ONE BEER turned into three before Cody escorted Julian out of the diner and into the cab that brought them back to the Strip. Cody didn’t want this night to end, but since they were strolling back to the Venetian, it looked like their Truth or Dare adventure was winding down.
It was probably for the best. Those last few beers over burgers hadn’t been the wisest choice. He didn’t feel sick or anything, at least not yet, but the alcohol had slowed the rolling stone he typically was down to a snail’s pace. He’d actually gotten to know Julian and, as a result, saw him differently than before.
He was no longer some random hot guy Cody wanted to bed. Okay, that wasn’t entirely true. Would he still slip between the sheets if Julian even brought up the idea? Oh hell yeah! He was drunk, not stupid. But the dynamic between them had changed. In just a few short hours, Julian had gone from stranger to something he couldn’t quite place.
Whenever that had happened to him before, Cody made sure to cut bait and run. Instead of doing that, he stayed where he was, matching his footfalls to Julian’s.
“I don’t think dessert was the smartest choice back there.” Julian held his stomach and stuck out his tongue.
Cody chuckled. “I told you not to, but you just had to have a scoop of mint chocolate chip.”
“It’s my favorite. But it won’t be if I see it again tomorrow morning.”
That was an image Cody didn’t need. “Can I ask you something?”
“More Truth or Dare?”
“No.” He wanted to ask a serious question, but he didn’t want Julian to feel obligated to answer if he didn’t want to.
Julian’s nod showed he understood that. “What is it?”
“I know why I don’t believe in love anymore. But why don’t you?”
They walked on in silence for a block. As they strolled through an intersection that marked their second block of zero conversation, Cody figured his question would go unanswered.
“I’ve seen what love can do to good people,” Julian finally admitted with a sigh. “It seems to start out great, but it never ends well.”
That had been Cody’s experience too. It had happened to him, and it had happened to his mother countless times. In fact, he measured his childhood by his mother’s many divorces and the devastation they brought to both their lives. “For something that’s supposed to be so great, it sure does suck a lot, doesn’t it?”
“I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I never want to be in love. Would I like to find someone to share my life with? Sure. But it would have to be with the understanding that love was off the table.”
Cody couldn’t wrap his head around the notion. “How is that even possible?”
“I’ll answer that by asking you a question.”
“Back at the bar, you said there were certain parts of marriage you’d enjoy.”
That got Cody’s attention. His cock, which had been passed out drunk just moments before, suddenly opened its sleepy eye and stretched. “I like where this is going.”
Julian gently rammed his shoulder into Cody’s arm. Normally he would’ve been able to brush it off, but for such a small guy, Julian packed more muscle than Cody had realized. That combined with the night of excessive alcohol caused Cody to lose his balance and crash through a pack of tourists. He stumbled into a thigh-high wall separating the foot traffic from a bed of flowers and trees and fell sideways into the hard-packed dirt with a low grunt.
“Oh my God!” Julian leaned over the wall. “Are you okay?”
Cody lay there for a few moments, contemplating the question. Only his pride had been wounded, which was no big deal. His pride took a beating daily. But he was most definitely not okay. He felt off, and it had more to do with Julian than with the alcohol. “I think I’ll live.” He grabbed hold of Julian’s outstretched hand.
After Julian pulled Cody to a sitting position on the wall, Julian began a visual inspection, checking him for scrapes or bruises. It was probably the cutest thing he’d ever seen. Not even his mother had fussed over him that much when he was a kid and had taken a tumble off his bike.
“Well, you’re not bleeding.” Julian sat on the stone wall next to him. “I’m really sorry about that. Guess I don’t know my own strength.”
He clearly didn’t, but Cody found it kind of hot. “I guess that serves me right for bringing up sex, huh?”
“Maybe a little.” Julian leaned against him and grinned. “Hopefully you’ve learned your lesson.”
Cody swept his gaze over the tanned skin of Julian’s cheekbones and down his jawline, where just a hint of dark stubble had cropped up. He followed the curve of his chin up to Julian’s pursed lips before settling on his eyes. They were big and beautiful, which only verified what he’d always believed about brown eyes. Blue eyes were nice to look at, but brown eyes such as Julian’s pulled you into them. They were warm and comforting, wrapping around him like an embrace. “Yeah. Probably not.”
EVEN UNDERNEATH the harsh glow of the Strip, Julian could see the flush that spread across Cody’s fair skin. That combined with his ragged breathing and lingering gaze told Julian that Cody was obviously attracted to him as much as Cody now entranced Julian.
