Too Stupid to Live (A Romancelandia Novel)

Too Stupid to Live (A Romancelandia Novel)

Author: Anne Tenino

It isn't true love until someone gets hurt.

Sam’s a new man. Yes, he’s still too tall, too skinny, too dorky, too gay, and has that unfortunate addiction to romance novels, but he’s wised up. His One True Love is certainly still out there, but he knows now that real life is nothing like fiction. He’s cultivated the necessary fortitude to say “no” to the next Mr. Wrong, no matter how hot, exciting, and/or erotic-novel-worthy he may be.

Until he meets Ian.

Ian’s a new man. He’s pain-free, has escaped the job he hated and the family who stifled him, and is now—possibly—ready to dip his toe into the sea of relationships. He’s going to be cautious, though, maybe start with someone who knows the score and isn’t looking for anything too complicated. Someone with experience and simple needs that largely revolve around the bedroom.

Until he meets Sam.

Sam’s convinced that Ian is no one’s Mr. Right. Ian’s sure that Sam isn’t his type. They can’t both be wrong . . . can they?

Save big!

Get this title in the following bundle(s):

Part of the series: Romancelandia
Price: $3.99

This title comes with no special warnings.

Chapter 1

Ian Cully locked up his house—ex-house—one last time and contemplated throwing away the key.

Nah, quitting his job, selling his home, and moving the hell out of California was probably symbolic enough. Instead he just watched the brass glint in his hand. Then he stared at the deadbolt and the knob.

It isn’t too late to go back to the department and drive a desk. That thought triggered a sudden and visceral flash of scraping his back on the asphalt and the sound of his skin sizzling.

Yeah, fuck it. He wanted the hell out of California. Wanted to live around family he liked. Put some distance between him and his dad.

“That’s it?” his cousin Jurgen asked from behind him.

He should probably stop standing on his porch—former porch—staring at the locking hardware. “Uh, yeah.”

“C’mon then. I want to get moving before dark.” Jurgen’s feet scuffed on the wood as he turned, and then Ian felt the boards give as he thudded down the steps.

He stared some more. Jurgen didn’t say anything else, even though he was probably waiting by Ian’s truck, back crammed full of stuff, ready to take off after the moving van that had left a half hour ago. Leaving the porch had been to give Ian space, although he knew damn well Jurgen wanted to get home to his boyfriend.

Still, Jurgen’d probably wait half the day if Ian needed the time.

Ian turned around, shoving the key in his back pocket, and headed down the stairs. Yeah, it was time to leave. Get rid of the last of the old life, because he was sure the hell ready for a new one.

When he reached his truck, Jurgen didn’t move to climb inside. Instead he reached out and gripped Ian’s shoulder too hard, pinching a nerve, but Ian didn’t let himself flinch.

Jurgen looked him straight in the eye. “You’re doing the right thing.”

Ian nodded, held there by Jurgen’s hand. “I am, yeah.”

“Gets you the hell away from the chief.”

Ian had to look away. “Yep.”

If Jurgen didn’t stop the personal sharing shit, Ian might have to rethink the moving near him thing.

Oh, wait. He was supposed to practice expressing his emotions now. He shoved his hands in his pockets and cleared his throat. “Yeah, uh . . . It was stupid, you know? The accident. But I guess it kind of straightened out my priorities.” He stepped back from Jurgen, until his hand fell off Ian’s shoulder.

Jurgen tipped his chin at Ian and turned toward the passenger door of the truck. That must have been enough bonding time for Jurgen. And thank God, it hadn’t even been that hard. He could do this; all of it. No more being a firefighter, no more telling his dad he sometimes dated women, “just to make sure.”

Yeah, the previous thirty-odd years hadn’t worked out so well, but now he was pretty much free of that old life. Next step was to figure out what the fuck it was he actually did want out of the world. How hard could it be?

Chapter 2

Sam took a shortcut through a park located smack between the campus bookstore and his place, walking all over leaf-strewn grass he probably shouldn’t have, clutching the book he’d hidden under his plaid shirt-jacket. He just needed to get to his apartment before he saw someone he knew.

If he ran into someone he knew, they’d expect him to stop and talk, because that’s the kind of guy he was: the smiley, friendly, talky kind. Then, because he didn’t have his backpack—mental note, bring backpack next time—they’d want to know what he was clutching away so furtively, guiltily, under his jacket. And—in spite of aspiring to an MFA in writing—he could never seem to come up with a plausible lie in truly dire situations.

At which point he’d have to make a break for it. Dammit, he was wearing those cool lumberjack boots he’d bought the last time he’d visited Nik in Whitetail Rock, and—newsflash—they sucked for running.

They looked good with plaid shirt-jackets, though.

A shouted “Hey!” interrupted his riotous thoughts.

