Twins Blake and Bianca Dunlap have always been there for each other, ready to lend support and make sacrifices. Blake can't imagine a bigger sacrifice than getting along with Bianca's fiancé, Matt. However, Matt turns out to be more than the meathead Blake had dismissed him as, but Matt's best friend, Ryan Everett, is a different story. Ryan seems intent on being an insufferable jerk as often as possible. The fact that Blake is undeniably attracted to Ryan only makes the whole situation more annoying.
Since they'll all be stuck together for the long haul, Blake is determined to make nice. Unfortunately he overshoots, and he and Ryan end up on much friendlier terms than Blake intended. While he and Ryan agree there's no harm in having a strings-free fling, that changes when Matt and Bianca find out about it. As more complications arise, Blake and Ryan become more determined to do what it takes to avoid letting them down. But the only way to ensure getting through a joyous wedding and avoid the questions neither of them want to answer is to convince everyone it's something more.
“HAVE YOU seen my keys?” Blake was stalling. He couldn’t help it. “I keep losing stuff this week. I think I need more sleep. Maybe I shouldn’t go.”
“You promised you would give him a chance,” Bianca reminded him, leaning against the kitchen counter of their shared apartment, her arms crossed over her chest. She probably wouldn’t appreciate being told how much she looked like their mother when she stood like that, so Blake bit his tongue. He was in enough trouble as it was. “I know you’ll really like him if you do. Also, your keys are in your pocket. I can see them there.”
Blake held up his hands to show his surrender. Bianca would have her way on this. He was only making things harder on himself by being stubborn, and yet hope sprang eternal. “I’ll give Matthew a chance.”
“His name is Matt.”
“Starting now.” Blake grinned when she punched his arm. “I still don’t see why you’re being so weird about it, though. If you’re happy, then I’m happy. It doesn’t matter what I think of him.”
“You know that’s not true.” She would not even allow him the well-meaning lie. They were twins and best friends and, for better or worse, what one thought of the other’s boyfriend did matter.
“I swear, I will get to know him, and I’m sure I’ll love him once I do.” Blake wrapped his arm around her shoulders and hoped he was telling the truth. It was true that, thus far, he hadn’t given Matt a fair chance. From the start, Blake had written him off as the rebound guy and didn’t think he was important enough to be bothered. Now Bianca was acting like Matt was The One, which meant Blake had to suck it up and play nice. At least for the immediate future.
“I’m holding you to that,” Bianca said as if she had a way to follow through.
“In my defense, you have only been dating for a month. How was I supposed to know he was more than a talented booty call?”
“Is this you being supportive?”
“I’m just saying,” Blake mumbled.
Their story wasn’t exactly a grand romance in the making. They’d met at a bar a few weeks before when Blake had taken Bianca out for a night of post break-up, “fuck men” drowning of sorrows. Matt had bumped into her, and Bianca’d said something bitchy about learning some manners, to which Matt had replied, “Sweetheart, you can teach me anything you want.”
Bianca had given him her number, because “he’s cute, right?” And she’d always been one for rebound flings. It seemed, however, that Matt had managed to avoid being flung, and Blake was having a hard time recategorizing him from “rebound meathead” to “legitimate boyfriend meathead.”
The brilliant solution to this, in Bianca’s mind, was for Blake to join meathead and his meathead buddies for poker night, as though Blake were even remotely a “poker night” kind of guy. He needed a drink just thinking about it. If there were sporting events happening on TV in the background, he would likely need several. It was officially fall, which meant football. Or was baseball still happening? Not that it mattered—Washington had a team for each, and college sports besides. Oh God, what if Matt watched college sports?
“Stop,” Bianca said, frowning at him.
“I haven’t done anything.”
“You have a bitchy look on your face. You think I don’t know you?” She picked up the bag with the beer and chips she was forcing him to take as hostess gifts, and handed it over. “At least try to be pleasant. You might even enjoy yourself. His friends are really fun.”
