You Can Leave Your Boots On Free Excerpt

You Can Leave Your Boots On

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You Can Leave Your Boots On by Irene Preston

Liberal meets conservative.
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Chapter One

Travis bypassed the valet and headed for self-parking. As usual, his Parking God powers activated and he found the perfect spot almost immediately. Tonight his gift wasn’t as welcome as usual. He would have been happy to circle the lot a few times. He checked his email and text messages, checked his hair in the visor mirror, and checked the glove box just to see if there were any gloves in it. None of the fidgeting served any purpose except to kill time. He didn’t want to be here. He was nervous and it made him annoyed.

He was about sick of West Texas. According to the Internet, El Paso had a thriving gay community. You couldn’t prove it by him. He was sick of carne asada and beer and dust. He was ab-so-lute-ly sick of country music and good ol’ boys. Mostly, he was sick of pretending to be someone he wasn’t. He wanted to be back home in Austin, where no one cared who he slept with as long as he recycled and shopped local.

Instead, here he sat, ready to embark on an extreme blind date he’d been talked into by the one person in this town he’d thought “got” him. He wasn’t in West Texas to date. He was here to further relations with Vargas Development. Vargas was expanding across Texas like wildfire, and they seemed to want to take Ecotecture Custom Builders with them. Travis’s business partner, Jack, figured Ecotecture better take the opportunity or get pushed to the sidelines by someone who would. If Vargas wanted Travis in El Paso personally, Jack had said, he should suck it up and get his butt down there.

Travis pulled his phone back out of his pocket and checked the email from Blindr El Paso for the umpteenth time. The details were sparse. The Rio Grande Room at the Desert Rose Resort. 7 PM. Use your app.

The rest of the email contained details of his room reservation. Room reservation! The implied intimacy should have made the whole thing that much easier to refuse, but Ree Vargas had completely blindsided him last week, leaving him no opportunity to come up with a graceful excuse.

Christ. He shoved a hand through his hair. Set up for a night of sin by the spoiled daughter of the ultra-conservative Vargas family. It defied the imagination.

“You work too hard, Travis. You’ve been here almost two months and never gone on a single date. Let me do this for you.”

The next thing he knew, she’d had him filling out an online questionnaire while she hung over the back of his chair offering input on everything from his taste in music to his favorite color.

“Not green, Travis, don’t be silly. You aren’t a green man at all. Put red. That’s a color with some passion to it. You want someone with some fire, don’t you?”

Travis hadn’t pointed out that maybe he wanted a date who wouldn’t mind his appreciation of the color green. Ree could be a Texas-sized pain in the ass, but for all her pushiness he liked her. She had a sharp mind if you could follow the twists and turns she threw into conversations. She could be self-absorbed, but she wasn’t mean, and she would throw just as much energy into someone else’s project as her own. His love life, case in point.

Also, she was the one person in the office who told him straight up she knew he was gay and didn’t care. Which made it a relief to have her to hang with but consequently meant she thought she had a right to poke her nose in his business.

“Ree, if I want to hook up, I know how to use Grindr. With this thing, I won’t even know what my . . . um . . . date looks like.” He kinda figured that made it a magnet for the kind of person who couldn’t lead with their looks. And, wow, shallow much?

“No way, Travis. Grindr is gross. This is local, referral only, and their matches are legendary. I had to vouch for you to get you on. Trust me. You’re going to meet someone awesome. If we’re lucky, you’re going to be spending a fair amount of time in El Paso. You should make some friends outside of work.”

If he was lucky, he wouldn’t be spending much more time in El Paso at all. His job would be done and someone else could make any future trips to West Texas. He couldn’t say that to Ree, so he had stopped arguing and let her have her head with the questionnaire.

God knew what kind of match he had wound up with. He didn’t need, or want, a service to set him up, but what could it hurt to indulge in a night out? He was sick of being kinda-sorta in the closet to everyone around here but Ree, who didn’t want to hear that he didn’t do casual hookups anymore. If setting up her new gay best friend made her happy, a night out was a small price to pay.

