Landon and Daniel have been best friends since grade school. Through thick and thin, they’ve always been able to rely on each other. So it only seems natural for Landon to step in and offer assistance when Daniel has a run of bad luck.
Moving in together and splitting the bills seems like a simple solution to Daniel’s financial problems. However, sharing close quarters makes it difficult to keep less than platonic feelings on the down low.
The line between friends and lovers blurs during a late night moment of weakness fueled by alcohol, leaving both men on uneven ground. Just when they think they have things worked out and might have a shot at something more than friendship, a sudden shared windfall provokes all new complications that could end more than the new physical side of their relationship.
Dusk found Daniel sitting in his living room surrounded by dented empty cans of brew, two collapsed bags of the best greasy potato chips money could buy, and the lotto tickets he’d purchased on a whim at the convenience store around the corner. He needn’t have bothered—it wasn’t as if he’d ever win—but old habits die hard. Buying the tickets and then watching to see if they’d won was something he and his mom had shared for years, before the cancer had ravaged her body and stolen her will to go on. Even though she’d passed away the previous spring, Daniel still had moments when he expected to see her sitting on the sofa in the living room and waiting for him to walk through the door.
Damn, he missed her. She would have known how to put a positive spin on being laid off and dumped in the same day. No one could find the silver lining in a situation or cheer him up like his mom.
Daniel chugged what remained of the beer in his hand and swallowed repeatedly until the only thing left in his mouth was a bittersweet aftertaste and the hope of imminent oblivion. His only plan for the night was drowning his sorrows with alcohol. He ran a hand through his snarled hair and sighed in disgust. It wasn’t as if he needed to get up early for work in the morning. He belched, crushed the can, and set it on the table with the rest. Looked like a trip to the kitchen was in order—his bladder protested, reminding him of something else he’d neglected to do—right after he paid a visit to the can.
He stood and padded barefoot to the bathroom down the hall. His head spun as he bent at the waist and lifted the toilet seat. Ignoring the head rush, he took aim and let it fly, watching with detachment as the water in the bowl turned yellow. The stream went on and on, with no end in sight. Why did it always seem like more beer came out than went in? Finally things slowed to a trickle and stopped. Daniel shook off and tucked himself away. He flushed and watched as piss went down the drain, just like his life.
After washing his hands, Daniel made his way into the kitchen and grabbed another beer out of the fridge. He popped it open and took a long swig while standing in front of the open door. Cold air wafted across his overheated body, sending a parade of goose bumps up and down his arms.
The front door opened and slammed shut. A familiar voice called out. “Honey, I’m home.”
Daniel snorted at his best friend’s standard greeting. There was no wonder Perry hated Landon. Not that Daniel would have to worry about that now. He grabbed an extra beer and a jar of pickles to munch on, then headed back into the living room, where he found his best friend kicked back in the recliner by the sofa. He reclaimed his spot on the couch before pitching the spare can at Landon.
Landon caught the can with ease. “Thanks, man. I could use a drink.” He popped the tab and took a drink. “So, what’s the deal? I thought you had a date with the douche bag tonight, but I drove by and saw your truck in the driveway.”
“I did. Things didn’t work out.”
“I can tell that much on my own. You look like shit.”
“Gee. Thanks.” Daniel leaned back and propped his feet up on the coffee table. “You know, you’re not so pretty yourself.” If he were made of wood, Daniel figured his nose would be growing for telling that whopper. There was nothing ugly about Landon.
At approximately five and a half feet tall and thin as a reed, Landon had always been a little on the light end of masculinity. He overcompensated for his delicate features by being tougher than men twice his size and having an attitude big enough to match. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, though. The man moved with the boneless gait of a dancer. Kohl-rimmed peridot eyes that were as quick to narrow as they were to warm. A gold stud dotted the right side of his narrow nose and graduating hoops lined both ears from top to bottom. He wore his midnight-black hair sheered close on the sides and spiky on top. Daniel knew for a fact that the gunk Landon used to make his hair stay in place smelled like ripe, succulent berries at the height of summer.
Unlike Landon, no one would ever accuse Daniel of being graceful. Well over six feet tall and weighing in at close to two hundred pounds, he was more akin to the proverbial ox in a china shop. One too many growth spurts had him reaching six feet before he turned fourteen. By the time he hit sixteen he’d shot up another four inches and was as clumsy as a newborn colt. A healthy appetite and channeling all his teenage hormones into working out had helped put some meat on his bones, but control over his muscles didn’t make him any less prone to stumbling over his own feet.
