The Secrets We Keep
A standalone Love We Find novel.
A first love. A weighty secret. One last chance to make it right.
Adam is either the man Cade loves to hate or the man he hates to love, and it changes hourly. They’ve been stuck in a cycle of hookups and breakups since Adam’s infidelity ended their relationship four years ago. But when a guys’ trip to Hawaii results in the engagement of their close friends, Cade and Adam decide to give it one more shot—a real shot. Monogamy, dating, communication . . . the works. But Cade has a secret, and if Adam finds out, it could easily blow their fledgling relationship apart.
Adam knows this is his last chance with Cade, and he’s resolved to show he’s changed. He’s distanced himself from his toxic family, shed his immature ways, and become a thriving graphic designer. He’s determined to regain Cade’s trust and prove once and for all they are meant to be together. But in trying so hard to be the perfect boyfriend and support Cade through a family crisis, he might miss what’s happening right under his nose.
When Cade’s long-concealed eating disorder relapses, he faces a choice: confide in Adam and risk destroying their last chance to be together, or keep it hidden and risk his recovery. But if he can find the strength to forgive and have faith in Adam again, he might be able to have both.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:
Emotional Abuse (past)
Suicide mentions (past)
Child Abuse (past)
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Heat Wave: 4 - On-screen and mildly explicit love scenes
Erotic Frequency: 3 - Moderate
Genre: contemporary, drama, romance
Tone: intense, realistic, sweet
Themes: abandonment, acceptance, angst, atonement, bipolar, cheating, child abuse / neglect, commitment, duty, eating disorder, family, first love, found family, hurt / comfort, illness / injury, isolation, kids, mental illness, protection, recovery, self-discovery / self-reflection, the power of stories, trust issues, vacation romance, wedding
Settings: America, beach, city, coffee shop, Georgia, Hawaii, hospital / clinic / medical office, restaurant
Careers: artist / designer, teacher / professor
The invitation came as I was brushing the taste of regret and day-old cigars out of my mouth. I forced open my eyes, which were more red than blue thanks to my neighbor, Bryan, and his friend Jose Cuervo. Blinking hard against the sunlight streaming in through the window, I read the message. Guys trip to Hawaii?
I spat and rinsed my mouth, then wiped my hands on my boxer briefs and popped off a response. Hell yes, I want to go to Hawaii. When?
My phone rang, and I answered it on the way back to my bedroom.
“Don’t freak out,” Brady said before I could say hello. “I’m going to propose to Josh, but I’m sort of worried it’s too much.”
“Hawaii for a proposal? No way. That is just the right amount of much. Josh will love it.” I paced back and forth in my room, cradling the phone to my ear while looking for my bottle of ibuprofen. “But your text said a ‘guys trip.’ If you’re dropping to your knees, shouldn’t you two be alone?” Grinning despite my hangover, I listened to Brady stutter for a few breaths. I couldn’t help myself. After all the years I’d had to be so careful about encouraging his crush on me, I loved that I didn’t have to censor myself with him anymore. Not after he got his head out of his ass and realized his perfect match was actually the other six-foot, one-hundred-eighty-pound jock with sandy-blond hair we’d known since college. I might have been Brady’s type, but Josh and Brady had some next-level-soul mate shit going on. Knowing I’d played a role in getting him to see that still filled me with pride.
“You propose on one knee, you perv. Get serious for a sec. This might be a horrible idea.” I sat on my bed and rummaged through my bedside table while Brady walked me through his proposal dilemma. “I bought a ring, and I’ve been waiting for a big occasion to ask him for like months already. Since he’s back in school full-time, we can’t afford to go full balls-to-the-wall elaborate on things like vacations. But I don’t want to do something generic.”
Yes! I extracted the bottle and swallowed the capsules dry before returning my attention to my friend’s faux crisis. Josh might have been the biggest romantic of the group, but he wasn’t pretentious, and there was absolutely no way his response would be anything other than enthusiastic acceptance. “Josh doesn’t care about how much you spend.”
“Oh, yeah, I realize. But it’s Josh, so he wants it to be perfect, and I want it to be perfect because he wants it to be perfect. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I’d considered asking him on a hike or a run, but we’re always rushed for work or school. Then yesterday, Matt mentioned he owned an investment property on Kauai that he wants to sell.” The mention of Matt explained why Brady’s brain had gone into overdrive. Since I was fairly sure this wasn’t going to be a quick call, I fished some joggers out of my hamper and slid them on, then set the phone down to slip on a T-shirt. Brady unloaded every angsty detail on speakerphone.
“He’s taking a private plane because he’s Matt. He invited Sid to join him, then Sid wanted Cade to come, then Cade invited Josh and me, and there are four bedrooms, so tell it to me straight—is this perfect, or will I be sleeping on the couch all week?”
I rolled my eyes. Josh had turned Brady into the biggest overthinker. “Hmm. Let me think. Proposing to your man in one of the most romantic places on the earth or refusing a free trip because you’d be staying with your ex-turned-boss that your man is mad jealous of.”
Brady huffed. “Yes, except one date does not an ex make, and Josh insists he’s no longer jealous.”
“Counterpoint—you still fucked on that one date, and Josh punched me in the jaw trying to punch Matt.” I rubbed my stubbled jaw at the memory.
“Fuck. So I should pass, right? I knew it.”
“No, I’m just busting your balls, man. It’s risky but also kind of perfect. I mean, a practically free trip to Hawaii and the romantic proposal he’s been dying for should soften any protest. Speaking of exes, does Cade know you invited me?”
Brady made an uncomfortable throat-clearing sound, which I took as a sign that our friends had already had multiple conversations about the potential awkwardness of the situation. “No progress on that front?”
Brady’s sigh effectively handed me the angst baton, so I ran with it. Unlike Brady and Josh, who’d completed the friends-to-lovers journey, Cade and I were on a lovers-to-sort-of-friends-path by way of Heartbreak City. “I realized yesterday that it’s been four years since we broke up. Since then, we’ve burned through every version of friends with benefits, fuck buddies, and casual dating trying to find something that works. Some days friendship seems like a mountain too big to climb.”
Brady released a discontented huff. “Damn. You guys seemed like you’d finally made it to a good place when Josh and I first got together.”
We had been, and that was the problem. We were always in a good place until I tried to get back what we had. “I asked him to move in again. He said he’d think about it, and a month later—kaboom. I love him so much, but . . . The last time was awful, man.”
Cade knew how to land a verbal punch. All I had to do was complain about him flaking on me for dinner, and we were right back to the day after my drunken moment of immaturity ruined us. I’d lost count of how many times we’d tried.
“Don’t lose hope. Look at Josh and me, how long did it take us to get here?” Brady asked.
