Dawn (Stronghold 3) #FirstChapter

Want to see how Saige and Isaac’s story begins? Here’s a sneak peek of the beginning of DAWN!

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Erotic Romance (MF), May/Dec, New Adult, Sci-Fi, Paranormal, Suspense
Word Count: 51,850

Saige Ellis can spot a liar from a hundred yards away, and she knows her history professor is bad news. She hates the way he hides behind his stupid sunglasses and beard. She hates the way his ridiculously perfect body makes her feel. When he asks her to stay after class, she asks him what he’s trying to prove.

Isaac Dawn hates having to hide his identity, but it’s the only way he can get close to Saige without tipping everyone off about his identity as a Sentry. He knows she’s his perfect match, but she’s skittish and angry, and for good reason—her abusive father has been stalking her for years. When he asks her to give him a chance, Saige demands the truth, and he blows it.

However, when murderous aliens are real, and a mysterious shadow follows Saige home, is her demand for honesty worth her life? Can she accept Isaac’s help without losing herself?

 

First Chapter Excerpt:

“‘…in contact with conditions which could not and cannot be fully foreseen.’” Professor Wilson placed on his desk the dog-eared book he was reading to the class.

Saige frowned at him from her spot halfway down the middle row. She didn’t like her history professor. His tendency to pace across the front of the classroom drove her mad—the energy of his movements contradicted his nerdy exterior. Shaded glasses disguised his eye color, and his messy beard concealed most of his face, but it was the hideous sport jacket that really irked her. She knew the other girls in the class thought he was cute, with his hipster mannerisms and self-deprecatory jokes, but no guy who filled out an ugly jacket that well could be a real nerd.

“Winston Churchill said those words on June 6, 1944. He was referring to the physical conditions of the invasion, but I think his sentiments are equally valid when studying the controversy of alliance.” Arms crossed, the professor leaned back against his desk and surveyed the classroom from behind his glasses. The slouchy hat he wore most days had slipped slightly sideways, lending him a faintly disreputable air. Most women would love his boyish appearance. Not Saige.

He tilted his head, and she swore he was looking at her, but of course there was no way to know with those stupid lenses on his face. His eyes just looked dark and mysterious. She stared him down anyway. No bogus professor is going to get the best of me, she thought, annoyed. After a moment, he stood up and went to the whiteboard, where he scrawled a date across the surface in red ink. “So, when the Allies hit the beach in Normandy…”

Saige barely heard the words. She knew the class material. She’d done the reading. Instead of listening, she focused on his hands. He gripped the white board marker lightly, as if used to wrestling much more complicated tools. And his handwriting was a mess, anyway. She rarely bothered to look at it. Instead, Saige glanced at the girl sitting to her right. The silly twit stared at the prof with her chin in her hands and stars in her eyes. Saige knew better. Most men were assholes at heart. Her father had certainly proven that to her enough times over the years with his drugs and booze.

“Saige? Can you tell me why?” Professor Wilson looked right at her, one eyebrow raised.

Asshole. Saige frowned harder, not caring if he could tell she didn’t like him. She didn’t need to like him to get an A in this class. She didn’t need him to like her. “Because there were a number of different leaks in the days before they actually landed in France,” she said. She knew he knew she wasn’t paying attention to his lecture. She could see it in the way he cocked his head as he listened to her answer. Screw you, Professor, she thought irritably. I know my history. This class is bullshit. Pity it was one of her general education requirements and she couldn’t avoid taking it if she wanted to graduate at the end of the semester.

“That is correct,” he said finally, turning and scrawling more dates on the board as if she hadn’t just flipped him off in her mind.

Saige sighed, not sure why her general dislike of men seemed to focus on him so intensely. It wasn’t fair of her to fixate on him. She didn’t know the guy, and she didn’t care to. He’s an oddity as a , but it doesn’t matter. You’ve got other problems to worry about, she reminded herself. Like where was she going to get the money to pay this month’s rent? She was eighty bucks short. She couldn’t move again, not with the semester only half over, and besides, there weren’t any cheaper shit hole apartments to stay in, anyway. She’d already hit rock bottom when it came to housing possibilities.

