Three friends, two brothers, and one unforgettable romance.
Identical twins Aiden and Max Kingsman have been a matched set their whole lives. When they were children, Aiden was happy to follow his extroverted brother’s lead, but now that they’re in college, being “my brother, Aiden” is starting to get old. He’s itching to discover who he is outside of his “twin” identity.
Oliver’s goals for the summer are simple: survive his invasive family, keep his divorced parents from killing each other, and stay in shape for rowing season. He’s thrilled when he runs into his old friends, the Kingsman twins, especially Aiden, the object of a childhood crush. Aiden is all grown-up, but some things have stayed the same: his messy curls, his stability, and how breathless he makes Oliver. Oliver’s crush comes back full force, and the feeling is mutual. Summer just got a whole lot hotter.
Fun-loving Max takes one thing seriously: his role as “big brother.” When Aiden drifts away, Max can’t understand how his own twin could choose a boy over him. Summer won’t last forever, and with friendship, family, and happily ever after on the line, they’ll have to navigate their changing relationships before it’s too late.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Heat Wave: 5 - Very explicit love scenes
Erotic Frequency: 3 - Moderate
Genre: contemporary, new adult, romance
Themes: college life, divorce, family, first love, first time, friends to lovers, geeks / nerds, jocks / athletes, reunion, self-discovery / self-reflection, wedding
Settings: America, California, city, New York (state), New York City, place of worship, suburbs
Chapter One: Max
"Max? Max Kingsman? Is that you?"
At the sound of his name, Max looked up from the cantaloupe he was thumping and glanced around. Across the produce aisle, he spotted a young man with black hair staring at him as if he were wearing the cantaloupe like a hat.
For a second, Max stared back, a sea of faces sloshing around in his head. Then, a name he hadn't heard in years popped up and attached itself to the person in front of him. "Oliver?"
"Oh my God, it is you." Oliver transferred his basket to one hand, jogged over, and threw his free arm around Max.
Max hugged back as best he could with a five-pound melon clutched to his chest. "Oliver Jones. Holy shit. How are you? I haven't seen you in…."
"Way too long." Oliver held Max at arm's length and studied him. "It's been at least a decade, for sure. Man, you're all grown-up now. You look good."
"So do you." It was true. Gone was the short, pretty-faced boy Max remembered from his childhood. Before him stood a man who'd shot up and filled out. Oliver's arms were corded with muscle, and his jawline could dice Max's cantaloupe. Max was comfortable enough with his sexuality to admit he wanted to whistle. "I'm so glad I ran into you. How'd you know it was me?"
Oliver blinked. "I know it's been a while, man, but there's no way I'd forget the face of one of my childhood best friends."
"No, I mean, how'd you know it was me and not my brother? Our own parents can't tell us apart sometimes."
"Oh, right." Oliver seemed to consider it. "I dunno. I could always tell you and Aiden apart when we were kids. I guess some things never change."
"Well, it's great to see you. What happened to you?" Max thought back. "You moved to the city the summer before middle school, right? I remember we were pen pals for a while, but then I think you moved again or something?"
"Kind of. My parents got divorced." Oliver ran a hand through his thick hair, which was as jet-black as Max remembered. "Apparently, they were waiting for me to finish elementary school before they made it official. They figured it'd make the transition easier for me, since I had to go to a new school regardless. My mom moved into the city while my dad moved out to California. I spent the school year with Mom and then summer and holidays with Dad. I was always bouncing back and forth."
Max gave in and whistled. "That explains why you're so damn tan. Been soaking up that Cali sunshine?"
"Nah, I think that's more the Italian in me. My friends on the East Coast used to joke I was the most 'stereotypical' New Yorker."
"So, if it's summer, why aren't you in California?"
"My dad moved back to Irvington not too long ago." He swept his free arm at the room around them. "Which means I got to come home sweet home."
"Well, fuck," Max said with all his trademark eloquence. "You should have dropped us a postcard or something. Aiden and I were half-convinced you'd been abducted by aliens."