“What are you doing here, anyway?” Daniel asked. Landon worked Thursday through Sunday as a bartender at a local club. “Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“One of the other boys needs Monday off. I promised to cover his shift if he worked for me tonight.”
“Why not?” Landon shrugged, pulling the black fabric of his T-shirt taut across his chest and shoulders for a fraction of a second. “Can’t I be nice?”
“No.” Daniel loved Landon. They were as close as two men who weren’t fucking could be. But Landon was the king of ulterior motives. “You have a hot date tonight?”
“Come on, Danny boy. Don’t be so cranky. All I want to do tonight is relax. It’s just my good luck that you’re home and can do it with me. Unless the jackass formerly known as Perry is coming by later. If that’s the case, then I’ll just head on home.”
Daniel snorted. “Not likely.”
“That doesn’t sound good.” Landon sat forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “You want to elaborate?”
No. He didn’t. However, Daniel didn’t figure he had much choice. Landon would find out sooner or later. “You won’t have to worry about Perry anymore. He dumped me today.”
“Oh, man. I’m sor—”
“Just save it.” Daniel glanced over at Landon and found the corner of his friend’s lips curling and uncurling like he had an uncontrollable twitch. The jerk was fighting back a smile. “I know you hated him.”
“What’s to like? The man’s a douche bag. Actually, a douche has more personality than Perry. You’re better off without him.”
“Easy for you to say,” Daniel mumbled into his beer. Landon had no problem finding men. All he had to do was snap his fingers. Daniel, on the other hand, couldn’t afford to be so choosy. Someone big, brawny, and blue collar wasn’t exactly a hot commodity in the gay community—unless you were into bears. Sadly, Daniel couldn’t even say he fit into that demographic. His chest was as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
“Shit. I’m sorry. Do you want to…I don’t know…talk about it or something?”
“Hell no.” What was the use in blabbing about a failed relationship? It wouldn’t change anything.
“You’re really upset about this, aren’t you?”
“I’m damn well not happy about it.” Why would he be? Sure, he and Perry had their problems, but they got along all right most of the time and the sex was good. Now all he had to look forward to was a cold bed and his right hand.
The recliner squeaked as Landon got up and moved over to sit beside Daniel on the sofa. He bumped their shoulders. “Want me to go kick his ass?”
Daniel snorted. “As tempting as that idea is, I think I’ll pass.”
Landon leaned back and rested his head on Daniel’s shoulder. “If you change your mind…”
“I won’t.” Daniel settled in against Landon, taking minor comfort in the weight of his friend’s body pressing against his own, and tried to think of a good way to say he’d lost his job without sounding any more pathetic. He wasn’t looking forward to sharing the news. Granted, Landon wouldn’t respond with the antipathy Perry had shown, but Landon had his own shit to deal with. He didn’t need Daniel dumping all over him.
Feeling out of sorts sucked. It was like he’d been cast into a part that didn’t fit. Usually it was Landon coming to Daniel with his problems, not the other way around. Daniel was the more responsible one out of the two of them. That was just the way it had always been—ever since Daniel had stopped the school bully from stealing Landon’s lunch on the first day of kindergarten. Afterward, he and Landon had sat together and Landon had shared his cookies while cracking jokes about the size of Stephen Lester’s big doody-head. They’d been fast friends from then onward, through thick and thin.
Landon leaned forward and sat his beer can on the table. “So, I know you said you didn’t want to talk about it, and believe me, I don’t want to get into any touchy-feely crap, but what happened?”
That was as good an opening to tell Landon what had happened at work as Daniel figured he would get. “I don’t want you to worry, but—”
“Oh Lord,” Landon blurted out. “Here we go with the protect Landon routine. I’m a big boy, Danny. Nothing you have to say is going to give me the vapors.”
“Let me finish, will you?”
“Sorry.” Landon waved his hand in the air. “Go ahead.”
Daniel met Landon’s gaze. “I lost my job today.”
Landon frowned. “Were you fired? Shit. What happened?”
