Poster Boy (A Theta Alpha Gamma Novel)
This title is part of the Theta Alpha Gamma universe.
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It's all fun and games until someone puts his heart out.
After being outed to his hockey team and then changing schools, Jock figures he’s due for something good—like the sex he missed out on in the closet. Toby, the hot grad student he meets at a frat party, seems like a great place to start, and their night together is an awesome introduction to the fine art of hooking up.
Toby’s heart takes a bruising after the near-perfect experience with Jock leads to . . . nothing. He’s been left on the outside as his friends pair up into blissful coupledom, and he’s in danger of never completing (or starting) his thesis. Can’t something go right?
Then Toby’s coerced into chaperoning a Theta Alpha Gamma trip to France. Not that he’s complaining. What better place to finish his thesis and get over that frat boy? Except Jock’s outing is leaked to the press, turning him into an unwilling gay rights martyr, and he decides France would be a great escape, too. It’s a break from reality for both guys, but they soon find their connection is as real as it gets.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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“So . . .” Toby began, balancing his beer cap on the side of his index finger before flicking it toward the trash can with his thumb. The idea was to get the thing in the garbage, but he failed. Failure was totally his oeuvre lately. “What’s the gossip?”
“You’d better clean that up,” Sebastian said. “Brad won’t appreciate it if he finds it on the floor.”
As Toby picked up his offensive litter, he couldn’t help the small snipe that slipped out: “He’s got you trained well, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, he does,” Sebastian agreed mildly.
“Sorry.” Toby returned to rest his butt on the kitchen counter next to his friend’s. “That was uncalled for.”
“It seemed a bit out of character for you.” Sebastian tipped his bottle up for a swallow, eyes on the social activity in his kitchen. “I was under the impression you approved of my relationship with him.”
“You know I do. I’ve just been feeling . . .” Left out. “On edge lately.”
“Your thesis isn’t coming along well?”
Gah. Thesis. Shudder. “What would make you think that?” Had Sebastian been spying on him? With as much time as the dude spent working on his thesis, it would seem impossible for him to keep tabs on Toby.
“Because you avoid the subject at all costs.”
It was only circumstantial evidence, but Toby didn’t bother trying to refute it. “I’ll have you know I sometimes lie awake half the night worrying about writing my thesis.” Not much of a defense, but he couldn’t help it—the writing of a thesis took inspiration, and lately he’d been feeling uninspired.
Clearly, lack of motivation wasn’t a problem for Sebastian or their friend Paul. The few times he’d hung out with them this academic year, Toby’d seen how obsessed they were with finishing their master’s degrees and immediately got hung up in worrying about how obsessed he wasn’t. If they weren’t so busy with their research already, he might have had to actively avoid them.
“Are you considering not finishing?” Sebastian asked, eyebrows inquiringly high.
Toby sighed. “I’m not going to drop out, I’m just . . . reevaluating my research so as to find the proper stimulus.”
“Procrastinating.” Sebastian nodded. “I see. Do you even want your master’s?”
“I don’t know.” He rubbed his forehead, trying to massage out a better answer. “I’m getting the degree for the usual reason: out of a sense of obligation to my mother.”
“You certainly fooled me,” Sebastian mused. “Up until this term, I thought you were getting the education for its own sake.”
“Nope, just an overdeveloped sense of duty.” He had wanted the education, though. When he’d been in Tarragona last summer, studying the basilica his thesis focused on, he’d been certain he’d tear through this last task. But once the school year began and he didn’t have the structure of a regular class load—either teaching or attending—he’d somehow found it harder to work on the thing. He’d barely managed a defensible thesis statement, and he certainly hadn’t managed to start defending it. “Actually, I was interested, but for some reason, having to prove the depth of my knowledge is, I don’t know, chafing now. So chafing, in fact,” he continued, turning to his friend, “that I’m going to change the subject. What have you heard recently about Theta Alpha Gamma House?”
Sebastian quirked his lips in that amused way he had. “You don’t want to go ask one of the frat boys currently in my living room?”
“No.” Toby waved the suggestion off. “You know how they are—they’re happy to come to these parties you and Brad have and drink the free booze, but the fratbros prefer this amicable separate-but-equal layout. TAG boys in the living room, gay boys in here.”
“Oh, they like to preserve the separation, do they?”
Toby decided to assume that was a rhetorical question.
“It’s not entirely segregated,” Sebastian pointed out. “Some of the fratkind have ventured onto our savannah, if you’ll notice. Kyle, for instance.” He gestured toward the Theta Alpha Gamma president in the opposite corner of the kitchen. Kyle was talking to two other TAG brothers, but one of them was Sebastian’s own boyfriend, Brad, who had the distinction of being both gay and a frat boy, therefore multiethnic, and possibly trans-species. Not to mention the catalyst for this weird social mix of frat boys and gay guys that had sprung up—somewhat like a fairy ring—on the Calapooya College campus.
“In spite of their accepting ways and their token gays, those frat boys are still most comfortable when we keep our distance. They’ll appreciate me getting my information from you, and God knows I’d prefer it.”
Sebastian tilted his head to one side, regarding Toby for a moment. “So what do you want to know?”
“Oh, tell me about the whole darned fratastrophe.”
Sebastian snorted a laugh. “Nice neologism.”
“Why thank you. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to use it.” Toby offered up his smuggest smile and rewarded himself with a swig of beer. “Actually, I’m up-to-date on the initial events. Collin stayed with me after the fire, and I was with him when Kyle called about the bomb the following morning. I just haven’t heard much since.”
It was the subsequent investigation he had no clue about. The things that had happened after Collin, his last single friend—the last guy who didn’t immediately think about his partner when Toby called to see if he wanted to hang out—had defected and gone over to the dark side. Joined the ranks of the leg-shackled. Fallen in love and renounced the single life.
Gotten himself a boyfriend, in other words. The fact that they’d had a friends-with-benefits agreement only added to Toby’s sense of loss. Not a major loss—Toby hadn’t been in love with the dude—but the loss of a good friend.
“Well,” Sebastian said, reminding Toby they were in the middle of a conversation. “I suppose you know they’re still investigating whether the fire was set by the same perpetrator who planted the bomb.”
“That’s more than I’ve heard,” he responded, the words slipping out before he could stop them. Not that they were horrible words, they simply sounded a little bitter. Or forlorn. Or utterly uninformed. “Do they have any idea of a motive yet?” It was the first question that popped into his head. He was all about changing the subject—or at least diverting attention from his lackluster mood—tonight.
“The current theory”—Sebastian gestured with his beer bottle—“is that TAG was targeted because of that new, gay-friendly membership policy.”
Toby stopped mid-drink to ask, “Really?” Although why was he surprised? History was full of people persecuting others for being queer or otherwise different.
Sebastian’s smile went sour, twisting down. “It’s Collin’s uncle’s theory, as it turns out. He’s president of the TAG alumni association and fought the policy change in the first place.”