"Aiden." Oliver's green eyes widened as if he'd realized something. "Is Aiden here? Like, is he with you? I'd love to see him."
"He's here, but just so you know, he pretty much looks like this." Max pointed at his face before cupping a hand over his mouth and yelling in the general direction of the next aisle. "Yo, Aiden! You're not gonna believe who I ran into!"
A voice sounded from over the shelves. "Who? And did Mom say she wanted multigrain or whole wheat?"
"Forget the bread. You're gonna freak."
A second later, Aiden rounded the corner and stopped a few feet from them, a loaf of nutty bread swinging in his grip. "I went with the multigrain, but — " His eyes latched on to Oliver and then popped out of his skull. "Oh my God. Oliver?"
"I know, right?" Max slapped Oliver on the shoulder. "Back from the dead."
He started to say something else but was shocked into silence when his brother dropped the loaf to the floor and pulled Oliver into a fierce hug.
Oliver hugged back, so tightly his shoulder muscles stood out beneath his blue T-shirt. "Good to see you too, buddy."
Max's eyes darted between them, eyebrows raised. He didn't know about Oliver, but Aiden wasn't one to show affection in public. When they were kids, he'd even refused to sit in Santa's lap, preferring instead to write him a polite letter.
After they released each other, Aiden seemed to realize what he'd done. He looked down at his shoes, blood rushing into his face. "Sorry. I didn't mean to pounce on you like that. I was just so shocked to see you. It's been way too long."
"No need to apologize." Oliver flashed a thousand-watt grin. "I wasn't expecting to run into you two either. Are you shopping?"
"Nah, we come in here every now and then to grope the produce." Max smirked. "Of course we're shopping. We came home for the summer, and the first thing Mom did was give us chores."
"She's cooking us a special dinner tonight," Aiden said with the air of a teacher correcting an errant pupil. "The least we could do was run to the store for her."
Max stuck out his tongue. "Suck-up."
"Ah." Oliver breathed in through his nose. "There's something I never thought I'd hear again. I dunno what it says about me, but I missed listening to the Kingsman twins' epic squabbling."
"There's plenty more where that came from." Max put the cantaloupe back into the pile and then held up their shopping basket. "Mind if we walk and talk? I wanna catch up, but we've got to get this food to our mom."
"Oh, right." Oliver looked sheepish. "Listen, we can catch up later. I didn't mean to interrupt."
"Bullshit." Max punched him on the arm. "We gotta shop. You gotta shop. We might as well do it together. Isn't that right, Aiden?"
Aiden bent down to pick up the bread he'd dropped, face still pink as a rare steak. He tossed it into their basket and then shuffled his feet. "Right. Tell us everything you've been up to."
"Everything, huh? That might take a while."
Max led the way to the next aisle while Oliver and Aiden trailed behind him like ducklings. "Let's start simple. Are you in school?"
"I am, yeah." Oliver plucked something off a shelf and added it to his basket without stopping. "I go to NYU."
Max shot an impressed look over his shoulder. "Damn, that's a good school. You must be a genius, like my bro." He paused in the dairy aisle to peruse the fifty kinds of butter and butter-like substitutes the grocer offered.
Oliver glanced at Aiden. "Do you go to NYU too? I'll be so pissed at myself if we've been at the same school this whole time and I didn't know."
Aiden shook his head and opened his mouth, but all that came out was a garbled sound.
Max came to his rescue. "Nah. He got in to NYU, but we wanted to go to school together and stay close to home. We're both at Pace, the Westchester campus that's like twenty minutes from here. What are you majoring in?"
"Business," Max said.
Aiden regained control of his vocal chords. "Engineering."
"Very nice." Oliver grinned at Aiden, which for some reason made him flush red again. "It's cool that you guys go to school together."
