over half of the students here are on some kind of scholarship. It’s not like that’s particularly unusual. Sure, your family has a lot more money than the Conleys. I’m talking about the connections, though, between people. Between you and your parents, between Dan and his. Hell, between your mom and your dad, and Dan’s mom and—”
“I get it.”
Something in Carter’s gentle interruption caught Riley’s attention. Suddenly, he met Carter’s gaze and held it.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you this. No, that’s a lie—I do know. I don’t want to be like that. Like my parents, I mean. Frozen with this hard shell wrapped around me.” Riley’s eyes flashed with something raw. “I don’t want to be one of the Porter-Wrights and make my life about the job and the parties and how many cars and houses and boats I can buy.”
Carter pursed his lips, struck by Riley’s choice of words. “Your focus doesn’t have to be about the material things, man. But unless you plan to cut ties with your family, parties and cars and houses and boats are going to be part of your life.”
“You’re right. Possessions shouldn’t be anyone’s focus, or at least not all the time.” Riley closed his eyes for a moment, fatigue written across his face. “I’m glad I’m here. Away from them and that life.”
“At least until Thanksgiving, anyway,” Carter teased. He didn’t know why Riley was suddenly opening up, but he wanted to offer his roommate some cheer. “You can come to my house for dinner. We’ll show you how the Hamiltons party like the Founding Fathers.”
Riley grunted, then stretched out, pulling the bedding over himself before he spoke again. “I’m down. My parents usually go away for Thanksgiving. They’re partial to Grenada. My mother works on her tan and my father works on his golf swing. I used to go with them, but last year I decided to hang out in New York.”
“Was it weird?” Carter couldn’t imagine Riley’s parents leaving him to rattle around a huge apartment alone while they went on vacation.
“No—it was fantastic.”
Riley turned his head and the genuine warmth in his expression made Carter feel lighter.
“Some of my friends from school came over. We bought a ton of Thai food for dinner and smoked some weed and just sat around on the balcony for a while. The party went on for a couple of days.”
Carter raised an eyebrow. “Sounds pretty debauched.”
“Oh, you know it. I still hear stories about what happened in my own house. Fucking animals.” Riley rolled onto his side. “The best day, though, was Sunday. I took the car uptown to this church in Harlem that one of my father’s secretaries attends. They put on a Thanksgiving Gospel Concert every year, so I hung out and listened to music. Amazing.”
Carter smiled at the awe on his roommate’s face. “It sounds it.”
“Come with me this year,” Riley urged suddenly, propping himself up on one elbow.
“Sure. If you come to dinner at my house,” Carter bargained, “assuming your parents will be out of town.”
“Fuck it.” Riley grinned. “I don’t care where my parents are, Car—I’ll be at your door for dinner whenever you want me.”
“I’ve never been to a Thanksgiving concert before,” Carter mused. “No one’s ever called me Car before, either.”
Riley’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? Not even your parents or friends?”
“I can stop, if you want.”
“Doesn’t bother me.” Carter smiled lazily. “Anyone call you Ri for short?”
“Sure. The nannies and the minders and the secretaries call me Ri. Kids at school. My teachers. Anyone who’s known me for more than a couple of hours.” Riley’s laugh was rueful. “Basically, anyone but my parents.”
“Sounds like I’m in good company then.” Carter rolled over with a yawn and closed his eyes. “Night, Ri.”
* * * *
Carter, Riley and Dan fell into their lives at Harvard with ease. Dan was a music major minoring in French, while Carter and Riley were both business majors. The time the friends spent together each day increased after all three gained membership to the same club, Phoenix-SK.
The final clubs were Harvard’s version of Greek fraternities. They promised networking opportunities after graduation but also provided social outlets away from the dorms. Carter’s and Riley’s fathers had also belonged to Phoenix-SK but had missed knowing one another by a few years.
Carter was pleasantly surprised to find himself comfortable with Riley’s almost constant presence. They shared many of the same interests, including cyberpunk novels and Quentin Tarantino movies, and even had similar tastes in food and music. The more they talked and spent time together, the more firmly their friendship cemented.
The one activity Riley refused to consider was heavyweight crew. Carter had rowed with a junior club during high school and was eager to use his height and powerful build as part of the Harvard Crimson. Riley thought Carter was out of his mind.
“I don’t understand you.” He cocked an eyebrow after Carter explained rowing was a Hamilton family tradition. “What kind of person voluntarily sits in a boat with a bunch of other meaty guys while someone screams at them through a bullhorn?”
Carter rolled his eyes as Dan joined in chuckling with Riley.
“A me kind of person, I guess. You should at least try it before making a decision, guys.”