“He’d have a stroke if Collin came out.” He knew all about Uncle Monty. The guy had his nephew totally under his thumb.
“Actually . . .” Sebastian held up a “point of order” finger. “As of Wednesday night, Collin is out. Not to his uncle, only the frat, yet still.”
Okay, that did it. Toby had been officially disenfranchised. He understood it; in the past, when he’d been in relationships, he’d done it unintentionally. But until this point in his life, he’d never felt quite so outside of things. It all left him feeling like the boy who couldn’t swim, so pretended he had something else to do while his friends all went to the pool.
Thank God he was a generally optimistic person, because otherwise this might really be getting him down.
He pulled out of his musings at the end of Sebastian’s explanation of Collin’s big reveal to the frat brothers. “Unintentionally, Tank outed him, but the only one who was surprised was Collin when he found out all the guys knew already.”
“Tank did it, huh? Interesting . . .” Tank was one of the TAG members truly comfortable with the gay boys. He’d even been in the kitchen earlier, socializing. Maybe it was because he was so utterly alpha male he didn’t feel threatened. “Collin did hang out with me quite often. It might have given the fratbros a clue.” Well, that and the dude was one of those guys who had to work at being butch.
“Collin and Eric first got together the night of the bombing, am I correct?”
“Yeah.” Toby took a swig from his beer, forcing himself to relax a couple of mysteriously tense muscles. Eric was clearly a better match for Collin than Toby had ever been, or ever thought to be. His convenient-sex relationship with his friend had died a natural death the night before, anyway; when Collin had come over to Toby’s place looking for “comfort,” it had become apparent very quickly that the coddling he needed had more to do with cuddling than with copulating.
“If I were a more sentimental sort,” Sebastian mused, eyes trained across the room on his boyfriend, “I might find the way they got together romantic.”
“I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you’ve become the sentimental sort.”
Sebastian didn’t try to deny it; instead he smiled as if he found himself amusing. “I have, haven’t I? To be honest, I recommend it.”
Toby chugged the rest of his beer before answering. “Well, I believe we’ve seen the last of the single gay frat boys. Guess I’m screwed.”
“I meant I recommend a relationship.” Sebastian took his eyes off of Brad for the first time in minutes and tilted his head toward Toby. “But since you brought it up, TAG has acquired another gay frat boy—Tank’s ‘little’ brother.”
Toby pictured the huge—albeit perfectly muscled—TAG member in question. “How little could a brother of Tank’s be?”
“Not very. Although he is shorter than him.”
Which could still make him tall enough to have to duck under doorjambs. “Is he as beefcake-calendar-worthy as his big brother?”
“Why yes, he is.” Sebastian smirked. “He’s also newly out.”
“Mmmmm.” Toby rocked back on his heels, thinking. Maybe this new frat boy would be interested in some explorations of the sexual kind.
“He’s possibly even virginal,” Sebastian added with a gleam in his eye. They knew each other’s proclivities well, after all. “Although not totally inexperienced. I know you have that predilection for the innocent young things.”
“You make me sound like a pedophile. And how do you know he’s not totally inexperienced?”
Sebastian’s playful amusement melted away. “Brad made me promise not to spread it, but the guy had a traumatic coming out. He was a starter on the Avalon College hockey team, and his coach received some irrefutable evidence of the guy’s orientation and kicked him off the team. He transferred to Calapooya a week into the term.”
“Well that utterly sucks,” Toby muttered.
Sebastian hmmmed an agreement, and they spent a silent minute or two letting the party happen around them while contemplating the unfairness of life.
At least, that’s what Toby was doing. Feeling sympathy and that other thing that often came along with it, sinking into his chest, hooking him like a hungry fish. Interest. Not necessarily attraction—he hadn’t even seen the kid (although if he was Tank’s brother, there was a better than average chance he was good-looking)—but the combination of inexperience and personal distress got him every time. He was a sucker for a guy who needed some comfort. And Sebastian knew it.
He sighed. Not in resignation, more in acceptance of his nature. “I’m probably going to take one look at him and want him, aren’t I?”
Sebastian’s amused smirk had returned. “I’d lay money on it.”
“This party is kind of a sausage fest,” one of Jock’s new frat brothers said to another. Jock squinted up at them from the chair he’d claimed in Brad’s living room and tried to remember their names. The dude on the left was easy—it was Jules, the TAG secretary. But the other guy . . . either Turbo or Flounder. He didn’t have them straightened out yet.
“You must feel right at home,” Turbo/Flounder said to Jules, cluing Jock in. Definitely Turbo—only a week at the frat and Jock had already figured out that guy liked to mess with Julian.
“Oh, uh . . .” Jock waited to hear what weak comeback Jules would come up with. “No offense.”
Oh yeah, totally lame. Didn’t even make sense. Neither did the way he was looking at Jock . . . Unless the “no offense” comment had been directed at him?
“You know,” Jules fumbled, obviously speaking to Jock, now. “There’s nothing wrong with, well, sausage fests. I mean, you know, parties where there are lots of penises. Um . . .” He turned bright red while Jock just stared at him.
“Why would I be offended by that?” Jock finally asked. He had to say something, because he knew how easy it was to intimidate with a stare. He’d honed it to instinct at this point, and Jules’s fidgeting was a sure sign that Jock was glaring at him like an opposing teammate.
Turbo shifted, clearing his throat. “Ignore him, man. He’s just freaking because you’re gay and he thinks he needs to treat you differently or something. You know, ‘be sensitive.’”
Jock should probably be appreciative that Turbo at least tried not to be a dork, too, but the flare of annoyance in his gut wouldn’t let him shut up. “You guys can stop being all careful around me anytime now.”
“It’s not because you’re gay,” Jules protested, throwing a glare Turbo’s way before turning back to Jock. “It’s what you went through because you’re gay.”
Fuck me. Jock rubbed at the throbbing that had started in his temple. “Seriously, can we not talk about it?” Maybe playing on their delicate fucking sensitivities would shut Jules up.
“Oh, yeah, totally.” Jules assured him, waving his palm in Jock’s face. “We can not talk about it ever. I mean, we want you to be comfortable, you know? And if not talking about what happened makes you comfortable, we can not mention it, like, forever.”
Turbo was shaking his head in disgust, but Jock’s thoughts went down a more violent path—picturing his fist pounding Jules’s skull until the dude’s brains leaked out his ears.
“We’re here!” a female voice sang out just then, saving Jules from imminent death. “The party can start.” It was Ashley—Kyle’s girlfriend, who he’d met a couple days before—and a bunch of her friends. Sorority sisters? Whatever, there was a gaggle of them already, and more coming in the door.
“Sweet,” Jules crowed, voice cracking. “The babes are here. I dunno about you,” he said to Turbo, “But I’m not sleeping alone tonight.” Then he was gone.
“He’s sleeping alone the rest of his life unless he gets a clue,” Jock said.
