Life of Bliss
Nobody plans to accidentally marry their frenemy with benefits.
Todd McGower and Victor Consuelos do not like each other. They can’t have a conversation without insults flying, and Victor seems to get off on pushing Todd’s buttons. The fact that their antagonism always leads to explosive sex . . . well, that’s their little secret.
Victor has a secret of his own. His full-blown crush on Todd is ruining his sex life. He hasn’t looked at anyone else in months, and he’s too hung up on Todd to find a date to his cousin’s wedding.
In a moment of weakness after a heart-stopping night together, Todd agrees to be Victor’s fake boyfriend for the wedding. Victor will have his plus-one—which will get his family off his back—and Todd will get a free mini-vacation. It’s a win-win.
But pretending to be fake boyfriends leads to real intimacy, which leads to too much wine, and suddenly, Todd and Victor wake up with wedding bands and a marriage license between them. That was not their plan, but a summer of wedded bliss might just change their minds.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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As the plane landed, Todd gripped the arms of his seat and tried not to breathe in the Axe body spray of the teenager leaning over him to see out the window. He’d made it through another school year and felt he deserved an Axe-free summer.
The plane bumped down the runway, and the teenager finally moved back into his own space.
Todd gulped in a breath of recycled airplane air. In, out. Slow breaths. It’s almost over.
Rusty, his ex-boyfriend and current best friend, leaned toward Todd from his seat across the aisle. “You okay, man? I know you get claustrophobic on planes.”
Todd faked a smile. “I’m fine now.”
He tapped his fingers against the armrests, playing out the melody of a Patty Griffin song he couldn’t get out of his head, until the plane slowed and the swoopy sensation in his stomach calmed.
A flight attendant announced that the local time in Oklahoma City was six thirty in the evening and passengers could now use their cellular devices. Todd didn’t power on his phone. This vacation to Cancún had been wonderful and full of the people he loved the most, whereas the real world wasn’t full of anything but loneliness.
Once the plane came to a stop, Rusty’s boyfriend, Niles, who was in the window seat beside Rusty, stood up and stretched, hunching over so he wouldn’t hit his head on the overhead bin. “I do not want to go to work tomorrow. You teacher types have it sweet with those summers off.”
“Yeah, except the whole lack-of-a-good-salary thing,” Todd joked back, and Niles stuck out his tongue.
Rusty was the choir director for Bison Hills high school and middle school choirs, and Todd was his accompanist. It wasn’t always easy working with his ex, but Todd managed. Hell, they’d just been on a vacation together.
Sometimes, though, it hurt. It hurt to see how happy Rusty was with Niles, to see everything he’d lost by being a fucking idiot. When he’d broken up with Rusty, he’d simultaneously lost Rusty and Rusty’s sister and niece—his whole support system. Todd had managed to patch up the holes in his relationships with Rusty, Jackie, and Margo, and they’d all pieced together something that resembled a family again. But it wasn’t the same. Todd was the fifth wheel now. The guy they took pity on.
He could hardly stand himself when he got all up in his own feelings. He needed to go back to the real world, so he reluctantly switched his phone back on. It lit up with messages.
Several were from his mom, which he ignored. He also had a handful of depressing news alerts that he swiped away.
“Hey guys, want to get dinner with Victor?” Niles asked, and Todd glanced up to see Niles reading the texts on his phone too. “He wants to take us to this place that only serves grilled cheese sandwiches.”
Todd’s heartbeat took off like a shot. Victor was Niles’s best friend from college, but he lived in Oklahoma City while Niles, Rusty, and Todd all lived hours away in Bison Hills.
Todd and Victor had a thorny relationship. Victor was horribly gorgeous, sarcastic, and infuriating . . . And Todd loved hate-fucking him.
“Sure,” he said before he could talk himself out of it. Victor was a handful, but maybe after days of bearing witness to Rusty and Niles’s sweetness, Victor’s antagonism was exactly what he needed.
Niles grinned. “Awesome. I’ll let him know we’re game.”
A few seconds later, Todd’s phone vibrated in his hand, and he had to lock down a smile when he saw it was a text from Victor.
Victor: Did you get any of that good vacation dick? Or were you saving yourself for me?
“What are you grinning about?” Rusty asked.
