JD was pissed because he felt goddamn nothing.
Stupid for hoping that, if he embraced the worst, his fears would go away.
Stupid for asking for more than he had when he was arguably the richest, luckiest person he knew.
Stupid for trying out any advice he got from a dumbass like Mac, who had turned out to be just another fucked-up human being after all—even if he was a delightful one.
They were all lucky no one had gotten killed. Yet.
Everyone from editorial to corporate had put in a word. Plummet was going to be pulled off the shelves the following Monday. Press releases had been written. Lawyers were on standby. And he had to tell Mac about that too.
Sorry. I’m the man you trusted with your career, and I’m here to pull the rug out.
It wasn’t right to keep it from him. Years back, they’d pulled a book on canning while the author reworked the section on food safety. Those things happened. But they wouldn’t offer Mac a chance to rewrite and rerelease. The ideas JD had embraced so fully only alarmed them after his ludicrous brush with death, though it had nothing to do with the book.
No. The board didn’t want anything to do with Mac anymore.
JD had argued at first. Thrown his weight around. What happened to him didn’t result from Plummet to Soar. All he’d done was attend a contentious co-op board meeting. Those were a bore but not normally dangerous. It wasn’t like he’d run with the bulls in Pamplona. No one could have foreseen his ex catching him in the parking garage alone.
JD absently rubbed his knee. And why, when his leg was broken on one side, did the other knee hurt so much? JD made a mental note to call his doctor and find out.
His eyes snapped open when the water shut off. From the other side of the door came the sound of more humming and rustling noises. Curiosity was killing JD truly. Killing him.
How did connecting doors in hotels work, anyway? Were there two doors or just one? It seemed kinda old-school—a knob, a dead bolt.
Is the lock engaged?
As though it heated before his eyes, the lock seemed to glow with some inner fire. The knob was the only thing he could focus on.
God, his leg hurt. The buzz from the fight, from the bar, was fading. If he took a pain pill, it would knock him out too hard.
JD laid his cheek against the door and put his hand on the knob. Nope. Nope, Nope. Nope. The door between their rooms felt cool. He let go of the knob, as though it would brand him, but that was just more melodramatic bullshit. He could hear his mother’s voice telling him to get a grip on himself. Which, really, anyone who ever met him would have known that having a grip on himself was part of the goddamn problem.
Try the door.
It was almost as though the door were talking to him—or was that wishful thinking?
He wanted to try it anyway, and what was it they said about confirmation bias? You generally fall in with the data that supports what you already believe?
No. It wasn’t all a scam.
The doorknob turned in his hand. The door opened in his direction. He had to step back to get out of its way. And then he was standing there, staring at Kenzie Detweiler, who wore nothing but a towel.
He looked like a tanned monster, pieced together from scraps. His skin, a patchwork of scars from the dozens of surgeries required after his accident.
Christ, he was beautiful. He had a warrior’s body—lean and weathered, hard from surfing and hiking and biking and sun. He smelled like coconuts, as absurd there in the frozen tundra as Kenzie himself, as absurd as a man created entirely from sunshine and disaster. It was agony to be with him in the darkened room. But JD only had to smile to make Kenzie come to him. Kenzie offered a small, courageous smile in return, and that was it.
They came together sloppily, with more heat than finesse. Lips crashed, teeth clacked together, hands found purchase on skin. There was only hair for JD to grab on to—hair or the rigid, well-defined muscles of a mature athlete. Kenzie got hold of JD’s clothes and dragged him close, his cock rampant, shocking both of them with the fierceness of his need.
JD fell back against the doorjamb, dizzy with lust and shock and the utter wrongness of Kenzie kissing a man he didn’t know was him.
He let his head fall back. “Wait—”
As soon as the word was out of JD’s mouth, Kenzie dropped his hands and stepped away, red-faced and sweating.
“No.” Kenzie’s eyes were too bright. “Shit, shit, shit. I’m so sorry.”
“No worries.” All JD could think about was how to get rid of the towel. He reached for it.
“Wait.” Both hands up, Kenzie confessed. “I left the door unlocked on purpose. I’m such a fucking dog. But the way you acted, I thought you’d want to talk, not—”
“My fault.” JD worked to unstick his tongue. His mouth was bone-dry, his heart racing. He was so turned on he hurt, and fuck—no way. He’d have to tell Kenzie everything. Now. “I’m not who you think I am.”
Mac laughed. “Duh, secret squirrel. There’s no Douglas on my flight manifest. Who the hell are you?”
“Er—” Having Kenzie’s body against his robbed him of speech, of breath, of functional brain cells. He couldn’t think of anything he wanted more than he wanted to feel that lightly furred athletic body against his, without a towel, without clothes, or a goddamn broken leg. He’d have to keep his boot on if they fucked, and suddenly he felt vindicated for all those scenarios he’d placed his anatomical drawing figurines in since puberty.
