“Mom, I know it bugs you, but I can’t not go.”
On the other end of the line, my mother sighed. That heavy, sad sigh I’d heard so many times over the last few years. “I know, but…”
I stared at the sidewalk beneath my feet, slowing my gait and trying not to let any frustration slip into my voice. “I’ll come see you while I’m in town. I promise I will. That’s why I’m coming down for a few days, so I’ll have time.” I paused. “But, I have to go to the wedding. He is my dad.”
She said nothing, and the silence lingered. We’d been on the phone since before I left my apartment, talking in circles just like we had two other times this week. She’d been inconsolably depressed in the three years since the divorce, and with my dad’s wedding coming up, she’d gotten a lot worse.
Still holding the silent phone to my ear, I continued down the familiar ribbon of pavement that spanned the mile or so between my place and the house I’d lived in briefly when I’d first moved to Seattle two years ago. Up ahead, like a beacon of sex and relaxation, Rhett and Ethan’s mailbox came into view. I walked a little faster.
To my mother, I said, “Listen, I need to let you go. Will you be okay tonight?”
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “Jackie’s coming over in a bit anyway, so I should go.”
I released a breath. At least she’d have someone to talk to. Chances were, she and my elder sister would spend half the evening commiserating about their troubles with men. There would probably be booze involved, if I knew the two of them, but neither would be alone or driving, which let me rest easier.
“Okay, well, tell her I said hello,” I said. “I’d better let you go for now. And like I said, I promise I’ll come see you when I’m in town. Take care of yourself, Mom. Please?”
“All right,” she said. “Have a good night. Love you, Kieran.”
“Love you too, Mom. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”
After I’d hung up, I looked at the call timer. Forty-five minutes. Exhaling sharply, I clipped my phone to my belt. I rolled my shoulders and took a deep breath, trying to force some of the tension out of my stiff muscles.
Tonight, I was going to have a good time. That was all there was to it. I sympathized with my mother, and I wanted her to be happy, but I could wallow only so much in the fact that she insisted on wallowing. That and I had my limits when it came to guilt. What did she expect me to do? Blow off my dad’s wedding? I didn’t want to go any more than she wanted me to go, but if a few hours of pretending to be happy for Dad and his new wife meant preventing some family drama, then so be it. Of course, doing that meant dealing with drama from my mother’s end.
I sighed and rubbed some more stiffness out of the back of my neck. I couldn’t win.
As I started down Rhett and Ethan’s short driveway, all that tension melted out of my shoulders. I couldn’t help grinning to myself. An evening with my former roommates—not to mention good friends and hot lovers—was exactly what I needed to get my mind off all the family insanity. Exactly what I needed, and long overdue. Work and other commitments had kept the three of us from getting together for more than the occasional beer over the last couple of weeks, and it had been far too long since I’d seen the inside of their bedroom. Hopefully, that dry spell would end tonight.
On top of my dry spell with Ethan and Rhett, the last guy I’d been casually seeing had shipped out on a deployment last month. Since he’d left, I’d been on quite the unlucky streak when it came to finding even a one-night stand. A satisfying one, anyway. To say the least, I needed to get laid, and Ethan and Rhett were usually more than happy to oblige.
We wouldn’t be jumping into bed the minute I walked in, though. Rhett’s daughter would be there for a little while tonight before she went out with her friends to celebrate her twenty-first birthday. When Sabrina was around, everything between her dads and me was strictly platonic. No flirtatious glances, no suggestive looks, and certainly no touching.
Once she was gone, though? I shivered.
I went up the stone walkway to the front door and, as I’d done hundreds of times, let myself in. Familiar voices drew me to the kitchen, and when I walked in, Ethan and Rhett looked up from washing the dinner dishes.
“Oh, good,” Ethan said. “Bartender’s here. That means we can do Sabrina’s birthday shots.”
“Hey,” I said as I took off my jacket. “I’m not on the clock.”
“So?” Rhett dried his hands on a dish towel. “We’re just doing one celebratory round with her before she goes out. Might as well have a bartender do the honors, don’t you think?”