Blake forced a smile and leaned over to kiss her cheek. “I’ll be a prince. I swear.” He even meant it, for all his complaining and feelings of dread. If Bianca wanted him to love her boyfriend, Blake would do whatever it took to make sure he did, whether he liked it or not. There wasn’t much he wouldn’t do for her, and they both knew it.
“Have fun,” she said as she walked him to the door.
“You aren’t as funny as you think you are,” Blake told her. His evening stretched out before him, horrible and endless, and he hadn’t even made it to his car yet.
“I’M SERIOUS, guys,” Matt said for the fifteenth time at least. “Don’t be dicks tonight. I need to make a good impression.”
While Matt freaking out was usually pretty hilarious, Ryan was running out of patience for this particular panic attack. “Chill out, dude. He’s only her brother. Bianca’s crazy about you. That’s what matters. Unless you’re thinking about trying to arrange a threesome.”
“He’s her twin brother. Believe me, it matters,” Matt said, ignoring the last part completely. “Be nice.” He gave Ryan a pointed look.
“Come on. Look who you’re talking to.” Ryan did his best to look offended. Just because he’d been harassing Matt about it for the past week didn’t mean he wouldn’t be on his best behavior tonight. Ryan could play well with others. “They don’t call me Ryan ‘Prince Charming’ Everett for nothing.”
“No one would ever call you that.”
The doorbell rang before Matt could launch into his “dos and don’ts” list again, and Ryan popped up from his chair and grabbed the pizza money off the table. “Seriously, man. You need to chill out. It’ll be fine.”
He shook his head and jogged to the entryway as Matt was telling Daniel to watch his swearing. Matt was acting like Bianca’s brother might get an attack of the vapors if someone so much as breathed wrong. Given Bianca’s personality, Ryan highly doubted her twin was a pearl-clutching schoolmarm. It was probably dickish of him, but Ryan was looking forward to meeting the unholy terror of a guy who had Matt so wound up.
“Hey, man, how much do I owe you?” Ryan stopped short, nearly hitting himself in the face with the door when he actually looked at the guy standing there.
Definitely not the pizza boy, and easily the most gorgeous guy Ryan had seen in a good long while. He looked like some sort of haughty underwear model or high-class prostitute. He was put together like he was on his way to a GQ photo shoot in a gray wool coat with a red scarf wrapped artfully around his neck. His jeans looked faux-worn, cuffed and draped too precisely over his boots to be casual. Was he there as some sort of practical joke? Had Matt hired some dude to pretend he had sophisticated friends?
The guy gave him a practiced, flirty smile. “Depends on what you’re paying me for, I suppose.” The statement hung somewhere between sarcastic and suggestive.
Ryan turned his head and shouted, “Did you guys order me a hooker?” He turned back to the hooker/underwear model and grinned. “It’s not even my birthday.”
“Sorry, the term is escort, right?”
“What are you—Jesus, Ryan,” Matt said, coming up behind him. “This is Bianca’s brother.” The why are we friends, I’m going to kill you was very clear in his tone.
“You’re Blake?” Ryan asked, ignoring Matt’s death glare. “Man, now I don’t know whether to be embarrassed or disappointed.”
“You’re such an ass.” Matt turned to Blake. “Feel free to ignore him. The rest of us do. Please come in.” He led the way to the living room without giving Ryan a second glance.
Ryan gestured for Blake to enter, and grinned when Blake whispered, “You should be both, but if you have to pick one? It should definitely be disappointment. Scout’s honor.”
Well, then. Ryan checked the street for the pizza guy, who should’ve been there already, to give himself a personal moment before rejoining the rest of the group.
IT BECAME clear soon enough that Blake was indeed doing his best to form some sort of friendship with Matt. As clearly out of his comfort zone as he was, he seemed to be making a genuine effort to converse and get along with everyone in their group.
Well, everyone but Ryan, who managed to say something profoundly idiotic every time he opened his mouth. It was equal parts hilarious and horrifying. There was something about Blake that made Ryan blank completely, and he kept blurting things out before he had a chance to think better of them.