“You know, it sounds fun,” Dan said. He held up a placating hand while Riley made an outraged noise. “But I’m an inch under six feet and we both know that’s too short for heavyweight crew.”
“True. You could try out for lightweight, instead,” Carter offered, narrowing his eyes at Riley’s snort. “Shut it, you.”
Dan gave Riley the finger. “I could, but I need to spend time in the music rooms downstairs, anyway. If you and I were on the same team, that’d be one thing, but…”
“I get it, man,” Carter replied and he did. Dan’s academic schedule was busy enough before club activities—add time at the piano composing and he needed every spare minute he could find.
Carter aimed a beady eye at Riley. “What about you, funny guy—you up for a free workout with a view? The river’s awfully pretty, especially first thing in the morning.”
Riley laughed. “Yeah, you lost me at ‘first thing in the morning.’ Look, you say rowing crew is Hamilton family tradition. Fine, that’s your business. The Porter-Wrights have traditions, too. They include not getting up at the crack of ass every morning to risk drowning in a muddy river. Thanks, but no thanks.”
Despite the teasing, Riley and Dan seemed genuinely pleased when Carter came home with soggy shoes and a place on the team. Carter suspected they were just being polite, but he appreciated their efforts nonetheless.
Carter enjoyed rowing for the Crimson and losing himself in the simple physicality of the task and feeling part of a team. He looked forward to the quiet hush of the river, the lap of the waves against the side of the boat and the collective breaths and grunts of the team as they worked together.
There were negatives, of course, starting with practice at dawn and the feeling he just didn’t have enough hours in the day. Carter focused on being grateful when Riley helped him bandage his blisters and smiled at the protein bars Dan stuffed into his coat pockets. Riley and Dan attended races when they could, sharing thermoses of Irish coffee and cheering while the Crimson’s boats slipped by on the river.
As the weeks passed, Riley lost the shell he’d confessed to hating. Carter doubted anyone outside himself and Dan saw the subtle difference in their friend. Riley’s dress grew more casual, as did his speech. He talked more about himself, which gave people a chance to get to know him better. He still didn’t say much about his parents and when he did, he often dropped his right hand to his knee to draw circles on his pant leg with his fingers. Riley didn’t glance away anymore, though, and he met the gaze of whoever he was speaking to unwaveringly.
It was during a Halloween party in one of the dorms that Carter became aware of how others perceived his friendship with Riley. He’d been chatting with Susannah, a pretty girl from his calculus class, and had been about to ask her out for coffee when she put a hand on his forearm and sighed.
“What’s that about?” Carter peered under the brim of Susannah’s midnight-blue witch’s hat and gave her a smile.
Susannah grimaced slightly. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Carter—you know I like you. If you were straight, I’d be really, really interested in you.”
Carter frowned, the word straight still sinking into his brain while Susannah continued.
“I don’t understand why the only guys who ever talk to me at parties are gay. You know?” Susannah twisted strands of her long, dark hair around one finger. “Honestly, I’ve basically despaired of finding a man of my own. I’ll have to hang out with you and your boyfriend and pray people think we have some kind of polyamorous arrangement going on.”
Carter shook his head slowly, Susannah’s words beginning to make a kind of strange sense. She wrinkled her brow as Carter stood silent and she stepped closer, to squeeze his arm gently.
“Dude, I’m sorry. Did I… Was the poly thing too much? I was just joking, I swear.”
“Susannah, are you under the impression I’m gay? That Riley and I are together?”
Susannah cocked her head. “Well, yes. Aren’t you? Gay, I mean. And Riley’s boyfriend?”
“No, I am not. Gay or Riley’s boyfriend.” Carter fought conflicting urges to be angry and amused. “Riley’s not gay, either. Where the hell did you get that idea?”
“Oh, my God, I’m so sorry.” Susannah’s face flushed deep red and she put her fingers over her mouth. She looked so stricken that Carter gave in to the impulse to laugh. “Jesus, I’m so embarrassed!”
“You should be,” Carter scolded, though he laughed harder at the expression of horror on her face. “Why would you think that, woman?”
“You’re always together!” she exclaimed. “I’ve never seen either of you with a girl and you told me Riley is your roommate. I assumed it all added up to the two of you being, you know, together.”
Carter laughed hard enough he had to put down his drink. “What about Dan? He lives with us and we hang out all the time. Is he one of the boyfriends, too?”
“Dan goes on dates, Carter. He dates women. Okay, one woman,” Susanna clarified, turning to search the crowd, and pointing when she found the right faces. Carter craned his neck to follow her gesture. He nodded at Dan with his arms around Melanie Howard, another music major who often came by their suite. They’d coordinated their costumes, with Dan dressed as a devil and Mel an angel, and come to the party with a group of friends.