“Word,” Turbo agreed, holding his fist out for a bump. Jock obliged, and for possibly the first time since he got to TAG, he had a moment where he felt as if he belonged. Then Turbo went off to talk to some chick, and Jock went back to being the village queer or whatever he was to these guys.
“Dude!” Ricky shouted, drawing Jock’s attention. Ricky’d broken his leg in the fraternity fire by falling down the stairs (Gomer said something about an exploding water heater, but Jock made it a policy to not believe half of what the guy said), and he was still in a wheelchair. He had the biggest cast Jock had ever seen, and it poked straight out in front of him like a battering ram. Ricky mostly used it like a cattle prod, moving people out of his way. And to punctuate his statements. “I’m telling you—they’re reopening registration just for us, all we gotta do is find a place to stay,” he said excitedly to the guys sitting on the couch.
Danny and Gomer were there. Jock didn’t know them that well yet, but he knew the third dude well enough: Noah, the sophomore who’d hinted around that he’d like to spend some alone time with Jock. So far Jock hadn’t taken him up on it. What was that saying about shitting in your own sandbox? Hooking up with a TAG dude had to be a bad idea.
As Jock was watching, Noah asked, “How’re we gonna find a place to stay in France?”
They were going to France?
Ricky bugged his eyes out at Noah, as if he was the stupidest creature on earth. “Not France. Provence.”
“Provence is in France,” Danny said.
“Are you sure?” Ricky asked, squinting suspiciously.
“Yo, Kyle!” Danny yelled over his shoulder toward the kitchen. “Kyle! Mr. President, sir!”
Kyle poked his head around the corner. “What?” He tapped his fingers on the doorjamb, looking around the room. “Which one of you said my name? What d’ya need?”
“Me.” Danny raised his hand. “Is Provence in France?”
Kyle did that slumping thing people did when they were annoyed. Then he rolled his eyes to make it more obvious. “Yes. It’s in France. Don’t ask me shit you can look up on your phone—that’s why they call them smart.” He disappeared from view before they could ask him more.
“See? Told ya,” Danny said, leaning over Gomer to get into Ricky’s face.
Noah pulled Danny back to his side of the couch. “Whatever,” he said, cutting off a comeback from Ricky. “How’re we gonna find a place to stay in France?”
Danny grinned, lifting his butt off the cushion and digging in his back pocket. “Duh. Ask our smartphones.”
“But we don’t know French,” Gomer said, brow wrinkling up. “Don’t you gotta know the language to do a term abroad?”
“Not for this program,” Ricky said, balancing on his back wheels and grinning like a maniac. “They’ll even give us credit for learning French.”
“I need language credits,” Gomer said. He dug his phone out of his pocket too. “Did you guys know English doesn’t count?”
Danny laughed at him and punched him in the arm. “Good one, man.”
Gomer blinked a few dozen times, then shrugged to himself and went back to his phone.
“Hey, man,” Danny said, leaning toward Jock to tap his knee. “You wanna go to Provence for spring term with us?”
Fuck no. “You guys are going to France? With who?”
“The international studies department. Or maybe foreign languages.” Danny screwed up his face. “Pretty sure it’s the first one, though. They’re gonna let us register later because of being homeless and all.”
“We aren’t homeless,” Noah said.
Danny ignored him. “Maybe getting the frat house blown up has a silver lining.”
“TAG House didn’t blow up, dude, it only caught on fire. It was just a bomb threat,” Ricky said, wheeling his chair closer to poke Danny with his cast. “And I lost my leg.”
Danny scowled at him when Ricky poked him with his very-much-present cast.
“Sounds cool, but I can’t guys,” Jock said, cutting off the inevitable argument about whether Ricky had actually lost a limb or not. “You go on and have fun without me though.” Maybe all the guys would go, and he’d have the frat to himself. That’d be so sweet. Peace.
Fucking Tank. Jock had joined this frat because his big brother, Tank, was a Theta Alpha Gamma brother, and Tank had really wanted Jock to join. Pretty much begged him. And since Jock had already fled Avalon and enrolled at Calapooya because his big brother was there . . . A lifetime of hero worship couldn’t be ignored.
In the time he’d been here, Jock had discovered a lifetime of hero worship couldn’t cancel out the anger he felt toward Tank. The anger he hadn’t even really copped to until he was with his brother all the time. Being with the frat guys brought it all into focus, almost too sharp a picture. They all knew he was gay because, before Jock had even met the dudes, Tank had fucking announced it last spring, months before he was outed to his hockey team.
In spite of everything Tank had done for him, Jock was having a hard time getting over that. Even knowing why Tank had done it and figuring out TAG was a safe place, it still gnawed at him. Like, made him prone to biting people’s heads off and imagining pounding Jules’s brains out of his ear canals. He usually didn’t have a hard time controlling his anger—fifteen years of hockey had trained him to keep his cool—but it had been unpredictable since he’d gotten here.
Longer than that, even—since before he’d gotten kicked off the team. Since Coach Schnigglehoeffer had his little rant over the You Can Play representative wanting to talk to the team about partnering with his pro-LGBT organization. The Dean of Athletics had made Coach give the guy his say, but Schnigglehoeffer had spent equal time afterward spouting off about homosexuality being “of the devil” and swearing he’d never had a “faggot” in his locker room and never would.
“I guarantee you’ve had a gay guy on your team, Coach. Probably more than one,” Jock had interrupted mid-rant, not even thinking it over, his voice dripping with contempt. That was it, wasn’t it? The moment he’d lost control over his anger. It was also the moment when Coach had put a target on his back.
“Bro,” Tank said from behind Jock, making him jump. Shit, he’d spaced out everything going on around him and gotten lost in his thoughts. Another thing he didn’t used to do much of. “C’mon into the kitchen and hang with us there,” Tank suggested.
Shit. He’d worked up a pretty strong aversion to the guy’s voice. Every time Tank spoke, Jock could swear the hair stood up on the back of his neck. He passed a hand over his nape, checking for bristling. He couldn’t tell—it was all too short to lie on his skin back there anyway.
“Jock,” Tank said louder.
Oh yeah, might’ve felt some hair jump there.
He hid his sigh and tilted his head up and back. “Yeah?”
“You’ll like the guys that hang out in the other room better.” Tank grimaced toward the couch, where one of the frat boys was spitting a loogy into someone’s unattended beer while typing into his phone.
“Why will I like them better?” Would his brother admit the real reason?
“’Cause I like them better than most of these guys.” He leaned his thigh against the back of Jock’s chair but kept his eyes on the guys in front of them.
Jock slouched further into his seat. “You just want me to come in there because those dudes are gay.” Tank thought that gay guys were his peeps. It wasn’t that Jock disagreed, it was just that all the overprotective crap from his brother lately made him want to have a little fit and roll around on the carpet with the dude, wrestling out some frustration. Make his brother understand he didn’t rate the sympathy.