Such as “Well, you don’t suck at poker” as Blake collected his winnings from that hand. The statement itself, and Ryan’s inflection, seemed to imply he expected Blake to suck at anything he might attempt in life.
Blake gave him what was becoming an all-too-familiar smile of disdain, then turned to Matt, his expression morphing into something more genuine. “Abby, our sister-in-law, taught Bianca and me to play when we were kids. Bianca never got the hang of it, though. She has a hard time hiding her excitement when she gets a good hand.”
Ryan smiled at the image. It was easy to picture Bianca trying and failing to hide her enthusiasm for something. “She’s really great,” he said, eliciting a brief, real smile from Blake before he screwed it up by adding, “You guys aren’t much alike, are you?”
Matt gave him an incredulous look, and Daniel, Sean, and Adam slumped in their chairs, having given up on trying to smother their laughter about twenty minutes into the game. Blake didn’t bother with an answer, which was probably for the best.
“I’m glad you could come tonight,” Matt said, pressing on as though Ryan hadn’t spoken. “We used to have another regular player, but he stopped coming around a few months back.”
“After Ryan chased him off,” Daniel added.
“I didn’t chase Dustin off.” Ryan was insulted Daniel would even think such a thing. “It’s hardly my fault his giant ape of a husband has taken such an irrational disliking to me.”
“Right. Irrational,” Daniel stage-whispered to Blake, whose answering smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.
Ryan debated the wisdom of arguing the point further—he’d honestly had nothing to do with Dustin’s disappearance—but he figured, at this point in the evening, anything he said was only going to make him look bad.
The worst part was Ryan couldn’t for the life of him figure out what his problem was. It wasn’t that Blake was hot, though he certainly was that. He and Bianca were obviously related. He had the same pretty hazel eyes framed by dark lashes and smattering of freckles across his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. He also had a mouth that could easily be described as generous, if one wanted to get flowery about it, and Ryan was doing his best not to dwell on that too much.
Yes, Blake was hot, but Ryan didn’t think he was overrating his own attractiveness in thinking Blake was hardly out of his league. Ryan was good-looking, and he’d slept with plenty of other good-looking guys. That didn’t normally trip him up. Nor did Blake’s contempt, which, while deserved in this particular instance, was almost expected from guys that pretty.
There was something about Blake in particular that threw Ryan off his game, and he started to feel a little guilty that he’d been so dismissive of Matt’s earlier nervousness. By the time Blake got up to leave for the evening, Ryan’s foot was so far down his throat he was going to need it surgically removed. So of course when Daniel pointed out that Blake had left his cell phone behind, Ryan immediately jumped up to take it to him before anyone else could touch it.
Blake was on his way back up to the house by the time Ryan got outside, and he gave Ryan a suspicious look when he closed the door behind him. “I have your phone. You left it in there.” He meant it as a neutral statement, but he was fairly certain he’d managed to imply Blake was a mouth-breathing moron who shouldn’t go out in public without a chaperone.
He was on a roll.
“Yeah, thanks,” Blake said, accepting it from him and tucking it into his pocket. “So… good night.”
“Hey,” Ryan said as he started to turn. “Matt’s a good guy. Whatever you might think of me, don’t take that out on him.”
The look Blake gave him was completely unreadable. “I am actually capable of forming an impression of someone on their own merits, independent of the unfortunate company they might sometimes choose to keep.”
Ryan smiled, some perverse compulsion to answer that bubbling in him when he knew it would be better to shut the hell up. “Not just another pretty face, then?”
A look of pure disdain crossed Blake’s face in response. It was impressive enough that Ryan wondered if he practiced his icy glares in the mirror.
“To the chagrin of many,” Blake finally said. “Rest assured, for you to influence my feelings toward Matt, I would have to give a shit about you one way or the other. I don’t. Thanks for the phone.”
No response came to Ryan, insulting or otherwise, and, as stupidly as everything else he’d done all night, he stood there and watched Blake drive away.
EVERYONE WAS still sitting at the table when Ryan got back inside. Matt looked dour and the rest of them positively gleeful.
“So, I think that went well.”
Matt stared at him long enough to make Ryan uncomfortable.