“Nothing,” Todd lied smoothly. He didn’t want Rusty and Niles to catch on. As far as Todd knew, neither of them was aware that he and Victor fucked on the semi-regular. That was half the fun.
“Who’s texting you?” Rusty asked, like a nosy neighbor. People at the front of the plane were finally shuffling off, but economy class was still packed in like a group of sweating, restless sardines.
Rusty cringed. He knew all about Todd’s complicated relationship with his parents. Thankfully, the aisle cleared in front of them before Rusty could continue his inquisition.
The teenager scooted out of his seat, taking the stench of Axe with him. Rusty and Niles climbed out next, and Niles retrieved their carry-on from the overhead bin, stumbling through the process, sweetly awkward and uncoordinated as always. Todd followed, trying not to bang his knees or elbows on anything. The smaller the spaces on airplanes got, the more deplaning felt like an obstacle course.
Jackie and Margo, Rusty’s sister and niece who had been seated closer to the front, were waiting for them inside the terminal doors.
“Uncle Todd, did you see? We were in the clouds!” Margo squealed when she saw him.
He picked her up, his heart clenching, like always, when she called him uncle. “Did you have fun on the plane?”
She laughed. “Mommy let me watch her iPad!”
“iPad to the rescue,” he whispered to Jackie when he put Margo down.
He couldn’t believe Margo wasn’t exhausted. She’d run them all ragged on the beach for the last several days. Jackie pulled him into a swift hug, and he was suddenly at risk of being choked up. He loved them both so much.
To be honest, losing Rusty’s sister and niece from his life after he’d broken up with Rusty had been worse than losing Rusty, which, in hindsight, said a lot about their failed relationship. Though that knowledge hadn’t kept Todd from trying to get Rusty back when he and Niles had temporarily broken up last year, which had been a horrible idea. Like all of his other relationship decisions, ever. Luckily, Niles and Rusty seemed as content as him to pretend that his momentary lapse of judgment had never happened.
As they made their way to the baggage claim, Niles tried to convince Jackie to go to dinner with them.
“Fancy grilled cheese, Jackie,” he was saying. “How can you turn that down?”
She pinched his side. “Easy. I’m a single parent who has to be up early for work and still has a two-hour drive ahead of me. We’re gonna get fast food and then split.”
Jackie and Margo had moved away from Bison Hills late last year, so she was heading in a slightly different direction than them. Todd, Niles, and Rusty’s drive was three hours, but they didn’t have a little girl to get to bed.
Todd had driven separately from Niles and Rusty so that he could visit his grandparents, who lived in Oklahoma City, the day before the flight to Cancún. He was in for a late night of lonely driving after dinner.
Unless . . . He checked his text messages again. Victor hadn’t sent another text, but that didn’t stop Todd from imagining Victor’s mocking voice in his ear, the heady press of their bodies together. Heat crept up his neck, and his pulse sped like a Pavlovian response. His mouth was practically watering with the need to antagonize Victor back.
Dinner was going to be interesting.
Thirty minutes later, after a round of goodbyes with Jackie and Margo, Todd parallel parked his car on a busy street in Oklahoma City’s Plaza District. He spotted Rusty’s car directly in front of the restaurant, so they’d probably beaten him inside.
He scanned the dark, trendy restaurant until his eyes landed on the hottest man in Oklahoma: Victor Consuelos. Just being in the same room with him made Todd’s blood blaze with lust and frustration and anger.
Rusty, Niles, and Victor were seated on tall barstools at a pub table with Victor facing away from the entrance. Todd took a long moment to study Victor’s back, which was perfectly straight, his posture impeccable. His tank top showed off his shoulders and the seductive curve of his long neck. And he was wearing an infuriatingly sexy smirk too, which he turned on Todd as soon as Niles spotted him and waved.
They’d left the seat next to Victor empty for him.
Todd settled into his seat and picked up the menu, which, as advertised, was mostly limited to fancy grilled cheese sandwiches. Niles and Rusty were discussing which sandwiches to get to split between them, and a thread of discomfort snuck down Todd’s spine. He and Rusty used to do that. Order different meals and sample from both.
A pointy elbow poked him in the side, and he jumped.
“Want to share with me, cupcake?” Victor asked, batting his stupidly long eyelashes.