Kenzie cupped his face. His thick, hard cock proved JD’s desire wasn’t one-sided. The contact made him squirm, and when Kenzie finally stiffened with resolve to pull away, JD wanted to collapse at his feet and sob.
“I can’t do this.” Kenzie let him go. “I’m sorry. You have no idea. If there were any other way, I’d totally be down. But—”
JD tried to follow him and stepped wrong. Oops. There went the pain again, and the sweat, and his body was so confused. He was hard, he was hurt, he was hungry too, goddammit. He wondered if taking a pill after all the alcohol was even safe.
“Oh God, Kenzie.” He practically threw himself at Kenzie. “It’s me. JD. Just… don’t flip out. Okay? It’s JD.”
“JD?” Kenzie pulled back, pale with shock.
He swallowed. “Er—”
“This is how you do it?” Kenzie asked. “This is how we meet? You lie to me?”
“No. Not really. My name is Douglas. Middle name.” It was time to come clean, but it was harder than he’d thought. “I… I had to see you. I missed you so much. But there’s… umm… a business problem we need to talk about.”
“My God, JD. I thought you’d been downsized or something.” Apparently oblivious to his near nudity, he caught both of JD’s hands and peered deeply into his eyes. “Are you all right? Jesus, you’ve got a broken leg, and you’re probably angry with me, and I’m not even sure—”
“I’m not angry—”
“Don’t lie. You came here to give me hell. I could see it when we met.” Kenzie glanced at JD’s leg in horror. “What did you do? Please tell me you didn’t go skydiving or something stupid like that.”
“It’s nothing to do with Plummet.” Still in the doorway between their rooms, still throbbing with unaccustomed lust and shame, he waved off the question. “It was a total fluke. I was just—”
“Were you mad at me about something? Because all of a sudden you were just—gone. Breathe with me.” Kenzie stood on tiptoe to brush their cheeks together while they breathed in that familiar way. Count to four on the inhale. Count to eight on the exhale, which felt so much nicer in person. A text with the words Breathe with me had nothing on the feel of Kenzie’s body, flush against JD’s—the sharp angles and crisp hair and pebbled brown flesh of his nipples. “You can tell me. Did I piss you off somehow? I do that. Most people—”
“Oh, no.” His heart was going to break if Kenzie thought he’d been faithless…. He pressed his forehead to Kenzie’s. “It’s nothing like that. I was an idiot.”
Kenzie’s smile was hesitant. “Was it because I pressured you to talk on the phone? To meet me in person? I shouldn’t have—”
“It’s not that either, Kenzie. I—”
“I felt like we really had something, JD. You and me were Lamplighters. We were gonna light up the world. You haven’t changed your mind, have you?”
Oh, when Kenzie said the words that way, how could he? Of course he was Kenzie’s man. #RideNDie. No choice anymore, really. Not since he’d fallen in love.
His heart hurt. Whether it was because it wasn’t going to be easy, or because Kenzie felt the need to ask, he didn’t know.
“It’s seems pretty cheesy, now.” JD’s turn to blush. “Considering.”
“Waging love and peace is not cheesy,” Kenzie said softly. “It’s more essential than ever in a frightening world. We have to be brave and strong and uphold our principles.”
JD cleared his throat. “I didn’t have the confidence to meet you. I’m sorry about that now. That was the one thing I did think, when”—he tapped his boot with his crutch—“this happened. I wished I had.”
Kenzie’s smile was radiant, glowing with warmth and humor and wickedness. “Never too late.”
“Please?” JD was taller by half a foot, and yet it was Kenzie who wrapped him in his arms and Kenzie who bruised him with the most exciting kisses he’d ever received. Kenzie shoved his back into the doorjamb again. Switzerland, he guessed. Between the rooms was neither Kenzie’s nor his territory yet.
Soon, though. Soon he’d let Kenzie roll past his borders and over his hills and valleys. Kenzie could plant his flag on anything of JD’s he wanted, anything in the world he asked for, everything JD had.
“Please,” he whispered again as he pressed kisses to Kenzie’s face, his neck, and his jaw.
“On it.” In Kenzie’s impatience, he broke a belt loop pulling the buckle loose. JD let his hands play while he memorized the mesmerizing sweep of muscle that was Kenzie’s back—strong, tan, ripply, sure.
He was warm and alive and there. Oh God, Kenzie was right there, and he was real, even if the plummet things were the saddest little parade JD’d ever seen.
“Where?” Kenzie asked. “Wing chair? Bed? I’ll suck you. Where would you be most comfortable?”
“Fuck it.” Kenzie dropped to his knees and mouthed JD’s cock through his boxer briefs.
“Oh—” JD’s mouth stayed in that shocked, round O of perfection that is the surprise of hot breath on your dick through cotton fabric— and also the sound of glass shattering when the curtains blow in, along with a massive gust of wind and snow.
Boom, crack, crack, crack. Kenzie’s paper cutout flew across the room—head full of holes and smoking—to land on the bed.