Still stalling. He huffed out a breath and opened the door. Back in the office, the whole idea had seemed like it might actually be fun—or the makings of a good story, anyway. Now that the time had come . . . Well, he might as well get it over with. Ree had assured him Blindr’s clientele was upscale and discreet. The app was the newest craze with the town’s single socialites. Maybe he would meet someone interesting and have a nice conversation over dinner. At worst, he would have a drink and make an excuse to leave.

As he made the short walk to the reception area, he spared a thought for the overnight bag stashed behind the seat of his truck. Stupid thing to bring when he didn’t intend things to go that far. But all Blindr dates came with a room reservation—part of the thrill for rich, bored, and horny El Pasoans. El Pasoites? El Pasoers? Gah! Who cared?

Travis took a minute to appreciate the Southwest décor as he crossed the main lobby to the restaurant. The resort oozed romance. On a Friday night all the guests checking in were couples. He tried not to think about how he would feel if this were an actual date. How long since he’d been on a date anyway? And it had been even longer since he’d had the prospect of a date he expected to spend the night with. Ree might be right. When he got back to Austin, he should think about reviving his love life for real.

He checked the Blindr app on his phone as he crossed the lobby to the restaurant and then waved away the hostess. “I’m meeting someone. I can find them.” Watching the blinking arrows on his phone, he made his way through the main dining room and out onto the patio. The setting sun bathed the horizon in breathtaking strata of red, crimson, and gold, but the knot in his stomach spoiled his pleasure in the view.

Despite the scenery, only a few diners had elected to eat outside. Travis looked around but didn’t see anyone sitting alone. He checked the app again and headed toward the edge of the patio where he could see a candlelit table partially hidden behind a palm tree in a massive planter. A bottle of red wine was on the table, along with one empty glass and, on the side he couldn’t see, a half-full glass. He took a few steps in that direction. The little arrows blinked encouragingly.

Candlelight. Wine. His spirits, which he had thought at an all-time low, plummeted even further. He hadn’t given much thought to what his date might expect out of the evening, and now his appalling self-absorption hit him. Whoever sat at that table expected this to be a real date with a very real chance of using the room reservation. Forget his problems. He was about to ruin someone else’s evening.

He pasted on a smile, rounded the planter, and stopped dead in his tracks.

It had to be a mistake.

Bo Vargas.

He checked his phone again, where the arrows were doing a happy dance pointing right to the phone on the table in front of Bo. Travis could see the same exuberantly animated arrows spinning on the screen of Bo’s phone.

Alfonso Vargas’s son and partner was his dinner date. His more than dinner date.

When Bo looked up, Travis caught a hint of something that might have been panic in his eyes. Then Bo quirked one perfect eyebrow, smiled slowly, and gestured toward the chair across from him.

“Well, well, well. Mr. Boyd. Won’t you join me?”

Travis sat down, grateful for the waiting chair. All these weeks of working next to Bo Vargas and—was this some kind of joke? He couldn’t make sense of it. He couldn’t possibly be sitting across from Bo, who was six feet of hard muscle and tan Latin skin, and, oh God, the cut of that suit did nothing to hide the lean shape of his thighs.

Travis tried to drag his mind out of the gutter and focus.

“I, uh. Is this real?” Well, wasn’t that smooth?

“Sure.” Bo gave him a wicked smile. “It’s as real as you want it to be.”

The husky undertones in his voice reached across the table and stroked a slow finger down Travis’s belly straight to his groin. Fuckfuckfuck.

He was in trouble.

Across from him sat the real reason El Paso was such a bitch.

Not being exactly out in El Paso shouldn’t have been a problem. He’d come here to work, not hook up. But lately his libido had made a comeback. Mr. Happy hadn’t woken up because it was “time” after his last breakup, or because he didn’t know how to take care of himself when he was alone at night, or because he was turned on by cowboy boots, which everyone in El Paso wore 24/7.

Nope, the cause of all that twitchiness could be summed up easily. Bo Vargas.