“Everyone knows Dan and Mel are dating,” Susannah said. “They’ve been together practically since the first day of classes.”
Dan and Mel really were inseparable. She was double majoring in music and psychology and planned to go into music therapy. Mel was a petite beauty, with dark hair, creamy golden skin and greenish-gray eyes. Carter appreciated her bright and sarcastic brand of humor and knew Dan really liked her.
“Okay, I see your point.” Carter glanced back to Susannah with a steely expression. “Making assumptions about Riley and me, though, is not cool.”
Susannah gulped, and dropped her gaze to the drink in her hands. “You’re right. You should know I’m not the only one who thinks you’re together, by the way.”
Carter frowned, trying to understand how to feel about what Susannah had told him. He’d grown up with a diverse group of friends and he didn’t much care whom a person spent their time with. As far as Carter was concerned, whatever and whomever made a person happy was fine by him, provided everyone involved consented. The idea people thought he was someone’s boyfriend, however… That didn’t fit into Carter’s world. It certainly did not fit into his family’s, either.
“People really think Riley and I are together?”
“Well, girls, mostly,” Susannah replied, “and that’s because they’re trying to figure out what’s going on with you and Riley.”
“Nothing is going on, Susannah.”
“I know.” Her voice dropped low as she tried to smooth Carter’s ruffled feathers. “I’m sorry we gossiped. Two good-looking guys, in each other’s company more than anyone else’s…a girl’s gonna try to put the pieces together.”
“Uh-huh. Put the pieces together incorrectly, you mean,” he replied. Carter imagined his parents’ reaction to the rumor and his stomach knotted.
The dejection on Susannah’s face softened his annoyance, however. He’d really wanted to take her out for coffee before she’d let her ‘secret’ slip. And his heart beat a little faster as he understood taking Susannah out would nip the ‘boyfriends’ rumor in the bud, too.
“Are you very angry?” she asked quietly, concern visible in her green eyes.
Carter smiled. “No. You surprised me, that’s all. I might have been a little offended, too, but only because you could have asked me instead of gossiping. That shit’s not okay, Susannah. Especially because I planned on asking you out.”
Susannah’s mouth dropped open. “You did?” she squeaked, then cleared her throat, obviously working to recover her composure. “You could still ask me, you know. Or, maybe you should let me take you out. So I can apologize for being a gossipy shrew.”
Her words warmed Carter and his grin slowly widened. “Sure. I think I can handle that.”
* * * *
A chill fell over New England as the Thanksgiving holiday approached, one that seemed to match Riley’s overall mood. He continued to attend classes with Carter but began studying away from the suite. He was rarely available for activities at Wigg or Phoenix-SK and getting him to agree even to share a meal became impossible. Tension crept into the suite when Dan or Carter brought their girlfriends back and both friends became accustomed to Riley leaving the rooms instead of subjecting them to his stiff silences.
Carter tried to talk to Riley about his behavior on several occasions but found himself shut out. He was surprised by how much that stung. Riley and Dan were more than just Carter’s suitemates and he’d grown particularly close to Riley. After his family, Riley was the first person Carter thought of to share good news with and the first person he went to with a problem. Riley had become Carter’s sounding board and confidant and Carter hoped Riley felt the same about him.
A few days before school let out for the holiday, a thump woke Carter out of a sound sleep. He squinted at the clock through the darkened bedroom and smothered a groan on realizing it was after two o’clock in the morning. A second, louder thump followed a pained grunt and Carter leaned to turn on the bedside lamp, shocked to see Riley lying sprawled on the floor.
Carter sat up and tossed off the covers. “Ri? What the fuck are you doing?”
“Carpet inspection,” Riley replied in a strained voice.
“Are you okay?” Carter swung his legs over the edge of the bed to crouch beside his roommate, who still hadn’t stirred from his prone position.
Riley grunted again. “Not really. I face planted pretty hard. That’s gonna leave a mark.” He paused for a moment before rolling onto his side, his voice lower and more somber. “Help me?”
Carter leaned forward immediately, sliding an arm under his friend’s shoulder to guide Riley up to sit. The smell of beer and stale cigarette smoke filled Carter’s nose, but he said nothing, waiting until his friend nodded before helping him to his feet.
“Too many beers?” Carter kept his voice light and helped Riley to his bed.
“No, not exactly. I had a couple at Grendel’s with some guys from the club,” he said with a chuckle, “but honestly, I’m just tired. And your goddamned sneakers are inside the door again.” He sighed while Carter sat down beside him.