Except Tank was huge—six and a half feet and mostly muscle, even bigger than Jock himself—and had always won matches when they were kids, and Jock knew for a fact that the rug at their feet was soaking with beer.
Tank’s heart’s in the right place. Or whatever.
“Sorta.” Tank nodded. “But we aren’t all gay. I’m in there and so’re Kyle and Ashley.”
Tank leaned closer to him, saying in his ear, “I don’t like seeing you mope out here.”
Jock clenched his teeth. This was why he’d moved out of Tank’s room at the frat—he was sick of being managed all the freaking time. “I’m not moping.”
“Yeah? So what are you doing?”
“Watching. And even if I was moping, I can if I want to.” He didn’t stick out his tongue, only stopping himself by taking a swig of his nearly forgotten beer. Ugh. He kinda hated the taste now, plus it was warm. He associated it too much with that night. The last party he’d gone to, come to think of it.
“I’m just looking out for my little brother,” Tank said quietly.
The guy was showing him more patience than he deserved. Jock took a second to try to find that objective, icy part of his mind, and got just enough. “Sorry, Beau,” he muttered, nudging the coffee table with the toe of his sneaker. Even though Tank hated it when Jock used that name, he also knew his brother would understand that’s what made it a sincere apology. “I’m just, I don’t know. Adjusting.”
Tank ruffled Jock’s hair. If he knew how much less guilty and more irritated it made his little brother, Tank wouldn’t do that shit. But Jock gritted his teeth and bore it.
“C’mon, bro. Let’s go into the kitchen. There are some people there you haven’t met.”
Jock looked over at his frat brothers again. Noah had his tongue clamped between his teeth, typing carefully into his phone, thumbs so huge and stubby it looked like he was trying to text via chicken wings. Ricky was doing wheelies, and Danny was throwing peanuts at Julian, while excitedly telling the guys, “Yeah, getting out of this country is a real opportunity to develop the Beer Terrorist Response Team away from, you know, prying eyes and all.”
Across the room, he could just hear Jules—talking way too loudly—telling some chick, “I’m a member of Mensa!” right before a flying nut hit him in the eye. As Jules shrieked and clawed at his face, the girl fled.
He probably did need to meet some new people. “Okay, lead the way.”
In the kitchen, Tank immediately got called over to answer some question of Kyle’s and didn’t introduce Jock to anyone. Which was fine with him. He trailed along behind his brother, then propped up a wall near—but not too near—the group Tank was now a part of and started scoping out the people in this room.
There were some guys he’d never met before, but they all looked older. More like Sebastian’s friends than his frat bother Brad’s. One guy looked kinda familiar, and Jock inspected him for few minutes (balding, blue eyes, linebacker build, bubble butt) before he remembered meeting the Calapooya softball coach. The coach was standing next to a Sebastian-type. Glasses, grad-student goatee, superior look on his face—he made Jock’s skin prickle in irritation from ten feet away. The way Coach Gardiner kept casually touching Sebastian-clone, they had to be a couple.
Okay, so that was kinda cool, that the softball coach was gay, too.
Whatever. He shoved that thought away, focusing on something else. Brad caught his eye. He was one of those dudes Jock had clicked with immediately. Not, like, romantically or whatever, but platonically. He’d only known the guy a week, but Jock trusted him more than anyone else in the frat, so he didn’t even try to deny it.
Brad was doing something over by the sink, and Sebastian was next to him, talking to someone else Jock didn’t know. Another mystery man. When that dude turned a little more toward him—in profile now—Jock’s skin prickled in a whole different way, sweeping down from his head, preparing him for something. Mystery Man leaned against the counter, legs crossed at his ankles. Relaxed and having a good time. Shortish wavy hair that looked black in this light, and deep, dark eyes with thick brows and lashes, plus a perfectly angled jaw with heavy stubble. His hands were stuffed in his jeans pockets, biceps relaxed but obvious under his short sleeved shirt, veins outlining and enhancing their shape.
There was nothing about him that was special in any way, as far as Jock could see, but still . . . there was something about him. Maybe it was that smile, or the expressiveness of his face, or the way a thin slice of pale skin with a few curly hairs was visible between the hem of his shirt and waistband of his jeans, but he totally caught Jock’s attention.
Maybe it’s because you’re horny, and he’s the only single gay guy in the room.
Then the dude laughed, head tilting back and neck stretching out, the sound rolling toward Jock and drenching him like a sneaker wave, and it didn’t matter what made him so attractive. Jock would give anything to run his teeth along the line of his throat, hearing that guy moan in his ear while Jock worked his fingers into his pants.
While Jock stood riveted, the mystery man’s conversation with Sebastian wound down. He began surveying the kitchen, turning to look at each grouping, each movement of his head making Jock’s neck tighten up a little more. He straightened from where he’d been leaning, trying to find a more comfortable position. Then Mystery Man’s gaze swept over Jock like headlights picking out an animal on the side of a road, halting there. When their eyes connected, it pinned him in place, heart banging against his breastbone, unable to move. Either trying to blend into the background or let the dude get a good look at him.
He did want to be noticed, didn’t he?
Mystery Man smiled, a very lazy, confident tilt of his lips, eyelids lowering. Jock swallowed.
Okay, if he wanted something to happen—yes, yes, I do—he should maybe give an answering smile. Before he could though, the guy’s eyes flickered down Jock’s body, cataloging him, making him tingle everywhere, and all Jock could do was sway, shoulder brushing the wall, trapped in some kind of sexual magnetic stasis field, blood rushing in his ears and an echo of his heartbeat in his dick. He could feel the gaze sliding down his neck and across his chest, following the contours of his torso. His lungs forced in a breath when the guy’s attention concentrated on his groin, lingering there a few seconds, then worked back up to Jock’s face.
Jock parted his lips to take in more air, and immediately the dude focused on them, his own nostrils flaring. He blinked once, slowly, then zeroed in on Jock’s eyes, quirking his brow.
Oh yeah. Whatever that eyebrow was asking, Jock was saying yes.
Not whatever he wants, his alarmist self chimed in, stopping him from responding immediately.
“Dude,” Brad said from right next to him, and Jock all but jumped, swinging his head around and breaking the connection with his mystery man. “Did you meet Toby?”
“Who’s Toby?” He blinked a few times, trying to clear his vision or his brain. Come back to reality after a major lust high.
“That guy eye-fucking you from across the room.”
Jock gaped. “How did you see that?”
Brad snorted but didn’t answer, other than crossing his arms over his chest.
Jock leaned closer, lowering his voice. “Tank didn’t catch that, did he?” His brother kept mistaking him for a virginal little sister and getting all protective. Tank would totally try to stop him from hooking up. If he decided to.
“No, but he’s not stupid, just straight. You keep it up and he’ll notice eventually.”
He glanced at the guy—Toby—again from under his lashes, but Toby had started another conversation with Sebastian, no longer watching him. “I don’t think he’s that interested,” he muttered. Lying.
