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Following a career-ending accident, Danielle needs a fresh start. Despite crippling anxiety and OCD, she’s determined to rebuild her life and isn’t looking for a new relationship. Or a new Dom.
Coop being Hunter’s Master is a little unconventional. Hunter is gay…and has a boyfriend, Todd. And Coop is straight. They’re friends first, but BDSM helps Hunter keep his anxiety at bay. Since Hunter’s deep in the closet with his family, he can only be his authentic self around Todd and Coop.
When Coop’s relationship with Hunter—and Todd—gets more complicated, he rolls with it. Then Coop meets Danielle. Suddenly, Coop has to play Todd’s boyfriend for Hunter’s family. If Dani can’t pull off the role of a lifetime pretending to be Hunter’s fiancée, it could mean disaster for him.
An hour into loading the truck at Terry and Margie’s old house, Todd still wasn’t sure how this day would play out. He’d barely been able to have two seconds alone with Hunter to check on him. Instead, Todd was pretending to have to ask Hunter questions since he wasn’t familiar with the house.
Maybe I should have called Tilly as backup.
Even he wouldn’t cross that woman when it came to her sticking up for her friends, but he was afraid her take-no-prisoners approach to defending those she felt responsible for might only add to Hunter’s stress in this case.
Todd was in the kitchen with Margie, helping her wrap and pack dishes, when the first warning sign popped up.
“So, is Hunter dating anyone right now?” She gave him a sidelong glance he didn’t need psychic powers to interpret. “He hasn’t brought anyone to dinner or mentioned any girls in a while.”
“You know how he is,” Todd said. “I keep setting him up with women and he finds a reason to push them away. I’m taking a break from playing matchmaker for a while or I won’t have any single female friends left.”
She arched an eyebrow. “Really.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yeah.” He forced a laugh. “I mean, you know, a guy can only do so much for a friend.”
“Friend. Got it.”
He hoped his face didn’t turn red.
About that time, Coop returned to the kitchen after carrying a couple of boxes out to the truck. Todd was hoping to change the subject when Margie turned her focus to him. “So, I’ve heard Hunter mention you before, but he’s never mentioned if you have a girlfriend or not.”
Todd would have thought this was funny if it wasn’t Hunter’s peace of mind at stake.
Coop looked so cool, he could have sent the Titanic to the bottom of the Atlantic. “No current girlfriend,” Coop said, his gaze locking on Todd’s.
* * * *
Coop knew Todd hadn’t heard the discussion he’d just accidentally eavesdropped on out in the front yard. Hunter’s father and brothers, Kent and Dell, along with younger sister Sascha, had been engaged in what sounded like familiar speculation, based on the context.
Hunter was currently upstairs packing one of the guest bedrooms, and the four of them had been talking in the garage, out of line of sight from where Coop stood.
“I’m telling you,” Kent insisted, “I think Hunter’s gay.”
“Yeah,” Dell agreed. “He and Todd have lived together how long now?”
“Don’t be stupid,” their father said. “Hunter’s had girlfriends.”
“Girlfriends we only meet once or twice before they go away,” Sascha said. “And he never talks about them. It’s always ‘Todd, this,’ and ‘Coop, that,’” she added.
He was going to owe both Todd and Dani apologies by the end of the day. Todd, he suspected, would be okay with it, understanding why.
Dani might be a little pissy about it, understandably so, but hopefully he could count on his girl to do the right thing, or else he’d horribly misjudged her.
He hurried back into the house and to the kitchen, where Todd wasn’t alone. Pulling him aside to talk would be even more suspicious, so he started pitching in there to wait for an opportunity to talk.
He got that opportunity when Margie was called out to the living room by Hunter’s mom.
Coop walked over to him. “We need to talk,” he quickly whispered to Todd.
“Is Hunter okay?”
“We’re going to have to—” The door to the utility room opened.
Coop grabbed Todd and was kissing him, pretending to be surprised only once he knew everyone passing through from the garage to the kitchen had gotten an eyeful.
Coop stepped back, hoping he wore a guilty look and doing his best not to laugh at the shocked expression on Todd’s face. “Sorry,” Coop said to them. “Just sneaking a kiss with my boyfriend.”
But it was worth it to see the triumphant smile on Hunter’s father’s face as he turned to his three children. “See? Told you.”
Todd still stood there, wide-eyed and staring at Coop. “Sorry, babe,” Coop said to Todd. “I know you told me hands-off today. Guess I blew our cover.”
Margie walked in. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, I’m about to let the ‘see I told you sos’ fly with my other children,” Hunter’s dad said.
Sascha crossed her arms over her chest. “Stop it, Dad. I get it. I was wrong.”
Coop slid an arm around Todd’s waist as Hunter’s dad pointed at them. “Hunter didn’t tell us you two were gay.”
“Well,” Coop said, “he was trying to protect our privacy.” Coop smiled at Todd. “And Hunter’s the reason we met in the first place.”
It seemed to have the desired effect. Hunter’s father waggled a finger at his children. “You three should be ashamed of yourselves, thinking like that about your poor brother. Just because he’s not like the rest of you doesn’t mean he’s gay. Sheesh.” He left the kitchen, shaking his head in disgust.