He knew, he just knew, they were shouting at him. And he had a romance novel hidden under his shirt. A romance novel with a lurid cover featuring a bare-chested, kilt-wearing man on horseback, clutching a saloon-girl-cum-fair-maiden to his brawny chest.

“Hey! Get the hell off the field!”

Crap. Sam ran, hunching to protect the book, stumbling in an ungainly sideways sort of run.

He looked back over his shoulder. A whole pack of brawny Highlanders was chasing him. Sure, they had jeans on, and only some of them were bare-chested, but they all had that meaner-than-hell-Scot look in their eyes. It wouldn’t have surprised Sam in the least if their knobby-yet-manly knees had been flashing under yards of plaid.

The leader of the clan made Robert the Bruce look like a little nellie boy. He was tall, thickly muscled, and light haired, with scruff Sam could see from ten yards away while running and looking backward over his shoulder. He had one of those brows that bordered on hairy Neanderthal, but somehow looked macho and sexy. His mouth was open, screaming some kind of battle cry, and he was gaining on Sam. Reaching out to grab him.

Sam slowed, considering the merits of letting the sexy Highlander catch him. Then his self-preservation instinct kicked in. He faced forward, clutched the book tighter, and put on some speed.

That was when some projectile clocked him in the back of the head. It nearly sent him into a somersault. His legs couldn’t keep up with the forward momentum of his upper body. His knees gave and he pitched forward, throwing out his hands to catch himself.

Which was, of course, when he lost his grip on the book and dropped it. Actually, it was more of a fling than a drop. Sam lay there, cheek on the cold, damp autumnal grass, front getting soaked with dew, stunned and blinking at his book a few feet in front of him. Verdant, his brain supplied. Your romance novel is lying in a verdant field of grass, longing for its reader. A weird-looking, snub-nosed white football wobbled its way into his field of vision and came to a rocking halt.

Knees dropped onto the grass next to his head, jolting him. Sam strained his eyeballs upward and saw the brawny, shirtless Highlander who’d been leading the pack panting and scowling down at him. His sexy faux-Highlander muscles were straining and his chest was rising and falling rapidly. He had a veritable forest of caramel chest hair.

He made the best living, breathing (panting) romance novel cover Sam had ever seen. Macho and manly and stern and, oh man. Sam sighed. Guys like this were never gay. They were always the ones chasing the homos.

At that point it occurred to him to wonder why they’d been chasing him. “What are you doing?” he gurgled. His sluggish brain suddenly started calling out the anxiety attack.

The guy panted a couple of breaths before growling, “Playing smear-the-queer. Waddaya think? We’re playing rugby!” He huffed derisively, then turned away. Sam saw him reach for the football, his hand hesitating over the book.

Oh, fuck my life. Sam scrunched his eyes shut. Other feet pounded up around him, and voices asked if he was all right and What the fuck? Sam held his breath, waiting for the shaming to begin.

When he felt something shoved roughly under his side, his eyes popped open, and he looked into the smiling, patronizing face of the Highlander. His fingers brushed against Sam’s ribcage as he pulled his hand away.

Sam smiled tentatively. The Highlander shook his head in disgust, except he was smiling, just a little. “You all right?” he asked.

“Uh. Yeah.” Sam stared dumbly. Was that a chorus of angels he heard? The sounds of the other players faded away as Sam met his Highlander’s mossy green eyes. He felt a something lock into place inside his chest. Click.

Twue wuv.

It appeared to be a one-sided revelation.

His Highlander gazed back at him with some emotion in his eyes. It was . . . confusion. Confusion quickly becoming something more like condescension. He lifted his hand, still on his knees in the grass beside Sam, reaching for him as if in slow motion. Sam realized with horror that the Highlander was going to give him a conciliatory pat on the head and then stand up and walk away. Didn’t he feel the click, too? How completely unfair that Sam should know instantly that this man was his destiny, but his stupid Highlander had no clue.

Poor, naïve hero. He wouldn’t know what hit him when he finally fell in love. Sam almost felt sorry for him. Almost. It was hard to feel sorry for some bastard who was about to pat your head and dismiss you, soul mate or not.

“Ian!” One of his Highlander’s clan, um, teammates was suddenly standing there, shaking the Highlander’s shoulder.

Ian. His name is Ian. Sam sighed.

The Highlander—Ian—dropped his hand and looked away from Sam. “Yeah?”

“C’mon, man, you gonna play or what?”

Ian looked back at Sam for a second. “Yeah. Just give me a minute.” The guys on the team started to wander away while Ian reached again for Sam.

At first Sam thought he was going to get the head pat after all, but Ian held out his hand, palm up. As if he wanted Sam to take it.