I released a dramatic sigh and hung my coat over the back of a chair beside the kitchen island. “Okay, fine. But only because it’s her birthday.”
“I knew you’d see it our way.” Rhett reached under the counter. “Besides, you know we’ll make it worth your while after she takes off.” I bit my lip when he produced a bottle of Patrón from the cabinet. I glanced at Ethan, and his trademark smirk raised goose bumps down the length of my spine. Working as a bartender, I’d long ago learned there was a great deal of truth in the saying that tequila makes some people’s clothes fall off. In this case, tequila in Ethan made my clothes fall off.
My mouth watered. This was going to be one long night.
“So, is Sabrina here yet?” I asked.
Ethan gestured toward the hall. “She and her friends are downstairs getting ready to go out.”
Rhett put his hand on my waist. “Which means we have a minute or two.” With that, he kissed me. Not just a quick kiss hello, either. Obviously we were on the same wavelength tonight, because as I wrapped my arms around him, his tongue teased my lips apart. His stubble was coarse beneath my fingertips, and when his tongue stud grazed my lip, I pulled in a breath through my nose.
I had no doubt Ethan kept an eye on the hallway in case Sabrina was on her way up from the lower floor. She only needed to know I was her fathers’ friend and former roommate. There were some things a girl didn’t need to know about her dad and stepdad, and the fact that I was their occasional lover fell very firmly into that category.
“Hey, quit hogging him,” Ethan said, chuckling.
Rhett broke the kiss but held on to me as he looked past me at his boyfriend. “What are you going to do about it?”
Ethan didn’t speak. Fingers slid up the back of my neck, and when they tightened in my hair, I closed my eyes and whimpered softly. Rhett let me go. As his arm left my waist, Ethan’s replaced it.
“Oh, what do you know?” Ethan’s lips touched just below my jaw. “Looks like I have his attention.”
Rhett said something, but I was aware only of Ethan releasing my hair and turning me around so he too could give me a hint of what was in store for me tonight. Of the two of them, he was the more aggressive kisser, demanding access to my mouth with more force than Rhett. More force than usual, even for him. Not that I offered either of them any resistance. Had the three of us been alone in the house, I’d have already been on my knees right here in the kitchen, whether because Ethan would have ordered me to them or his kiss would have simply dropped them out from under me.
But we weren’t alone in the house, so we separated, pausing to exchange a “just wait” look before he let me go completely.
Ethan cleared his throat and leaned against the kitchen island, the rapid tapping of his fingers on the granite countertop betraying the casual appearance he tried to convey. “Think Sabrina would be upset if we told them to hurry up and get out of here?”
Rhett laughed and kissed Ethan’s cheek. “Patience.” He combed his fingers through Ethan’s gray-sprinkled dark hair. “We have all night.” He winked at me, and I moistened my lips. We had all night, and knowing us, we’d use it. Someone must have forgotten to inform the two of them they were in their forties and had no business possessing that kind of stamina. I sure as hell wasn’t going to tell them.
“When is she going out?” I asked.
“They’re meeting some friends at a club at eight.” Ethan looked at his watch, then went back to drumming his fingers. “So they’re probably taking off in the next half hour or so.”
“You know, Ethan,” I said with a grin, “I get the feeling you’re looking forward to this evening.”
He glanced at the bottle of tequila, then at Rhett, then at me. “You think?”
Rhett rattled his tongue stud across his teeth, and Ethan and I both squirmed.
“You’re not helping,” Ethan growled.
“What?” Rhett put up his hands. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Right.” Gesturing at Rhett, Ethan looked at me. “This one’s been teasing me all damned day.”
Rhett glared at Ethan. “Says the man who kept sending me suggestive e-mails at work.”
“What?” Ethan batted his eyes. “I was just asking what you wanted to do tonight.”
“Uh-huh. And very explicitly detailing a few suggestions.”
“Hey, how come I wasn’t copied on these e-mails?” I folded my arms across my chest and leaned against the kitchen island. “Don’t I get a say in what we’re doing tonight?”
“You’ll get a say,” Ethan said. “You’ll be saying a lot of ‘oh God, oh God’ if we—”
“Tease,” I muttered.