“Shit, I’m sorry.” With a grimace, Carter leaned forward to catch Riley’s eye. “I meant to move them, but—”
“You forgot, I know. It’s fine. I should know by now than to come in here without checking the floor first.” Riley lifted one hand, prodding gingerly at his cheek and grumbled in discomfort. “Ow.”
Carter stood. “I’ll get some ice. Stop,” he commanded when Riley moved to join him. “Sit still, and try not to trip over anything else. I’ll be right back.”
Riley had removed his coat by the time Carter returned with ice cubes and a washcloth. A red welt was already visible on Riley’s cheekbone when he glanced up, but to Carter’s surprise, he didn’t appear to be angry. If anything, he seemed amused.
“Is it bad?” Riley asked.
“It’s not good.”
Riley sighed and held out a hand out for the ice pack, looking puzzled as Carter knelt in front of him. “What are you doing?”
Carter dropped his hands to unlace Riley’s shoes. “How bad does it hurt?” He ducked his head after Riley pressed the ice to his face and swore.
“Enough to make me want to kick your ass,” Riley replied, an undertone of humor in his voice. He lifted one foot, then the other for Carter to remove his shoes. “Too bad my parents will be out of town over Thanksgiving. A black eye would have given them something interesting to talk about over turkey.”
A hollow feeling settled over Carter at the mention of the holiday. He and Riley had spoken several times about spending Thanksgiving dinner together, but now, Carter had no idea where they stood. Slowly, he eased himself up to sit beside Riley on the bed. Leaning forward, he propped his elbows on his knees, turning to hold Riley’s gaze for a few moments. Riley’s eyebrows pulled together, uncertainty filtering over his face at Carter’s silence.
Finally, Carter dropped his gaze to the floor. He felt almost pitifully grateful Riley was there beside him and talking, rather than pushing him away, so he drew a breath and ignored his nerves.
“You know, the invitation for dinner is still open.”
A melancholy smile touched Riley’s lips and made his blue eyes darken. “Thanks. But you don’t need to do that, Car.”
“Do what?” Carter stared blankly at him. “Invite you to dinner when we’ll be in the same city and your parents are going out of town?”
Riley began to trace circles on his knee with the fingers of his right hand. “I wasn’t sure you’d still want to hang out after…”
“After you froze me out?” Carter nodded at Riley’s wince. “Yeah, well. I don’t know why you did it but that was pretty lame, Ri. For Dan, too. What the fuck?”
Riley grumbled under his breath. “I wanted to give you guys some space. You know, with the girlfriends and all.”
Carter cocked his head. “What for?”
Gesturing with the hand holding the ice pack, Riley waved at the two single beds and the desks crammed into the other corner. “This isn’t exactly romance central, Car. The least I could do was try to clear out so you had a little privacy with Susannah and Dan with Mel.”
Carter pressed his lips together and tried not to punch his friend. “You’re an asshole, you know.”
“Because you didn’t even try talking to us. You just cut us off. Dan and I haven’t known what the hell is up with you for weeks. I worried something was going on with your family. Dan asked me if you were planning to transfer.”
Riley’s cheeks flooded with color. “Shit, I’m sorry. None of that is happening. I’m fine! I just didn’t want to be a fifth wheel, you know?”
Carter’s irritation faded as he understood his friend was actually fine. “Talk to us. Talk to me. We could have worked something out about the rooms and Susannah. We’ll have to when you bring girls back here, anyway.”
A cocky grin flashed over Riley’s face. “Who says I haven’t?”
Carter’s brows shot up before he grimaced playfully. “Really, dude? What, in between classes?”
“Maybe. I don’t kiss and tell, Hamilton. I’m a gentleman.”
“No, you are a jackass.”
Riley burst out laughing and that clear, boyish sound made Carter’s whole being feel lighter. He nudged Riley’s knee with his own.
“Come to the East Side for dinner. You can tell my parents you tried to fight my sneakers and lost.”
Riley laughed again, softly, and something tight in Carter’s chest unfurled. Standing, he motioned with his hand for his friend to lie down. He talked about his mother’s amazing apple crisp recipe while Riley stripped off his sweater and crawled under the duvet. His eyes were already closed, the ice pack balanced on his cheek as Carter switched off the lamp.
“I’m sorry about your face,” Carter told him before turning back to his own bed.
“I know, Car. S’okay.”
“You coming to dinner?” he asked, holding his breath for the few moments that passed before Riley replied.
“Yeah.” Riley’s words were slightly slurred with sleep. “Someone’s gotta look after you.”
This was an enjoyable if angsty read that is well-written and paced well. The collaboration between the authors is seamless and I'll be sitting impatiently on the edge of my seat, perhaps tapping my foot, waiting for the next book. Highly recommended!!