A brief flicker of nostalgia made me smile. Some days it seemed like we’d all known each other forever, but in reality, it’d only been about eight years. We’d met freshman year of college. Josh and Brady were roommates, and I lived next door in a single on the second floor. We’d met Cade a week after the fall semester. Sid got inducted within a few weeks of classes beginning, and he and Cade became roommates not long after. The five of us were a unit throughout college. I would never not be happy for Josh and Brady, but there was one glaring difference for Cade and me that everyone seemed to gloss over.
I closed my eyes and recalled the way my heart had raced as I approached the short, sinewy twink from the fourth floor that Josh and Brady had nicknamed Tinkerbell. I’d never struggled with flirting before, but I was so sprung on him, my stomach did somersaults while I fumbled my way through an introduction. “You and Josh had that entire friendship foundation down solid. Cade and I burned hot from the first night. There’s no safety net with Cade; it’s like a free climb.”
Brady grumbled. “Rock climbing? Dude, I swear you and Josh sit around dreaming up sports metaphors just to annoy me.”
I rolled my eyes. Before Josh, Brady lacked the ability to distinguish a layup from a line drive. “You love it.”
“No, but I love him. Please come. You’re the only one who helps me think through these things. Nothing is stopping you and Cade from working on your relationship without your dicks getting in the way.”
“Yeah, because we hadn’t thought of that.”
Brady huffed. “Yeah, but have you ever actually tried it?”
“Only ten billion times.”
“Parading men in front of each other isn’t exactly working on your friendship. What’s the longest streak you and Cade have ever gone where you were both single, on speaking terms, and not fucking?”
I sighed. As dysfunctional as our romantic relationship was, our sexual relationship was crazy good. Cade and I had zero success in the platonic hanging out department. Even when pissed off, one drunken, You up? text, and it was game on. “Whatever, man. I don’t care anymore.”
“Uh-huh.” Brady packed a lot of sarcasm into those few sounds. “Because you are so welcoming to the guys Cade’s brought to Sunday Brunch.”
I liked to think, like me, Cade had met no one he cared as deeply for, but it was more likely he couldn’t find someone to dick him out as well, and I was just desperate enough for him that that distinction hadn’t curbed my thirst. “I told him he’s free to date whoever he wants.”
“Well, if I had a dollar every time I heard one of you say that, I wouldn’t be needing to bogart Matt’s trip to propose to my man. Since you clearly care, he’s definitely not seeing anyone right now, and you’re single, so . . . I dunno, do whatever you want with that info, but I’m trying to not be single ever again, so will you please come to Hawaii?”
Brady’s plea reminded me this wasn’t about me and Cade. He and Josh were two of the best guys I knew. Of course I wanted to be there for that milestone. “If Cade’s okay with it, then I’ll come.”
“He said the exact same thing about you. He knows I’m inviting you.”
“Fine,” I sighed. “I guess count me in.”
I said my goodbye to Brady and pocketed my phone before throwing myself on my mattress. I grabbed a pillow, covered my mouth, and screamed.
A week in Hawaii with Cade?
We hadn’t spoken since our latest falling out six weeks ago, but experience dictated stage one would last up to eight. We’d stay away as long as we could, until something would flip, and our magnetic field or our friends drew us back together. I’d gone out multiple times with my work buddies and some guys I’d met in my building, trying to stay busy. To not be the one who flipped. That had been hard enough, but face-to-face and on vacation? There was no way we’d be leaving Hawaii without serious regret.
* * *
The timing of this vacation could not have been worse. My seniors had a severe case of senioritis, and based on the first six research papers I’d graded, about half of my junior AP class would be surprised to learn that the Hulu version of The Handmaid’s Tale did not strictly follow the book.
Still, I’d told Siddharth and Matt, who then told Brady and Josh that I’d go. Even if it would be the most awkward week for me personally, I’d been on a whole self-improvement kick—new healthier diet, regular exercise, better choices with men, and keeping my commitments.
I picked up another paper and sighed, forcing myself to write a parent-friendly critique instead of circling the entire paragraph about Offred’s rebellious nature and writing one big WTF in red letters. I didn’t care so much that they didn’t read the book, but Atwood wrote it in 1984, so yeah . . . Offred didn’t attend the Women’s March.
Twelve papers later, I took a break to start packing. Siddharth lived closer to the airport, and since we had an early flight time, my plan was to pack, drop by my sister’s, and get to Siddharth’s late enough to go straight to bed. Hopefully, with no discussion of Adam—because I didn’t fucking have a clue what to do about that situation.
History had proven it wouldn’t matter. A plan for how to handle Adam was pretty well useless. I might well say what I wanted to do all the livelong day, but as soon as I saw him, that guy giving himself the insanity-must-end pep talks was full of shit.
I dug my suitcase out of its storage place, tossed it on my bed, and started gathering what I’d need: reading glasses, sunglasses, workout gear, a week’s worth of shorts and T-shirts, and toiletries . . .
I headed to my bathroom and tossed my toothbrush and contact solution into my Dopp kit, then sorted through the bottles of products I’d amassed trying to find some magic combination that would give my baby-fine blond hair a chance at surviving a style that didn’t involve an elastic band.
Returning to my bedroom, I dropped the Dopp kit into my bag and surveyed the room, considering what else . . . Fuck.
With a sigh, I pulled open the top drawer of my dresser and shoved the contents around, sifting through clothes I never wore in search of swimwear. A small splash of color gave me a weird, uneasy feeling. My eyes slammed closed as a memory rushed through me.
“Oh, you are so getting these.” Adam smiled mischievously and dangled the hanger holding the tiny green briefs with a rainbow across the ass on his finger, letting it sway back and forth.
“I don’t think Mexico is that gay-friendly.” I caught a glimpse of the price tag. “Seventy bucks for a swimsuit? That’s insane.”
Adam pouted at me. “For St. Patrick’s Day. C’mon. It’s festive.” He held it to my face. “It matches your eyes.”
“No.” I snatched the hanger from his hands and hooked it back on the rack.
“We leave in two weeks, and you’ve barely bought anything. You can’t wear sweatpants and my hoodies to the beach.” He gestured to my attire, which was getting harder and harder to explain as Winter yielded to Spring.
I hugged my arms around the bulky gray terry cloth sweatshirt that had practically become my uniform. My fingers found the edge of my last rib, and I followed it toward the swell of my gut, hiding my revulsion with a swallow. God, how was I going to tell him I couldn’t go? Why I couldn’t go. He was going to hate me. I gulped back the burn of acid racing up my throat. Closing my eyes, I tried to form the words. “Look, Adam—”
“Save it. I decided I need to see your fine ass in this. I’m buying it for you.”
I shook the memory and the guilt out of my head and selected two pairs of board shorts and some rash guard shirts and tanks. While I packed, I worked on reminding myself that I had nothing to apologize for. Adam was . . . Fuck. Adam was not part of my program. I was moving on. Finding someone better. Being someone better.
By the time I finished justifying the sexy underwear and condoms I absolutely did not pack for Adam, I didn’t feel prepared to see my family or my friends. Not until I worked off some of this energy vibrating through me.