They hadn’t gotten off to a good start, but that hadn’t been Cody’s fault. The blame for that rested solely on Julian’s shoulders. After he loosened up, he realized they had a sexual chemistry that couldn’t be denied. Even more importantly, he’d gotten to know a lot about Cody in the past few hours thanks to their game of Truth or Dare.
He was a man with a plan. He dreamed of being an author and worked part-time as a waiter for the money he needed to get by. When he wasn’t waiting tables, he spent hours on his manuscripts, working to get them published. Sure, he was having some difficulty, but that was easily remedied. All Cody needed was the right inspiration and a little assistance on crafting a novel that publishers would be fighting for.
And even though Cody had faced countless rejections, he hadn’t let that stop him from pursuing his dream. Julian admired that because he possessed that persistence in spades. He wouldn’t have gotten elected otherwise.
Cody was a sexy, determined, ambitious, independent man, which gave rise to an enterprising idea.
“How about we get back to your question?” Julian asked.
“The one about spending your life with someone without falling in love.”
“Oh, right.” Cody tore his gaze from where it had been resting on Julian’s lips and faced the street. “So what about it?”
“Besides sex, what parts of marriage would you enjoy if love wasn’t involved?”
Cody stared out into the sidewalk at the families and happy couples that past them. His blue eyes sparkled like diamonds. “I guess I’d love to spend my life with someone, to have that person by my side through all the good and the bad, someone who I could count on, lean on, and who would be my best friend. That part of marriage would be pretty damn awesome.”
Julian agreed, but that was usually what love ended up ruining. “That’s what I was talking about earlier. It would be great to have a connection like that with another human being, and that’s what I’ve wanted for a long time. A partner, someone to share my life with. I’d be faithful to that partner, respect him, never lie or intentionally hurt him, and I would have the utmost affection for him for the rest of my life.”
“Affection.” Cody repeated the word as if it were an unobtainable dream. “That’s a good word for it.”
It was the best word for what Julian was looking for. Affection meant respect. It meant that two people mutually agreed to share their lives. They would work for the greater good of them as a couple without the impossible expectations of love cutting them off at the knees.
He thought he’d had that with Blane, but he’d been wrong. But maybe, just maybe, the dream wasn’t dead yet.
He turned to Cody. His eyes were wide, and they focused solely on Julian’s lips. “Yeah?”
“How about one final round of Truth or Dare?”
There would only be one better way to end this night. “Sure. And I choose dare.”
Cody leaned closer, his breath fanning over Julian’s hot, flushed skin. “I dare you to kiss me.”
His lips parted, preparing to protest, and his brain fired off questions. What if a reporter was around? What would kissing a man in public do to his election numbers? How would Spencer Baldwin turn this into a scandal?
Julian didn’t wait for his rational mind to answer. Kissing Cody felt too right. He closed the distance between them and pressed his lips to Cody’s. Cody responded in kind. He pushed himself into the kiss, forcing his tongue inside Julian’s mouth. He curled his fingers around Julian’s shirt, clutching at his chest in want and in need that caused a moan to escape from the depths of Julian’s long-denied soul.
He felt completely on display as the hot, explosive, scandalous kiss melted his flesh.
Cody placed his big hand at Julian’s nape, forcing their lips into an even more passionate exchange. Julian groaned and his already-melting flesh sizzled.
He ran his hands over Cody’s shoulders, massaged the muscled caps, and followed the line of sinew down to his bulging biceps. He curled his tongue around Cody’s, pulling him farther inside, but he couldn’t get Cody deep enough to satisfy either of them.
And what they both needed definitely required a more private venue.
Cody broke the kiss first, his breath leaving his body in ragged pants. “Damn, that was good.”
It was better than good. It was delicious. Their kiss, this entire evening, opened up a wealth of opportunities too good to be passed up. Julian pressed his lips back against Cody’s, swiping another wicked lick across his lips.
Cody trembled under its weight, and the reaction brought an impish grin to Julian’s hungry, desperate lips.
“Good dare,” Julian said when he finally mustered the strength to pull away.
“Are you kidding me?” Cody said between heaving breaths. “That was like the best dare ever.”
“I haven’t given you my dare yet.”
“Oh yeah?” Cody grinned down at him before molding their lips together once again. “Something tells me I’m gonna like it.”
Julian glanced over Cody’s shoulder at the bright neon sign of the building across the street. “Are you ready?”
Cody groaned. “You have no idea how ready I am, so just do it already.”
“All right, then.” Julian pointed to the sign and then wiggled his eyebrows. “Here it goes.”