Brilliant, high-strung, high-profile Bo. The driving force behind Vargas Development’s rapid expansion over the past five years.

From the minute he’d met Bo, his senses had gone on high alert. But, for the first time in his life, Travis had doubted his own gaydar. They had seen each other every day for weeks, and Bo had never given him one inkling that he was open to anything more than a professional relationship.

Which hadn’t stopped Travis from wanting. Hadn’t stopped him from lying in bed at night fantasizing about exactly this scenario. Fantasizing, more precisely, about the reason that Blindr dates included a room reservation.

Travis had shoved his gaydar in the closet along with the rest of his non–El Paso personality and assumed its frantic pings were wishful thinking on his part. The Vargas family were devout Catholics, social conservatives, and heavy contributors to the campaign of a very non-gay-friendly state senator. Bo had pictures of himself with the senator hanging on the walls of his office.

None of those things proved Bo wasn’t gay, of course. But the idea of being with someone that far in the closet . . . It would be Stan all over again. Worse. At least Stan had been out to everyone but his parents.


Bo contemplated the dark red Malbec in his glass and tried to stay loose even though everything he was wearing suddenly felt a size too small. Even the air, cool and fresh a minute ago, had become oppressive. Across from him, Travis looked like he might bolt.

He considered his options. This night had been a test, but a controlled test. Blindr was a private service with a hefty sign-on fee and a referral requirement. It was considered safe and discreet no matter what your orientation. Bo had doubted he would know whomever showed up, but if he did . . . well, they would probably be looking for discretion, too. Otherwise, why not use a traditional dating service?

Never, not in his wildest dreams, had he imagined Travis Boyd, the man he’d had his sights on for months, would show up at his table. After luring Travis to El Paso, Bo had been so careful not to show any hint of his feelings. He had needed time to sort things out in his head, to get to know Travis better, and to test the idea of going on an actual date with a man with this little . . . experiment.

Screw it. The damage was done. And anyway, now that they were here he couldn’t pass up this chance. He was used to getting what he wanted, and the perky green-builder from Austin had been front and center on his most-wanted list for months.

He just had to find out if Travis wanted him.

Not a problem, he assured himself. He’d seen the little glances Travis had been giving him at work when he didn’t think anyone would notice. Travis had signed on to this service, too. So why didn’t he look happy to be here?

“Have some wine, Trav.” Travis looked like he could use something stronger, but Bo didn’t offer. He’d had too many nights that started with tequila shots or whiskey. He wanted this night with Travis to be different.

Travis shoved his glass across the table. Bo poured in a generous amount of the Malbec. Another knot of tension tightened his stomach as Travis gulped it down. When Travis held the glass out for a refill, the tension finally snapped into full-blown anger.

“Why are you here?” The words came out harsher than he intended, and Travis blanched.

“Same as you, I guess. Blind date.”

“And do blind dates always make you this nervous?” Or was it just him? “After all, you signed up for the match, right?”

Travis shook his head. “No. Actually I don’t do this kind of thing. You can blame your sister. She’s a steamroller.” Travis finally seemed to have his equilibrium back. “She’s just like you. Impossible to say no to. I figured it was easier to just go along.”

Impossible to say no to? Yeah, he liked to get his way. “Steamroller” didn’t sound so good, but letting Travis leave before they got started sounded worse. Better to take charge of a situation than let the situation take charge of you. Unless . . .

“Are you seeing someone?”

Travis shook his head. “I ended a serious relationship last year. I haven’t dated much since then.”

“So why all the drama tonight?”

Travis hesitated. “I wasn’t expecting . . .” He trailed off.

“Me?” It made sense. He had been careful not to give anyone a reason to think they even played for the same team.

“No, I—” Travis gave an embarrassed little cough. “No, I definitely wasn’t expecting you.”

It sounded like there was more to it, though.

And then Bo got it. Discretion.