Some ab and oblique work with the exercise ball I kept in my living room settled most of my anxiety. In the back of my mind, I knew I didn’t really have time, but if I was going to be in a bathing suit, my stubborn winter blubber layer needed to go.
I was ninety-seven crunches in toward my hundred crunch goal when the phone rang. I sped up, pushing aside the burn as I hurled my upper body toward my lower half. Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred. I reached for the phone on the fourth ring and hit the Talk button. “Hello,” I said breathlessly.
“Are you still coming over? Hayley is waiting up to see you, and I really need to get to bed.” My sister sounded exhausted. I glanced at the clock. Shit. It was after nine o’clock. I’d exercised for far longer than I’d intended. Springing into action, I carried the phone with me to the bedroom to gather the rest of my things.
“I, um— Sorry, Maura. Not sure if I’m going to be able to stop by before I leave after all.”
“Are you okay? You sound out of breath.”
My lip slipped between my teeth. “I’m still packing, ” I lied.
“Cade, are you sure this is a good idea? I don’t think—”
“Maura, I told you. It’s under control. I’m being careful.”
She sighed unhappily. “Fine. But please don’t do anything stupid. I mean it, Cade. Promise me.” I heard my niece’s voice draw closer to the phone demanding to speak to me. “Stop it. Wait a minute, Hayley,” Maura barked sharply.
“Maura, I told you already. You need to focus on you. I’m fine.”
“Have you talked to Adam?”
“Not since the flip-flop debacle.”
Maura exhaled a breath of exasperation. “You had every right to be angry. Telling you he wanted to fuck someone less complicated was some bullshit.”
I cringed. Technically I’d been the one to tell Adam to find someone less complicated. He’d only agreed with me after I lost my shit at him. “Maura, I was throwing shoes at him, warning him not to leave in one breath and making him promise to stay away in the next. Nothing he said justifies me embracing the full trailer trash cliché. I sounded like Mom.”
“You were spending time with your family! Hold on. Hayley, knock it off.” Maura covered the phone as she scolded my niece; when she returned, I could hear she was reaching her limit. “Listen, Hayley is gonna lose her shit if I don’t let her say goodbye. Have fun, Cade, but please . . .”
“I know, Sis. I’m good. Trust me.”
I wasn’t sure if Maura heard me, because Hayley grabbed the phone and talked a mile a minute about the book she’d finished reading. As much as I loved and shared my niece’s passion for literature, I didn’t have time for her detailed book report. By the time I managed to get off the phone, it was well after nine thirty.
Hurriedly, I loaded the car and drove thirty minutes across town to Siddharth’s house. Unfortunately, it was too late to enjoy the canopy of trees that formed over the beautiful historic neighborhood not far from where we’d gone to school. I drove past row after row of charming houses in architectural styles from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, any of which I’d kill to call my own. When Siddharth started house hunting, I’d pushed him toward the walkable neighborhood that primarily attracted young professionals with money just to have a reason to see inside some of them and dream.
I pulled into the driveway of Siddharth’s Craftsman-styled home and parked in the rear, as usual. My chest tightened as I spied the group assembled around Siddharth’s firepit.
“Cade’s here. The Loman Hall reunion can begin,” Josh cheered.
I exited my car, smiling as I unlatched the gate of the white picket fence leading to a yard that was so fucking quaint it’d actually been featured in a landscaping design magazine. My eyes searched out Siddharth, who was using his boyfriend, Matt, as a human jacket. My best friend did not fuck with cold, and even with the fire, the spring air still carried a chill.
“Just wait till we get to Hawaii.” I said to Josh, as I hugged him and Brady, then dipped to kiss Siddharth.
“Hey, now,” Matt protested, pouting at Siddharth. Siddharth twisted, his face full of affection, as he tilted his chin up toward Matt and chased my kiss with a much more passionate one.
I stiffened as a rush of cold hit my neck, instinctively reaching for whatever it was and finding only wetness. “What the—” I twisted around.
“Hey.” Adam’s playfulness dulled my irritation. He held an ice-cold bottle of beer in one hand and a stemless wine glass in the other, which he extended to me. “I still had a few bottles of the rosé you like.”
That was my problem. Adam could be thoughtful when he wasn’t a total dick. I swallowed as I accepted it with a gracious smile. Even through the worst of our fights, we’d always tried to keep our drama from making our friends uncomfortable. If he played nice, I would too.
“Thanks,” I mumbled.
He nodded and took his seat on the other side of the pit next to Brady. The conversation was lively, and I tried to stay upbeat as I peppered Matt with questions about what to expect from a private plane and the area. I sensed Siddharth’s curious brown eyes watching me or, more accurately, watching me not watch Adam. He was probably worried it annoyed me he didn’t tell me the entire gang was attending our sleepover. And I was annoyed, but not at Siddharth. Only at myself for the steady flood of not-hateful thoughts I kept having as I listened to Adam dole out support, love, and charm to our friends.
I lost the battle with myself and allowed one glance. He was sitting next to Brady, wearing track pants and a fitted T-shirt, like he’d planned to go to the gym and hadn’t made it. Relaxed, he leaned back in his chair with his long legs extended and ankles crossed, hands clasped behind his head, showing off drool-worthy biceps he didn’t deserve. If I worked out until my arms fell off, they’d drop to the floor with the same level of definition, but Adam could lift an empty box and gain an inch. It was so unfair.
He somehow managed to appear even sexier through the smoky filter and crackles popping up from the fire. Brady said something in a near whisper that must have been off-color, because Adam tilted his back and laughed mischievously, and the sound traveled straight to my cock. When our eyes met, I knew he’d caught me lusting after him. The fucker gave me a little wink, which had never, ever failed to make me want him.
“Cade,” Siddharth said, and my treacherous eyes whipped back to him. “Come inside with me. It’s too cold.”
I nodded, silently thanking him for the escape, before I followed him into the house. He led me to the little breakfast nook in his kitchen and started putting a plate together. I took a minute to admire the familiar elements of his home—the natural wood floors and exposed beams. It was perfect, modern, and welcoming. Not a hint of ostentatiousness.
He set the snacks down in front of me without a word. I sized it up, my stomach clenching. I did some quick math. With the wine, I had to be careful or I’d blow my diet. So I took an olive and popped it into my mouth.
Siddharth picked up some vegan cheese, put it on a cracker, then handed it to me. I made a face. “I’ll never understand vegan cheese.”
Siddharth laughed, prodding me to eat but saying nothing when I didn’t. “How’s Maura?” he asked, lowering his voice.
“Better,” I said with a half smile. “She extended her medical leave a few more weeks. Her psychiatrist upped her antidepressant, and she’s on the antipsychotic again, so she won’t get manic.”
“She’s good. Worried about her mom, you know? But Aislinn’s coming on Tuesday to hang out.”
“Aislinn’s coming? Aw. I’m surprised she had time off already. How does she like Boston?”
