By: Mary Calmes

Since when did she care?

“Use your head, Stef. We both know you didn’t actually think you were getting out of here without having to see Rand.”

But I had, because she had promised.

“He lives, like, an hour away, Stef. Did you seriously think he wasn’t going to come?”

“You promised me he was too busy to leave the ranch.” I repeated what she’d said to me over a month ago when I had been hedging.

“I lied, obviously.”

I arched an eyebrow for her.

“I’m sorry for lying, but you can’t leave. Your name is on the damn wedding program.”

She had a point. Two hundred had been printed, and they weren’t cheap. I knew because she had told me a thousand times—lots of handmade banana leaf paper and ribbon.

“And besides, you have that work thing tomorrow.”

I growled at her.

“Quit. I know you and Rand can be civil for the next four days. It won’t kill you.”

I wasn’t so sure.

Ten years ago, Charlotte Holloway had walked into my dorm room at Arizona State University and announced that she was my roommate. Since I was a boy and she was a girl, I had seriously doubted it. Coed dorms were one thing, coed rooms a whole different story. But when we compared sheets of paper, our room assignment was correct. The error was a clerical one, her name listed as Charles instead of Charlotte, but after an hour together, we both agreed that it was actually fate. We were destined to be friends, best friends. We fit seamlessly, and it felt like we’d known each other forever. When I told her I was gay, she told me that I couldn’t be any more perfect. By the time the admissions office discovered the mistake, we had already pooled our money and moved off campus together. Everything was sailing along great until Charlotte’s older brother came for a visit.

Rand Holloway had made the trip from a small town close to Lubbock, Texas to Tempe, Arizona to check on his little sister a month after she moved. Charlotte’s father was too busy running the ranch, so the task fell to Rand, the man who would someday be head of the family, to either give his approval or drag her home. I was cautioned to be on my best behavior, and I was prepared to be a saint. I was not, however, prepared for Rand Holloway. He walked into our apartment without even a knock of warning, and when I looked up, I had not been able to contain my gasp. I was young, only eighteen at the time, and there, standing in front of me, was easily the most beautiful man I had ever seen in my life.

He was tall, probably six-four, built like a swimmer with broad shoulders and a wide chest that narrowed to lean hips, and from the way his clothes clung to him, he was covered from head to toe in thick, corded muscle. His hair was so black it had blue highlights in it, and his eyes were a piercing turquoise blue, like the sky on a cloudless day. From the chiseled features to the bulging biceps to the way his jeans hugged his long, muscular legs and tight ass, he was utterly breathtaking, and I completely lost my power of speech. Unfortunately, he did not.

“So I guess you’re the fag, right?”

First words out of the man’s mouth and they set the tone for every interaction we’ve ever had from that moment on.

Charlotte had told her family that I was gay because she didn’t want them to worry about her roommate being a guy. Rand had come to check out Charlotte’s school, her living conditions, and, most of all, me. When I had looked over at my new roommate, I could tell she wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. But I wasn’t mad at her. She had merely been passing along information as if I had been black or red or green or blue, but her brother… her homophobic, cowboy, shitkicker, redneck, small-minded, small-town, prejudiced piece of crap brother, thought I was the Antichrist. It was written all over his face, from the scowl to his crossed arms to the disdain that I could feel radiating off him. He hated me simply because of who slept in my bed. It was stupid, and so was he. I gathered up my things and left until I knew he was gone. The worst part of all was that the man was hot. If he’d been ugly, if I hadn’t thought he was gorgeous before I knew he was an asshole, it would have been easier for me. As it was, there was guilt for initially thinking the enemy was glorious, mouthwatering perfection.