A wave of disappointment washed over him. Since his last trip to Austin, Travis had been his secret fantasy. Not just Travis himself, with his cute boy-next-door charm and idealistic save-the-planet philosophy, but the whole lifestyle he represented.

He remembered the talk he had overheard at Ecotecture’s office in Austin. Travis’s friends worrying about him because he had broken up with his longtime lover. Coworkers who knew he was gay and accepted him.

The conversation had brought home to Bo the reality of his own life. No one who mattered knew that side of him. He barely acknowledged that side of himself. Men were just a diversion, something he did on business trips. His Aunt Mags never drank anything stronger than a glass of wine with dinner except on vacation, when she sucked down rum like a pirate; Bo never screwed men except when he traveled. He had suddenly realized how fucked up that was.

The more he worked alongside Travis, the more he had found to like about him, and the more he had envied that easy openness. Except some of that openness had been missing lately, hadn’t it? Ever since Travis had come to El Paso, in fact, he had seemed a little subdued. Not about his work. No, he was still passionate about planet-friendly architecture, would talk your ear off if you let him. But unlike the Travis he had met in Austin, the El Paso Travis was all business. No gossip over coffee breaks. No drinks after work with the staff, despite the fact that Travis already seemed to know more about the people who worked for Bo than Bo did.

“You didn’t expect anyone who might know you,” Bo said. That felt true, but . . . “Why? You’re out. You’re single. Why would it matter?”

Travis just stared at him, a deer in the headlights. Bo sat still and let all the pieces of the puzzle rattle around in his head until the niggling difference in Travis’s behavior lately clicked into place.

“You didn’t want anyone here to know you’re gay.” He knew it was the right answer as soon as he heard himself say the words. He just didn’t understand. “Why? You don’t make any effort to hide your orientation in Austin.”

Travis sighed. “Ree guessed. You obviously know. But I admit I thought it would be easier to work here if I didn’t advertise.”

Didn’t advertise? Now wasn’t that a slick way to say it. It didn’t change reality though.

“So you lied.” Lied to Bo’s staff, his family. Travis, the most honest guy Bo had ever met—whom Bo had seen almost lose clients because he wouldn’t spin some details a little—Travis had lied. The idea of Travis hiding who he was made Bo irrationally angry. Travis shouldn’t feel he had to lie. Even by omission. Ever.

He scowled across the table.

“I didn’t advertise,” Travis corrected, unintimidated. “I’m here to work, Bo. It shouldn’t be relevant, anyway.”

Bo opened his mouth to argue, then shut it abruptly. Whatever Travis had done, Bo had given him reason to think it was necessary. His own sin of omission was far larger. He had never pretended to have the kind of idealistic moral compass Travis did, and he’d always felt that the end justified the means, but he had never thought of himself as a hypocrite before. The new self-awareness turned the Malbec to acid in his stomach.

“Does your family know you’re gay?” Travis’s voice was calm, neutral. The lack of judgment hit Bo worse than a slap in the face.

Bo forced himself not to back down, to look the man across from him in the eye. “It’s not something I discuss with them.”

“Well, you can hardly blame me for not introducing myself as ‘the gay business partner,’ can you?” Travis’s tone took on a little bite. “I guess it’s just not something I discuss with them.”

Bo had deserved that, but it didn’t make it any easier to hear.

He waited for Travis to say something else, to press the issue, but Travis wasn’t playing. The conversation hadn’t been one Bo wanted to have on their first date, but it had been a hell of a lot better than this silence. Tension hummed in the air between them.

He’s going to leave. Although he hadn’t expected to see Travis this evening, it was suddenly imperative that he stay. Something told Bo that if he couldn’t make tonight work, he might not get another chance. He looked at the man across the table and felt him slipping away.

Bo took some deep breaths and tried to get a handle on his raging emotions. Focus. He closed deals worth millions all the time. He didn’t do it by panicking because his opponent wasn’t onboard with the full package right out of the gate. Hell, half the time they didn’t know what they wanted. Bo’s job was to make the right decision clear to them.