“She doesn’t have time off, but she works twelve-hour shifts, so she can group them to cobble four days together. She said the spring is much better. The winter almost killed her.”
Sid laughed. “I still can’t believe that tiny teenager who begged us to get her a fake ID is an emergency room nurse?”
“Right? I’m proud of her. Maura is too, although she’s still upset that she moved to be near her dad.”
Siddharth nodded. “It makes things harder for you.”
I shrugged. Aislinn and Maura were technically my half sisters. Maura and I were three years apart and had grown up together with our mother. Aislinn’s father had gotten custody of her when she was a baby, then remarried a lovely woman, whereas Maura’s father was in prison and mine had fucked off before I was born. To say we had vastly different childhoods was an understatement. Aislinn pitched in when she had time, and she adored Hayley, but Maura didn’t lean on her the way she did me.
The patio door slid open. Josh, Brady, Matt, and Adam filed in, carrying empty bottles and dishes and in hysterics.
“What did we miss?” I asked, focusing my attention on Josh, who seemed to be the one with the story.
“Oh, just Brady’s face when I told him that the speedo I bought the other day was for him, not me. Adam asked him to model it for us.”
“Not going to happen, beautiful.” Brady’s deadpan delivery didn’t do much to cover for the blush on his cheeks or the small puff of his broad chest that he got when anyone commented on his weight loss.
“You’re gorgeous, babe. If you really don’t want to, then fine, but don’t let old insecurities stop you from showing this body off.” Josh’s encouragement made my stomach clench. Brady’s distinctly buffer physique was partially owed to Josh, who’d always kept all six feet of his enviable body in perfect condition and had gotten Brady into running and working out. It would be so much easier if I had someone like that supporting me during my program, but after Maura’s overreaction, I decided it was just something I’d keep to myself.
“I show it off . . .” Brady said to Josh with an indulgent smile. “For you.”
Josh shimmied up to Brady, wrapped his arms around him, and kissed him on the nose. An uncomfortable feeling—not exactly jealousy, but close—made me turn away. It was still weird seeing them like that. Not because I hadn’t suspected they would end up together—I always had faith—but for the longest time it had been Adam and me who’d been the couple of the group. Seeing their easy affection always reminded me of what I’d lost.
Brady sighed. “Fine. At the pool.”
“The house has a pool?” I chuckled at Josh’s outrage.
“Yes,” Matt said matter-of-factly as he went to discard the bag he’d been using to collect trash from around the kitchen.
“Wait. You are going to sort that, aren’t you?” Josh chastised. Matt frowned before picking out the cans and bottles from the food waste with two fingers and placing them in the blue bin. While Josh was our resident environmentalist, he seemed to take extra enjoyment in calling Matt out.
Siddharth shook his head at Josh, clearly unbothered but nonplussed by their dynamic. “Thank you, hon.”
Matt flashed a toothy grin and kissed Sid. “You’re welcome. Always happy to do my part for the planet,” he said, then turned to face Josh and Brady with a smirk. “There’s also a hot tub, which is why I’m so glad the environmental footprint of my private plane didn’t stop you from joining us, Josh.”
Josh’s jaw dropped, and we all held our breaths to see if Josh would stop stammering to actually respond, but then Brady snorted and everyone dissolved into laughter.
“Oh, ouch, Josh. Did you need some ointment for that burn?” Adam ribbed good-naturedly and high-fived Matt. “Respect. Do you know how long I’ve waited for Mr. Sierra Club to slip up?”
Josh pouted as we all took our turn piling on until Brady wrapped his arm around his red-faced boyfriend. “C’mere, beautiful. I still love you.” It was a good reminder that Adam and I weren’t the only two-some in the group with a past. If Josh and Matt could keep a sense of humor about their situation, so could I.
“Fine. My concern for the planet does have its limits, but seriously, dude. How rich are you?”
As he often did, Matt ignored Josh’s question. “I’ve got a car coming at six o’clock, gentlemen.” He turned to Siddharth. “I’m going to say good night, babe. You ready?”
“In a minute. I want to get everyone set up.”
Matt nodded, said another good night, and headed toward Siddharth’s bedroom. The rest of them followed, migrating from the kitchen and lingering where the main living area met with the stairs and hallway leading to the master suite and Sid’s office, which was when it hit me that while Matt had a four-bedroom house, Siddharth’s was only three.
“Josh and Brady, you can take the room at the top of the stairs. I left fresh towels in the en suite.” They nodded, then Siddharth turned to Adam and me. “So, um, there’s the king in the third bedroom or one of you can take the pullout couch in the office.”
“I’ll take the pullout,” Adam said.
“What?” I twisted to glare at him, mouth tight as I gave him a face that asked, Why are you saying stupid things?
“Awe, baby. You want to share with me?” Adam said, his eyes half-lidded and his breath telling me he’d switched to whiskey after his beer.
“You’re six foot two and I’m five feet six. If anyone should take the pullout, it should be me.”
Adam held up his hands, palms out, a smile edging his mouth. “Whatever you want.”
“Okay,” Siddharth said. “I’m sorry. I should have considered the sleeping arrangements earlier.”
“We get it. One of us was always single,” Adam said.
I gave him a look. When would he realize we were not a we and he shouldn’t speak for me anymore?
“I’ll be fine,” I said. With Brady and Josh, there might have been an ulterior motive, but Siddharth? There was no way he’d planned this. He and Matt were new. If this had happened a few months ago, I would have slept with him in his bed.
After exhaling a breath of relief, Siddharth kissed me and hugged Brady and Josh before they excused themselves.
There was a beat of silence when Adam’s eyes fixed on my face. I cleared my throat, but before I could say anything, Adam spoke first.
“I was going to shower tonight, so just come into my room—”
Adam held up his hand for me to stop and rolled his eyes. “As I was saying . . . come up to my room in the morning so you can use the bathroom.” He smirked and all I managed to do was nod.
“Good. Glad that’s settled,” Siddharth said with a sympathetic quirk of his mouth. “Good night.” He left Adam and me standing together in the family room.
“So . . .” Adam said, ending my dilemma on where to look.
An odd sensation hit my chest, like my heart skipped a few beats. My eyes ran all over him before I could stop them. “So . . .” I parroted.
“It’s good to see you. I’ve missed you.” The low timbre of his voice still did things to me, but as badly as I wanted to, I shouldn’t. One nod and he would happily turn me inside out with pleasure. But nothing had changed. We were still the same two people who were fantastic at sex and terrible at everything else. I’d started to work on myself for a reason, and not falling into old patterns with Adam was an essential step in that journey.
I rocked up on my tiptoes and pressed a chaste kiss to his cheek. His arms came around me and my body reacted to his touch, so I pulled away. “Good night, Adam. Sleep well.”
Cade had taken one Instagram-worthy photo with us and then sequestered himself with noise-canceling headphones in the last row and closed his eyes. His head rested on the headrest, chest rising and falling in slow, even breaths like I didn’t remember what the loud damn drooling, mouth-breather looked like when he slept. He’d been avoiding me since shutting me down the night before. If I wanted to feel ignored, I’d have gone to visit my parents.