Brad laughed. “Uh, yeah. He is.” He eyed Jock sideways a second before adding. “I don’t know what you’re looking for, but he gets around. I mean, he’s not really a player, but he kinda thinks he is.”
Jock cast another glance at Toby, and this time the dude was looking at him, locking onto his gaze and smiling. Jock held it for a second before glancing away. He couldn’t just not have sex for the rest of his life because of one bad experience, right? Gotta get back on that horse. He shifted his weight, then shifted back. “So, he’s not, like, trustworthy?” he asked Brad.
“Trustworthy?” Brad frowned. “I mean, he’s safe and all, and he doesn’t jerk guys around. I dunno, I could ask Sebastian, I guess.”
“Forget it,” Jock said quickly. “I’m being dumb.”
Brad shrugged his eyebrows but said, “If you just wanna get laid? He’s the dude to do it.”
Laid. Jock adjusted his shoulders, trying to loosen up his chest. He didn’t know Brad very well, but he had a gut feeling that when Brad got “laid,” he was the receptive partner. So . . . was that what he meant?
Fuck. Who did he ask about this shit? He’d thought Collin might be someone he could talk to, but that was a dead end. The guy was either with or thinking about his new boyfriend all the time. Jock shifted his weight, trying to figure out what to say next. He didn’t want to talk about that, but he did sorta . . .
Brad scratched behind his ear, then shoved his hands into his pockets. “When I first came out, I would have liked someone to talk to about it. I mean, I was kinda stupid—didn’t even figure it out until I was twenty-one—and then the only guy who knew was Sebastian, which was cool, but he was my boyfriend, or close enough at the time.” He snorted. “Then Ashley figured it out.”
Brad’s mouth twisted up in an unamused smile. “She was my girlfriend first.”
Jock felt his eyes widen, and tried to get them to be cool about it. They ignored him.
“Yeah.” Brad scratched again. “She’s good to talk to, but there’s tons of stuff I couldn’t tell her about—she wouldn’t’ve known the answers even if I’d wanted to ask her. Uh, so I guess I’m saying, if you want someone to talk to and Collin’s not a—”
“Have you ever been with anyone but Sebastian?” Jock squeezed his eyes shut, trying to unsee what he’d just asked or something useful like that. “Sorry, dude.”
Brad laughed. “No worries. Yeah, I’ve been with another guy, but . . . shit. It’s a long story, I’ll tell you some other time.” Brad gripped Jock’s shoulder when Jock started to say he didn’t need to know. “Seriously, I’ll tell you some other time, like, when it’s just you and me. It might help or something. I dunno.” Brad dropped his hand and straightened, glancing around the room.
Jock did the same, standing silently next to Brad a few seconds and letting the air pressure equalize or whatever needed to happen after a conversation like that. He studied Ashley, over talking with Kyle and Tank, trying to figure out if he’d ever have been able to date a girl. He’d never had to even fake it, because hockey kept him so busy he didn’t have time, or so he’d claimed. He’d slept with a few, just to be sure and to bolster his secret. But if he’d stayed at Avalon and tried to keep his closet door shut, how long would he have been able to go without finding a beard?
“Hey Brad, are you going to introduce me to your friend?” someone asked, and from the way heat flashed all over Jock’s body, he knew who it was before turning to see. And of course there stood the guy he’d half-hoped it wasn’t.
Brad smirked. “Sure, Toby. This is Jock.” He caught Jock’s eye a second, but Jock got totally distracted from whatever silent communication Brad was trying to make when Toby stuck out his hand, holding it inches from Jock’s belly, waiting for him to shake it.
It took him a second—he had to fight the urge to wipe any potential sweatiness off on his thigh first—before he put his palm against Toby’s and entered into a whole new kind of silent communication. A touch that soaked into his skin and spread nervous energy up his arm. “Um, hey,” he managed. Toby was shorter than him, about at Jock’s chin, but his shoulders were broader than Jock had expected.
Toby didn’t shake. Instead he held Jock’s hand, fingertips sliding up past the ball of Jock’s thumb to his inner wrist. Tapping out secret messages where Jock was especially sensitive. “Nice to meet you.”
Jock lifted his eyes, looking into Toby’s deep brown ones, connecting the two of them together like before, but with the added charge of skin-against-skin and Toby’s voice still echoing in his ear. Jock swallowed. “You too.”
Brad coughed. Well, or laughed. Jock dropped Toby’s hand immediately and shoved his in his pocket. Grinning, Brad hiked a thumb over his shoulder. “Um, hey, I better check and see if the guys in the living room need anything.”
Fuck. “You don’t need to—”
“Go right ahead, we’ll be fine here,” Toby said, smiling.
Well, that had been a pleasant thrill. Touching Jock had lived up to all of Toby’s hopes for an instant lust connection. It had been quite a while since he’d had this sort of immediate, bodily reaction to someone, and the thought of what could happen later nearly had him salivating.
Assuming Jock was into it. But why wouldn’t he be? He was male, it was sex, and he was clearly interested judging from the heat of their eye contact earlier.
Except the guy was utterly tongue-tied. He couldn’t meet Toby’s gaze for more than a second or two at a time, and he seemed almost scared. This’ll be a challenge, Toby’s libido whispered, rubbing its hands in anticipation—it did love the innocent young things. Toby reined himself in, ignoring the warm currents of attraction circulating in his belly and groin, fed by his proximity to this tall, built blond boy. Not blond, light brown.
He could do this. Ease this guy’s nerves now, and then later he could work them up again. Begin with small talk. He racked his brain for an innocuous conversation starter. All he could think of was what Sebastian had said about the guy, and none of that would ease either of their nerves.
Oh, except, “I understand you’re Collin’s roommate at TAG.”
Jock nodded, and was that a slight eye roll? Perplexing.
Possibly a subject change would yield more of a response. “So you’re new to Calapooya? You started at the beginning of winter term?” What would he ask next, What’s your major? If the guy didn’t take the bait soon, Toby might be reduced to commenting on his size. Jock didn’t stoop to hide his height, and his shoulders were straight and thrown back naturally, showing off a hell of an expanse of chest. His pecs filled out his T-shirt, but it wasn’t tight everywhere, not a check-me shirt, just a shirt. Toby’d kill to peel it off the kid. With his tongue.
Focus. Something was off. Years of doing the hookup dance with various guys told him that, but Toby couldn’t figure it out. He felt as if Jock was one of those optical illusions psychology professors tortured students with—was he looking at an old woman’s profile or a young woman turning her head away? He couldn’t get Jock’s body language to make sense, not until the guy tilted his chin, highlighting how tense the muscles in his neck were. Then the picture resolved itself. Jock wasn’t simply nervous, he was wary. Toby took a step back under the guise of leaning against the kitchen table and turned so they weren’t exactly facing each other. The response was immediate—Jock’s shoulders relaxed and his expression loosened up.