Travis was no different than any other deal. He would come around. They just needed to stop butting heads long enough for Bo to get him to see reason.

He made himself relax and project a calm he was far from feeling. “Yeah, okay. I guess you’re right. No one’s business, right?”

Travis didn’t answer, which wasn’t good, but as long as he didn’t get up and leave, Bo figured the evening was still salvageable. So he did what he always did when faced with opposition. He acted like he had already won.

“They do a good steak here, but it’s not the biggest portion. You want an appetizer or something to start with?”

“I don’t know, Bo.”

“Or Ree says the fish is good, if that’s what you like.”

“I think it might be better if . . .”

“Hell, Trav, it’s just dinner. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t eaten since those sandwiches at lunch. Stop making this a thing and decide what you want to order.”

Somewhat to his surprise, that seemed to work. Travis stopped looking at Bo and gave his full attention to the menu. And yeah, it was stupid to be annoyed that it was his full attention. Like Bo didn’t exist anymore. Bo stared across the table at Travis’s bent head and wondered what two guys talked about on a date.

The waiter arrived for their order, and Bo watched in frustration as Travis turned his full attention from the menu to the waiter. And no, this wasn’t the first time they had eaten together, so he should have been prepared for the ten-minute conversation about sustainable fishing and locally sourced greens and GMOs. If anybody else had pulled a stunt like that, he would have been right out the door. But Travis wasn’t some smug environmentalist wannabe, and he didn’t do the green-building because it was the latest way to make money in construction. He was the real deal. He was so fucking idealistic it made Bo’s teeth ache. And somehow that didn’t make him want to leave at all. Just the opposite. He wanted all that earnestness turned on him.

Apparently the resort trained their staff well, because waiter-boy didn’t bat an eyelash and seemed able to answer all Travis’s questions. Travis finally settled on some sort of fish and some sort of greens. By then Bo had tuned the whole thing out to glare at the waiter, who had started to lean a little too close and seem a little too happy to continue the conversation. Then the waiter was gone and they were left eying each other across the table again.

And he was right back to the same question. What did two guys talk about on a date?

They talked to each other all the time at the office and on jobsites. He liked talking to Travis, who had an interesting way of coming at problems sideways rather than barreling straight through them like Bo usually did.

So why couldn’t he think of anything to say?

He had been on dozens of dates like this with women and never wound up tongue-tied. Just another date, he reminded himself. Stop staring at his mouth and ask him about himself. That usually works.

“So,” he finally managed, “your favorite color is red?”

To his relief, Travis grinned at the question. The action accentuated the laugh lines around his eyes, and Bo had a sudden urge to press his lips against the tiny indentations.

“I think Ree’s favorite color is red. I warn you, I had very little input on the dating profile. Should I be worried that you’re a great match for your sister?”

Bo snorted. “Hell, no. Ree and I wouldn’t work together at all. We’re too much alike and I’m not that narcissistic. Tonight is the result of a flawed algorithm.”

“So how did we wind up here? You. Me. Ree’s answers.”

Bo figured he had practically drawn the damn algorithm a picture. “Does it matter? We’re here now. I’m not complaining.”

He let a hint of question shadow the last sentence, but Travis didn’t take the bait and say he was happy to be here too. He didn’t even look like he was entertaining the notion this might be more than dinner with a business associate. Instead he changed the subject.

“So, I know Ree is short for Maria. Is Bo a nickname, too?”

“Short for Bolívar. But no one calls me that, not even my mother. I’ve always been Bo.”

“And have you always known you were gay? Or is this something new?”

His stomach clinched at the soft words. Well, at least the question couldn’t be considered business related. And Travis had brought up a subject he would have to get used to discussing.

Bo had practiced saying the word. Gay.

He had said it in the mirror. I’m gay.

And hadn’t that been fun? The exercise made him feel weak and stupid. He wasn’t the type of guy who practiced saying shit about himself in a mirror. If he had something to say, he just said it. Bo Vargas didn’t answer to anyone but himself.