“How long is this damn flight?”
Brady lifted the silk eye cover they’d handed us when we boarded, retrieved a paper from the seatback pocket in front of him, and shoved it into my hands. I scanned the itinerary and did a double take. “Ten hours?”
Sid tsked at me from across the aisle, unimpressed. “It’s sixteen hours to India. Relax, you’re on a private plane. Have another drink.”
Next to Sid, Matt lowered the screen of his laptop. “There’s wi-fi, Adam. And every sports channel you can imagine on the entertainment system. The Braves are playing the Rangers.”
Oh, man. Baseball wasn’t my favorite, but if my hometown team were playing Josh’s, it’d be more enjoyable. I searched behind me for Josh, who’d stretched out across from Cade in the last row.
“If you wake him, I’ll punch you in the balls,” Brady warned. “He hardly slept during finals, and I need him well-rested for this week.”
I smirked. “Didn’t sound like you cared if he slept last night.”
“Shut up.” Brady whacked me across the arm. “Liar.” Sid barked out a laugh and Brady turned a bright shade of red. “Are you serious?”
“’Fraid so,” Sid said. “Josh is, um . . .” He smiled knowingly at Matt.
“Exuberant?” Matt supplied.
Sid nodded with a wry grin. “Yes. Very exuberant and . . . surprisingly detailed.”
“I’m going to pretend that this conversation didn’t happen. No one better say shit to Josh about it either.” Brady pulled his mask back down and covered the rest of his beet-red face with his hands.
As far as I was concerned, he should own pleasing his man with pride. Typically, Josh was big on manners and appearances, so I imagined Brady had to be hitting it right to turn him into a porn star.
“I lived with Cade; I’m used to it,” Sid said with a dismissive shrug, then froze. His mortified expression fixated on me. “Adam, I’m—”
I stopped him with a wave. Cade liked sex. After we’d broken up the first time, he’d refused any label that implied monogamy and made it clear I shouldn’t ask for more. Sid’s revelation was strangely affirming. Unlike Josh, Cade had a mouth on him every day. My specialty involved turning him into a whimpering, trembling mess that couldn’t form a complete sentence. Chances were high if he was still coherent enough to bark out orders, the guy wasn’t getting invited back. I stole a glance at Cade right as his lip twitched, and wondered if he was pondering the same thing. “No one needs to walk on eggshells this week. You’ve noticed that we try to keep you guys out of our drama?”
“Excuse me.” The flight attendant approached with a smile. “I’ll be serving lunch in a few minutes. I wanted to check who gets the vegan meals?”
“Oh, just me.” Sid raised his hand.
“No. Cade asked for one too,” Matt said.
“He did? Hon, are you sure? Cade’s not vegan.”
Matt shrugged. “Yeah. I emailed asking about allergies, and he said he wanted whatever you ordered.”
“Very well. Should I wake the two in the back?”
Brady pulled off his mask and blinked against the light. “Let Josh sleep.”
“I’ll get Cade,” I offered and answered Sid’s face full of apprehension with a shake of my head. “It will be fine, I promise.”
As I stood, Brady leveled a concerned expression up at me. I clutched his shoulder and did my best to ignore the conversation his eyeballs were trying to have with mine. There was no way I’d make it through an entire week around our friends like this. Everyone worried about us and afraid to cut loose? No, thank you. By my calculation, there were four hours left in this flight, so Cade and I had two hundred and forty minutes to fast-forward past the eggshell-tension phase of our breakup cycle and get to the let’s-be-friends stage. If that meant I needed to cut out all the “who did what to who and why” conversations and own my part, then so be it.
I made my way to the back of the plane, and I slid into the seat next to him. “Hey.”
He didn’t move.
I leaned in close and blew along the shell of his ear before moving his headphones and whispering, “There’s no drool, Goulue. You aren’t fooling me with the peaceful-angel bit.”
One green eye opened and trained on me. “I do not drool and don’t call me that. No one enjoys being called a glutton.” He pulled his headphones off and stored them in their case.
I snorted. “You would turn our origin story into something that makes me sound like an asshole.”
“If the shoe fits . . .”
“I call you that because the first time I saw your ass you were dancing the can-can in an homage to Louise Weber. I was so inspired by it, I made up a whole fake research paper about her for a whole fake class to have a reason to talk to you.”
He sat up, dropped the act, and combed his fingers through his shoulder-length blond hair. Both emerald eyes focused on me. “Yeah. Yeah. And I called you out on your bullshit then too. What do you want, Adam?”
“I want to apologize.”
He huffed. “Translation—you realized you’re missing a prime opportunity to join the mile-high club and you need me less hostile.”
“Don’t pretend you weren’t running your eyes all over me last night.”
Cade sighed, and I realized I was getting off track. That was us—sometimes I couldn’t tell if we were flirting or fighting. It all kind of seemed like foreplay. “I’m serious, Cade. I want to apologize. I understand Maura and Hayley need you, and no matter how disappointed I was, I shouldn’t have said that shit about fucking other guys. I realize it triggers you, and I have only myself to blame for that, so I’m sorry.”
“But . . .” Cade prompted.
“But I broke our plans and I should call first and I’m not making you my priority and why won’t I just let it go?” He counted my usual excuses out on his fingers.
My jaw tensed. Hearing them from his mouth, I realized how trite they sounded. Immature, to borrow a favorite description of my behavior from my siblings. “Aren’t you tired of fighting? Like bone-deep exhausted?”
Cade checked his imaginary watch. “That line is a few weeks early.”
“Cade,” I pleaded. “Please, can we call a truce? For Josh and Brady, if not for me.”
Cade shifted away and angled his body toward me. He peered over at Josh and smiled. “Is it weird that we’re the only single ones in the group?”
I followed Cade’s wistful gaze to Josh, who still slept soundly across from us. When I turned back to Cade, I mirrored his genuine smile with one of my own. “They make it look easy.”
Cade nodded. “Even before they were dating, it’s like they always put each other first.”
“Like you and Sid.”
“Adam, I don’t put Sid before—”
“I’m not saying that.”
Cade’s jaw tensed. “What are you saying?”
“I’m agreeing with you, I guess. In our group it was always you and me, Josh and Brady, and Sid. But Sid was never the odd man out because you and he were best friends.”
“Don’t be stupid, you’re not the odd man out.”
I hated when he outright dismissed me. My birthright was being a fifth wheel. I understood what it felt like. “Sorry,” I said instead to keep from arguing about whether I was entitled to my own fucking feelings. God knew there was no way to win the “my family sucks more than yours” argument with Cade.
“Adam.” Cade touched my arm, reminding me he rarely meant the first thing that popped out of his mouth.
“I realize you don’t want to listen to me get into my feelings about my perfect family again. How’s Maura?”
