Can pretending to be in love lead to a real forever ever after happiness?
Jayden Sindler is a member of the wedding party for his sister's wedding and has been warned to bring someone with him to keep the single hunting women at arm's length. Luck presents itself in the form of Nash Vargas. Invited to accompany Jayden, Nash convinces him to playact as something more believable-boyfriends.
But what happens when acting turns into real affection? And will there be a future after the weekend?
"Rebecca... Rebecca! Please stop." Jayden clutched the phone in one hand and cradled his head in the other. Tim was chuckling across the table. Tim didn't even have to know what Jayden's sister had said to irritate him so badly this time. It came with the territory of being Jayden's friend. Rebecca was annoying.
With Rebecca in reload silence, he said, "I don't need you to find me a date to take to your wedding. I don't need to take anyone." He did his best to be firm.
"Don't give me that bull, Jay. And yes, you will need someone, otherwise I can name at least four women who will hound you mercilessly because you're male and breathing. Being gay won't even faze them. You need to bring someone for your own safety, not because I'm saying you need to."
"That's not counting Denise, Lavinia, or Jewel, so that is now seven. Are you prepared to beat women off with a stick for five days straight? Or hide in your room?" She huffed clearly through the phone. "Trust me. Bring someone. And make it believable! Jewel already knows you're single again."
"How bad can they be?"
"Jay, are you really asking me that?"
He lifted imploring eyes to Tim, who was sitting in amused silence, sipping his latte, clearly enjoying his predicament of the moment for the laugh factor. "I hate you," Jayden whispered.
"What? Why?" Rebecca cried.
"Not you. I'm glaring at Tim."
"Oh, he's there? Oh my God! Ask him!"
"What?" Jayden snapped up straight on his seat. "Are you insane?"
"Probably, but he's your best friend, right? You guys are like peanut butter and jelly. He would be a perfect beard."
"Honey, a beard is of the opposite sex, a composite disguise," he pointed out.
"How the hell am I supposed to know all the code words you guys use? I'm just a straight woman on the fringe because I have a kickass, but currently frustrating me like the pain in the neck he is, younger brother who is gay."
"Wow. And you didn't even breathe once through all of that," he said in mocking astonishment.
"Ooooooooh! I am so kicking your ass! Fine. Do things your own way. But don't say I didn't warn you." Then she hung up. Three seconds later, the phone started chirping again. He cautiously silenced the noise and lifted it to his ear. "And I love you." Then...nothing.
"Wow," Tim murmured, feigning shock. "Does she come with a warning label?"
"She should," Jayden agreed. "I guess you heard most of that?"
"A lot." He sipped his latte gingerly. "And no, do not ask me. My answer is no." He placed it on the table with an exact attention.
"I wasn't going to, but why not?"
"Because part of meeting you here today was to tell you the good news. I met someone and I wanted you to meet him."
"Oh." Jayden was shocked, and yes, disappointed to learn that. "You're my best friend," he said, trying for enthusiastic when it wasn't what he was feeling. "You deserve some happy." It would just take some getting used to. Tim hadn't dated anyone in... God, that long? He'd gotten used to having his friend for himself.
"Uh-huh," Tim offered, bringing his focus to him. "If you were any more real, I'd nominate you for a Tony."
Jayden snickered and relaxed in his chair. "Okay, I am happy for you. So who is he? Where is he?"
"He's behind you," Tim said merrily as his eyes began to sparkle. He stood from his chair and rounded the table to greet an approaching man. "Hi, baby." He gave and got a soft smooch in answer. Tim gripped his fingers and pulled him to the table. "Jayden, this is Bill Vargas."
Jayden stood, his gaze landing on the man right before they widened in shocked recognition. "Wait. The William Vargas, the running back?" He offered a hand to shake.
Bill shrugged, making the shake a quick one, then sharing a quiet grin with Tim. "I guess so. I'm shocked you still remember that. I haven't played in years."
"Legacies and legends." He pulled out a chair and moved over so Bill could sit with Tim.
"We need one more chair," Bill said. "My cousin is with me."
"Sure!" Tim was happy to oblige, moving his to make room. "How's he settling in?"
"As well as he can, I suppose," Bill replied.
Jayden turned to find a fourth chair when a dream of maleness walked through the doors. Narrow features, shoulder length black hair, dark eyes that could have been obsidian they were so deep, and...eyeliner? The impact was riveting with his bottomless eyes.
Jayden blinked and quickly turned. He had no problem with anyone's preferences but he didn't want to make someone uncomfortable by staring either simply because it wasn't something he was used to seeing every day.
"Grab a seat, Nash."
Jayden scooted over and slowly felt the air exit his lungs as the exotic dream sat next to him.
"Would you like something?" Bill asked his cousin.
He twisted to hunt for the board, reading the offerings. "Can I have a dirty chai tea?"
"Sure." Bill went to stand but Tim stayed him in his seat.
"I'll get it. I need a fresh one anyway. Jay?"
"No, I'm fine, thanks."
Nash raised a hand and scooped hair behind his ear, settling onto his seat, and Jayden forgot anything else he was going to say. There was a small shooting star tattoo behind his ear. Oh, God. Sssssexy.
"Tim says you and he have been friends since elementary school." Bill crossed an ankle over the other, stretching out a bit under the table. Jayden didn't see how he couldn't. The man was easily six-four, if not more.
"Uh, yeah." He mentally shook himself to focus on Bill. "Since the third grade. We hung out a lot, came out together, shared a lot of the ups and downs. He's a rock."
