The story of a player who never gets played, until a quiet bookstore owner gives him the only prize worth winning—love—is out this week from Felice Stevens, and I have the first chapter for you.
“Ready for this, Lyon?”
My brother stood by my side, and our eyes met in the full-length mirror. While we were similar in looks, Scott’s good nature and lightheartedness were apparent in the easy smile he wore. Unlike me, the “angry Elliot brother” as I’d been called.
Unfairly, in my opinion. I wasn’t angry all the time. I simply couldn’t deal with people, and listening to their bullshit annoyed me. Some people hid it well. I did not.
“Sure am. But where’s Dan? He’s late.” I checked my watch, the beginning of a migraine blossoming behind my eyes. “That dumbass better not make me wait on my wedding day.”
“He’ll be here, don’t worry,” Scott soothed. “He’s probably caught in traffic.”
“Bastard’s always late, but you’d think on his best friend’s wedding day he’d get his head out of his ass and be here on time.”
Dan and I grew up together. Our mothers were best friends and had met our fathers at a college fraternity party. We went to the same private school in the city and used to spend almost all our holidays and summers with each other’s families. Naturally, we decided to go to the same college as our fathers and room together. Dan might not be the sharpest tool in the woodshed, but he was fun-loving and up for anything, no matter how wild and crazy, and he was loyal. Most of all, I could trust him. I’d never let on to his girlfriends if he was seeing someone on the sly, and he’d never talked of any of my exploits with women…or men.
Yeah, I’d kept my bisexuality on the down-low, not because I cared what other people thought, but I could barely keep up with the women I was sleeping with. Adding guys into the equation, while double the fun, would also double my headaches, which would inevitably occur when people found out. Better to go a little undercover when I wanted to get some ass.
Speaking of headaches, my brain throbbed as if my skull were being used as a punching bag, and I stomped across the living room to one of the three bathrooms to splash water on my face and swallow three extra-strength Tylenol. The presidential suite was palatial, but I had no time or desire to admire the stunning view of Central Park spread out before me nor the vast array of food and drinks provided.
There was no need to. I couldn’t eat and had barely slept these past few nights. No, I wasn’t nervous. It was simply the fact that tomorrow I’d wake up and Lindsey would be there…forever. Was I prepared for that? I wasn’t sure. I had no idea what stability looked like. I’d never expected to marry—my parents divorced when Scott was one and I was three. Both remarried and promptly divorced again.
Leaving me to realize that marriage was for fools and suckers.
So why was I standing here, then, waiting to get married, when I didn’t believe in the institution?
We’d met at a benefit a few years earlier, and she’d become someone I actually liked. Lindsey possessed a razor-sharp business mind and could keep up with me. Not to mention, she had a gorgeous face and body. Even Dan wasn’t mad that I didn’t go out with him anymore. “Can’t blame you, bro. If I had that waiting for me at home, I wouldn’t be out boozing it up either.”
Did I love her? Hmm. I mean, I liked her a lot. We had fun, and I trusted her—enough to agree to a partnership between my business and hers. She was the creator of Dorado, an upscale brand of tequila and had suggested a deal between her liquor company and my exclusive men’s club, The Lyon’s Den.
Like the boss babe she was, Lindsey proposed to me and suggested a merger in every way possible—both in our personal lives and our businesses. Once we were married, we could forge ahead and open up clubs all over the US and eventually, the world.
When it came to the business, Lindsey was ruthless. I’d seen her in action when she’d believed—rightly or wrongly—that she’d been cheated in a business transaction, and let me tell you, a six-foot rattlesnake was cuddlier.
I couldn’t care less about getting married and wasn’t that keen on going worldwide, but she did, and Lindsey Cunningham always got what she wanted. And she’d decided she wanted me, and I figured why not? I was going into the marriage with eyes wide open. She was my friend and business partner, and the fact that she was smoking hot didn’t hurt, but even when we had sex it was like receiving directions from a CEO: “Harder. Faster. Right there. Lick it. More, goddamn you. Yeah, that’s it. Now fuck me.”
Lucky for me, she was a fast orgasmer—Is that a word?—and her tight inner muscles clenching my dick gave enough friction for me to come hard and quickly as well.
I wondered if she thought about anyone else when I put it in her.
I definitely did.
Not anyone specific. I didn’t cheat on her, not because I didn’t find other people tempting or there wasn’t opportunity—God knew I had enough cleavage shoved in my face, as well as the occasional squeeze of my ass from interested men. But I didn’t cheat on Lindsey because it was wrong. I might be a bastard in business, but when it came to personal relationships, once you were my friend, you had me for life. I was a loyal fucking soldier and would die on your hill, at your side.