Coop didn’t bother stopping the man to tell him he was being hypocritical. He’d take the win and savor it later.
The other three siblings also retreated, leaving Margie standing there in confusion. “Uh, what’s going on?”
Todd looked like he was still in shock.
“He caught me sneaking a kiss with Todd. Sorry.”
He pulled Todd a little closer. “We’re dating. Hunter…” He pretended to be making sure the coast was clear and dropped his voice. “Hunter warned me that his dad is sort of old-fashioned and not to do any PDAs. I got careless. Sorry.”
Now she’d finally caught up with and boarded the completely erroneous train of thought Coop wanted her to ride. “Oh! Oh. Heh. Yeah, he’s kind of a dick about that. Sorry.”
She quickly glanced around and dropped her voice. “Crap, hope he didn’t hear me say that. I personally don’t care. I know Sascha’s been convinced for years that Hunter’s gay. You probably just burst her bubble. No offense, to tell you the truth, I was beginning to think so, too.”
“Ah.” Todd was still silently standing there next to him. Coop took it up a notch and let go of Todd to step in close to Margie. “If I tell you something, please don’t tell Hunter I told you.”
“Hunter is sort of dating a friend of mine right now. She really likes him, but you know Hunter. He pushes people away if he gets spooked. We’re trying not to jinx this because we both really think they’d be good together. That’s why we’re keeping it a secret.”
“Yeah. Dani’s a sweetheart.”
“Short for Danielle.”
Her eyes widened again. “Oh! I’ve heard him mention spending time with a Danny before, but I thought it was another guy.”
Todd had finally regained the power of speech and let out what Coop knew was a forced laugh. “No, she’s definitely not a guy.”
“I wish you could get Hunter to bring her to dinner at the new house tonight. Just burgers on the grill. It’d really shut up the others if you could.”
“I can call her. But it might piss off Hunter if we just spring it on him. You know how temperamental he can sometimes be.”
He’d laugh if the stakes weren’t so high. Todd had gone silent again and was watching them like a ping-pong match.
Then Hunter himself walked in and the three of them turned to stare at him.
When Coop saw Hunter’s face go red, he knew he had to act quickly. The familiar reaction in the man meant he was close to an anxiety attack.
Margie turned on him. “Hey, please don’t be upset with me, but I asked Coop if we could invite your friend Dani to dinner tonight.”
Hunter’s gaze immediately sought out Coop’s. He met and held it, hoping his boy would be a quick study.
“Dani?” Hunter asked.
Margie grabbed Hunter’s hands. “Please don’t be mad at them. I think it’s sweet you were trying to cover for them being gay. Dad and the others accidentally walked in on them kissing.”
Well, on the plus side, the confusion in Hunter’s voice told Coop the impending anxiety attack had been derailed.
Temporarily, at least.
“Yeah,” Coop said, “I goofed up. I know you warned us about no PDAs, but I didn’t think your dad and the others would walk in on us. Sorry. And I just made her promise not to tell you we told her about Dani.”
Coop arched an eyebrow at Margie, enjoying that she went red in the face, meaning she was at least a little embarrassed about not holding the secret longer than most people could hold their breath.
Which he’d expected, counted on, and had worked in his favor.
“Dad’s not going to care Coop and Todd are dating,” Margie told Hunter.
“He’s…not going to care Coop and Todd are dating?”
Coop struggled even harder not to burst out laughing. There were two conversations going on right now—actually three if someone counted Coop overhearing the garage discussion—and only he was privy to all of them.
“And then I told Margie you’re dating Dani,” Coop said. “Look, dude, you know we love you, but I’m going to go ahead and put it out on the table. Dani’s great for you. Maybe she’s not going to push you, but as your friends, we’re going to.”
Coop resorted to a little subtext that would hopefully sail right over Margie’s head. “Boy, heh, you need to not push Dani away. Ask her to come over to dinner tonight. Just burgers.”
“I… I…” Hunter swallowed hard, still meeting Coop’s gaze. “I…don’t know if she can or not.”
Bless his heart, Hunter was really trying so damn hard to stay true to their do not lie rule.
Coop made a mental note to praise and reward him for that as soon as he could.
Margie, her back to Coop and Todd, pulled Hunter in for a hug even as Hunter’s confusion obviously grew.
Coop silently mouthed, “Good boy,” to Hunter and nodded, hard. “Well, how about we give her a call and ask her, huh?” Coop said as Margie released Hunter.
Todd found his voice. “Coop, you should probably call her. You’ve known her longer. She can’t ever say no to you. Neither can I.”
He reached out and slapped Coop on the ass, hard, a playful twinkle in his green eyes.
“Sure.” Coop pulled out his phone. “Oh, my battery’s low.” He held out his hand to Todd. “Can I have the keys, babe? I’ll use your car charger while I talk.”
“Oh, sure.” Todd fished them out of his pocket and dropped them into Coop’s palm.
He headed straight out the utility room door and down the driveway to where the car was parked, leaving Todd and Hunter in the kitchen with Margie.
Actually, his battery was fine.
He didn’t want there to be any chance of anyone overhearing what might be a very interesting and difficult conversation.