Rafi Reyes figures going along with a fake-dating stunt is only fair after Julian Gault saves his life. The young actor is famously cold and snotty, and Rafi's rock band is falling apart in the wake of betrayal. A shiny new romance might be just what both their reputations need. It's too bad they don't actually like each other, but they'll both benefit -- a softer public image for Julian, revenge against his ex for Rafi.
But as they navigate public events, attend red-carpet premieres, and play cat-and-mouse with paparazzi together, Rafi gets to know a different Julian than he expected -- one who defends horses, takes care of his troubled cousin, and has Rafi's back against his dysfunctional family. Rafi starts to hope he and Julian have something real together.
But Julian has secrets more painful than Rafi can imagine. With Julian's powerful and controlling uncle scheming to turn them against each other, their relationship must become something much deeper if it -- and possibly either of them -- are to survive.
It didn’t take Rafi long to change into his tuxedo -- charcoal pinstripe, excellently tailored; it was comfortable, appropriate, and flattering and that was the end of his interest in it -- and before long he wandered over to the other dressing room, and Julian.
Who was in his underwear, fighting with a white dress shirt.
“I thought you were a big boy who could dress himself.”
Julian had the shirt mostly on, though unbuttoned; what seemed to have stymied him were the cuff buttons. He was scrabbling and twisting at his wrist in a way that reminded Rafi of a dog chasing his tail. Rafi leaned against the doorway and watched in open amusement as Julian swore under his breath with mounting viciousness -- then turned and thrust his hand out at Rafi. “You do it, then, if you’re so much more competent!”
“Oh.” Rafi felt oddly uncertain as he stepped closer; all he could think of, for a moment, was Bo. Helping her dress for big events, doing up zippers, and clasping necklaces -- a sweet note of intimacy, domesticity, in the midst of high glamour.
Julian’s hand was palm-up, fingers lightly curled; the pose was lazy and elegant, beckoning and mocking in equal measure. Delicate veins showed blue through the pale skin of his wrist.
Rafi, annoyed at his own hesitation, took the offered hand and began addressing the buttons. They quickly proved more difficult than he’d expected, tiny and slippery, with buttonholes a little too small and far apart.
“‘A big boy who can dress himself,’” Julian echoed. “But perhaps ‘big’ is the problem. The rest of you is almost too musclebound to move, why not your fingers?”
“I’ll be glad to stop bothering you with my assistance.”
“You haven’t been of any assistance yet.” Nevertheless, he stopped talking, only watching intently as Rafi finally managed the buttons on one wrist, and reached for the other. The motion of lifting his arm made the shirt fall open a little more, and Rafi had to stop pretending not to notice Julian’s chest -- slender and smooth and surprisingly muscular, one cute pink nipple peeking out the edge of the shirt.
Rafi managed to flick his gaze up, away from Julian’s chest, only for it to catch on Julian’s eyes instead. They were fixed on him steadily, expressionless, perhaps angry, perhaps -- not.
Rafi swallowed, looking away, and fumbled another button.
This was a mistake. All of it, being here with Julian, agreeing to this crazy fake-relationship plan. Leveraging his reputation, his integrity -- for what, a chance to spit in Bo’s face? Was that really the person he was?
Maybe a little. Maybe it felt pretty awesome to know that after years of letting her jerk him around, he could tell her, I can have another you in a minute, and in fact he’ll be here in a minute.
Besides, Julian had saved his life. Rafi owed him something for that. He could pretend to like him for a little while in front of some cameras.
If asked, he would have said that reaching for the front of the shirt, doing the buttons there, was meant as a comment on Julian’s competence. But Julian didn’t ask.