Sam stared at the hand a second, then looked back up at Ian. He was an ideal romance novel hero, in Sam’s humble (yet well-read) opinion. All those muscles and that curly hair on his chest. Sprinkles of gold above his nipples, thicker on his massive, blocky pectorals. Who knew blocky was so hot? Guh. The hair, though. Sublime. Thinner on the sides but growing in toward his center, a line of it defining his sternum, swirling around his navel, arrowing toward his groin. Happy trails to you . . .

Ian snorted out a laugh, and Sam jerked his head off the ground. Ian was laughing at him, one side of his mouth curled up.

Oops. Sam might have let the ogling get out of control.

“You need help getting up, or what? C’mon, we wanna play.” In a lower voice, he added, “Put your eyes back in your head.”

Oh. Sam felt his face get hot as he reached out and took Ian’s hand. The way this was going, it would be his only chance to touch his Highlander. Ian pulled him up so fast, he went from prone to standing with no stops in between.

“Jeez, you’re strong.” And you, Sam, are a conversational reject.

Ian just snorted that laugh again and looked at him. Standing, they were about the same height. That was kind of unusual. It made Sam’s insides clench.

“You all right, kid?”

Kid?Oh! A pet name. “Um, yeah, think so.”

“Let me see your eyes,” he said, getting in Sam’s face. Sam swallowed and held his breath while Ian scrutinized him carefully for something. Studying his eyes. They were his best feature, which wasn’t saying much in his opinion. He’d never had someone pay quite this much attention to them, though. “Yeah,” Ian muttered. “Same size.”

“Uh . . .?”

“Your pupils. That ball hit you pretty hard. You might want to go to urgent care and get your head checked out, but you look all right to me.” Ian shrugged, then added, “Not that I’m a professional.”

“Oh.” Sparkling small talk, there. “Um, my name’s Sam.”

Ian looked smirky, but held out a hand for him to shake. “Ian.”

“Yeah, I caught that. Um, you know . . .” The blood started pounding in Sam’s ears. Was he really doing this? He pretty much had to; it was the job of any successful romance protagonist. Sam wanted to be a successful romance protagonist, especially in this particular plotline. “Why don’t you let me buy you a cup of coffee or something? Kind of a thank you.”

Saying thank you with coffee. All the best heroes did it.

Ian eyed Sam, suddenly cautious. “What makes you think I’d be into a date with a guy?”

The click. “Oh, uh . . . Straight guys don’t usually realize when I’m, you know, um . . . when I’m checking them out.” Sam waved at Ian’s naked, sculpted, hairy chest. Yum. “Or they get all, you know . . .” Sam bared his teeth and faux-growled instead of continuing.

You are such a dork.

“True that.” Ian looked away from Sam, crossing his arms over his chest. Oooh, veiny forearms, and biceps like citrus fruits. Sam stared, and Ian finally said in a low voice, “Listen, kid, you’re not really my type. Sorry, but . . .” He shrugged.

Sam’s stomach bottomed out. He couldn’t quite meet Ian’s eyes. “Oh, that’s not—I mean, I didn’t figure I was, just . . . I really wanted to say thank you.” Jesus, getting shot down was excruciating. It had never happened to him before. Probably because he’d never asked anyone out before.

It was unlikely he would in the future, either, based on this experience.

“There, you said it. You’re welcome. Now go get checked out. And don’t forget your book.” Ian looked back down on the ground, where the impression of Sam was still fresh in the grass. His romance novel lay about where his heart had been.

Sam felt his face go redder. He bent over and snatched up the book, tucking it into his jacket. “Thanks,” he mumbled, not looking at Ian. Shot down and humiliated. Twice.

Ian laughed shortly. It wasn’t a mean laugh, exactly. Just a sardonic one. “You’re welcome. Go on, Sam.” My name, he said my name. “And stay off the field from now on, okay?”

Sam watched him walk off. He only meant it to be a glance, but Ian’s back was mesmerizing. Yeah, he was sexy, but his skin was a mass of shiny smooth splotches mixed in with swirling scar tissue below his shoulder blades, all the way down, disappearing into his jeans. Three or four different shades of pink and tan. Parallel to his spine just above the small of his back was an incision scar. Dark brown and graphic, maybe five inches long.

Oh! My Highlander’s been wounded. A scarred man, looking for the one person who can help his heart heal.

Sam caught himself before he clutched his chest from the angst of it all. He was a fool. A geeky, not-very-attractive fool. A too-tall twink of a fool who didn’t get the time of day from hot muscle bears. If he were cute and small and blond (as opposed to towering, underweight, and bland), maybe Ian would want to tie him up and have his way. But Sam wasn’t.

He looked down sadly at his book, then covered the heroine’s face and most of her cleavage with his thumb and gazed at the Highlander beside her. He seemed so two-dimensional.