Professor Wilson erased the white board. Saige absently stared at his hands again while her mind spiraled in a completely different direction. At least dear old dad hasn’t found me again. Yet. Her classmates started gathering up their stuff, and with a start, Saige realized that the interminable class had finally ended. She slipped her notebook into her bag and slid her chair back, wincing as her back protested the movement. Thank God. I’m going to lose my mind if I have to stay in here for a minute longer. She’d was in the midst of mentally going over what she had to get done in the next few hours when the professor interrupted her exit from the classroom.

“Saige, could you hang on for a sec? I’d like to talk to you,” Professor Wilson said, unexpectedly. His eyes, hidden behind his stupid colored lenses, looked at her steadily. The expression on his face was that of a man who wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

Saige’s heart gave a hard thump against her ribs before she wrestled her response to him back down into a mild dislike instead of her usual flight-or-fight instinct. No, she did not want to talk to this guy. No, she did not have time. Her gaze strayed to his hands again. He had really nice hands. She frowned, angry with herself, and yanked her gaze back up to his face. He was leaning back against the desk at the front of the small classroom again. His pants pulled taut, showing the strong lines of his thighs.

He looks ridiculously strong, she thought, chewing on the inside of her cheek. Like he knows his way around a shit storm. She couldn’t imagine what kind of disaster this guy had ever faced in his life. She snorted to herself softly.

“?” he prompted, voice raised slightly.

“Actually, I’ve got another class,” she lied, slinging the strap from her worn canvas bag over her shoulder. “Can you just send me an email?”

He shook his head. “No.”

Saige stopped in the middle of turning to head down the center aisle. “No?”

“No, I can’t send you an email,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. The movement highlighted the thick muscles hidden beneath the ugly jacket. Not an ounce of fat swelled anywhere on his body.

Saige narrowed her gaze as she fought her body’s knee-jerk bolt of attraction to the show of muscle. She had no time to crush on a guy she disliked. “I’m not flunking,” she told him. The classroom had emptied while she stood there, wrestling with her useless attraction. The heavy door thunked against the jamb as the spring in the hinge latched it shut. Saige fought to keep from hunching her shoulders. She didn’t like being shut in like this. Her eyes flicked to the row of windows along the left side of the room. They would serve as a suitable exit if she needed to leave in a hurry. The room was on the first floor, thank God.

“I know,” Professor Wilson said, frowning. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he added.

Saige huffed. Get a grip, girl. You’re safe here. Your father is far away, and this guy has never shown even the slightest hint of aggression towards you. And besides, you’re not a little girl anymore. You don’t have to deal with anyone hitting you ever again. She slid the strap to her bag off her shoulder and wound it around her hand. “Fine. What do you want?” She did not move closer to the front of the room. If he wanted to talk to her, he’d have to come to her. And if he tried anything … well. He wouldn’t be the first guy she’d left with a broken knee. For some reason—her short dark hair, her eyes, she had no fucking clue—she seemed to attract men whether she wanted to or not. And never the good ones. She wished she’d had time to wash her hair this morning, but she’d woken up late after yet another nightmare in the middle of the night. She hadn’t even put any makeup on. Her hazel eyes probably looked bloodshot to hell and back, not that it mattered.

He sighed. “I would like to know what I’ve done to piss you off. And I’d like to apologize for it. I don’t know what I did, but I’d like to start over with you.”

Is this guy for real? Saige thought, abruptly confused. This was a new tactic. Most men didn’t start off hitting on her with an apology. When she didn’t answer, he took off his eyeglass and rubbed his eyes tiredly.

“You’re not serious,” she finally blurted out. He looked up at her without his glasses on, and she froze, staring at the insane green of his eyes. Green shot through with silver. Before she could react, he’d put the gray lenses back on. The fuck? she thought, shocked. He has the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. And he hides them. Anger swelled up in her, at war with yet another spike of arousal. He’s fucking hiding something.