“Tell me something,” Matt finally said, his voice disturbingly even. “When I was talking earlier about how I wanted tonight to go well, and I asked everybody to be on their best behavior, what did you think I meant?”
It was probably better not to answer that question directly, but it was too late now for Ryan to start making good choices. “If you think about it, I did you a favor. I gave him a focus for his loathing, which left him free to like you.”
“Seriously, Ry! What the hell?”
“Oh, come on, Matt,” Daniel said. “It’s not his fault. Ryan wants to hit that so hard he can barely function, and he’s kind of an ass at the best of times.” It was not an entirely unfair assessment.
“Shut up,” Ryan said.
“No. No,” Matt repeated, sticking his finger in Ryan’s face. “Absolutely not. He is off-limits, Ryan. I’m serious. I really like Bianca, you can’t….” He looked like he was going to stroke out at the mere thought of it.
“Hey, it’s fine.” Ryan’s brain finally kicked into gear enough for him to attempt some damage control. “I’m not going to hook up with Bianca’s brother.”
Daniel snorted. “Clearly.”
Ryan flipped him off before continuing. “He caught me off guard with his whole….” He waved his hand around. “Face and stuff. I’ll be an angel from here on out, I swear.”
Matt eyed him dubiously, but relaxed after another moment. “You did seem to make me look good by comparison.”
Ryan clapped him on the shoulder. “All part of my charm.”
BIANCA WAS on the couch with the TV muted, waiting for Blake when he got home, which he chose to think of as cute rather than insulting. “Well?”
“It was okay,” Blake said. He poured himself a glass of water before joining her on the couch. “I’m big enough to admit that I was probably wrong about Matt. He seems like a nice enough guy. His friend Ryan, on the other hand, is a complete tool.” A big, stupid, fathead, fratboy, dickface tool.
“Ryan?” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Ryan is a doll. What did you do?”
“Nothing.” Blake was offended. “The guy was completely insulting the entire night.”
“Mmmhmm.” Bianca picked up her phone and Blake realized she was calling Matt to verify his story. She held her finger up when he started to protest. “Hey, baby, it’s me. I just wanted to apologize for whatever Blake did to Ryan to—what?” She turned to Blake, her eyes narrowed. “Really? Because you don’t have to defend him. Really? Wow. Um, okay, then.” She gave Blake another suspicious look, which turned into a gooey, besotted smile at whatever Matt said to her. “Yeah, okay. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I love you too. Good night.”
Blake sat back, his arms crossed, and waited for her apology.
“Well, he said Ryan was being an ass, and that he’s very sorry.” She rolled her eyes and gave him a rueful smile. “Okay. I’m sorry I assumed that you were lying and being a jerk. That was unfair of me.”
“Apology accepted,” Blake said, because he didn’t feel like arguing, and prior to that evening, he hadn’t given her much of a reason to assume otherwise. “Seriously, though, what’s that guy’s problem?”
“No idea. He’s always been a complete sweetheart to me. He and Matt have been best friends forever.”
She gave him a sly smile. “Maybe he was hitting on you.”
“If that’s his idea of flirting, that dude never gets laid,” Blake told her. He was so irritated that the fact that Ryan was decent to Bianca only served to piss him off more, irrational as he knew it was. “I promise you, it wasn’t pretty.”
“But he is. Pretty, I mean. I trust that didn’t escape your notice.”
Of course she would have to point that out. Had Ryan not ruined it by opening his mouth, Blake might’ve entertained a fantasy or two about him. For all that he looked like the generic jock type, there was something about him that would have been incredibly attractive if it weren’t so tainted by his smarm.
“Yeah, fine, he’s hot.” Blake waited for her to finish gloating before adding, “He’s still an asshole, though.”
Bianca snorted. “All hot guys are assholes to some extent.”
“Present company excluded, right?”
“Oh, honey.” Bianca gave him a look and patted his cheek. “I love you.”
Blake stuck his tongue out at her. Then, as casually as he could manage, he said, “I noticed you said that to Matt. I mean, I didn’t know you guys were there already.”