So while this wasn’t a grand love match on either side, I would be faithful. I would be there for her. I trusted her—not in the way I did Dan, of course—but she and I had been together long enough that I allowed her into my tiny circle that consisted of my brother, our great-uncle Harry, and Dan.
Out in the living room again, I spied Dan’s younger brother, Miles, hiding in a corner as usual. I still couldn’t understand why Lindsey had asked him to be one of her bridesmen, but I didn’t bother arguing with her. She loved him, and he, of course, couldn’t refuse her. Miles
was quiet, bookish, and not a partier—the complete opposite of Dan. I’d noticed his sweet smiles and hot body during the summers we’d all spent together, but he was on the no-no list. Dan’s younger brother. Untouchable.
Miles stared out the window, silent and unobtrusive. Scott handed me a Scotch, and after gulping half the glass, I tipped my head toward the pensive figure.
“When did Miles the Mouse arrive?”
Scott’s eyes danced with amusement. “He’s been here the whole time.”
I snorted. “Figures. Does he ever get out of the bookstore mindset? I think I’ve heard him speak above a whisper maybe four times in my life.”
Scott shrugged. “I don’t know why you’ve always looked down on him. He’s a nice guy. Nothing wrong with that.”
How Dan and Miles were brothers was a quirk of nature no one could explain. Where Dan was loud and boisterous, always up for a party, a six-pack with tequila shots and a woman or two in his bed, Miles cringed when meeting people, barely spoke, avoided crowds, and rarely drank more than a glass of wine. Dan was a quick-to-smile, dark-haired, hulking, six-foot-three, beefy football type. Miles was six foot, lean, with a swimmer’s sculpted muscles, and possessed thick golden waves and big blue eyes you rarely saw, as he usually kept them focused on the ground.
I’d known him forever, and I didn’t think we’d had one conversation that wasn’t about the weather. I knew nothing about his personal life other than he was gay and liked to swim.
Oh, except that he’d once had a massive crush on me, which Dan had revealed when he’d been drunk off his ass. When I’d asked for details about how he knew, Dan refused to say anything further and had warned me with a fist to my nose to leave his little brother alone and never even think about having sex with him. Family was off-limits; plus he knew my MO—fuck them, then forget them.
“If you even think of Miles like that, I’ll fucking cut your nuts off. He’s too nice for a dog like you. He deserves someone better. Miles has already been hurt enough by guys he thought he could trust. Stay away from him.”
I assured Dan that the thought had never crossed my mind. A blatant lie, because I’d spent plenty of summers at their family pool, admiring Miles’s tight ass and the outline of a surprisingly healthy dick in his skimpy bathing suits. I’d pretend to be reading in my lounge chair while I’d watch him churn through the water in the pool, doing laps. I didn’t look down on him, and I wouldn’t mind going down on him.
The idea of fucking Miles the Mouse, as I’d dubbed him, brought a smile to my face. I thought he’d faint if I ever came within breathing distance of him. But all that shyness was damn sexy. I wondered if he’d brought a date today and made a mental note to check the guy out, to see his type.
As if sensing my thoughts, Miles glanced over his shoulder and met my eyes. His brows flew up, and he did an immediate about-face, but not before a blush crept up his neck to his cheeks and his teeth worried a plump bottom lip. I grew hard, desire slamming into me like a bolt of lightning.
It must’ve been the fact that Lindsey and I hadn’t slept together in the months leading up to the wedding that made me horny as a damn goat. Since college, I hadn’t been without sex for a week, and I was ready to explode, but all the wedding plans stressed Lindsey out to the max, and sex, she informed me, was the last thing on her mind. Right now, the fucking couch pillows looked good to me, and I contemplated locking myself in the bathroom and jerking off, simply to release the tension that had me coiled so tight.
I glanced at my watch. Dan was over an hour late, and I was pissed as shit. Where the hell was he? Lindsey must be losing her mind—the woman had her entire life scheduled to the minute. I was lucky she made time for sex when we were having it. If I wanted a morning quickie, I knew to wake her up early so as not to make her late for the rest of her day. If that happened, I was in big trouble. Her teeth were sharp. Ask me how I knew.
My phone vibrated, and when I saw Dan’s name pop up, relief rushed through me. I hit the screen.
“Where the hell are you, man? I hope you have a good excuse, like you’re in a hospital bed getting ready for surgery because nothing else will do for Lindsey. I’m surprised I haven’t heard her screaming from the floor below. She’s gonna chew you up and spit you out.”
“No, there’s no time for excuses. Just get your sorry butt up to the suite, and you can kiss my ass later and beg Linds to be forgiven. She will. She’s always liked you.”