A slow, sharp smile worked its way across Victor’s handsome face, and Todd’s blood sang.
He’d seen that smile of Victor’s so many times before, and it always meant the same thing.
This was what Todd needed. What he wanted.
To spar with words and wit and snark.
Rusty and Niles ordered a pear-and-Brie sandwich and one with goat cheese and eggs, respectively. Victor selected a sandwich made on jalapeño corn bread.
All those offerings sounded great, but nothing beat a classic grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup, so that was what Todd ordered.
“Really?” Victor said when the waitress had left. “Out of everything on the menu, you choose the one item that could easily be made at home?”
Todd opened his mouth to respond, but Rusty jumped in. “Trust me. Todd would not be able to make that at home. He’s horrible in the kitchen.”
Victor laughed at that, probably delighted that someone besides him had teased Todd. Todd wanted to lash out, to cut Victor down a teeny-tiny notch, just enough to put them back on the level. But then Victor turned away and asked Niles about their vacation, seemingly so enthralled that it was like Todd wasn’t there at all.
Todd’s phone buzzed in his pocket, and he took it out, then glanced at it under the table.
Victor: You make up for it in the bedroom.
The edges of Victor’s lips tipped up after Todd read his message, but he didn’t turn his gaze away from Niles and Rusty, who were giving a rundown of the fish they’d seen while snorkeling.
Todd: Don’t be sweet to me yet. The foreplay just started.
Victor glanced down at his phone in his lap, then disguised his laugh with a cough.
They were pros at texting like this now. Secretly, so neither Rusty nor Niles would catch on. Todd set his phone so it wouldn’t vibrate or make any noise with incoming messages.
Victor nodded toward Todd. “So did this one go snorkeling with you, or was he too nervous to wash the hair spray out of his hair?”
Bright, soothing anger rushed through Todd, and Victor shot him a sweet smile. He was going to make Victor pay for that.
“Of course he went snorkeling,” Niles said. Todd could always count on Niles to try to come to his rescue. “But he spent a lot of time with Margo and Jackie, so he didn’t go on this excursion thingy with us.” Niles swiveled toward Todd. “Do you use hair spray? Is that what makes your hair so”—he waved his hand around—“lustrous?”
Todd laughed. “No. This is genetics and a good haircut.”
Victor snorted and said, “Bullshit,” under his breath, but loudly enough for everyone in the entire restaurant to hear.
Their waitress returned with their food, and during that bustle, he got another text from Victor.
Victor: You didn’t answer my question earlier.
Ah, yes. The vacation dick question.
Todd: I had a sadly dry vacay. You offering?
Victor: Depends. You gotta go to the club with me first.
Todd’s stomach jumped. Victor was a dance instructor in Oklahoma City. Going to a dance club with him would be insanely intimidating.
Still, he’d been restless lately. Restless, like someone was pulling a string connected to his gut, and it was starting to hurt each time he ignored it. He had chalked it up to end-of-school-year doldrums—he’d been dying for summer vacation—but now it was June and he’d had weeks and a trip to Cancún to get over his blues.
Maybe a night with Victor would calm that stuttering in his stomach like he’d swallowed a handful of moths.
Or maybe it’d make him feel worse. It was a toss-up.
There wasn’t a good time to text Victor back through the rest of the meal. The conversation veered from their vacation to Victor’s cousin’s wedding, which was in a couple of days in Arkansas, to sci-fi television shows. The love between Niles and Victor was palpable, and it always tugged at Todd’s heart a little. They were like platonic soul mates, perfect complements of each other. He’d never had a friend like that, besides Rusty, and that friendship was irrevocably colored by their years of coupledom.
After they all paid their tabs, Todd excused himself to use the restroom. He caught Victor’s eyes as he stood up from the table. Two minutes later, Victor met him in the hallway at the back of the restaurant that led to the bathrooms.
“It’s a single,” Todd said, with a gesture toward the bathroom door. “And someone’s in there.”
Victor crowded him into the wall, his gaze trailing over Todd’s face and down to his lips. “Come dancing with me tonight. And then I want you to deep-dick me into oblivion.”
Oh, he was dangerous.
Todd touched the sharp jut of his shoulder, and Victor swayed toward him.
“I’d have to stay the night. I can’t go out with you and then drive back to Bison Hills.”
