“Oh my God,” Sam said, coming at Randy with his hands up as if warding off any other potential speech. “Oh. My. God. You have to read this book.”
“Book?” Randy eyed the object in Sam’s hands critically. “That’s a weird-looking book.”
“It’s an iPad,” Sam said impatiently. “Randy, this book—”
Randy sat bolt upright on the couch and leveled a look at Sam. “Have you shown this to Ethan?”
Sam looked momentarily confused, then enlightened. “Oh—no, I haven’t, but I bet he’d like it too—”
“Don’t show it to him. Ever.” Randy glared at the electronic object in Sam’s hands. God, it even looked pretentious. “The man buys every damn gadget that walks in front of him.”
“It was my birthday present from Mitch. What, I don’t ever get to use it when he’s around? Come on. Play with it, and you’ll want one too.”
“That I sincerely doubt,” Randy said.
“Scoot over and I’ll show it to you.” Sam wedged himself between Randy and the corner cushion. As he sat, however, he caught a look at the television. He glanced back at Randy. “You’re watching Rachael Ray? Seriously?”
“Shut up.” He held up the remote and turned off the TV. “All right. Show me your iPad.”
“I’ll show you the iPad later. I want to show you this book.” Sam poked at the screen until a faux bookshelf appeared, filled with tiny covers face-front on the micro shelves.
“I’m not really much of a reader,” Randy said. Then he caught a better look at the images and took the device out of Sam’s hands and drew it closer to his face. “Are those naked—and some of them are in bondage gear! Shit, Peaches! You didn’t say it was porn!”
“It’s not porn,” Sam said, wrenching the iPad back. His cheeks were flushed. “They’re romances. Male/male romances.”
“Harlequins for homos? Thanks, hon, but I’ll pass.”
“Randy. Come on. It’s not like that. Well, not like the look on your face. It’s good. Come on.” He nudged Randy’s elbow. “It has sex in it.”
Randy perked up slightly. “So it is porn?”
Sam looked ready to beat Randy about the head with the iPad. “Will you just read it already?”
Randy laughed. “What, right now?”
“Yes!” Sam thrust the device back into his hands. “Read it, and you’ll see. Just a few pages.”
Sighing, but with feigned resignation, because he was curious now, Randy accepted the reader and let Sam show him how to turn the pages. He admitted, only to himself, that it was oddly fun to see the pretend pages curl across the screen. The copyright and dedication and acknowledgment pages flipped past, but when he saw the title page he gave Sam a dubious look.
“Strawberries for Dessert? Fucking hell, Sam.”
“Read the fucking story, Randy,” Sam shot back. So Randy did. Well, he tried. He got through the prologue, but when he got to the first chapter and started reading what looked like an email, Sam bounced on the couch a little and interrupted him.
“Oh! That’s Cole. That bottom one. You will totally love him. He’s just like you!”
Randy gave Sam a quelling look, but Sam was apparently serious. That only made it worse. “You think I would call people ‘Sweets’ and use words like ‘fabulous’?”
“No, not that. But he’s all manipulative like you, and he gives everybody nicknames.” Sam leaned on Randy’s shoulder and stared dreamily down at the LCD screen. “Oh God, Randy, I just love this story. It’s so romantic. And hot. It’s my favorite book ever.”
Randy skimmed a few pages forward, looking for sex, but none appeared. He did see “Phoenix,” though. Well, at least the author had the good taste to set the book in a desert. Which was interesting. Sam hated the desert, but this was his favorite book ever? Still. Randy handed the iPad back to Sam. “Make your husband read it.” God, he hoped he got to watch Sam try to get Mitch to read.
But Sam surprised him. “He already did. Well—I mean, I read it to him. While we drove the run to LA.” He paused, and his cheeks turned scarlet. “We—we acted out a few parts, after.”
Randy’s eyebrows rose, and he glanced at the reader again. “Oh? There are those kind of sex scenes?”
“Well, we had to improvise. Mitch doesn’t have a necktie in Old Blue. Actually, I don’t know where his ties went. And—” His blush deepened, but he had a wicked grin now too. “—we gave it our own little twist here and there. But it’s such a good book, Randy. It’s fun, and it’s sexy, and it’s so sweet.” He nudged Randy’s knee. “It’s like how you fell for Ethan. It’s true love.”
Randy tried to roll his eyes, but they landed back on the screen, which had gone black. “This Cole gets a marriage proposal at a craps table, does he?”
Sam shook his head. “I’m not giving you spoilers. You have to read it yourself.”
“You said he was like me, though. So he’s a mechanic? He plays poker?”
“Well, no. He’s independently wealthy. But he cooks,” Sam pressed on, before Randy could object. “And he likes shopping like you. He likes to travel, though, which I know you don’t. He actually can’t sit still. Has to keep moving. So he goes to Paris and Hawaii and New York.”