Duh.

Just you and me, buddy. You’re all the Highlander I’m gonna get.

“Hey, kid!” someone shouted. “Get the hell off the field!”

Dammit.

***

Ian wasn’t into pale, weak guys. Guys with no muscles and too-long, shaggy, wispy hair and blond eyelashes that disappeared unless they were in full sunlight. Long, coltish legs didn’t do it for him, either. The fuck were coltish legs, anyway? Other than too damn skinny.

Ian liked muscular, barrel-chested, built-like-a-fireplug guys. With dark hair and a five o’clock shadow at 10 a.m.

Most importantly, he liked guys who were shorter than him.

Didn’t he?

He shook his head at the memory of the kid making that awkward come-on. Maybe Ian had shot him down kind of hard, but you had to be cruel to be kind. And hell, he didn’t have time to try to figure this out, he had too much other stuff to work on.

Tierney calling out to him brought his attention back to the present. He broke into a jog to get back into the game.

Weird how he could still feel the imprint of the kid’s hand in his.

Chapter 3

Sam didn’t go to urgent care; he went to the cafeteria and got coffee. Then he sat down and stared off into various spaces, thinking.

Unrequited love. The bane of the romance novelist. Although it led to a hell of a lot of successful plots.

Actually, it wasn’t so much the bane of the romance novelist as the bread and butter.

Not a plot one wanted to undergo in one’s own life, though. It never seemed to work out quite the same way it did in books. Sam had a lifetime of experiences that told him that.

He was pretty sure he was supposed to want a guy like himself. An awkward, intellectual not-quite-twink who knew nothing about sports and everything about Proust. A guy who was skinny and washed out and maybe even soft-spoken (they couldn’t be alike in every way, after all). The kind of guy who was versatile in bed and didn’t have any domination or submission fantasies.

Okay, well, that part wouldn’t be much like him. Sam had plenty of kink-laden fantasies.

He’d tried to love a guy like that—a guy someone like him was supposed to love—when he first came out. Bryce had been in the same dorm Sam’s freshman year. He was tall and gangly (although not quite as much of either as Sam) and only mildly effeminate (making Bryce the butch one), with hair the same shade of bland as Sam’s, that color somewhere between blond and wet sand. Bryce was a philosophy major to Sam’s English. They’d been a matched set. Salt and pepper. Well, salt and salt, actually. Sea salt and iodized salt?

After about the third month, Sam realized he’d more or less forgotten Bryce’s existence for the past week. So he went down to Bryce’s room in a guilt-induced dither and knocked frantically on his door. Bryce took a while to answer, and when he finally did, the room was cloudy with pot smoke and there was a naked, stoned, African-American guy on Bryce’s bed. Bryce had a sheet wrapped around his hips, and not another scrap of fabric on.

What a relief.

Later, Bryce admitted he hadn’t set out to cheat on Sam. He’d just sort of forgotten he had a boyfriend. And that was before he’d smoked any of the other guy’s pot.

Overall, Bryce hadn’t been a bad experience, really. Not a good experience, either. Sort of just an experience. When Sam had lost his virginity to him, it was an awkward, slightly painful, but mostly boring ten minutes. Later he returned the favor.

Just the year before last, Sam had tried to love a guy who was the opposite of Bryce. Controlling and imposing. A little like Ian the Highlander, maybe—a little, teeny-tiny, infinitesimal bit.

Marley had dreads and was (gasp) shorter than Sam. He drank a couple six-packs a day, collected unemployment, and generally mooched off the world. He had the necessary domination fantasies, but he didn’t particularly care if Sam got off or enjoyed himself.

Not so successful for Sam, in the end.

In the future, Sam planned on loving guys who deserved to be loved by him. Preferably just one guy at a time. One he deserved to be loved by. He stared out the window of the cafeteria. The Highlander would make a nice candidate. Not that his scarred Highlander was interested.

Sigh. Unrequited love. Hello, old friend.

Fortunately, before Sam could go mooning off on his personal Fabio (just an expression, because Fabio? Shudder. That man’s hair looked like straw and his eyes were too close together), his cell rang. He looked down at it, and Nik’s cheesy grin glowed up at him.

Sam didn’t even think about not answering. He’d hardly seen Nik since last spring when Nik had graduated and moved to Whitetail Rock with Jurgen.

He really needed to talk to his best friend now.

“Hey,” he said.

Nik dispensed with greetings when he called Sam. He said it impeded his flow. “You remember when I told you about that Miller Harpe guy from town?”

“The guy with jungle fever?”

“Oh, that’s nice, Sam, very sensitive. He was just . . . sheltered. He’s not the stupid, ignorant redneck I thought he was. Well, he is kind of ignorant, but I’m planning on fixing that. I guess he’s still sort of a redneck, too, come to think of it. I’m not sure I can really do much about that, but I can help him with the gay thing.”