“And we’ll have plenty of time for all of that.” Rhett glanced toward the kitchen doorway. “But after Sabrina leaves.”
Ethan’s fingers drummed faster. I fidgeted.
Rhett cleared his throat. “Oh, Kieran, I meant to ask. We’re getting tickets with Dale and a few other people for a Mariners game. You want to go?”
Thankful for the subject change, I said, “Sounds like fun. When?”
“I think Dale said it was…” He furrowed his brow and looked at Ethan. “Was it next weekend?”
“Weekend after,” Ethan said.
“Right, right.” Rhett raised his eyebrows. “You in?”
Scowling, I shook my head. “That’s the weekend I have to go back to Sacramento. Dad’s getting married.”
“Damn, that’s coming up already?” Ethan said.
I nodded. “Unfortunately. I can’t wait for it to be done and over with, let me tell you.”
“Your mom still harping on you about it?” Rhett asked.
“Yep. She doesn’t want me to go. And I really don’t want to go either, but…” I shrugged. “What can I do?”
“I suppose bailing on your dad’s wedding isn’t an option?” Ethan said.
Ethan started to speak again, but footsteps and chattering female voices came up the stairs, and all three of us turned our heads in that general direction.
“That would be the birthday girl,” Rhett said.
A second later, Sabrina stepped into the kitchen, flanked by a couple of her friends. She looked at me and smiled. “Hey, Kieran. Long time no see.”
“Too long,” I said as she hugged me. “Happy birthday.”
“Thank you.” She let me go and looked at her dads. “We’re going to go ahead and take off; is that cool?”
Thank God. Ethan and I exchanged glances, and I didn’t have to ask if we were on the same page.
“Not yet you’re not,” Rhett said. “I told you, you’re not leaving this house until you’ve had a celebratory drink with us.” To his daughter’s friends, he said, “One round, then she’s all yours.” Rhett gestured at the three empty shot glasses and looked at me. “Make yourself useful, barkeep.”
“Barkeep?” I folded my arms across my chest again. “I beg your pardon?”
“Oh, come on, Kieran,” Sabrina said. “Just pour them so we can go party. Please?”
“Okay, but just for you.” I picked up the bottle of tequila.
“It’s about time you were old enough to come out with us,” one of Sabrina’s friends said as I poured the shots.
“No kidding,” the other said, elbowing Sabrina playfully. “Damn near a senior, and you can finally go out with the big kids.”
“Hey, not my fault my birthday landed at the end of the damned school year.” Sabrina glared at Rhett. “You know, so I ended up being the baby in my class for my entire school career.”
Rhett offered a sarcastically apologetic look. “Well, your mother and I could have—”
“La, la, la!” She put her hands over her ears and closed her eyes. “I’m not hearing this! La, la, la!”
Ethan laughed, then did a double take at her. He raised an eyebrow. “When the hell did you get your belly button pierced, young lady?”
She looked down at the barbell, which her shirt did nothing to hide. “Uh, a while ago.” She raised her eyebrows, probably expecting him to say something more about it, but he and Rhett just looked at each other and shook their heads. There really wasn’t much they could say about her piercings or her two tattoos. She was an adult, and besides, Rhett had several tattoos and a piercing of his own. Even Ethan had finally gotten some ink last year. Like fathers, like daughter.
“Just don’t let your mother see it,” Rhett muttered.
“Are you kidding?” Sabrina said. “She still hasn’t forgiven me for getting my tongue pierced.”
“Neither have I,” he said.
Rhett rubbed his eye with his middle finger.
“All right, all right,” I said. “When you’re all done playing the dysfunctional family, your drinks await.” I slid the shots across the kitchen island. The guys had already sliced up some limes and had a salt shaker handy. Judging by the number of limes on the plate, they weren’t planning on stopping after their daughter left. I wondered if I could talk them into doing body shots again tonight. Body shots off either of those two were—
Breathe, Kieran. The thought made me light-headed, and I casually leaned against the counter.
Oblivious to my distraction, Sabrina licked the back of her finger and picked up the salt shaker. Then she looked up, eyes darting back and forth between Rhett and Ethan. “What?”