“Look, Saige—” he began.

She cut him off. “I don’t like you.”

He blinked. “I know.” He laughed shortly. “That much is blindingly obvious.”

Saige didn’t care what he thought of her. “I don’t have to like you to do well in your class, and you don’t have to like me in order to teach.” She squeezed the strap of her bag until the rough canvas burned her palm. “I’m quiet. I don’t talk back, and I know the material. I don’t see the problem here.”

“How old are you?” he asked, completely out of nowhere.

“What? I don’t see what business that is—” she began angrily, but he interrupted her this time.

“How old?” He stared at her.

She scowled. “I just turned twenty-one. So what?”

He shook his head. “Christ. You’re a child.” He seemed suddenly tired.

Saige shoved down a pang of regret for being so unfriendly. She’d been burned in the past. But maybe I can meet him halfway. He hasn’t done anything wrong. “Look, I can tell you’re hiding something. I don’t react well to men who do that.” She waited, wondering how he would take her mentioning his bullshit disguise so baldly.

He stared at her, then scratched at his beard. “I’m a professor. Students aren’t entitled to know everything about my personal life.”

Saige rolled her eyes. “That is a reciprocal arrangement, Dr. Wilson.”

“You’re saying I have no right to question you?”

She nodded. “Exactly.” She watched as his face tightened with irritation, then smoothed out again. She had to hand it to him: the guy has seriously excellent control of his emotions. That was yet another thing about him that was different, in her experience. That and the fact that she could not stop obsessing over his hands, not to mention the ripped body he took such pains to hide. She didn’t need to get involved with anyone, like, ever, and certainly not with a freaking professor.

“Perhaps we can call a truce,” he said softly, snagging her attention from where it’d locked onto the breadth of his chest and transferring it to his mouth.

Saige scowled. His lips looked too damn perfect, even with the disaster of his beard obscuring his jawline. She resented feeling so drawn to him. She’d planned on never having a boyfriend, and yet here she was, at the mercy of her hormones. Traitor, she thought to her body.

“What do you say?” he pushed, when she didn’t respond.

She sighed, loudly. “I don’t know what you want me to do. I have never been anything except polite in this classroom.”

He pushed off from the desk and headed down the aisle. The closer he got, the more anxious she felt. When he stopped in front of her, she tipped her head up to look at him. Since she mostly sat in the middle of the classroom, she hadn’t realized how flipping tall he was. Jesus, she thought, mouth going dry. Maybe I dislike him not because he’s hiding something, but because he’s exactly my type, she thought, face flushing at the direction of her thoughts. Talk about inappropriate. You do not have a crush on your teacher, Saige. No. A thousand times no.

“I’ll go first,” he said, then unexpectedly took off his glasses. “No, I don’t need glasses. I wear these to hide my eye color. It tends to distract people.” He looked at her, obviously waiting for her to speak.

Saige could feel her cheeks burning. “What is this, truth or dare?” she asked, looking everywhere except into his ridiculously green eyes. He was right. She was distracted. Dammit.

He laughed. “Sure. If that’s how you want to approach this.”

Saige tried to edge backwards, but her leg hit the side of a desk. “Fine.” She lifted her shoulders. “I don’t like guys who hide things because my abusive father did that, and it got my mom and sister killed.” She wondered how he’d handle having that conversational bomb dropped on him. “He was high, and he insisted he was okay to drive them to the grocery store. The tree he hit won the argument. They died. He didn’t. End of story.”

Dr. Wilson’s smile dropped from his face. “Wow, I’m sorry,” he said, voice going soft again. “That’s terrible.”

Huh. Not bad. Compassion is rare these days, she thought, unwillingly impressed with his honest reply. “Yeah, it is.” Even so, she was still not happy to be trapped here talking about uncomfortable things. All she wanted to do was get the hell out of this damned classroom so she could have a peaceful hour’s rest before she had to go to work. Maybe he’d let her go, now that she’d answered him. She eyed his face and saw resolve in his expression. The professor wasn’t backing down. She added a few more details. “He liked drugs too much to care that he was hurting his family. He hid that shit from us for years.”