“He’s gay?”

“Keep up, Sam. Yes, he’s gay. The fact that he came around while I was in high school trying to get me to pop his cherry was my first clue.”

“There’s no reason to be a bitch about it.”

“Sorry.” Nik actually sounded it, too. He really had changed since he’d met Jurgen.

“It’s okay. You weren’t, exactly. So you’re calling me because of something to do with this guy, Miller?”

“How astute of you.” Clearly, Nik still had a few rough edges Jurgen hadn’t managed to smooth. “Yes, I have a plan.”

“A plan,” Sam repeated slowly.

“Yes.”

“Huh.”

Nik sighed into the silence. “I’m going to introduce him to suitable gay men. It’ll be sort of like a gay Big Brothers program. Shepherding him through the world of queerness until he can survive on his own. Until he can find someone else to shelter him.”

For a few seconds, Sam was speechless. “What, like you want to help him catch a husband?” How come Nik didn’t feel the need to help him catch a husband?

“No! Like I want to help him get a life. A gay life, maybe a little action. You know.”

Sam’s feathers unruffled. Ah. Nik had tried doing that for him. Not such a successful plan, all things considered. “Nik, do you remember when you introduced me to Marl—”

“Anyway,” Nik said loudly. Sam had to hold the phone away from his ear for a second. “I’m not getting a lot of support from my boyfriend. But I knew you would support me.”

He heard Jurgen’s voice indistinctly in the background, then Nik practically yelled in his ear, “I am not forming up a branch of the Gay Scouts!” Then a slamming door. Then Nik giggling softly. “The big, dumb asshole. He’s so cute,” he whispered. “Do you think he’d give me a badge for woodcraft?”

“Are you in the closet again?”

What? I’ve never been in the closet.”

Sam did his best to keep his voice calm and level. “Did you slam yourself into the hall closet in a huff and are you currently standing there talking on the phone to me? Again?”

There was a long pause. Nik cleared his throat. “Yes.”

Sam sighed and let it speak for him. Non-verbal communication often got his point across with Nik better than a thousand-word essay would. After he’d judged it effective—he could almost hear Nik squirm—he went on to his next point. “You know, this good deed stuff seems unlike you.”

“Being in love has made me a better person,” Nik snapped. “Are you in or not?”

Sam screwed up one eye, thinking it over. “I don’t know, what are the details of your scheme?”

“Well, my plan is to invite Miller to our housewarming party and introduce him to the single gay men on hand.” Nik and Jurgen had recently bought a house together after Nik had landed an adjunct position at Cindercone Community College.

Sam nodded slowly. He could probably mitigate more damage by being on scene and pretending to be on board. “Fine. I’ll help you. When’s our first scout meeting?”

“As soon as we can figure it out. I’ll come up this weekend, maybe. Jurgen can go off and have a beer-date with his cousin, and it’ll just be us girls.”

Sam didn’t tell Nik about Ian the Highlander. Instead, he let Nik distract himself—and Sam—with a discussion of plans for the housewarming/introduce-Miller-to-suitable-men party. It was just too embarrassing, and he felt a little too raw. But as his conversation with Nik wound down, the adrenaline crash hit him.

I asked a guy out. And I got shot down in flames.

After saying goodbye to Nik, Sam was forced to put his head between his knees and breathe evenly to keep from fainting. He clasped his hands behind his neck, feeling the bumps on his spine rub against his fingers and trying not to think about how big a freak he must have seemed to Ian the Highlander.

Sam was a dorky, skinny, pale, unmuscled kid who’d tried to hit on a guy so far out of his league that Ian couldn’t see Sam due to the curvature of the Earth.

Sam thought about not telling Nik at all, but in the end he bought a bottle of chardonnay and planned on confessing all when Nik came up for the weekend. It was the kind of humiliation that must be shared in person over fermented fruit.

Chapter 4

Driving to Nik and Jurgen’s from the city, Ian tried to remember the last party he’d been to. It was the one his oldest brother’s wife had thrown for him to welcome him back into the bosom of his family when he’d gotten out of the hospital. He’d been so hopped up on pain meds he barely remembered it, and he could have done without the loving family act in the first place.

Tonight’s party would be a different thing altogether. Jurgen had invited him to stay, assuming Ian wouldn’t be in any shape to drive an hour and a half home afterward.

He nearly drove off the road when it hit him that he could get laid now.

I could fuck something other than my hand.

Couldn’t he?

In his ongoing effort to figure out his life since The Accident that had Changed Everything, he’d committed to not having casual sex. It’d been his idea, and so far it hadn’t been that hard. The last seven months had been all about physical therapy, rehab, and “working on” his psyche. The months before that had pretty much been about pain.