Rhett cleared his throat. “You already know how to do tequila shots?”
“Um…” She looked at the salt on her finger, then back at her father. “I Googled it?”
Ethan snickered and gestured for her to give him the salt shaker. “Sure you did.” He licked the back of his own finger and sprinkled some salt on it. “I believe her, don’t you, Rhett?”
“Completely.” Rhett took the shaker from Ethan. “One hundred percent.”
Sabrina raised an eyebrow. “I’m detecting some sarcasm here.”
“What?” Rhett scoffed, looking up from salting his finger. “No, no, never.”
“Yeah,” Ethan said. “When have we ever been sarcastic?”
I snorted, and they both eyed me. I put up my hands. “What?”
“Come on,” Sabrina said. “Tequila shots. Focus, old guys.”
Rhett raised his shot glass. “To being old enough to drink, even though your dad already knows about that incident during your senior year.”
Sabrina’s eyes widened. “You…knew about that?”
Rhett grinned. “I do now.”
We all laughed, though Sabrina’s face still registered a hint of panic as she glanced at her father again.
Ethan raised his glass. “To Sabrina surviving twenty-one years of Rhett’s parenting.”
“And thirteen or so of yours,” she added.
They clinked their glasses together, licked the salt off their fingers, and threw back the shots. Rhett swallowed it, grimaced and shook his head before reaching for a lime. Neither Ethan nor Sabrina even flinched at the tequila, but the limes made both of them squint.
Rhett set the lime rind down and gave his daughter a dirty look. “You know, most people find tequila a bit strong.” He paused. “The first time they try it, anyway.” One eyebrow rose.
Her cheeks colored and she batted her eyes. “I guess I just like it. I’ve never had tequila in my—”
Both of her friends tried and failed to muffle snorts of laughter.
Rhett gave Sabrina the most disapproving look he could muster, though the corner of his mouth threatened to give him away. Before he could say anything, though, Ethan clapped his shoulder.
“Girl’s a chip off the old block, isn’t she?”
“What?” Rhett scoffed. “I never drank before I was twenty-one.”
“Only because the only thing available at the time was moonshine,” I said, pretending I wasn’t ready to shoo the girls out the door because…come on, hurry up, all of you.
“I beg your pardon,” Rhett said.
Ethan shrugged. “You can’t really argue with him, you know.”
Rhett shot him a glare. “Says the man from the era before alcohol was even invented.”
Sabrina looked at her friends. “See? Told you they were cool.”
“Maybe they should come with us,” Beth said.
“They’re not that cool.”
Rhett chuckled and put his arm around Sabrina’s shoulders. “Happy birthday, kiddo.”
“Thanks, Dad.” She hugged him, then did the same with Ethan.
When she turned to me, I thought she was about to embrace me again, but instead, she put a hand on my arm.
“Can I borrow you for a minute?” she asked.
I blinked. “Uh, sure. What’s up?”
She gestured for me to follow her, and we stepped out into the hallway. “Is there any way I can talk you into doing me a huge favor tonight?”
I raised an eyebrow. “That depends. What’s the favor?”
“My girls and I are meeting some friends, and there’s this guy who’s going to be there. I really, really want you to meet him.”
“Me? Why?” And why tonight of all nights?
“Because he’s really super shy,” she said. “And he wants to learn his way around the gay clubs and all of that on Capitol Hill, but he’s just…” She paused, then exhaled. “The thing is, he only knows a couple of gay guys, and they don’t get along at all.”
“But you think he’d get along with me?”
“Trust me, you wouldn’t get along with those two jerks either,” she said. “Is there any way I could talk you into coming with us tonight and meeting him?”
My eyes darted toward the kitchen where my evening’s plans waited with a bottle of tequila, then back to her. “Does it have to be tonight?”
“It took me two weeks to convince him to go out with us,” she said. “Please? I know you and my dads were going out tonight, and I’m totally springing this on you at the last minute, but I really need your help with this.”
I resisted the urge to fidget. “Why me?”
“Because you’re the only guy I know who actually knows the gay scene on Capitol Hill but isn’t a hardcore partier. The other guys I know, they just want to get hammered, and half the time don’t even remember if they got laid, let alone who they were with. Alex…isn’t that type. At all.”