“Yeah, I know. Look, Lyon, I have to tell you something.”
“What?” I paced the suite, my agitation growing by the second. “What’s so important that it can’t wait until you see me?”
“I’m not coming. And neither is Lindsey.”
I laughed. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Lindsey and I…we’re in love. We eloped to Vegas yesterday and got married.”
I couldn’t stop laughing. “You and Lindsey? Are you fucking kidding me? Tell me this is for one of those stupid reality shows you watch. I’m supposed to get mad and curse you out and then surprise! Someone pops out of a closet or a bedroom and says it’s all a joke.” I strode around the suite, throwing open the closed doors.
“It’s not a joke, Lyon,” Lindsey broke into the conversation with that no-nonsense voice I knew all too well. “I decided I couldn’t marry someone I didn’t love, who didn’t love me or make me happy. I never laughed with you like I do with Dan.”
“That’s because he’s a fucking idiot.” I ran my hand through my hair and shouted into the phone, “So you made everyone come here and let me think we were having a wedding? Guests, the caterer, band…everything. Now I have to go and tell everyone the wedding is off and look like a goddamned fool!”
From the corner of my eye I saw Miles’s jaw drop and his big blue eyes widen with shock. Scott, too, stood pale-faced and frozen.
“Oh, please. You can handle it. Don’t pretend it’s some big love affair and I broke your heart.”
Maybe that was what turned the tables for me. Here I was, planning to give her the rest of my life…and she didn’t give a damn. She was as cold-blooded as the snake I’d compared her to, and as it turned out, rightly so. “Hardly. You’re just a business deal down the toilet, Lindsey.”
“Don’t talk to her like that. She’s my wife.”
It was Dan’s betrayal that hurt me to my core, even more so than Lindsey’s.
“How could you do this to me, Dan? Sleeping with the woman I was going to marry? You were my best friend since we were little kids, and you threw it all away for someone you’ve only known a few years. A nobody. A nothing.”
“I said don’t speak about her like that,” Dan roared.
“I’ll say whatever the fuck I want,” I yelled. “You fucking traitor. How long have you two been screwing behind my back?”
I dropped to the couch, and Scott sat next to me and put a hand on my rigid shoulder. I barely felt his touch. I barely felt anything at all.
“It started three months ago. You went on a business trip to London, and you hardly called her. She was lonely, so I went over there to keep her company.”
“And by company you mean fucking her.”
“We didn’t mean for it to happen. We both had too much to drink, and…I’ll admit I made the first move. She’s beautiful, and I couldn’t help it.”
“You couldn’t help it? You couldn’t help what? Kissing her? I could even forgive that. But sleeping with her? In my bed? That you couldn’t help? News flash, yes, you fucking could have helped it. You’re my best friend—were my best friend. We grew up together. I trusted you. I loved you almost as much as my own brother. When I asked you to watch out for her, I didn’t mean for you to stick your dick in. When I said we shared everything, I didn’t mean Lindsey. I would never have done that to you.”
“Let’s get this straight, Lyon. I didn’t say no.” Lindsey’s nonchalance shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, we weren’t madly in love. “Dan felt bad in the morning, but I didn’t. The night I spent with Dan woke something inside me, and I realized you and I were going through the motions. I didn’t want to spend the next forty or fifty years like that. Unlike you, Dan tells me how much he wants and needs me. He has emotions, he’s sensitive…”
I snorted. “Keep going. You make me sound like a robot. Like I’m not human.”
“Sometimes you’re not. You’re a machine—wake up, exercise, eat, work, come home, have sex, and go to sleep. I could be anyone sharing your bed. Even a blow-up doll. Face it, Lyon. You don’t love me. You just hate that I’m with Dan. I’ll bet in a week you won’t even miss me.”
I opened my mouth to deny it, but nothing came out. I refused to ask her if she’d ever cared for me at all or if it was an act she’d put on. I didn’t want to know. I’d already been humiliated enough.
The hurt that had tied knots around my heart didn’t stem from the fact that she’d left me. Maybe deep down I’d expected it because it kept happening all my life with my parents. I thought I was smarter, but it turned out I was the stupid fool after all. It hadn’t been a grand love with Lindsey, but I’d believed she was my friend and was angry with myself for giving her a part of me she didn’t deserve.
But Dan was different. His deceit hurt so bad, I pressed my hand to my chest, the pain so intense, I thought I was having a heart attack.