“I started winter term a week late,” he finally responded to the question Toby had forgotten he’d asked. He crossed his arms and focused on something to his right. “I had to leave my last school sort of unexpectedly.”
Oh, I know. Sympathy twanged one of his heartstrings. “Yeah, I might have heard something about that.”
Jock gave him a sidelong look, one side of his mouth twisting up. “I bet you did.” His smile grew—not into anything truly amused, but more in recognition of the humor in Toby’s cautious response.
Progress. “So, what do you think so far?”
“Of Calapooya College, or of Theta Alpha Gamma?” Jock focused on his feet, nudging the linoleum with the toe of his sneaker.
“Both, or either. Whichever you feel like answering.” He’d thought Jock was about to really loosen up, drop his defensive posture, turn to Toby, but something in what Toby had said had the opposite effect. Jock’s face went blank and he dropped his head further, jaw clenching.
“S’all right,” he said to the floor.
Toby had an urge to tilt Jock’s chin up with his fingers, but he knew that would only make the guy more skittish. He didn’t want to spook the kid, plus it would be much more satisfying to coax a welcoming, unguarded response from Jock through earning his trust. All the hottest hookups began with trust. And an off-the-charts lust connection.
Toby’s charm almost failed him, but a new conversational gambit presented itself just in time. One of the straight fratbros wandered into the kitchen. Jock’s attention was caught by the dude, and for a split second, Toby thought he was about to be dissed—that Jock would latch onto his TAG brother as an excuse to get out of this awkward tête-à-tête. But instead, Jock’s lips tightened up and he shifted, turning more toward Toby and away from the beer-seeking frat boy.
Ah-hah. “Sometimes I find myself hanging out with all these TAG guys and I wonder what rabbit hole I fell down.”
A short laugh burst out of Jock, and he grinned. Verrry nice dimple in that cheek. Just one? But by the time he’d turned fully toward Toby, the dimple had died down. Toby’d have to conduct some more research to determine the presence of other sexy-cute features on Jock’s person.
“Yeah, Theta Alpha Gamma has to be the weirdest frat on the planet. I mean, I only started college in the fall,” Jock said, shrugging one shoulder self-consciously. “But I was in a frat for a couple months at Avalon College—that’s where I went fall term—and it wasn’t anything like this. TAG’s like one of those old sitcoms they show on cable, with the canned laughter and the really cheesy jokes delivered by people with lower than average intelligence.” When he’d finished, Jock looked as surprised as Toby felt at how much he’d said.
Had to keep the ball rolling though. “You’re Tank’s little brother, correct? You two must be close if you joined the frat.”
“I guess.” Jock leaned closer, speaking out the side of his mouth while scoping out the room. “He’s making me bananas.”
Toby moved in toward Jock, well within the “friend” boundary, but more because he felt pulled there than by design. “If my brother lived within a few hundred miles of me, I’d kill myself. Or preferably him.”
“Is he older?” Jock turned his head, his pale blue eyes meeting Toby’s again, and in spite of the mundanity of their chitchat, Toby could feel that overwhelming attraction that had drawn him from across the room. A physical craving to get even closer.
When they hooked up, it would be fucking incendiary. If. If we hook up.
“Nate’s my twin, but he was born first, so I suppose the answer is yes.”
Jock’s face went slack in surprise, then he got that brow-tightening curious look people did when they wanted to ask but weren’t sure they should.
Toby smirked. “We aren’t identical.”
“Oh, so he’s not . . .”
“He’s not gay.”
The nerves resurfaced. Maybe it was the simple mention of “gay,” but Jock straightened upright fully, using their half-a-foot height difference to distance himself. He nodded, glancing around the room for a few silent seconds. Toby decided to see what Jock would do, if he would come up with something to say. Eventually he did. “I like my brother, but since all this shit happened, he’s acting like I’m, I dunno, his virginal little sister. He keeps trying to protect me. It’s wearing me out.” He dropped his arms, shoving his hands into his jeans.
And how virginal are we? was on the tip of Toby’s tongue, but it was beyond obvious Jock wasn’t that kind of flirty, casual hookup material. A guy like this took finesse. He was young and newly out. Just a fledgling gay.
My favorite. Toby’s lungs seized up at the prospect, then shuddered in a breath. “I have a similar situation with my brother. God knows why he thinks I need his guidance,” Toby said unthinkingly, focused on the physical, caught up in the renewed, eddying undercurrents of sex flowing through him.
“Your brother thinks you’re virginal?” Jock asked, dazzling Toby with his grin. Yes, two dimples, one in each cheek. “We might’ve just met, but even I can tell you’re into sins of the flesh.”
A laugh welled out of him, catching Toby unaware. “Um, no, he’s not delusional, just meddling.” He smiled, once more revising his estimation of the jock, Jock, in front of him. Definitely some kind of optical illusion, one that Toby couldn’t decipher yet, but he was motivated to try even harder. The kid had everything—he was inexperienced, struggling, and had a great personality. “I’m the poor grad student while he’s the well-paid career wonk. Apparently that entitles him to tell me how I’m wasting money. But not just money—the government’s money.” When Jock’s forehead wrinkled up, Toby explained. “He thinks my tuition is covered by grants and loans. I haven’t had the heart to tell him it’s mostly fellowships, and since Calapooya is a private school, it’s mostly private money.” He leaned closer, stretching up toward Jock to stage whisper, “Nate’s a Republican.”
“That’s, like, a sin against the grad student belief system, isn’t it? You win, your brother sucks worse.”
“I win,” Toby repeated, watching Jock’s lips curl up into an answering smile. He had Tom of Finland fantasy lips—full and pouty, but with very male angles. This kid was just smoking hot, and he was staring into Toby’s eyes, smile melting into something more intent and pupils widening. Toby reached out for him, running a hand along Jock’s forearm, downy hair giving way under his fingers. Jock’s lips parted, and Toby could hear the breath he took. Or maybe that was the air he’d sucked into his own lungs.
Then suddenly Jock jerked away from Toby’s touch and glanced around the room, face paling. As if they’d been caught doing something wrong and all eyes were on them. From that little touch?
It had gone completely silent, but not because everyone was staring at them. No, everyone was staring at the door, where the man of the hour was standing next to his shiny new boyfriend—Collin and Eric. The ensuing silence was broken after a few seconds by Collin pulling out the awkward turtle maneuver—stacking his hands on top of each other and twirling his thumbs—and then the happy couple began making the rounds. Toby wasn’t that interested—he’d already met Eric, and this weird trend toward domestic bliss among his friends was starting to irk him. He shook it off and refocused on Jock, hoping to pick up where they’d left off.
But judging by Jock’s expression, that wasn’t going to happen, not right away. “Shit,” the guy muttered.
“You don’t want to see Collin?” Toby inched forward, keeping their space intimate and conversation low in spite of Jock’s mood change. Hoping to recapture the previous connection.