"Yeah, it's fun." Max managed to locate some regular butter before moving on to the eggs next door. "We rented an apartment off campus. It's way cheaper than living in the dorms. Plus, I get to keep an eye on my precious baby brother." He winked at Aiden.
Aiden sighed in a long-suffering way. "You're older than me by five minutes, Max."
Max waggled his eyebrows. "Yeah, but that means I'll always have five more minutes of life experience than you."
"Not if I outlive you."
Oliver laughed. "Man, I really missed you guys. If I'd known you still lived in the area, I would have come by for a visit."
"What are you in town for?" Aiden asked.
"His dad moved back, and Oliver came with him," Max answered.
"Well, sort of." Oliver selected a gallon of milk and then adjusted his grip on his basket like it was starting to get heavy. "I'm only here for the summer, but my dad is once again a permanent resident of Irvington, New York. It's been a nightmare, to be honest."
"What, you're not happy to be back?"
"It's not that. It's just, my poor mom had to ferry me out here to my dad's new house because I don't have a car. Don't need one, when you live in the city."
"So? Is it that far of a drive?"
"No, but every time my parents are in the same room together, they fight. Or if they don't, you can feel how much they want to fight. Plus, my entire extended family decided to welcome my dad back. They're calling it a 'family reunion,' only there's no end date in sight. I got aunts and cousins and godparents I haven't seen since I was a baby crawling out of the woodwork, and they all want to know what I'm doing with my life."
Max groaned. "Oh man, I'm so glad our extended family doesn't live nearby."
"You have no idea. All my cousins are married with a million kids, and they run around screaming all the time."
"Your cousins or their kids?" Aiden asked.
"I'm not kidding when I say both. Plus, I miss my friends back in the city. I have a whole support network there that could get me through this, but there's only so much social media and Skype can do."
"Well, now you have us," Max said. "Summer break is gonna be a lot more exciting now that the Three Musketeers are back together."
"Yeah." Oliver looked at Aiden. "Much more exciting. I'll be right back, okay? I need something on aisle eight." Oliver disappeared down a row.
Max turned to his brother. "Fancy running into him here, huh? No homo, but he got hot. Must've shot up two feet and gained thirty pounds of pure muscle."
Aiden had been staring blankly at the spot where Oliver had disappeared, but at that he seemed to snap back to reality. "Max, don't say things like that."
"What? I'm being supportive. What's the point of having a gay brother if you can't talk about boys?"
"There's so much wrong with that question. And you shouldn't objectify our friend, you degenerate."
"I'm merely observing that puberty was kind to the guy. Don't act like you didn't notice. You may be a prude, but you're not blind."
Aiden shut his mouth with a click of teeth. Max added a tally to his side of the "won arguments" record he kept in his head.
Oliver reappeared with a fuller basket than he'd had a minute ago. "Who's blind?"
"No one," Max answered. "I was telling Aiden here that you look like you work out."
"Oh yeah, I joined crew over at NYU. The training is intense. Five days a week, and we have to wake up at the crack of dawn on Saturdays to do land exercises."
"No shit. I never took you for the team-sports type."
"Well, the last time you saw me, I was a skinny fifth grader. A lot has changed since then. Besides, the guys on my team are a lot of fun, and I love getting out onto the water."
Aiden piped up. "I'm on the lacrosse team at our school."
"No kidding?" Oliver smiled. "How do you like it?"
"I love it. I didn't expect to because I was never one for cardio, but being on a team is so much fun. And the matches are exhilarating. When I'm out on the field, I feel like I can do anything."
"You're telling me. I feel the same way when I'm rowing. You get into this rhythm, and even when your lungs are burning, you never want to stop."
"Yeah," Aiden said in a dreamy tone.
Feeling a little left out, Max searched for something to contribute. "Aiden shocked our parents half to death when he told them he'd taken up a sport. After all those years of sitting inside with his nose in a book, I think they'd given up on him."
Aiden glared at him. Max pretended he didn't see, though he couldn't stop his lips from twitching up.