Dan betrayed me and our friendship. He’d gone behind my back and violated the code of our brotherhood in the worst way. It was his hand I’d held when we went into our first day of kindergarten, not my mother’s. We learned to swim side by side, rode our first roller coaster sitting next to each other, sneaked out and got drunk (and sick) together. I’d spent my whole life with him. He’d been there the night I’d met Lindsey, had helped me pick out the engagement ring from the pictures she’d given me. He knew how hard it was for me to take this step, and was always there to listen to my fears. Every single important moment of my life, I’d spent with him.
Now, with this one action, this violation of our friendship, he became a stranger. No longer the man I could count on and trust with my life. It was akin to cutting off a limb, and hot tears rushed to my eyes at the excruciating loss, because like that amputated arm or leg, I’d feel the phantom pain long after he was gone.
And just like that pain, it turned out our friendship wasn’t real.
“Both of you were too chickenshit to come and speak to me face-to-face. Because you know what you’re doing is so messed up. I can’t believe you, Dan. Who the hell does that—stealing your best friend’s fiancée? Telling them the day of the wedding? That’s the lowest of the low. You always said family first. Nothing comes between family. I thought we were like that. You called me your second brother.”
I shifted a quick glance to Miles, who met my eyes for only a brief moment before lowering them. Did he know what Dan had planned, or was he caught by surprise too? Maybe he was told to act unaware. Knowing how close the two brothers were, I couldn’t believe Dan hadn’t said anything to Miles. My anger grew as Dan fell over his words in his attempt to explain.
“Yeah…well…if I thought you really cared about her, maybe I wouldn’t have, but you know it wasn’t a love match. You said it yourself—it was like the merger of two companies. Lindsey deserves someone who loves her, and I’m going to give her everything she needs that you couldn’t.”
“Hopefully not an STD, considering the trash I’ve seen you with. Better get tested, Lindsey.” I wanted to hurt them like they’d hurt me. Childish, maybe, but I was too worn out to care if I got down and dirty in the mud.
“Shut the fuck up,” Dan snapped. “Once I was with Lindsey, I never looked at another woman.”
“How very fucking noble of you,” I snarled.
“Just deal with it, Lyon,” Lindsey cut in with her brisk I’m-ready-for-this-to-be-over tone. “Tell people whatever you want. I don’t care. But remember, we’re still going to have to deal with each other, business-wise.”
“You’re kidding me if you think I’m going to stock your tequila in my clubs.”
“We have a contract. Period. If you think of backing out, I’ll sue you. And I’m bringing Dan into the business, so you’d better be prepared to see both of us.”
“You’re in for a rude awakening. Dan only managed to make it as far as he has because his grandfather started the company.” In the early 1900s, Grandpa Herb had laid the foundation for what eventually became Halloran’s, one of the world’s largest luxury department store chains. The family sold half of it to a private equity firm, receiving an obscene amount of money. Dan pretended to go into the office, but from the number of hours he spent playing golf and drinking at my club, he didn’t break a sweat over his cushy job as chief operating officer of brand development, whatever the fuck that was.
“He had enough brains to recognize you weren’t appreciating me. Now you’re alone, and we got married. So who’s the fool now?”
The desire to terminate this conversation and put myself out of my misery far outweighed my need to further spar with Dan and Lindsey. “I hope you have the marriage you both deserve. And fuck you.” With that sweet parting message, I hung up.
Instantly, Scott began to fire off questions to me. “What the fuck, man? Dan and Lindsey? That lying bastard. What the hell happened?”
“Three months they’ve been sneaking around, and yet they both act like it’s my fault.” I shrugged, pretending it didn’t matter. But it did. God, I wanted to scream, but I refused to let anyone, even my own brother, know how deep the knife cut into my flesh. “They played me. I’m positive they’re laughing about it, but I’ll make sure I have the last laugh. Somehow.”
My attention shifted to Miles, who sat in the corner, head down, focused on his phone, rapidly texting. I was sure Dan had reached out to give him the rundown, as every once in a while those big baby blues shifted from the screen to me, then immediately again to the phone in his lap. I jumped from my seat and stalked over to him.
“Did you know?”
His fingers stilled. “Wha-what?”
I didn’t miss how he instinctively shrank away, pressing himself into the chair, trying to put as much space between the two of us as he could. Perversely, I leaned in closer, until my lips were a mere inch from his soft ones. I could feel the puff of his breath against my cheek.
“I asked if you knew that your brother, Dan, was fucking my fiancée. And that they were going to elope and leave me to clean up the mess they created. Did you know?” I poked his chest. “Did you, Miles?”
Long golden lashes fluttered. “I swear, Lyon. I didn’t.” A pulse jumped in his neck.
“You’d better not be lying to me.” I captured his gaze, and his chest rose and fell. “Are you, Miles?” I licked my lips, and Miles’s breathing accelerated. “You love Dan. Are you covering up for him and lying to me?”