“No, I got laid off. So did a bunch of other people.” Daniel chugged his beer, letting the yeasty brew comfort his wounded pride. He belched and wiped his lips on the back of his hand. “Apparently Perry doesn’t want to date an unemployed bum.”
“That sanctimonious fucker! I really don’t know what you ever saw in him.”
Daniel shrugged. “He had his good qualities.”
“When are you going to learn that being able to suck the chrome off a bumper doesn’t make someone good dating material?”
“Yeah, well…” Daniel didn’t have anything to say to that. He was as guilty of thinking with his dick as the next guy. “It isn’t like you have a lot of room to talk.”
“I don’t date.”
“That’s my point. All you do is fuck and run, so you don’t know what to look for in a good boyfriend any more than I do.”
Landon scowled. “I know exactly what I want.”
“Which is…?” Daniel elbowed Landon in the side. “Come on, ol’ wise one. Spill the beans. Tell me what to look for in the perfect man.”
“It isn’t important.”
“Uh-huh. Sounds like you’re full of shit to me.”
“Believe what you like.” Landon grabbed his beer off the table and took a drink. “And anyway, we aren’t discussing me now. We were talking about you.”
“Subtle way to change the subject.”
“Subtlety is overrated.”
“So says you.”
“So says everyone.”
“Whatever.” Daniel rolled his eyes and gave up. Sometimes Landon could be a stubborn little shit.
“Have you given any thought to where you’d like to apply for another job?”
“No.” Hell, it had only been a couple of hours since he was gainfully employed. It wasn’t as if he could just snap his fingers and come up with something better right away.
“I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m sure you’ll find something else soon.” Landon patted Daniel’s knee. “In the meantime, you can file for employment, and if you need more help than that, I could move in for a while and help with the bills.”
Daniel stared at his friend. “I can’t ask you to do that.”
Landon seemed really interested in the top of his beer can. “You didn’t ask. I offered.”
“But still…” What was Landon thinking? They couldn’t move in together. They’d lived together for a while back in school after Landon’s lousy parents had given him the boot during senior year, but that was different. They were kids then.
“Come on, Danny. It’ll be fun, like when we were kids, only this time around we can get drunk and watch porn without having to worry about your mom busting in during the good parts.”
“Or catching us beating off. OhmyGod. Do you remember that time you stole that girlie magazine from the store and your mom walked in on us looking at it? I thought I was going to die and I didn’t even get a thrill from staring at all the naked women. I thought something was wrong with me.”
“Hell yes.” Landon laughed and smacked his thigh. “I about shit my pants. She grounded me for a week for that.”
“Yeah, me too, since she called my mom and ratted me out.”
“It’s no wonder they were both shocked when we came out.”
“Mmm-hmm. Although I don’t think Mom was as surprised as she pretended. No straight woman could possibly give that kind of lecture on the risks of gay sex unless she’d prepared a little before hand.”
“You might be right. Be thankful all you got was an embarrassing lecture.”
“Fuck, I’m sorry, Landon. Your parents don’t deserve you. What kind of douche-bags turn their back on their own kid just because he likes dick?”
“It’s their loss.” Daniel leaned in and brushed his shoulder against Landon’s in support.
“Fuck ’em.” Landon took a swig of his brew. “Hey, I know something you could do. Larry down at the bar has been talking about hiring some new go-go dancers.”
“Oh fuck you, man. No one wants to see me shaking my big, hairy ass at them.”
Landon glanced at the television. “I wouldn’t say that.”
Daniel glanced at the TV, absently noted a commercial for laundry detergent that was anything but fascinating, and returned his attention to Landon. “What do you mean by that?”
“I—” Landon tilted his head back and to the side and stared at Daniel for a long, pregnant moment, his expression ripe with uncertainly. He opened his mouth to speak, paused, then shook his head and smiled. “Nothing. You just don’t give yourself enough credit. You’re a good-looking guy.”
“Bullshit.” Daniel felt sure that wasn’t what Landon had intended to say, but he let it go. If there was something else Landon wanted to share, then he would…eventually. If there was one thing Daniel knew, it was that there was no point trying to rush his best bud. Landon did everything in his own sweet time. “You have to say that. You’re my best friend.”
“No.” Landon licked his lips. He lowered his voice to barely above a whisper. “I probably shouldn’t say that…because I’m only your friend.”
Romance Without Inhibition