Dr. Wilson sighed, correctly interpreting her suggestive comment. “I’m not hiding a drug habit. And I assure you, I have no intention of hurting you or anyone else in this classroom. In fact, I wear these in order to protect everyone.” He lifted his glasses, then placed them on the desk. His eyes were shadowed, although the tiny silver shards that punctuated his green irises almost seemed to glow.

“That makes no sense. You said you wore them so you wouldn’t distract people,” Saige said, then clamped her mouth shut. She didn’t care. She didn’t want any more explanations. The less she knew the better, and frankly, the idea that wearing glasses would protect anyone around him was absurd. She unwound her bag’s strap from her hand and put the whole thing on the desk’s chair, then massaged her palm. If this guy moved on her, a soft bag would be no protection. He was too big. She’d have to rely on her fists. And I hope I don’t hesitate just because he has a pretty face.

Dr. Wilson lifted a shoulder. “I’ll tell you more, if you tell me more.” As if sensing her wariness, he backed off a little, then sat in one of the student chairs. “I would never hurt you,” he repeated.

Shit. He seems sincere. Saige hated that her instincts kept telling her to trust him, even as they screamed that he was hiding a lot more than just his eye color. “Fine,” she said stiffly. Unwillingly. “What do you want to know?”

He studied her. “Why do you hate men?”

Of all the questions to ask… She glared at him. “I don’t hate all men.” She looked away from his penetrating gaze. “Just … most of them.”

“I asked you why, not to tell me I was wrong,” he said, as if she hadn’t already answered his question.

She twisted her hands together. “I don’t like men because of my father. I already told you that.” Saige felt a headache coming on.

He shifted his weight, then leaned forward and clasped his hands together loosely. “Yes, I understand that, but I’m not your father. Neither is anyone else.”

Saige huffed out a breath, frustrated. “Every guy I’ve ever met just wants in my pants. Most can’t even be bothered to have a conversation with me. It’s disgusting. Not even chopping off my hair seems to deter them.” She motioned to her messy, pixie haircut.

He tilted his head. “I’m having a conversation with you right now.” He smiled and leaned back. “Sure, it’s not a fun conversation, but we’re definitely sharing words.”

And he’s not staring at your boobs, a small voice at the back of her head pointed out. “It’s not the norm,” she said, unconvinced.

His eyes raked down her body, then back up again and steadied on her face. “Most men are idiots. They see a pretty face and hair and curves and think that’s what’s important.”

“And you don’t?” she shot back. No way was she going to believe he didn’t care about those things. Saige glared at him.

“I like beauty just as much as the next man, but I value brains a hell of a lot more,” he replied seriously.

Well, shit. Saige believed him. He said the words with too much conviction to be lying. “Who are you?” She didn’t understand him. He didn’t fit in with what she’d experienced.

He chuckled. “A teacher.”

“Oh, come on,” Saige said, disgusted. After all that, he expected her to believe he was just a teacher? Yeah, right. A teacher with secrets.

“Am I not teaching History 301?” he replied, opening his arms. The hint of a smirk on his face annoyed her. “And I’m good at it. You have to admit that.”

Saige picked up her bag and slung the strap over her shoulder. “Yeah, whatever. I’m out of here.” She headed down the aisle. This time he didn’t stop her.

“This isn’t over, Saige,” he called out.

She waved a hand at him without looking back. “Whatever you say, Professor,” she muttered under her breath. She pushed out of the classroom and hurried down the hall. When she finally stepped outside, the late afternoon sunlight hit her like a brick in the face. The students around her were laughing and joking. Greenery lined the sidewalks, and ponderosa pines dotted the city view. “Ugh. Welcome to high altitude happy town.” Sometimes she really hated living in Flagstaff.

 

Get the other two books in the series!

Stronghold 1 — Dark

Stronghold 2 — Dusk

The Billionaire’s Bodyguard #FirstChapter #excerpt!