But now . . . He had a new job, he was fully functional physically (he crossed himself and sent up a quick thought heavenward in thanks for that), and he finally didn’t have any physical limitations. Not even any pain. He’d played rugby the last two weeks. He could totally fuck some willing guy. He just needed the willing guy.

Ian firmed his grip on the steering wheel. Tonight would be all about his dick, and he refused to feel bad about it. He was going non-committal, just for this one party.

***

When Jurgen opened the door for him, Ian stepped in and took stock of the men around him. Hell, he could even afford to be picky. It was a large party, and loud. Reminiscent of keggers from college. Which was weird, because he hadn’t thought Jurgen’s boyfriend was the type, but Nik had planned the whole party.

There were a hell of a lot of men on tap. Guys in tight jeans and loose jeans. Cowboy types, cop types, and bear types, with an even mix of the hippie type and the twink type. Ian overlooked the twinks, but stared at the rest of the man buffet.

Jurgen must have read something in his face, because he greeted Ian with, “Nik got lube and condoms for party favors.” Then he led the way to the guest room, while Ian grabbed some party favors from a convenient candy dish.

“Hey, there’s a bag on the bed,” he said when he set his own pack down. It was a backpack like his, but that was pretty much where the similarity ended. His was in good condition, solid black, high-denier Cordura, able to take rough travel. The one on the bed was faded dark purple with fraying seams and a broken zipper. It looked so much like a college kid’s backpack that Ian half expected it to weigh fifty pounds with books. But it was light when he hefted it, and it was stuffed so full of something soft and shapeless it looked like it would explode if it wasn’t handled gently. Probably clothes.

“Must be Sam’s,” Jurgen said, and the weird note in his voice made Ian raise a brow and look around. Jurgen was frowning at the pack in Ian’s hand. “Nik must’ve told him he could stay, too.”

Ian smiled. “Guess you picked out my playmate already?”

Jurgen gave him a level look. “No,” he barked. Then he caught himself and ran a hand through his hair, all quarter-inch of it. “Don’t mess with Sam.”

Ian got the message. Jurgen was the first person in the family who knew about him. Knew about that drunken night when he was nineteen and had stumbled into a bathroom stall in the basement of Cambridge Hall. When he’d stuck his dick through a hole in the wall and had his whole world rocked by the feel of a scratchy chin on his balls and some very masculine grunts coaxing the cum right out of him.

It was some damn college prank gone wrong. Ian had gone in a lukewarm straight guy and come out confused and horny as shit. It took him seven years to admit he liked fucking guys more than women. Liked it a lot more, if he felt like being honest. As in, if he never fucked a woman again? Eh. Never fucked a man again? His balls curled up and cried like babies at the very thought.

Jurgen had talked him off the wall lots of times during the last fourteen years. Jurgen had even supported him through his one real attempt at dating a woman even though he’d totally disapproved at the same time. So if he wanted Ian to keep away from some guy, Ian would stay away. There were lots of men here. He could take his pick.

He wasn’t likely to get stuck on the guy, anyway. Never had before. He winced at the thought. He was supposed to be working on that.

“Let me move you into the other room. Though there’s a few boxes we haven’t unpacked in there, still.”

Ian shrugged. “Got a bed?”

“Yep.”

“Fine with me.” He lobbed the pack he was holding back onto the bed and picked up his own. “Lead the way.”

***

A pair of gray-blue eyes met Ian’s as he walked into the kitchen to rejoin the party. He recognized them—they were the eyes of the guy who’d interrupted the rugby game a couple weeks ago. Something about that whole scene had stayed with him, so Ian recognized the kid, even though the kid looked away immediately, his gaze skittering off like a mouse.

Sam.

Ian didn’t say hello or anything, but it was pretty obvious by the quick glances from under the guy’s lashes and the way he flushed when Ian looked at him that Sam recognized him. Twenty bucks said the kid wasn’t going to take the initiative and approach him. That was understandable, since Ian had been kind of a jerk to him, shooting him down so fast without giving him a chance. He wouldn’t talk to himself either.

Ever since he’d said that Sam wasn’t his type, he’d been thinking about it, and really, who was to say what he wanted anymore? Before, his preferences had been all about sex—Ian saw guy, guy was hot, Ian fucked guy, guy left as soon as possible after. He wanted to leave that stuff behind, right? Maybe he needed to, like, cultivate relationships with guys who he didn’t want to get naked with on sight.

Maybe guys he wanted to fuck after he thought about it awhile were a step in the right direction. And he’d thought about Sam a few times since that day on the rugby field. He just hadn’t expected to actually see him again.

If he was truthful, hooking up with Sam sounded kind of interesting.