I shifted my weight. “What exactly is it you want me to do?”
“Just take him out,” she said. “Show him the whole scene isn’t as terrifying as he thinks it is.”
I threw another glance toward the kitchen. “Can you give me his number? I can, you know, another night—”
“No, he’d never go for that.” She shook her head and put up her hands. “It took me until yesterday to convince him to come tonight, and if I tried to hook you guys up one on one, he’d think I was, you know, trying to hook you guys up. I don’t want to put him on the spot or make him feel like I’m sending him out on a blind date or something.” She clasped her hands together beneath her chin and batted her eyes. “Please, Kieran? I’ll owe you big time.”
I blew out a breath. Much as I didn’t want to be anywhere but here tonight, I also knew what it was like to be the new kid trying to figure out the gay scene. For that matter, enough college kids came through the bar where I worked, drinking themselves senseless and doing things that even I—unrepentant manwhore that I was—wouldn’t do. It was way too easy to get roped into that, and it could get really dangerous, really fast.
It was only one evening. Ethan and Rhett weren’t going anywhere. Chances were, they’d understand.
Releasing a breath, I nodded. “Okay, sure. I’ll come meet him.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said with a big smile. “I owe you big-time.”
I made myself return the smile, then followed her back into the kitchen. Damn conscience.
“Okay, who’s the designated driver?” Rhett asked Sabrina’s friends as we walked back into the kitchen.
“Beth,” Sabrina said, gesturing at her brunette friend.
Rhett pulled out his wallet. He handed Beth a twenty. “That’s for gas, food, sodas, whatever.”
“Awesome, thanks.” Beth put the twenty in her purse. To Sabrina, she said, “Ready to go?”
“Yeah.” Sabrina looped her arm around my elbow. “And we’re taking Kieran with us.”
Rhett and Ethan both looked at me with wide eyes.
Ethan cleared his throat. “You, what?”
“We’re just borrowing him for a night,” Sabrina said.
“You know, it’s a good thing I’m gay,” I said. “Or they would seriously get the wrong idea.”
Sabrina blushed. Both of her dads laughed.
“All right, all right, get out of here.” Rhett glared at me. “All of you.”
“Sabrina, you’ll be careful tonight, right?” Ethan asked.
In an exasperated voice, she said, “Yes, Dad. I won’t drink until I drop, and I’ll make sure to drink some water in between, and I’ll eat something. Am I forgetting anything?”
“Don’t forget to tip the bartender,” I said.
“Right.” Ethan nodded, pretending to be totally serious. “What he said.”
“I will,” Sabrina said. “Don’t worry.”
“Okay, have fun tonight,” Ethan said. “Happy birthday.”
“Call us if you need anything,” Rhett said.
“I will.” She looked at me. “Ready to go?”
“Um, yeah, I’ll be right there.”
Sabrina and her friends filed out of the kitchen, and as soon as they were gone, I turned to her dads.
“You guys don’t mind, do you?”
Ethan chuckled. “We’ll make do, but what the hell are you going to do at a party full of college girls?”
My cheeks burned. “Uh, actually, Sabrina asked a favor.” I explained the situation to them.
Rhett waved a hand. “Hey, we all know what it’s like to be that kid.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “I’d just rather stay here tonight.”
“I’d rather you stayed too,” Ethan said. “But we’ll make it up another night. And hey, if nothing else, say hello to this kid, get his number, then bail and come back here.” He lowered his voice. “You know we’ll be awake for a while.”
“Of course you will.” I chuckled. “Matlock isn’t on until late, is it?”
“Hey, fuck you.”
I laughed. “Okay, I should go. I’ll call you guys later this week.”
“Please do,” Ethan said.
I kissed them each in turn. On my way out, I glanced back just in time to catch Ethan and Rhett exchanging the most mouthwatering look as Ethan picked up the bottle of Patrón. Rhett licked the back of his finger and reached for the salt shaker.
Suppressing a groan, I followed the girls out to the car.
So help me, Sabrina, this guy had better be worth it…