In celebration of The Billionaire’s Bodyguard making Amazon and ARe’s bestseller lists, I’m posting the first chapter to whet your appetite for sexy Jesse and Alex!

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buy links: Evernight (25% off) – Amazon – BookStrand – ARe – Smashwords – Barnes & NobleiTunes/Books – Kobo

billionaires-bodyguard   epeditorsesal1s

Gay (MM), Erotic Romance, Romantic Comedy, Romantic Suspense, Thriller
Word Count: 35,130
Heat Level: 3
Published By: Evernight Publishing

 

Billionaire Alex Roman needs a bodyguard. His best friend, Jesse Emerson, an ex-Security Forces Specialist, needs a job. What could possibly go wrong?

Jesse thinks protecting Alex will be a piece of cake. He’ll get to spend quality time with his oldest friend while avoiding his ex-girlfriend. Of course, nothing ever goes as planned. Why would Alex introduce him to everyone as his lover? And why didn’t Alex tell him about the threatening notes he’s been receiving for months?

Alex has been in love with Jesse for years, not that he’d ever admit it to his best friend, but he’s not above making a practical joke out of it. Telling everyone that Jesse is his boyfriend will go a long way toward relieving the stress of the threats he’s been plagued with recently. Unfortunately, when someone tries to shoot him at a charity gala, he discovers that maybe he needs Jesse’s skills more than he realized…

…because sometimes a billionaire’s best friend is the fake boyfriend who’s really his bodyguard.

 

 Chapter One Excerpt:

Alex Roman opened his front door, paused, then stepped back resignedly. His best friend Jesse barreled past him and into the house with his military duffel over his shoulder. It bulged at the seams, as if Jesse had stuffed every article of clothing he owned inside and then added an extra pair of pants just for kicks. In his hands, a box overflowed with more belongings.

“I can’t do it anymore, Alex. I just can’t,” Jesse said, awkwardly shrugging the bag onto the marble floor of the foyer while simultaneously trying to juggle the box.

Alex winced as his right shoulder twinged in sympathy. He didn’t know elbows could turn that direction.

“She’s making me crazy,” Jesse continued, the box tilting dangerously. He frowned and set it down next to the duffel. “She told me that I was ‘emotionally unavailable,’ but what does she care? She dumped me six months ago. We’re not even dating anymore.” He grabbed his hair with both hands and made a face that had Alex smiling despite the late hour, the weird luggage, and Jesse’s total lack of consideration for the fact that other people sleep at three a.m.

“And really, who says that?” Jesse continued, oblivious to Alex’s amusement. “She probably lifted that phrase from some chick flick. Or a romance novel, or something. She can’t even argue without quoting from someone else!”

“Why didn’t you just use your key to let yourself into my house?” Alex asked mildly, cutting Jesse off in mid-rant. He closed and locked the front door, then reset the alarm.

“Key?” Jesse blinked at him. “My hands were full. No way I could’ve gotten my keys out. I could barely ring the doorbell.”

“It’s the middle of the night,” Alex pointed out.

Jesse shrugged. “So?”

“So, maybe I was asleep.”

“You never sleep.” Jesse made a face. “Well, not at night anyway. Aren’t the overseas markets trading?”

Alex rolled his eyes and walked away, heading toward his study. Jesse was right. He’d been trading, not that it mattered. He’d just finished up for the night when the doorbell rang.

“I can stay, right?” Jesse called. “You’re not going to kick me out, are you?”

Alex smiled to himself as he walked through the elaborate wooden doors that led into his oversized and rather opulent office. He stared at the marble fireplace and shook his head. He hated it. He’d always hated it. The pink stone made the stained walnut paneling look diseased, but it came with the house, so he had to live with it, along with the pretentious vases and expensive rugs. He far preferred the sleek modernity of his office in Manhattan, but he couldn’t destroy the house he’d inherited just because he didn’t like a few things. His grandfather would roll in his grave if he renovated too much. Hmm, but maybe a few things here and there would be okay. It’s my house now, after all.

“Alex?”