Cade’s eyelids fluttered, and he glanced at our friends, then back to me. He never liked his sister’s issues advertised, but he seemed . . . regretful?
“Is Hayley okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah. She’s fine. About to ace the fifth grade and excited for summer.”
“What’s Mr. Doyle got on her summer reading list?”
Cade flashed a brilliant smile, erasing all my concerns. The way he lit up about books made me miss how we used to be together. In the early days of our relationship, we loved to lie in bed reading to each other from the same book. I was a little uncomfortable when he first asked, but Cade had a deep, soothing James Earl Jones quality to his voice. Relaxing and lying contently in his arms became the best part of my day. I would let him read an instruction manual to me to recapture a tiny piece of that.
“This summer we’re diving into Louisa May Alcott.”
Cade nodded. “She’s excited about it. I ordered that and Little Men for her the other day.”
“Did she see the movie?”
Cade groaned. “Yeah. I asked her to wait until she read the book, but you know Maura when she gets her head on something.”
“Yeah. I know Maura,” I echoed, quickly changing the subject. “How about you? How are your classes going?”
“Awful,” Cade deadpanned. “But I had six seniors get a five on the AP English exam, the most of any teacher in the district.”
“Thanks. How about you? How’s work?”
We paused our conversation as the flight attendant delivered the meals. “Would you like a drink, sir?”
“I’m good with the water,” Cade said, gesturing to the small glass in front of him.
“You sure? It’s free,” I said and raised my tumbler full of whiskey. It wasn’t like Cade not to indulge on vacation. “It’s afternoon somewhere.”
Cade smiled tightly and shook his head. “Water is fine. Thanks.”
When the flight attendant left us, Cade surveyed his sizeable Southwestern-style salad and gave my cheeseburger a side-eye.
“You want half?” I offered.
He shook his head again and started deconstructing his salad, pulling off the tortilla strips, then the avocado and placing them on a side plate, which made absolutely no sense because I’d seen Cade pack away the chips and guac.
“Suit yourself.” I took a bite of my cheeseburger and struggled to keep from making a mess as the juices ran down my hand. I licked my fingers mindlessly and caught Cade, mouth gaped and eyes narrowed. I extended my tongue and gave him a good show, moaning, because I was just that extra when he was looking at me like that. He shook his head and cut up an already bite-size piece of iceberg lettuce.
“What’s with the rabbit food?”
“Nothing.” He drew one shoulder up in a half-hearted shrug.
I shook my head. “Still trying to fight nature, huh?” At twenty-six, Cade still resembled the boy I met our first year at school, which, in a way that sometimes made me uncomfortable to admit, turned me the fuck on. Emotionally, mentally, legally, Cade was all man, but our size difference and his compact, practically hairless, lithe body gave me wood every single time. “You won’t put on muscle eating lettuce.”
“Not everyone wins the genetic lottery.” Cade’s pursed lips and hardened jaw sent me back to the small bedroom he’d had senior year.
“You’re going to the gym again? At least let me go with you. I’ve barely seen you all week.”
“I’ve been busy student teaching and working. Not everyone has a mommy and daddy to pay their rent. I can’t just drop everything because you’re horny again. You insisted on this Mexico trip. I have to save for it.”
“It’s not about sex, Cade, and you know it. No one works out six days a week and doesn’t see any results. If you want to bulk up, I can help, and we can spend some time together at least.”
“I don’t want your help. I like going alone. It’s how I clear my head. I’ll be back in an hour. Sid will be home soon; you can wait here if you want.”
“That’s what you said last night, but I woke up in your bed alone.”
I sighed. Once again, I found myself with one foot poised above the minefield that was Cade. Having no idea how to defend myself without pissing him off. “You know I think you’re sexy as hell, right? It’s not like I think you need to put on muscle.”
“It’s a new program I’m trying,” Cade said in a less hostile tone, but still in a way that meant leave it alone. I knew better than to take another step. These were old grievances, and there was no way to navigate around them without detonating Cade’s temper. In the spirit of peace and harmony, I focused on devouring my lunch.
When I finished my burger and fries, I watched Cade take another bite, this time a single bean from a pile of black beans. He chewed it for what had to be ten seconds longer than necessary. From the looks of it, he’d eaten about half of his salad, but it was hard to tell because he’d cut everything into such small pieces and separated each food into sections in the bowl. Exactly what kind of program was he on?
* * *
My stomach gurgled, and I had a niggling worry there was dressing already mixed in with the vegetables. It shouldn’t bother me since I’d removed the avocado just in case. But, damn it, I didn’t like when I couldn’t calculate the exact number. Away from home, following my program would be harder than I’d expected.
“Are you listening?” Adam asked, snatching me back from whatever twilight zone my mind had wondered into.
I pushed my thoughts aside and refocused on Adam. Lord knew the man couldn’t handle me not giving him my rapt attention even for minute. “Of course. I’m proud of you, sounds like a challenging project.”
I ignored Adam’s doubtful, narrowed brows and opened my shade. “Wow,” I said as the airport came into view and the crystal-blue water rose to meet us. The beach looked amazing. I sat back to allow Adam to see, and he placed his hand on my knee and leaned over.
“I can’t wait to get out on the water. You remember Aruba?”
We’d spent the entire week dancing, drinking, and fucking. Yeah. I remember Aruba, I thought with a smile. It’d been one of the better vacations of our relationship. I’d felt so close to him.
The pressure of Adam’s hand shifted, sending a pulse of awareness up my spine. “Um . . . your hand.”
“Oh, sorry,” Adam said, righting himself with a fluster. That was how it was for us. I’d learned every curve of his muscles and every mark on his skin. The effortless way our bodies sought each other’s was as magical as it was maddening.
Brady let out a cheer as the captain announced we’d be landing soon. Then he rushed toward the back to wake Josh by kissing the top of his head and stroking his stomach. The way those two interacted was something to behold, but it was gentler than the way Adam touched me. If Adam and I were fire, Josh and Brady were earth. Their chemistry was rooted in something far more nurturing than primal. As they returned to the front, I watched with envy. A quick peek at Adam’s soft, half-lidded eyes said he had as well.
A wave of nostalgia swept over me. “You remember the first time you asked me to hang out in your dorm room?”
He turned toward me and winked. “I remember all our firsts.”
I gave him a weak smile, because his smirk told me he was thinking of the second time. “No. The first time. Brady stopped by to say hello and wouldn’t leave.”
Adam groaned. “Oh god. I forgot about that. I was trying so hard to get you alone.”
Brady’s crush on Adam had been endearingly obvious. I remembered being so frustrated at first, but after I realized Adam wasn’t the type of guy to kick a friend out to get laid, something in my chest had loosened. Adam was careful with his heart. I had believed it meant I could trust him with mine. “So much has changed since then, huh?”
“Yeah, now we’ll be on the other side of the nonstop love fest. Suppose it’s time for some payback?” Adam jutted his chin to Siddharth and Matt, who were engaged in a kiss that even from a distance promised more. “What do you think? Should we wait until Matt starts moaning and knock on their door to see if they want fro-yo?”