“Uh, yeah.” Bianca curled a strand of hair around her finger, then flipped it up to look for split ends, which she always did when she was avoiding eye contact. She peeked at him through the strands of hair and said, “I think he might be the one.”
“Huh.” Blake wasn’t sure what to make of that, and Bianca didn’t press him for his opinion. Thank God for small favors.
DANIEL WAS smiling as he rolled out of bed, but it wasn’t his usual orgasms-were-just-had smile. It was the obnoxious smile he got when he bluffed Ryan out of a winning hand, made all the more worrisome for the current context.
“Man, he really got you worked up, didn’t he?” Daniel finally asked as he slid on his boxers.
“Who?” Ryan was only half listening. Most of his attention was focused on wondering why Daniel insisted on wearing such hideous underwear. “What?” he asked when he realized Daniel was standing there in his terrible boxers, staring at him.
“Don’t bullshit me, Everett.”
“I make no promises until I know what we’re talking about.” Ryan scratched his belly and grimaced. He needed to clean up, but he wasn’t feeling inclined to move just yet.
Daniel smirked and resumed his search for the rest of his clothes. “We’re talking about the forbidden fruit with the porn-star mouth and the perfect ass that you were mentally beating it to all night.”
“Blake?” Ryan snorted. “Spare me. His ass hardly makes up for his personality.”
“Really?” Daniel’s skepticism was both obvious and insulting.
“Come on. Tell me you didn’t find him a little bit ice princessey. He’s like Bianca’s evil twin.” Ryan sat up, warming to the subject. “Did you see what he was wearing? Who wears that to a poker game? Mister High-and-Mighty slumming it with us peasants.”
“So you’re saying he didn’t get under your skin?” Daniel was doing a poor job of hiding his laughter.
“Not in the way you’re implying. Sure, whatever, he’s hot,” Ryan conceded at Daniel’s scoff. “But uptight, fussy, and judgmental doesn’t really turn my crank, no matter how nicely it’s packaged.”
“Whatever.” Daniel bent down, momentarily disappearing from view before straightening again, his shirt in his hand. He pulled it on and turned back to Ryan, all traces of amusement wiped from his expression. “Seriously, though, Ry. Matt seemed pretty adamant about you not fooling around with him.”
“Yeah….” Ryan raised his eyebrows, not really believing that Daniel thought he needed to be warned off Blake. “I don’t think that will be a problem.”
“Bullshit,” Daniel said without heat. “I know you. Beyond the fact that you like the challenge, you’ve always operated on basic toddler logic. You don’t like being told you can’t have something.”
Ryan laughed and leaned back, resisting the urge to argue. It would only prove Daniel’s point in his mind, no matter how off base he actually was. “If I ever need a character witness, I’m totally calling on you.”
Daniel’s answering smile was kind, which was creepy coming from him. “All I’m saying is, it might be a good idea to keep your distance. At least until Matt and Bianca call it quits.”
“You’re kidding, right?” It seemed so obvious to him, he couldn’t believe everyone else hadn’t realized it yet. “There’s not much chance of that happening. Bianca is it for our boy Matt. For better or worse, Blake is officially part of our lives.”
“All the more reason to keep your distance.”
“What makes you think I don’t want to?” The question sounded a little weak to his own ears, and Ryan got up and headed toward the bathroom to clean up rather than wait for Daniel’s answer.
So what if he found Blake interesting? It didn’t mean he liked him or that he couldn’t keep it in his pants. Sure, if he put his mind to it, he was certain he could get Blake into bed. He knew he could do it. He didn’t need to prove it to anyone, least of all himself.
Forbidden fruit, my ass.
Ryan was a grown man, capable of making rational decisions, and Blake was hardly under his skin.
I loved the characters. I laughed out loud. Smiled throughout most of the book
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I just love it when an author can make characters duel with words and pull the reader into it.
Everyone, including the side characters, were really unique and fully fleshed out.
I got drawn into this straight away and loved the dialogue between the characters. I'll definitely look out for more from this author.
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