Jock shrugged, mouth turning down. “It’s not that, it’s just everyone keeps checking on me. Like, they’re all making sure I’m not about to freak or something. Any second he’s gonna come over here and, like, inspect me.” He sighed. “I guess it’s better than Tank riding my ass.”
“They’re just worried, right?” He said it automatically, on sympathetic autopilot, but the words brought him up short and made him rethink. “I’d be annoyed too.” Okay, that he meant.
“Thanks,” Jock muttered. He was studying the floor again, drawing designs on it with the toe of his sneaker. His hands were shoved so far into his jeans pockets Toby thought they might be around his knees. He was the epitome of abject teenage angst.
This kid is so young.
Jock could be his Brad. Just like Sebastian had—a smoking gay-naive frat boy who worshiped him the way Brad did Sebastian. Not necessarily the loving, sappy part, but that way he physically perked up when Sebastian glanced at him with that smile he only ever gave Brad. Seriously, that expression was sex on airwaves. Toby could almost get a contact hard-on from it.
“Hey,” Collin said, coming up on Toby’s right side, new boyfriend in tow. “What are you guys talking about?”
The stiff falseness of Collin’s smile made Toby’s stomach sink. “Oh, hey,” he returned, giving his friend the expressional equivalent of hanging a sock on a doorknob.
Collin’s glance flickered to Jock and back to Toby, his brows rising into his hairline. “This is Eric,” Collin said, stepping into the space between Toby and Jock and turning to look at his beau. “You remember Toby, probably.”
Toby smiled and held out his hand to shake. “Yeah, we’ve met. Sorta.” He smirked at Eric, and the dude smiled back, tipping his chin in acknowledgment, because what could he say? He’d been so hot for Collin that night at the Slaughterhouse he’d never even seen Toby.
“And this is Jock, my new roommate.” Collin said, looking at his boyfriend. “He’s Tank’s little brother.” Yet clearly, he was addressing Toby. Jock had called that right—Collin did his self-appointed cock-blocking like a pro, separating them physically and warning them off with looks and repeated mentions of Tank.
Toby wasn’t ready to retreat though. At least not until Tank showed up and glowered at him. Backing off for the time being began to look like a good idea—Tank communicated his unwillingness to converse further with Toby through a series of grunts and growls. Toby didn’t speak fratbro hubris, but the meaning was very clear. And the guy didn’t get that nickname for being small and weak.
At Tank’s arrival, Jock had subsided back into his mostly uncommunicative self, almost shrinking. These guys were freaking stifling him. Forget hooking up; the kid couldn’t even socialize without Collin and Tank wanting to chaperone, could he?
“Soooo,” he said, rocking back on his heels, trying not to look too scornful. “I guess I should be moving along too, huh?”
“Uh-huh,” Tank vocalized, nodding. He’d lowered his brows so far they almost obscured his nose.
Saying something snarky would definitely be inappropriate. Toby bared his teeth at Tank—who said smiles were friendly?—and gave his farewell. “I wouldn’t want to give anyone the wrong impression and thereby besmirch your little brother’s reputation or anything.”
Tank gaped while Jock snorted laughter, jerking his head up, dimples flashing, bright eyes meeting Toby’s for one last potent shot to his libido. Toby had the momentary sense of standing on the edge of a cliff, swaying, about to fall over if he didn’t catch his balance, but then it passed. He steadied himself, winked at Jock, and sauntered off.
Tank cajoled Jock into the living room again—apparently he only wanted his little brother in the kitchen if no one was going to be attracted to him. No big, he might need a break from the flirting and stuff, because for a minute there he was pretty sure his skin was going to overheat and sweat would start steaming off of him.
He didn’t want to be that fucking obvious. They may all figure he and Toby would hook up, but he’d like everyone to pretend they didn’t, thanks.
But as soon as he wandered into the living room, Danny twisted around on the couch, saying, “So, saw you talking to that friend of Sebastian’s. Uh, you know, you can bring him back to your room and no one will freak or anything.”
No fucking way was he going to give the guys a clue about his sex life. He didn’t need them weighing in, or even knowing if he got any. If he went back into the kitchen to find Toby now, all the guys on the couch would know why—they were all peering at him, eyes wide. Like curious baby owls or something.
So instead he grabbed his jacket and walked back to the frat. The temporary frat—the fire at TAG House had caused too much structural damage for the building to be occupied, so the guys had been forced to move into the third floor of a vacant dormitory on campus. Jock had fallen into the welcoming bosom of Theta Alpha Gamma just three days later. He was tempted to say the fire and bomb were omens of his arrival, but everyone always thought it was all about them, and it never was. Probably the same applied to him.
Still, he should’ve run back to Avalon the second he found out about that. Or once he met some of the guys.
Whatever. He sighed, heading for his too fucking small bed. The fucking room was too small. Too small for him alone, not to mention two guys. Of course, Collin was never there, he was always with his boyfriend. It wasn’t like Jock wanted a companion or anything, but it would be nice to not feel abandoned. He’d never really had a gay friend, or at least not one that had a clue about how to go out and, like, meet guys or something useful. (Although Max could give a hell of a blowjob.) Coming to Calapooya and joining TAG was supposed to fix that, but Collin was a bust.
Brad’s my friend.
Yeah, but the dude wasn’t here, was he?
No hockey coach screaming you’re a pussy, and you turn into a whiner.
Okay, that was it, no more whining. Things’d be better tomorrow. And next time he had a chance with Toby, he wouldn’t let those fuckers scare him off.
Shortly after they met, Jock bailed on the party. Toby didn’t know when it happened, or why, but Brad made a point of telling him.
“Yeah, he was beat.” Brad shrugged, but the way he watched Toby belied his supposed disinterest. “Guess he didn’t have a good reason to stay.”
Oh, ouch. That hurt. “Why are you telling me this?” he asked, losing a fair amount of his social veneer.
“’Cause you looked interested,” Brad said baldly.
“I am.” And it was true—he was downright fascinated, and even those few minutes of conversation with Jock had led him to thinking about the possibility of something beyond just sex. When was the last time he’d met a guy who made him think that way?
“No worries.” Brad gave his shoulder a bro-slap. “You’ll get another chance.” Then he wandered off, with Toby staring after him, trying to figure out what he meant. Did the guy intend to make sure he and Jock had another meeting in the future?
Regardless, tonight’s festivities had lost a lot of their luster.
The problem with the party was that it wasn’t huge. It was only twenty-odd frat boys, more than half of whom Toby had no interest in, and twenty-odd sorority girls. The few people he did have an interest in were all in the fairy-tale kingdom of coupledom, AKA the kitchen. That was suddenly the last place he wanted to be.
He should go back to his apartment and work on his thesis.
Too tired. I’ll put in a full day on it tomorrow.
Toby ended up in the living room, getting steadily drunker and having surreal conversations with various frat boys. None of whom were nearly as hot as Jock, and all of whom had a bizarre and ardent belief in something called a beer terrorist.