That seemed to snap Victor out of it a little because he took a step back. Todd had never been to Victor’s apartment, and they’d certainly never spent the night together. That didn’t fall within the boundaries of their frenemies-with-benefits relationship.
Victor chewed on his top lip for a second, then nodded. “I’ll allow it.”
Todd rolled his eyes, trying, unsuccessfully, to not find him hilarious. “Okay, I’ll follow you to your apartment after this. I’ll tell Niles and Rusty that I’m going to stay at my grandparents’.”
“Ah, see,” Victor said, his voice full of delicious snark. “That’s why you’re a fun fuck. Your ingenuity.”
“I’m going back to the table.”
“Do you not need to use the bathroom?”
“Nope. I just wanted to lure you back here with me. And now you get to stand here for several minutes, alone, so we don’t come back together and raise the suspicions of our oblivious friends.”
Todd thumbed Victor’s chin with a grin and then left.
* * * * * * *
Victor ushered Todd into his apartment and immediately turned on some music, hoping to silence the unease pounding in his veins.
He needed about two hours of yoga to calm down and relieve his stress, but who had time for that? Instead he’d opted for the next best thing—a booty call.
Todd took in the apartment slowly, like he was memorizing it, and Victor almost changed his plans. He should never have invited Todd over. He felt more vulnerable showing Todd his home than he would his body.
After months of fooling around in secret every time Victor visited Niles in Bison Hills, he’d learned Todd’s favorite moves. Todd wasn’t a half-dressed, crazy-fast, out-of-control fucker. He liked to take his time and strip Victor completely—of his clothes, his inhibitions, his snark. They normally managed to sneak away to Todd’s two-bedroom house for a few hours at least once a visit, and Victor anticipated those stolen moments as if they were the only breaths of fresh air he’d be allowed.
His crush on Todd was incredibly inconvenient. For one, they hated each other.
Except they totally didn’t. They only pretended to.
Secondly, Todd was Rusty’s ex, and Rusty was his best friend’s boyfriend. Niles and Rusty were soul mates—a one true pairing—and therefore Todd should have been the evil ex.
Except he wasn’t, obviously. Todd, Rusty, and Niles all vacationed together, for fuck’s sake, which was weird, but whatever.
And lastly, Victor’s Todd crush was the reason he didn’t have a date for his cousin’s wedding. It was hard to woo other guys when you were carrying a torch for some fickle motherfucker you only saw when you visited your best friend, who lived hours away.
Todd turned to him and said, “Nice place,” as he dropped his overnight bag next to the kitchen island. That overnight bag was almost too much for Victor. He wanted it to mean something that it didn’t.
“I’m going to change, and then we can go.”
“I wouldn’t mind a shower,” Todd said. “I smell like airplane and Axe body spray.”
“It’s an improvement.”
Todd’s eyes sparked and a frown marred his pretty-boy mouth. That was better. Victor could disguise his longing when they were snarking at each other.
“You could shower with me,” Todd said.
“No. We’ll never leave the apartment if I do that, and I wanna dance. Go shower, and be quick.”
While Todd showered, Victor changed into a loose, cropped T-shirt and his favorite sneakers. Todd reappeared about ten minutes later, dressed in different, but still preppy, clothes and running some kind of product through his wet hair.
He stopped in his tracks when he caught sight of Victor. The music filling the apartment switched to a sultry Frank Ocean ballad, like it was egging them on. In a second flat, Todd had Victor pressed into the kitchen wall, his lips against the base of Victor’s throat.
“Shit,” Todd said, his breath hot on Victor’s skin. “Not fair. That shirt is not fair if you want to make it out the door.”
Victor ground against him to the sexy beat, and Todd’s hands made a circuit up and down his spine, which was suddenly slick with sweat.
“I like to torture you.”
“That’s why you put on a shirt that will show the entire world your perfect abs?”
“You’re just an attention whore.”
“And you fucking love it,” Victor snarled and then ripped himself out of Todd’s hold.
They stared at each other, tension filling the space between them. Todd’s eyes were bright and the color high on his cheeks in excitement. Or anger, maybe. Victor’s own heart beat wildly in his chest, and his fingers itched to dig into Todd’s flawless skin and tear him apart until nothing remained but their mutual animosity and need.