But he didn’t make any moves, because he needed to feel out the situation first. So he just watched the kid occasionally. Right now, Sam was talking to Nik on the other side of the kitchen. Ian grabbed a beer and settled his butt back against the counter, next to Jurgen. Jurgen was in a conversation with some guys he didn’t know, and Ian took advantage of his relative social freedom to reconsider Sam.

Sam had long legs. Maybe they weren’t bulging with muscle, but they were long. Ian might have written the coltish legs thing off too quickly before. Legs like that might feel nice tangled up with his. A guy with Sam’s legs could probably hook his ankles behind Ian’s neck while Ian fucked him.

What kind of body hair did Sam have? Tough and springy, or was he one of those downy-haired guys? Maybe downy hair would be a nice change of pace.

He looked like he was barely legal. But he was obviously friends with Nik, so chances were he was of age, right?

Ian took another drink while watching him from across the room, over the heads of pretty much everyone. Yeah, they were both that tall. But where Ian was broad and muscular, the kid was skinny. “Lean” was probably a nicer word.

Ian licked a drop of beer from his lower lip, glancing at the kid’s face. Sam was watching his tongue. Staring at it. He swallowed, apparently mesmerized by Ian’s mouth. Slowly, Ian parted his lips. Sam swallowed again. Ian let his tongue sweep out, catching his lower lip and pulling it in, sinking his teeth into it.

He could actually see Sam’s breath speed up, his mouth falling open slightly, his own tongue mimicking Ian’s.

He looked up into Ian’s eyes and locked gazes with him, then flushed bright red. He turned around so fast he crashed into Nik, spilling wine on him.

Ian watched Sam get even more flustered, apologizing, wiping at Nik’s shirt with a hand. Nik rolled his eyes and pushed Sam’s hand away. Just before the kid fled the room, he gave Ian one last humiliated glance from under his lashes. When their eyes met again, he turned an even deeper shade of red.

The kid all but ran away. It wasn’t an orderly retreat, that was for sure. For a split-second, Ian thought about going after him. But what kind of comfort would he offer? He stayed put and watched Nik follow Sam out.

Okay, so Sam wasn’t his usual fare, but if he did make the effort and he got the kid into bed (or against the wall or whatever), how fast could he make him give it up? Would the kid spontaneously combust just from Ian touching him?

Hell. He had to stop thinking about it. He was getting wood. He hadn’t even decided for sure to pursue the kid. Sure, he was thinking about it, but . . .

Then Jurgen, who’d been talking to some other guys, leaned over and said, “That’s Sam.”

“Yeah.” Ian was still staring at the door the kid had disappeared through. “I know. I met him.”

Then he and Jurgen shared a moment of frozen silence while Ian put two and two together.

“Shit,” they said in perfect unison.

“Let me introduce you to Dave,” Jurgen continued.

Ian nodded slowly. “Yeah. Do that.”

Chapter 5

“What in the hell was that about?” Nik asked when he found Sam hiding in his bedroom. He shut the door and walked over to his dresser.

“He was watching me,” Sam explained.

“Who was watching you?” Nik asked, digging through a drawer.

The Highlander. “That guy. Jurgen’s cousin, Ian.”

Nik looked up, his mouth forming a perfect “o” of surprise. “That’s a good thing, right?” he asked slowly. He pulled a royal blue shirt out of the drawer, not looking at it but at Sam.

“I don’t knoooow.” That was close to a wail. Sam tried to bring it down a notch. “I don’t think I’m his type.”

“Type, schmype.” Nik flapped a hand at him. “He was watching you.” Nik started paying attention to unbuttoning his wine-soaked shirt.

Sam swallowed and took a calming breath. “I might have been ogling him. A little. He might have noticed.”

“Every guy here is ogling him,” Nik said, disgruntled. Understandable: he was used to people ogling his boyfriend. It was a point of pride with him, even if he wouldn’t admit it. No matter how much Sam pushed him to. “You’re just one of the herd.” Nik looked disgustedly at the dirty shirt now in his hand, then threw it toward the bathroom door. Sam watched it sail past a stripper pole he’d just noticed.

Don’t ask. “You guys put in a stripper pole?” D’oh!

Nik smiled, sighing dreamily. “Yeah.” He gazed affectionately at the shiny brass pole, then shook his head and refocused on Sam. “So, what about Ian?”

Another calming breath. “Do you remember when I told you about, um, the guy I asked out?”

“Your future husband?” Nik’s eyes got big. So had his voice. He stopped in the middle of pulling on his new shirt.

“Be quiet! I didn’t mean that husband thing. I was drunk.”

“Yes you did. So, what you aren’t saying is . . .” Nik raised a brow, looking delighted. Slowly buttoning his new shirt.