Randy wasn’t appeased. “Oh, so he’s me only better?”
“No!” Sam was growing impatient again. “Randy, come on.”
Randy sighed. “This is that important to you, is it Peaches?”
“Yes,” Sam said, looking excited again, probably because his victory was practically in the bag now. “Yes.”
“You going to act out scenes with me, baby?” Randy teased.
“Well, there aren’t any menage scenes at all,” Sam confessed.
Sam shrugged. “We can improvise. It can be like fan fiction. Only in real life.”
“I take it I’ll be playing Cole?”
Sam frowned. “Oh. I hadn’t thought of that. No, I have to be Cole. He only bottoms. Well, and we have to find something for Ethan too. Oh! I know. You guys could be Zach and Angelo! From her other books! Except Mitch has to be Zach, because they both like to watch.”
Jesus, this had to be stopped. “You’re telling me I have to read two books before I get sex? No. I will play Randy. I will play Randy coming to seduce Cole. When I’m done, you can say, ‘Thanks, Sweets, that was fabulous’. Let’s practice right now.”
Sam laughed and passed the iPad back over one last time. “Read. I’ll get you something to drink.”
Oh, maid service? That was all right. Randy settled into the corner of the couch and propped the reader on his thighs. “There’s beer in the fridge.” But when Sam came back from the kitchen, he had a wineglass in his hand.
“It’s Arbor Mist,” Sam said, with a wicked grin.
“Okay,” Randy said carefully, sensing there was more coming, but Sam just shook his head.
“Keep reading,” he said. “You’ll find out why.”
Randy sipped at the wine, winced at the Kool-Aid sweet taste, and resumed reading.
An hour later, Sam brought him a sub sandwich and more Arbor Mist. Randy took them with a nod of thanks and kept reading.
Two hours later, Ethan came home. When he tried to take the iPad out of Randy’s hands, Randy got up, hurried down the hallway, and locked himself in the bathroom.
Another hour later he moved quietly into the bedroom and propped himself on pillows, still reading.
At ten-thirty he put the iPad down on his bedside table. He stared across the room, smiling softly to himself for several minutes. Eventually, though, he moved down the hall to the living room, where Mitch was reading the newspaper at the table while Ethan surfed on his laptop and Sam watched a Golden Girls episode on TV. But when Sam saw Randy, he grinned and pressed the mute button.
“Did you finish?” he asked eagerly.
Randy nodded, his gaze sliding to Ethan. “I did.”
“And you liked it?”
Randy watched Ethan’s lips move absently as he frowned at the screen. Randy smiled. “I did.”
Sam beamed. “I knew you would!” His grin widened. “So. You still want to play?”
At the table, Mitch looked up, suddenly interested.
Still watching Ethan, Randy shook his head. “Not just yet.”
Mitch went back to his newspaper.
But Sam rose, and when Randy dared a glance at him, he saw, with relief, that Sam understood. He also moved around the couch and went over to his husband. “Mitch?” he asked. “You want to go to bed?”
Mitch glanced up at Sam, confused, then looked at Randy. And then at Ethan. And then he stood. “Oh. Yeah. Sure.” He pushed back his chair and rose, letting Sam take his hand and lead him out of the room.
After he tidied up the paper and pushed Mitch’s chair back in, Randy went over to Ethan and pushed the laptop shut.
Ethan looked up at him in irritation. “So first you ignore me all evening, and now that I’m actually starting to make this balance sheet make sense—good lord. You’ve been crying. What’s wrong?”
“I want you to come to bed.” Randy took hold of Ethan’s tie and pulled him to his feet by it. “Bring this.”
“What? Randy—” But Randy interrupted him by leaning forward and whispering what he wanted in his ear. Ethan blinked and looked at him askance. “Really? That’s all you want?” When Randy just grinned, Ethan frowned. “But it’s so… vanilla.”
“I’ll have you read the book after, but I’m not in the mood to wait. Just play along, Slick.”
Ethan’s eyes widened. “You read a book? Wait—on the iPad? That’s what you were doing? How was it? I’ve been wanting to know how that worked—”
“I’ll show you,” Randy said, leading Ethan down the hall by his tie toward the bedroom. “After.”
“Randy, what the hell—”
“Ethan, I will buy you a fucking iPad. But not right now.”
“This must be some book,” Ethan remarked.
Randy closed the door. “Shut up, baby, and take off your tie.”
After, Randy smiled up at the ceiling after, hands still bound by colorful silk ties, Ethan’s head resting on his sweaty chest. Okay, so they hadn’t stayed vanilla. Or even just strawberry.
But it was great dessert.
Strawberries for Dessert by Marie Sexton is available now in ebook and paperback formats from Dreamspinner Press.
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