"That's what he said about you," Bill said with a light smile. "Why didn't you two ever try to get together?"
"Because there's nothing to encourage it. No chemistry," Jayden replied honestly. "Besides, friends are hard to come by in this economy."
Nash snickered quietly, his eyes downcast with his hands folded over his stomach.
"Here you go, Nash." Tim set his tea on the table, and retook his chair beside Bill.
"Thank you." He lifted it to take an appreciative sip.
"Bill told me you're going to be starting school this semester. Does that mean you're staying?" Tim asked.
"I'm here until something else happens, or changes," he replied, flicking a quick glance toward Tim before dropping his lashes.
"I know it looks bleak, but things do get better," Tim offered kindly.
"He's staying with me for as long as he needs. The house is plenty big enough." Bill cupped his shoulder and gave him a supportive shake. "I'm just glad you called before doing anything drastic."
Nash lifted a shoulder, giving Bill a wan smile. "I'd hoped you would at least understand. No one else was even trying." He sank into himself, seemingly becoming smaller. "They wanted to send me to therapy. At the church."
Jayden shuddered. "What the hell?"
Nash faced him fully for the first time. "They said I was sick." The remembered pain was plain as day in those eyes. "All they wanted was the good little Catholic boy. They didn't care about what I wanted, about what I feel, or am."
Nash blew out a breath, and faced forward. "Sorry." He touched Bill's forearm. "I'll be right back." He stood and walked out the side door of the coffee shop.
"He's still hurting," Tim said.
"At least he's talking about it, finally. Two weeks ago all he did was hide in his room, terrified I was going to do what they'd been doing."
"What was that?" Jayden had to know.
"Conversion therapy was just the tip of the iceberg. He's nineteen, but under Tio's roof, he was never treated like an adult."
"Nineteen?" Jayden sought over a shoulder for the younger man.
"He's starting college this semester." Pride was evident in Bill's voice. "I convinced him he needed to come here and go through with his plans, with his future. That I would deal with Uncle Santos." Bill made sure Nash wasn't coming back yet before continuing in a confidential tone. "Santos said he's never to come home. I told the old fuck that was fine. So until Nash makes his next move, he's staying with me."
"I take it you and your uncle have come to words often?" Tim asked.
"Only once. I was still playing football when he thought he could whip the gay out of me. Needless to say he didn't, and Dad and he haven't spoken since. At least ten years now. Mom and Dad are fine with me and will have no problem with Nash, but I told them to let him open up on his own, not to rush him. It's killing Mom, but she understands." He twisted to face Jayden. "Which is why I'm a little surprised he said what he did so easily to you."
"I'mâ€” I don't even know," Jayden admitted, appalled. "Conversion therapy?" How anyone thought that was helpful, useful, or safe, was impossible to comprehend.
"I'm positive there was mental abuse too." He shook his head grimly. "He has to be the one to open up on his own terms."
"What if... What if I could give him a break away from life?"
Tim's eyes widened. "Jay. Not a good idea."
"No. Let me think this through." Jayden cupped his hands on the tabletop. "He's not in school yet, so his schedule is open. He wouldn't know anyone, and everyone is accepting." Rebecca would decapitate anyone who wasn't.
"What are you suggesting? And why should I trust you?"
"This is a great idea." He smiled, beamed really. "If he's game, then why not?"
"Jayden," Tim said. "He's nineteen."
"And I'm twenty-six. I'm not thinking with that part of me."
"For once," Tim uttered under his breath.
"Ha-ha. This is what I'm thinking," he said to Bill. "Six days in Florida. I'll pay for the airfare. I was going to have to regardless of who I asked, I know that much. My sister's wedding. There may or may not be other gay men. I honestly don't know who she's invited. But I'm in the wedding and I've been strongly warned to bring someone with me."
"And how will that help Nash?" Bill demanded, clearly not buying the suggestion.
"Because it will build his confidence. Over two hundred guests, all accepting or allies. Rebecca is staunch in her support and will not put up with anyone who isn't. People who will be happy to know him, who won't judge him. It will be an environment he's never experienced: full acceptance. I'll keep him safe, and he'll get to see a little bit of the country while we're there too."
"Only for certain things." He boldly met Bill's eyes. "Yes, I'm offering this for purely selfish reasons, but it might also be what he needs to let what has happened go." He said to Tim, "You at least know I'm serious about that, don't you?"
Tim scowled, then sighed, "Yes." He caught Bill's hand to wrap it into his own. "Not saying Jay is a prince by any means, but he's got a good heart and he does seem to be able to help others heal."
"It just so happens he will be doing me a huge favor by being a shield while I'm doing my duty to my sister."
"I really don't know," Bill hedged.
"Let me get to know him this weekend. I leave on Tuesday. If he doesn't want to or isn't comfortable with the idea, I won't push it. He might say I'm crazy right off and that's fine. I'm perfectly fine too if he wants to go just to get away, to go somewhere that isn't here. I can't judge him for that considering what I'm asking of him."
Bill shook his head. "You're a car salesman, aren't you?"
"Worse. I handle large medical supply. Try selling that," he quipped.
Bill fell silent, taking time to give it serious thought. "Okay. You can ask him. No coercion, no demands, and no sex. Not now, then, or there."
That was reasonable to Jayden. "Fair enough. And we'll call often so you know he's okay, and that we're both being good."
"You did hear the last of those conditions, didn't you?" Tim egged him.
"Yes." He rolled his eyes. "I promise."