Sam started a sort of horrified nodding. “It was Ian.” Nik nodded in unison with him, but in a far less horrified way.

“So maybe, if you watched him back . . .” Nik waggled his brows. It was completely out of character for him.

Sam stared a few seconds before blurting, “He was checking me out. I think.”

There was that “o” of surprise again. “What did you do?” Nik asked excitedly.

“I bumped into you and spilled wine down your front.”

Nik looked at him.

Sam looked at Nik.

“I guess you could have been smoother,” Nik finally said, looking far less delighted. He finished buttoning his shirt and planted his hands on his hips. Thinking.

“I guess I could have.”

“Okay. Don’t worry. I’m going to help you.” Nik whirled around and marched out of the room with purpose.

Oh no.

“I’m really not sure this is a situation that can be helped,” Sam called after him, already knowing it was pointless.

Nik’s idea of helping Sam turned out to be butting in on any conversation Ian had with any gay single guy at the party. Especially Dave Blaylock. Nik still had a few issues with Dave having dated Jurgen, even though he laughed and pretended otherwise whenever Sam brought it up.

Nik got on Dave like a hawk on a mouse. A very small hawk on a very big mouse. A mouse completely unconcerned with any size disparity.

Ian and Dave were sitting on the couch, nursing beers and talking. Sam lurked near a doorway, holding up the wall and looking nonchalant (he doubted), studiously not watching them out of the corner of his eye. He noted with satisfaction that Ian hadn’t smiled at Dave once. Or laughed. Sam had made Ian smile and laugh when they’d first met.

It didn’t really matter that Ian had been smiling and laughing at him rather than with him, right?

Sam’s thoughts were interrupted when Nik insisted on sitting between Dave and Ian. He started chattering, his simpleton smile on his face. Sam watched Nik a minute, and then his eyes drifted back to Ian.

Ian was watching him. Smiling a slight, sort of smug smile.

This is your chance. Smile back.

Sam felt his face flush red, then he looked at the floor and slunk out of the room. God he was suave, wasn’t he? He hid in the little hall between the living room and the bedrooms, right off the kitchen. It was deserted for now, but party sounds surrounded him.

“Where’s Nik?” Jurgen’s voice behind him startled Sam into almost jumping.

He whirled to face Jurgen, instead. “Talking to the guests.”

Jurgen narrowed his eyes slightly. “Is he talking to Ian again?”

Was Jurgen jealous? It didn’t seem possible, but why else would he care? Sam nodded, trying to figure it out.

“Why is he trying to cock block Ian?” Jurgen’s voice was low and compelling.

Sam had sudden sympathy for suspects Jurgen might question. But . . . cock block? Really? “I don’t know?” It was kind of true. He didn’t know why Nik was bothering.

Jurgen crossed his arms over his chest. “Sam, stay away from Ian.”

“What?” Like Sam should stay upwind of him, or something more along the lines of “don’t let him stick his dick in you”?

“He’s not your type. He’s a manwhore. He’s more likely to fuck you than date you. You deserve better than that.”

“Uh . . .” Wait, wasn’t Jurgen Ian’s cousin? “I do? I mean, I know, but it’s kinda weird—”

“He’s not ‘relationship material.’”

“He’s my future husband.” Did I say that out loud? Sam clapped a belated hand over his mouth.

Jurgen stared at him a minute before dropping his forehead into his palm, growling to himself and massaging his temples. “Ian’s no one’s future husband.” Jurgen pulled his head up wearily. “He’s got . . . the fuck are those ‘issues’ again? Nik’s always going on about them.”

Sam dropped his hand from his mouth. “Commitment issues?” Nik had issues with commitment issues.

Jurgen snapped his fingers. “Commitment issues. He’d use you, Sam. He’ll force himself to find some suitable woman and start producing children any year now, and he’ll still be fucking guys on the side.”

Sam gaped. “Seriously?”

Jurgen rolled his eyes. “Probably not,” he admitted, then made a face like he’d licked a toad. “But he might. I’ve seen him try to do it before. And if he does, you don’t want to be his convenient fuck on the side.”

Reformed rakes make the best husbands. Sam managed to stop himself from blurting that out.

Jurgen gave him a long, silent look. Then he sighed. “Fine.” He turned and walked away down the hall.

General Details

Word Count: 80,500

Page Count: 315

Cover By: L.C. Chase

Series: Romancelandia

Audio Edition

You can buy this title at:

Audible, Amazon, iTunes
Translated Edition

You can buy this title at:

Italian - Amazon
Ebook Details

ISBN: 978-1-937551-84-1

Release Date: 01/12/2013

Price: $3.99

Print Details

ISBN: 978-1-937551-85-8

Release Date: 01/14/2013

Price: $14.39