“Or hide their lube like Siddharth did when I accidentally locked him out of your dorm room during finals?” The hairs on my arm stood up as Adam grasped my forearm and tossed his head back and laughed. My heart did a little flip, and I felt his fingertips pulling me into his orbit. So warm and comfortable, like slipping into a hot bubble bath. The familiarity of being like this was too much for my pathetic defenses. Not when Adam stuck to our highlight reel. We’d inscribed all the wonderful memories in our brains; it was the muscle memory that guided all our reactions that were problematic.
“Listen, Gou . . .”
His silly pet name put me on edge. Goulue, Gou, or “my greedy boy” if I was being particularly desperate in bed—all reminders of what a glutton I was for him. That was what my program was all about—ridding myself of that particular deadly sin.
“I’m planning to stay off your dick this week.”
Adam’s disbelieving grin called bullshit on my declaration, and perspiration beaded on the back of my neck as I withered under his scrutiny. One look and he knew I was lying. To him. To myself. I hated when he read me so easily. It made all the times when he wouldn’t or couldn’t all the more devastating.
“Let’s just keep our distance as best as we can. I’m sure we can both find suitable replacement ass on this island.”
The mischievous twinkle in his eye faded. He shifted and pulled his arm away to make room for the barrier he erected whenever I said unnecessarily shitty things. The deep breath he exhaled expressed a weariness that used to annoy me but now filled me with guilt.
“If you’d have let me finish, I was going to say I think it’d be nice to work on our friendship this week.”
I smacked my lips. “Oh,” I said as the plane touched down.
“Never mind. Let’s do it your way.” He picked up his phone and scrolled through Instagram, making sure I noticed all the hot guys he was drooling over as we taxied what felt like the entire island to the terminal.
After the plane rolled to a stop, Adam jumped up. He kept his face hidden from me, but the brooding way he picked up his belongings and stuffed them into his bag made my heart literally ache. The weight of memory, regret, and anger crushing down so hard that I had to take a breath to collect myself.
Why did I say that? I should have taken a leisurely stroll down memory lane and let Adam walk off the plane thinking about the fun we used to have together. I gathered my carry-on items, still mulling over how to repair the damage.
When the rest of our friends had deplaned, I tugged Adam’s arm to hold him back. “Hey . . .” I said and waited for him to meet my gaze. “I didn’t mean it.”
“Yep. Got it, Cade. You never do.”
“But . . .” Adam supplied.
“No buts. You don’t deserve to be my verbal punching bag. I don’t understand why I say things I don’t mean to you when I don’t do it to any of my other friends. You’re right about needing to work on our friendship. I’m willing to try it if you are.”
“Aloha,” Brady greeted me cheerfully on the second morning of our trip. “You’re up early. I made coffee.”
The promise of coffee perked me up. Unfortunately, I’d learned coffee led to temptations like curling up on the couch with a book instead of exercising. So now I did my workout first, then breakfast. “I think I’m still jet-lagged. Where is everyone?”
“Josh is sleeping in. Sid and Matt left to meet with the real estate lady. Don’t forget we have the boat trip today. Josh and I are heading over early to have dinner. We’ll meet everyone else at the dock. Do not be late. The sunset is at 6:54 tonight. It’s important that you get there on time. And don’t forget to charge your camera.”
“Okay,” I said, drawing out the word. Puzzled, I checked the clock. “It’s 7:32 in the morning. We have time.”
Brady face-palmed. “Sorry. Ignore me. There was already a glitch in the reservation, and now I’m paranoid.”
“No worries. I’ll make sure everyone is there on time. Where’s Adam?” I bent into a stretch, admiring the hardwood floors. This house was adorable. Two huge bedrooms downstairs were intended to both be master bedrooms, and there was a little open loft above the family room with a double bed, where I was sleeping. The low ceiling and décor made it an obvious children’s space, but it suited me fine. Adam’s room ended up being a small guesthouse on the property that was accessed through the backyard.
When I finished my stretch, the grin plastered across Brady’s face looked permanent. “Not sure, haven’t seen him. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you woke him up.”
I suppressed a groan. How much longer would everyone be in the cultlike stage of love, where the high was so good you recruited?
“What did you two end up doing last night after Josh and I turned in?”
Brady would be less than amused to learn we’d tried to ignore his and Josh’s not-so-hushed reminders to each other they needed to keep it down. “Not much. We put on a movie and I finished grading some papers.”
Brady guffawed. “You’re working? This is supposed to be a vacation.”
“Relax, we’re still enjoying ourselves. Low-key is sort of the goal for Adam and me this week. It’s going well so far. Over twenty-four hours in and no shots fired. I’m excited about the sailing trip.”
Brady made a sound in his throat that I wasn’t sure what to make of. “The Na Pali Coast is supposed to be breathtaking.”
I nodded. “I’ve seen pictures. It was two or three on that list Matt sent us of Top Ten must-see sights.” I crossed the room to the large window to check out the view. You couldn’t see beyond the rolling landscaping full of tropical blooms—red hibiscus, yellow bird of paradise, and at least fifteen plants and flowering trees I couldn’t name. Kauai had certainly earned it’s Garden Island nickname. I sighed, relaxing into the feeling of being on vacation now that the jet-lag had started to lift. I turned back to Brady. “I forget the number one. Do you remember?”
“Waimea Canyon, but Josh did yoga on the beach yesterday.” Brady grinned. “I assure you nothing else comes close.”
That got a laugh out of me. I had to admire Brady’s taste. Josh and Adam were indisputably the most attractive of our little group. Both were just a shade over six feet with bodies that spoke to their love of the gym and sports. They both had Hollywood-leading-man jawlines and full heads of hair that belonged on shampoo commercials. Going out to the clubs with them made me feel like a troll doll next to two Kens. “Oh, Brady. Never change. I need to work out before I lose motivation and so I can finish my grading before our trip tonight.”
“Grading papers, Cade? Is that how you want to spend your time here?” Brady rested his eyes on me as though guilt was transmittable.
“It’s a few hours here and there. It’s not like I’m glued to my laptop.” I knew the words came out defensive, but helping Maura take care of Hayley had put me woefully behind, and grades were due. I could have canceled the entire trip, but I hadn’t. I was here, what more did they expect me to do?
Brady winced. “I’m sorry. I get that you and Adam don’t need the peanut gallery weighing in, but you have this great opportunity to make things right. It might not be the ‘together forever’ kind of right, but there’s something that keeps bringing you back to each other. I don’t want you two to leave this place and regret not tapping into it.”
I let out a long exhale, struggling to not dismiss his words as symptoms of acute love indoctrination. Adam had complained when I graded papers before, but we’d been dating then. Still, my commitment to Adam to work on our friendship might have been better served if I’d actually watched the movie with him. Adam took film almost as seriously as I took books, and he had seemed enthusiastic about it when he talked me into it. I tried to remember if he appeared upset when he headed to bed, but I’d been dealing with a text from Maura and barely remembered him leaving. Great. Now what?