“No, I’m not going to kick you out. You don’t even have to ask. You know that,” Alex replied, dismissing memories of his grandfather. He’d loved that old man more than anyone, but maybe it was time to get over his death. It had been six years, after all. He walked across a priceless Persian carpet to his grandfather’s hand-carved desk. His laptop sat on top, sleek and metallic, looking like something from outer space in comparison to the warm, gleaming wood. He leaned on the desk and tapped a few commands into the computer, shutting it down.

“Um, well, I might be here longer than usual,” Jesse said.

Alex looked up from the screen. “Longer than a few days?” That would be nice, but definitely unusual.

Jesse looked embarrassed. “There’s six months left on the lease of my apartment.”

“So?”

“So, I can’t kick her out. Do you know how hard it is to find housing in Manhattan?” Jesse dropped into the leather sofa in front of Alex’s desk and swung a leg up over the arm insouciantly. He looked like a cat marking his spot: all graceful muscle and lazy attitude.

Alex forced his eyes away from his friend’s toned arms. “Yes, I do know, but it’s your apartment, not hers. You got it before you went into the Air Force.” He didn’t understand Jesse’s dilemma. “You had it long before you met her. Plus, she’s not your girlfriend anymore. Ergo, not your problem. Just tell her she has to go. Give her a week’s notice.”

“She begged me, Alex.”

“She also dumped you, remember?” Alex closed his laptop and rubbed his eyes. He really, really, wished Jesse wouldn’t date losers. He invariably hated the women his best friend picked, and when they broke up, as always, he hated the way Jesse moped around even more. A sad and defeated Jesse made Alex want to do something drastic.

Like kiss him. Or bitch-slap his ex. Neither of those options would end well for anyone. He sighed. “You know you’re welcome to stay here for as long as you like. Forever, even. I’ve told you that before.” He frowned as he looked at his friend. Jesse’s blue eyes were bloodshot and tired. “You need to get some rest.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, man. My relationships never work out.” Jesse craned his head back, eyes flickering over the mural on the ceiling. “I mean, you don’t think I’m emotionally unavailable, do you?”

Alex grimaced. “No, I don’t. Do we really have to talk about this? Why can’t we just drink some booze and call it a night?”

“She said that I kept part of my heart locked away.” Jesse slumped further down the sofa. “Where does she think I put it? In a jar? Ugh.”

Alex didn’t want to tell his best friend that he probably spent too much time with him and not enough time with her. He’d never even met the woman, but he knew that’s what she thought. Any woman would be angry about having to share her time with some unknown friend. He had no intention of bringing it up, though. Because you’re a selfish bastard, and you don’t want him to stop hanging out with you, especially now that he’s back home for good, he told himself. “Are we actually having a relationship conversation?” He walked over to the sideboard and poured himself a shot of brandy. “If so, I need fortification,” he muttered.

“I’m not emotionally unavailable,” Jesse repeated morosely. “I’m reserved. I’m not into big scenes and all that crap.”

“You look pretty emotional to me right now,” Alex said, handing him a glass.

Jesse took it and sipped. “Gee, thanks.”

Alex ignored his friend’s sarcasm to sip his own drink. Maybe I’ll be able to sleep now. Truth was, he always slept better when Jesse stayed over. He’d spent years worrying about his friend when he’d been deployed overseas.

“So what if I don’t want to get married? Is that a crime?” Jesse continued to mutter.

Alex wondered if Jesse knew he was having the entire conversation all by himself.

“And her mother is crazy.” He looked at Alex and made a face. “I mean, C R A Z Y,” he spelled the word out. “With all caps and bells on.”

“You wouldn’t be marrying her mother,” Alex said, shoving Jesse’s legs out of the way and slumping down onto the sofa. Damn, he was tired. He should really just go to bed and let Alex ramble on alone.

Jesse gave him a pitying look. “I know you don’t date much, and that statement proves it. Women turn into their mothers, dude. Happens every time.”

“I don’t date at all,” Alex reminded him.

Jesse fell silent for a moment. “Huh. That’s true. I can’t remember the last time you went out.”