Oliver looked at him sidelong. "And what about you? What's your sport of choice?"
Max frowned. "Well…I have a promising fantasy football league."
"Uh-huh." Oliver hefted his basket with ease. "I think I've got everything I need. I'm gonna get going, but let me get both your numbers so we can hang out."
Max dug in his pocket for his phone, but Aiden already had his in hand. "I think I found you on Facebook, actually. Is this you?"
Oliver peeked at the screen. "Yeah, that's me. I'm surprised you could tell, since my profile pic's a group shot."
Aiden had been blushing so hard for so long now, he had to be feeling woozy. "Oh, well, you stand out, I guess."
Oliver tapped the Add Friend button and then pulled out his phone to confirm the request. "Max, I'll add you off his page, okay? And I still want your numbers too."
Max and Aiden rattled off their phone numbers one at a time.
"Sweet. I'm sending you both a group text." Oliver pocketed his phone. "Lemme know what you're up to. Maybe we can plan something for tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Max put on his best affronted face. "Dude, we haven't seen each other in ten years. We gotta hang out stat. How about you come to dinner at our house tonight? I'm sure Mom and Dad would love to see you, and God knows we have enough food." He held up their overflowing basket as proof.
Oliver hesitated. "Well, I'm supposed to eat with my family tonight, but…I eat with them every night. And honestly, if I have to listen to my Great-aunt Berta drone on and on about 'the war' again, I'm gonna die. I can't tell which war she means."
"Then it's settled. You remember our old address?"
Oliver perked up. "You still live in the big blue house on Woodlark?"
"That's the one."
"Awesome. What time should I drop by?"
"Dinner's at seven, so come over at six. We can hang out beforehand."
"Perfect. See you then." He waved goodbye before heading off in the direction of the checkout lines.
Max watched him go, grinning widely. He'd planned on a summer vacation filled with Xbox and forcing Aiden to be fun, but now that the Three Musketeers were back together, he had a potential partner in crime.
He turned to Aiden with the intent of repeating this thought out loud but stopped short. His brother had a pained expression on his face. Max knew it well. It was the same one Aiden got before midterms, or when he had to make an important phone call. "Hey, what's wrong?"
Aiden shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "It's nothing."
"You can't lie to me, bro. We have that whole twin-telepathy thing going on. I can tell you're anxious about something."
That earned him an eye roll, which he accepted with glee because it meant Aiden wasn't frowning anymore. "It's nothing. I just…I wish you hadn't invited him to dinner."
"What? Why? You don't want to hang out with Oliver?"
"No, I do." Aiden's tongue seemed to be tripping over words. "But we, um, didn't ask Mom if it was okay. It's our first night back. Maybe she wants dinner to be a family affair."
"Dude, no way. She's gonna flip. She and Dad always loved Oliver. I think they were as heartbroken when he moved as we were. Besides, we have the whole summer to spend family time together. She's not gonna care if we bring our long-lost childhood friend to dinner for one night."
Aiden wouldn't quite look at him. "I guess you're right. I don't know why I got so nervous."
Max wasn't the most perceptive person, but he knew when his brother was giving him the brush-off. He got the distinct impression he was missing something.
In his head, he shrugged. If Aiden wanted to tell him, he'd tell him. He switched their basket to his other hand and started walking again. "Come on. If we don't deliver some ingredients, dinner isn't going to happen at all."
Aiden shuffled next to him, eyes glazed as if he were lost in thought.
Max couldn't say what it was, but a strange feeling burrowed into his chest. It was hard to describe. If he were the poetic sort, he'd say he sensed a change in the wind, despite being indoors. The second Oliver had called his name, something had shifted, and he had no idea what it was.
He shook his head. That was ridiculous. Since when was he such a drama queen?
Since forever, taunted a voice in his head.
Max ignored it and slung an arm over Aiden's shoulders. "Don't worry, little bro. I'm calling it right here and now: this is going to be the best summer of our lives."
Or, check your local library.