He didn’t have to answer to Travis either, but he wanted him to stay, and that might not happen if he botched the next few minutes. How hard could it be to just answer the question?

“I’ve always been attracted to men, but . . .” He hesitated. “I haven’t always followed my inclinations.”

He waited for Travis to say something, but Travis just continued to sip his wine, his eyes calm and thoughtful.

“You are right,” Bo admitted. “It—” He stopped. Forced himself to say the words out loud. “Being gay is not something easy to confront in my family. Until now I have simply avoided that confrontation. I don’t dislike women. I travel a lot. I have never been with a man within two hundred miles of my home.”

“And now?”

“Now, I’m almost thirty years old. I know what I want. I consider myself an honest man. I can’t keep pretending that side of myself doesn’t exist.”

Travis nodded as if he heard this every day. Hell, maybe he did as far as Bo knew. Maybe Travis was the gay pied piper with men jumping out of closets left and right to follow him down the yellow brick road. That wouldn’t surprise Bo at all. Here he sat, after all, ready to take the biggest risk of his life.

He looked across the table at Travis and he didn’t want calm, or understanding. He wanted heat. He wanted Travis to burn the way he burned, to be willing to risk everything to be with him.

“You’ve been with other men, though? This isn’t the first time you’ve—”

“No!” Bo picked up his own glass and thought furiously while he drank, trying to look calm. What was the right answer? Tonight wouldn’t be his first time, but . . . In the end, it was Travis asking, and he didn’t want their relationship to begin with lies or half truths.

“I’ve been with men. I’m not some sort of gay virgin, if that’s what you’re worried about.” He laughed, trying act like it was no big deal, but even he could hear how forced it sounded. He tilted his glass, watched the wine make lazy circles rather than looking across the table at Travis’s face.

“But,” he continued when he thought he had his voice under control, “I have never done this. I’ve never had dinner in a restaurant with a man I wanted. I’ve never asked about their lives, their families. You understand? I never saw them again.”

He risked a glance at Travis, who was sitting very still across the table.

“So,” Travis said, “I’m your first gay date. Is that what tonight is about? A date?”

“A date, yes, but . . .” Bo looked for the words to explain. “Not just a date. The possibility of . . . more.”

“Right.” Travis sounded skeptical. “You see the irony in this particular type of date if you are looking for any type of relationship? Come on, Bo. Blindr sets up a discreet liaison that includes a room reservation. That doesn’t sound to me like you’re looking for ‘more.’ Unless by ‘more’ you mean wine and a steak before you fuck someone?”

Bo stared at Travis, shocked. The words sounded ugly and out of character for Mr. All-American.

The conversation wasn’t going well, and Bo didn’t know what to do about it. He wished he knew what Travis was thinking. In his family, conversations were sometimes heated, but everyone said what they meant. Right now, Travis was completely closed off behind an Anglo mask. Bo didn’t like it at all.

He tried one more time. “It’s not like that.”

“Really, Bo? What is it like?

There might have been a little heat in that last word, or maybe that was just wishful thinking on Bo’s part. At this point, he would welcome some anger, anything that would tell him Travis was as invested in this conversation as Bo. Travis wasn’t giving an inch, and Bo was fed up. Here he was, pouring his guts out like he had never done for any other man, and Travis couldn’t see it.

Fine. Screw more. If he could only have one night with Travis, he would take that. And he would have the one night. He had never had any trouble getting anyone he wanted into his bed, female or male.

There was regret in the decision, but also freedom. No more conversations about things he didn’t know how to discuss.

He lounged back in his chair and allowed his gaze to wander slowly over his date. He stopped worrying about what he was doing and where this whole thing might wind up and just let himself look, the way he’d always wanted to look at Travis. He let himself think about where he wanted this evening to end, let himself imagine taking Travis back to his room, the ways he would touch him and the things they would do together. When he finally met Travis’s eyes again, he made sure exactly what he was thinking showed on his face.

“You win, cariño. It is like that. And you’re here too. So let’s stop trying to put a nice face on it and enjoy ourselves. Wine, steak, if you are very lucky maybe . . . more.”