Having Todd in his kitchen was starting to make him antsy though. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to have Todd in his home. This was cozier than normal—what with the conversations and overnight bag and whatnot.
Todd took a deep breath and then pressed his forehead against Victor’s neck in a move that was oddly vulnerable. “Thank you for letting me stay here tonight.” His arms curved around Victor’s waist, like a hug.
They never hugged and usually didn’t spend the night. They definitely didn’t get vulnerable. No, they played at hating each other in front of Niles and Rusty and then fucked in secret. Hell, sometimes they didn’t even kiss. Their antagonism had become a weird form of foreplay.
Victor allowed himself three seconds of messing with Todd’s hair before pushing him off. He couldn’t fall for this sweetness. “You ready to go? I taught a bunch of girls how to twerk in class today, and I’ve wanted to let loose since then.”
“What if I don’t want to go dancing? I hate places like that,” Todd said, over-the-top snottiness sneaking into his voice.
Victor rolled his eyes. “You don’t like gay bars?”
Todd glared at him. “I don’t like dance clubs.”
That glare always did something to Victor. Made his stomach clench and his chest ache. Made him want to draw a dick on Todd’s dumb forehead.
“Well, then there’s the door.” Victor smiled. He refused to be the one who changed. The one who gave in.
“I won’t be able to keep up with you, and it’s going to suck.” Todd’s voice was almost contrite and shy, which wasn’t fair at all. A shy, self-conscious Todd would rip Victor’s heart to pieces.
“No one can, babe. Don’t be embarrassed. You can watch.”
Todd’s gaze scorched Victor as it traveled from his lips to his neck, then down his chest and abs before landing on his crotch. “And I’m supposed to enjoy that?”
Victor’s grin was sharp and sudden. “You know you will.”
The dance floor at the Copa was crowded with hot, sweaty bodies, but Todd’s eyes were glued to the swing of Victor’s hips. He couldn’t focus on anyone else. It didn’t help that Victor was wearing a loose, cropped T-shirt that showed off his perfect treasure trail. Todd kind of hated how hot Victor was. He’d always hated that about him.
Todd had decent rhythm—the result of hearing a metronome in his dreams for years—but no actual dance skills, and that was before being confronted by Victor’s mind-scrambling hotness. Victor kept trying to help. He’d push up on Todd, their hips slotting together, and pull him into a dirty grind, but each time, Todd would lose his head. Feeling Victor’s sweat-slicked arms around him, his ragged breath, his sharp hip bones—it obliterated Todd’s good sense until all he knew was need and white noise and the taste of Victor’s sweat on his tongue.
Of course, every time Todd lost the beat, Victor rolled his eyes and pushed him away. But he always came back. Song after song, Victor ended up back in his arms.
The music pounded around them, so loud that Todd couldn’t hear Victor speak unless Victor screamed in his ear. Not being able to talk blunted their normal cattiness and left Todd feeling a little adrift. Without the biting words between them, what was left besides desire? It was simultaneously a relief and scary as hell.
They were both dripping sweat—Todd from the heat and Victor from dancing hard—by the time they stopped for another round of drinks.
Victor was slightly out of breath, and his light-brown skin was ruddy. He steadied himself on Todd’s shoulder while they waited at the bar for service. Todd took Victor’s hands on him as permission to slip a finger into one of Victor’s belt loops and tug him closer. Victor had touched him first, after all.
Victor grinned. “You’re almost likeable when you’re horny. All your uppitiness goes out the window.”
“Is ‘uppitiness’ a real word?”
“Ugh, never mind. Sometimes I want to dump my drinks on you.”
“But not all the time?”
“At least ninety percent of the time.”
“Well, what do you think of me right now, Vic?”
Victor’s eyes seemed to flare with heat, but it could have been the club lights.
“That I love the way you say my name. That it reminds me of how you moan it when you’re about to come. You make this noise, like you’re surprised. Like I’m surprising you, and you can’t help but say my name.”
“We should leave. I’m ready to leave.” Todd skimmed his fingers over Victor’s damp shirt, up the back of his neck, and into his thick dark hair.
“No way. We just got here, and I want to dance.”
“Do you know how intimidating it is to go to a dance club with an actual dancer?”