“You gotta watch out for them, dude,” a guy who Toby thought might be named Danny said. Maybe-Danny was sitting next to him on the couch, leaning toward Toby, one arm braced along the back of the cushions. So intent on conveying his warning that he’d violated the straight-boy-personal-space rule by about a foot. “If you give them an opening, they’ll strike,” he said with all the fervor of a true disciple about to handle poisonous snakes. Or maybe something even more dangerous, such as a wine cooler.
I wonder what he’d do if I kissed him? Toby thought idly. He didn’t care enough to find out. “Beer terrorists, huh?” He lifted his own bottle to his lips, about to take a drink, and suddenly it was ripped out of his hands, a few drops sloshing onto his T-shirt. “Hey!”
Maybe-Danny had it, holding it tauntingly at arm’s length, eyes shining with the light of a zealot. “See? They’re a real threat, and they’ll strike when you least expect it.” He nodded emphatically.
Toby mimicked his nod, holding his avid gaze. “I believe you. They’re very much a threat.” The only menace here was this fratbro’s puny mental prowess.
The dude studied him a second longer, and then he gave Toby his beer back, expression settling into satisfied lines. He’d made his point. “Yep. A real threat. But don’t worry,” he added sotto voce. “We’ve got a plan for, like, thwarting them.”
Toby grasped his nearly full beer, tugging to make sure fratbro would actually let him have it. The guy’s grip loosened, and Toby stood up. “Well, time to find another one.”
Maybe-Danny frowned. “Your bottle’s almost full.”
“Yeah . . .” Toby shifted his eyes around, casing the joint, then leaned forward to stage-whisper, “I’m stockpiling in case of a terrorist attack.”
“Duuuuude.” Danny’s brows flew up his forehead. “Smart move, man.” He pointed his index finger at Toby, thumb cocked like a pistol, and “shot” him, winking at the same time.
Apparently he approved. Toby smiled in farewell and carefully backed away.
Somewhat to his astonishment, he outdrank and outlasted every one of the fratbros. He was lying on the couch, concentrating on being one with gravity and not flying around the room along with the wildly revolving walls, when Brad appeared, carrying something. Toby closed one eye to better focus on him, and the blurry image resolved into a walking smirk holding some fabric and what looked like a large bowl.
“’Zat?” Toby asked.
Brad lifted the bowl. “This is for you to puke into.” He bent over and set it next to Toby’s head.
“Though’ful of ya.”
Brad straightened up and shook out the fabric. “This is a blanket so you don’t get cold.” He snapped it out and let it settle over Toby, drifting down on him, sheltering his alcohol-sodden form.
“’M I sleeping here?”
Brad nodded. “Or passing out.”
Toby sighed. Then hiccuped. “The service here’s excellen’. Have to remember this place.”
One nice thing about not being young and eternally horny (as opposed to youngish and horny most of the time, as Toby found himself at the ripe old age of twenty-four) was that he’d become more discerning. He might have decided to not pursue a guy like Jock because he’d been bailed on like that, but sometime in the middle of his morning-after shower at Brad and Sebastian’s place, Toby’s backup sexual response system kicked in—the Libidinous Mistake Detection Network.
Usually it warned him (too late) when he’d slept with a guy he probably shouldn’t have, but it had moments of real usefulness, such as now, when it was telling Toby that Jock was worth another attempt. The kid was skittish, understandably, but Toby would swear he was attracted. Something else might have scared him off last night. Initiating further contact might be worth the attempt.
At least that’s what he thought until he walked into Brad and Sebastian’s kitchen, wearing only the pair of sweats he’d had in his backpack, hair still dripping, and noticed the computer sitting abandoned on the table. The chair in front caught his attention, pushed back and askew, giving the impression that whoever had been sitting there had gotten up and left in a rush. So of course he looked to see what had made Brad or Sebastian go flying off.
Shock jolted him when he met Jock’s eyes on the screen over a stranger’s condom-wrapped dick. The image filled up Toby’s entire field of vision, interrupting the feed from his other senses. But when the rush of heat that had slammed into him started to subside, other stimuli started to filter in. He could smell the coffee anew, and soak in the coolness of the linoleum under his feet. And sounds drifted in from the living room. Footsteps.
Brad walked into the kitchen as Toby was still staring at the image of Jock, trying to puzzle things out. He stopped short, pale and frowning mad.
Toby lifted his hands up, palm out. “I didn’t mean to. It was there and I came in—”
“S’okay,” Brad sighed, running a hand over his head. “Just fucking sucks.”
All of a sudden the picture didn’t look so hot. It looked like a good way to out someone. And the knot in Toby’s stomach just knew that’s what had happened. If someone had sent it to some people, like a guy’s coach? Oh no. His heart plummeted in his chest, felled by the tragedy that was Jock getting outed. Poor kid. “This is how he got outed? Where did you get it?” And why was Brad looking at it?
“Someone sent it to everyone in the frat. Probably the same someone who put copies of it all over the locker room at Avalon College.”
Toby blew out a breath, a lump in his stomach settling into his gut. “That’s horrible.”
“Yeah,” Brad muttered. He headed over to put the screen to sleep, then toward the counter where he picked up a cell phone and texted someone.
“What are you doing?” Toby couldn’t imagine Brad would do something like spread this further.
“I’m getting ahold of Ashley. She’ll be able to find out faster than anyone if other people were sent the picture. At least, she’ll be able to do it without exposing him further.”
Toby nodded, still staring at him. “She’s a very useful female.”
Brad rolled his eyes, then his phone buzzed in his hand. Ashley answering, Toby assumed. More texting ensued, and Toby stood there watching for long minutes, heart aching for Jock all out of proportion for how well he knew the guy. But it was tragic. Any gay guy would empathize, right? How good had the kid been at hockey? Toby didn’t know, but somehow he had the impression Jock was really good. Like, professional career potential good. And now his whole world had been ruined by one stupid mistake. One time letting a guy he trusted—it had to have been a boyfriend, right?—take a picture.
“What can I do?” he heard himself asking.
Brad looked up at him, eyes wide. “Huh?”
“Can I do anything to help?”
“Um.” Brad scrunched up his brow. “Be his friend?”
Toby waited for more.
“That’s all I’ve got.” Brad frowned, then went back to his texting.
After a few more minutes of being ignored (admittedly for a good cause), Toby drifted out of the room to find his pack again. He dug out the shirt he kept for emergency gym trips (but that never got used except as emergency post-shower-at-some-guy’s-house clothes), threw his dirty garments in, said good-bye to a distracted Brad, and left.
I loved this book and I didn't want to put it down!
[A] tremendous read, a definite 5 star book...you'll fall in love with some beautifully developed characters and grow to love them like I did.
[I] love to read with a smile on my face.
[A] sweet and funny romance.
Really nice story about a man coming to terms with his sexuality and another man realizing that maybe love is for him after all.