After considering the options, I determined Adam probably felt a little isolated not being in the main house. “I’ll go see if he’s up and bring him some coffee. Maybe he’ll want to come workout with me.”
Brady smiled approvingly as I trudged to the kitchen and poured a mug, then added some milk, before remembering that Adam had bought hazelnut creamer the day before. I glowered at the coffee as though it had screwed up and not me. My first instinct was to add a splash of the creamer. Adam probably wouldn’t realize, but I would know.
In one swift motion, I dumped the coffee and fixed a fresh mug and prepared it the way I knew Adam would like it. The sense of achievement was so strong, I grabbed some yogurt, fruit, and granola for him too. I carried the dishes past a smirking Brady and bumped the sliding door that separated the outdoor living space from the indoors out of the way with my hip.
Matt assured us the home was modest by Hawaiian standards, but the elaborate deck and gardens surrounding the small pool and hot tub sure seemed luxurious. I weaved my way around the path to the guesthouse entrance and knocked, splashing a wave of hot coffee onto my hand. I yelped and brought my hand to my lips and slurped away the burning liquid from my skin. “Fuck.”
Heavy footsteps proceeded the door flying open. “Are you okay?”
I stumbled back, gasping. “You’re naked.”
Adam rolled his eyes. “You’ve seen it before. What’s up?”
It seemed unfair to expect him to be modest in his own room, but I stood there irritated while he moved aside and stared at me expectantly. “Are you coming in?”
“Uh, I can’t . . . with you like that. Could you . . . just cover him.”
Adam peered down his long torso before giving me a smirk. “‘Him’?” He laughed.
“Jesus. Yes. Put some goddamn boxers on already. Why are you sleeping naked, anyway?” Did he have someone with him? The words almost escaped, but I caught myself.
He retreated into the compact space. “I was getting ready to shower when I heard you scream,” he said over his shoulder. Swooping down, he retrieved his underwear from the floor.
I bit back a groan as the muscular globes of his naked rear flexed. Adam’s ass still existed in my mind as the standard of perfection. I couldn’t understand what he saw in mine.
“Eyes up here, Gou.” Adam snapped his fingers and brought my attention to his cocky-ass smirk. “Better?”
I locked my gaze on his face and forbid myself from ogling his body. “Yes. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. What’s that?” He gestured toward the mug and bowl.
“Afraid there’s no place to eat in here. Unless you’ve changed your opinion on eating in bed.” He gestured to the queen-size bed. “Kind of weird but be my guest.”
“It’s not for me. It’s for you.”
“You brought me breakfast?” His incredulous stare erased all the satisfaction I had from doing something nice for him.
I set the dishes down on the dresser with a clang. “You act like I never did nice things for you.”
“You did all kinds of nice things for me, Goulue.”
His lascivious tone was not something I was equipped to deal with when he was nearly naked. I narrowed my eyes and pressed my lips together. I will not engage in flirting.
Adam gave me a funny look. “You get that I’m kidding, right?”
“Sure. Yeah.” My monotone cadence probably damaged the conviction of that assurance. I searched my memory for one nonsexual thing I’d done in the past year to prove my case. Had I not done anything? Not one thing? How was that possible?
Adam took a sip of his coffee, keeping his gaze locked on mine. His Adam’s apple convulsed as he swallowed. “This is perfect, Cade. Thank you.”
I smiled; at least I’d done one thing right. “Okay. Good. Well, I’ll leave you to it.”
“Don’t leave.” Adam’s brows knitted together in confusion. “Where’s yours?”
“I need to work out first.”
“Stay. I’ll share. Then we can work out together. What were you going to do?”
“Matt said there was a park about two miles from here. Supposed to be steps and some bars I can do pull-ups on. I’ll make the rest up as I go.”
“I’m in. These strawberries are delicious.” He stabbed one with the fork and held it up for me. The sweet fragrance made my mouth water, and I swallowed hard. I’d already messed up by sipping the coffee off my hand, but that was an accident. If I accepted his offer, I’d be off my program, and that would put me in a foul mood all day. I didn’t want to expose my friends to that. If I stuck to my plan, then I’d allow myself an entire cup of strawberries as a reward. Decision made, I stepped back. “No, thanks.”
Adam shrugged and leaned against the dresser as he bit into it. “Keep me company then?”
“Sure.” I flopped onto his bed and frowned. Adam liked a firm mattress. “This is too soft.”
“No. It’s firm. I’d offer to switch, but you’d bang your head every time you got up.”
“Got it.” He smiled, and by the amusement displayed on his face, I gathered he was holding back another comment. “Sleep okay?”
“Yeah, fine. Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Sure.” Adam nodded.
“You all right out here? Really?”
The corners of Adam’s mouth turned down at the edges. “I’d prefer to be in the main house. I know it’s stupid, but you know . . .” He lifted his shoulders as his voice trailed off. Adam-speak for I feel left out.
“If you don’t mind the low ceiling, I’m happy to switch with you.” It’d be a lot easier to stay on my program without a stocked kitchen anyway. “I don’t want you to feel iso—” My heart sped up the way Adam eyed me. “Why are you staring at me like that?”
“I’m surprised. Pleasantly. I’m good where I am, but it means a lot you offered. Truly. Did you finish your grading?”
“Not quite. I have a few more. Did it bother you I graded papers last night during the movie?”
Adam’s face screwed up. “Why are asking me all these questions?”
“Just answer it,” I huffed in frustration. Why did he act like everything I did was a trap? He gave me shit about overreacting, but Adam’s defenses were as entrenched as mine. “Something Brady said got me thinking, I guess. I plan to finish today so it’ll be done.”
“How was Brady this morning?”
Well, all right. I guess we were changing the subject, then. “Fine. A little oddly concerned about the sailing trip.” A grin split Adam’s face, and I instantly recognized the conspiratorial glint. He was up to something. “What do you know?”
Adam’s eyebrow peaked. “Did he seem nervous?”
I scrunched up my face, trying to decipher what he’d learned that I hadn’t. “Why would he be nervous? Does he not like boats or something?”
“You sure you want to hear this one? If I tell you, you have to keep your mouth shut.”
All my friends viewed me as a terrible gossip, which . . . granted. I had a gift for relaying observations and speculation with an unwarranted level of confidence from time to time, but that was years ago. Yet I was still the last to learn something juicy or scandalous. Kind of ironic given all the real secrets I’d kept.
“I will,” I promised.
“Brady is proposing tonight.” Adam’s face lit up and, in his expression, I saw only a reminder of what we should have had, unleashing a fresh wave of grief over what we’d lost.
Word Count: 92,000
Page Count: 280
Cover By: L.C. Chase
Series: Love We Find
Release Date: 10/04/2021
Release Date: 10/04/2021