He kept his voice low, throaty, a little amused on the final innuendo, and he watched as Travis’s eyes dilated, a flush crawled up his cheeks, and his mouth fell open the tiniest bit.

Good. That evened the field. Travis had him all in a lather and Bo wasn’t used to playing that game alone.

Travis looked like he might say something, but just then the waiter arrived with their dinner. Bo waited impatiently while their food was served. When they were alone again he ignored the beautiful porterhouse sitting in front of him and kept his focus on Travis. They weren’t finished with this conversation.

“It’s just dinner, Trav.” He tried to keep the frustration out of his voice. Maybe dating was overrated. He had never had this much trouble picking a guy up before.

“I know, but it’s . . . complicated.”

“It’s not complicated. It’s very simple. You want to be here or you don’t. You want me—” He couldn’t help himself, he spread his arms and invited Travis to look at exactly what he was giving up. “Or you don’t.”

“Oh, I want you.” Travis’s words sent a bolt of pure lightning to Bo’s dick and almost distracted him from the next words. “But I don’t do one-nighters anymore. I don’t date men who aren’t open about being gay. And I really, really shouldn’t date men I work with. So, where does that leave us?”

With both of them still sitting at the table. With Travis looking at him with lust-glazed eyes that were making it very hard to think through the situation.

“It doesn’t have to be just one night, and it’s not like I’m your boss.”

“Why are you pushing this? Cut your losses. Contact the service and tell them it was a bust. Have them tweak their algorithm and set you up with someone else, maybe someone who filled out his own profile.”

“I don’t want someone else. Blindr sent me exactly who I wanted.”

“Bo, I may have given you the wrong impression because I’ve been . . . discreet about my sexuality around your family. But I’m not locking myself into that closet with you.”

Bo’s heart beat a little faster. Fear or hope? Was there a difference?

“I’m not asking you to. I know I’ll have to come out to my family eventually, just . . . I’ve never had a reason to take that risk before.” Tonight was a first step in that direction, or would be if he could convince Travis to stay.

“I don’t know, Bo. I think after we eat we should just call it a night and pretend this didn’t happen.”

The hell he would. “Look, Travis, forget about the stupid app. Forget about the rest of the evening. Let’s just have dinner and see where this goes.” Straight upstairs, if he had his way, but he didn’t say that part out loud.

Travis didn’t respond immediately, and it took everything Bo had not to push. Hell, having Travis stand up to him was good. He was a steamroller. He needed a man he couldn’t push around or accidentally grind into the dirt. If he was considering an actual relationship, it couldn’t be all about getting what he wanted. He needed an equal, a partner.

Travis was all that with a hefty dose of lust thrown in for good measure. All he had to do was say yes.

Of course, none of that made him feel any better as the silence stretched on. Bo was almost ready to give up and walk away from the table himself when Travis said firmly, “Just dinner.”

Bo’s sigh of relief died when Travis reached his hand out and laid it halfway across the table. They weren’t shaking on a business deal. It was a test.

He closed his eyes to keep from glancing around the room. Who could see them? He opened them to find Travis still waiting, a cynical look on his face.

Fuck. So he was a hypocrite and a coward. If he couldn’t do this, he didn’t deserve Travis. He reached out and took the offered hand, stroked his thumb slowly down the palm, then tightened his grip and pulled it the rest of the way across the table. The smell of organic hand soap hit him, then the tickle of tiny hairs, and he finally had his mouth on Travis, if only for the brief second it took to graze his lips across warm fingers.

Travis’s eyes widened in shock, then pleasure, before Bo let him go.

“Stop looking at me like that if you want this to end with dinner.” Bo picked up his knife and fork and gestured at Travis’s plate. “Eat your fish before it gets cold.”

It was probably already cold. God knew his steak was beyond well rested, but Travis Boyd was sitting across from him, the night was young, and they were closer to his room than the parking lot. Bo didn’t intend for the steak to be his last pleasure of the evening.


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