“Seven years ago,” Alex said, closing his eyes. “Rob. The stylist.”

Jesse chuckled. “He was a piece of work. When he broke your grandpa’s precious candelabra, I thought the old man was going to commit murder.”

Alex grinned, remembering his grandpa’s face. “That was a good day.”

“The day your grandfather stabbed your boyfriend with his cane? That’s what you call a good day?” Jesse was outright laughing now. “He had to get stitches!”

“He wasn’t my boyfriend. He was just a date.” Alex wrinkled his nose. “Before that it was the girl from your kickboxing class in high school, what was her name…” He snapped his fingers, trying to remember.

“Claire, holy shit. How can you forget her? She had boobs to die for,” Jesse said, snickering. “She’s the whole reason I took that class.”

Alex opened his eyes. Jesse was curving his hands in front of him, trying to describe Claire’s figure. He looked like a ten year old. “Jesse, Jesus. Get a grip on yourself.”

“They were impressive, Alex. I still can’t believe those two assets didn’t work out for you.” He lifted his eyebrows up and down like an idiot.

“Let’s just say that she wasn’t the best conversationalist and leave it at that.” Alex remembered her screeching in bed all too well. Awful.

“Well, I don’t know why you’re such a hermit. You’re bi. You have twice the number of possible individuals to ask out.” Jesse finished off his brandy and set the glass on the side table, then slouched down into the sofa even further. “How does that work again, exactly?”

Alex rolled his eyes. “I date the person, not their genitals. It’s not particularly complicated.”

Jesse snorted. “Uh huh. If I tried to date a guy, I would have no idea what to do.”

“Men are actually easier,” Alex said, smiling. At least the conversation had shifted away from Jesse’s emotional deficiencies. He’d been afraid his friend was going to start crying. The horror.

“Easier? Are you kidding me? No way.”

“You already know how all the plumbing works,” Alex said, just to get his friend going. “No user manual required.” He grinned evilly, making his own motions with his hands.

Jesse sat up and glared at him. “You are insane, you know that?” He pointed at Alex’s head. “Totally nuts.”

“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.” Alex said, then lightly cupped his junk, just to be as irritating as possible.

“Uh, no thank you.” Jesse made a face.

Alex laughed, not in the least fazed. “Whatever. I’m going to bed. You know the way to your room.” He stood up and stretched, ignoring, once again, the way Jesse’s eyes followed his body. His best friend had been looking at him that way for years and after so long, he knew it didn’t mean a damn thing, no matter how much he’d like for it to mean more. “Coming? You need your beauty rest.”

“Ugh. Fine, fine. You’re such a nag.” Jesse got up, yawning.

“I’m not a nag. It’s four a.m. and I’m tired.” He walked into the foyer. “Get your bag and hit the sack.”

“You really don’t sound like a normal rich boy, you know.” Jesse grabbed his duffel and trailed him up the curving staircase. “You obviously spent too much time down in the servants quarters growing up. How do you keep from scandalizing everyone with your low-brow sense of humor?”

“You mean, I spent too much time with you.” Alex led the way along the upstairs gallery, pausing near the room that had been Jesse’s for years. “If I sound low-brow, it’s your fault.”

“Well, my dad was your grandpa’s butler. Who else were you going to play with?” Jesse smirked, hand on the doorknob. “All those swanky assholes at your private school? They were the meanest bunch of kids I ever met. Don’t try to deny it.”

“No denials from me.” Alex’s smile twisted into a grimace. “They were cruel when they were kids, and now they’re all grown up.”

“Still mean, though,” Jesse pointed out.

“Cutthroat, actually.” Alex rubbed his face. “Well, you look better. See? There’s nothing a little brandy can’t fix.”

Jesse rolled his eyes. “Making fun of you helped, too.”

Alex shook his head, amused. Jesse always had to get the last word in. “Whatever. Goodnight.”

“Night,” Jesse echoed.

Alex walked down the gallery to his room, firmly putting the image of his best friend’s lean body from his mind.