Victor bit his lip on a smile, and Todd pulled him even closer. They hadn’t kissed yet—not on the lips, not since he’d arrived—and Todd wouldn’t make it another second without Victor’s tongue in his mouth.
“You have no idea how much I enjoy intimidating you,” Victor whispered.
Todd couldn’t wait any longer. He leaned in to kiss Victor, his heart slamming in his chest and his skin shivery with anticipation, but he didn’t get Victor’s lips. Instead, he caught Victor’s jaw as he turned his head—a fairly straightforward rejection that rang Todd like a bell.
It was an apt reminder. Their animosity might have been dulled by the loud music and change in location, but they were nothing except a no-strings-attached hookup. That was all Todd wanted it to be, and Victor obviously wasn’t interested in changing their dynamic either. Simple as that.
“Okay, lovebirds, what do you want?” the bartender said, shouting over the blaring dance beat.
“Four tequila shots,” Victor yelled back. “Salt and lime, please.”
“Oh, fuck,” Todd murmured.
Their shots arrived quickly, and Victor took his first one by licking the back of his hand, sprinkling on some salt, licking that off, downing his shot, and biting the lime. He didn’t flinch, which amazed Todd.
“You’re supposed to sip tequila, not take it like a shot. I read that in HuffPost.” Tequila was one of Todd’s weaknesses. He loved the sharp taste of the good stuff—the kind that didn’t need salt and lime to make it palatable.
Victor’s eye roll could have been seen from outer space. “Oh my God, you sound like such an asshole. Don’t kill my buzz. Plus, I’m pretty sure that only applies to good tequila, which this is not.”
Victor grabbed Todd’s wrist and hit it with salt.
Oh, Lord. Todd’s heart rate spiked. The press of Victor’s mouth against his hammering pulse weakened his knees. After licking up the salt, Victor nipped the base of Todd’s thumb, threw back his second shot, and sucked on a lime.
Todd took his first shot, sprinkling the salt on his own hand, but for his second one, he yanked Victor close. Victor’s shirt slid off his shoulder.
Perfect. He shook some salt out along the curve where Victor’s neck met his shoulder. Victor threw his head back and laughed, so Todd put his mouth on the tendon in Victor’s neck and sucked. He pulled away, sipped his shot very slowly, which burned a lot, and then bit down on their last slice of lime.
“You’re annoying.” Victor’s eyes were bright and his hips were already rotating to the beat. “Let’s dance some more.”
“Lead the way, Your Highness.”
An hour later, Todd was in a crush of people on the dance floor, and all eyes were on Victor, which made sense. He was a hot dance instructor and wasn’t shy about his skills. But it wasn’t until a tall woman pulled Victor into a salsa that Todd fully realized how talented he was.
Todd knew, from things he’d heard Niles say over the last several months, that Victor had grown up in the ballroom dance scene, and he’d previously taught dance classes for a cruise line, but it had never occurred to him that Victor could dance like that. It was seamless and sensual, and Todd had been watching for almost a minute before he realized that Victor wasn’t the one leading—his partner was. Victor’s delight in the dance was probably one of the hottest things he’d ever seen.
As the song bled into a new one, the woman gave Victor a kiss on the cheek and then moved back to her friends. Victor skipped over to him, his skin flushed, and drew their hips together. “Like what you see?”
“It was all right.”
Victor’s smile was uninhibited and contagious. In that moment, even though Todd had just spent a week on the beach, he felt lighter than he had in months. He glanced around, taking in all the queer people having a good time, and a rush of longing almost brought him to his knees. He didn’t get this in Bison Hills. Sure, Oklahoma City wasn’t exactly a utopia, but it had spots like this where queer people could come together and be themselves.
In Bison Hills, he had his ex-boyfriend and queer dating apps full of people with blank profile pictures. Maybe that was where his restlessness stemmed from—the claustrophobia of growing up and living in the same small town. Small-town life could be a comfort or a curse. He couldn’t imagine living without the familiarity of Bison Hills surrounding him. It was the only place where he’d ever been someone important, where he’d been more than a pretty face in a crowd. But, hell, sometimes it also felt like a weight around his neck, pulling him underwater.
Something in his expression must have clued Victor in to his roiling emotions because he grabbed Todd’s hand. “Let’s go home, babe. I’ll call an Uber.”