It was all Jules Cassidy’s fault.
Wait, back up.
It was all Robin Chadwick’s fault.
Or maybe Annie’s. Maybe even Martell’s. But it definitely wasn’t Ric’s fault. Absolutely not.
All he knew was that Annie—who had been spending a lot of damn time on the phone with Robin Chadwick!—and Martell—who was Jules Cassidy’s biggest fan—had suddenly come to this conclusion. And then they’d teamed up on him. And now Ric was sitting on a tattered velvet couch with Bob Marley playing in the background, dumbfounded, gaping at them like a landed fish.
Obviously, it was a conspiracy.
Annie rolled her eyes at him, hands on her hips, and sighed gustily. “Really, Ric. We’ve said it three times already.”
“But… a threesome?” He glanced at Martell, and he knew as soon as the words came out of his mouth that he was going to regret the tone of abject horror that accompanied them. “With him?”
“You got a problem with me, Alvarez?”
Annie shushed them both. “You guys, quiet down.” She looked around the dim coffeehouse. It was set up for more intimate meetings—soft armchairs and couches and loveseats tucked away into dark little corners that gave the illusion of privacy, music just loud enough to camouflage conversation without having to shout over it—but people were still noticing them. Probably because, yeah, Ric had been getting a little loud there. And so had Martell.
See, right there. This was never going to work. He and Martell were going to be one-upping each other all the time, competing for Annie’s time and attention and... They were never going to make this work. Ric took a sip of his (organic, fair-trade, expensive) coffee and wished there was something stronger in it. What were Annie and Martell thinking, having this conversation in public?
And hey, how come Annie and Martell had talked about this before they talked to him?
“Because we knew you’d be the one to dig your heels in about it.” Annie kicked him under the scuffed little secondhand-shop coffee table for even asking. “Although obviously our strategy planning could have been better.”
“We could have had a strategy at all,” Martell pointed out. Despite himself, Ric forced himself to look his friend in the face, to not avoid him in embarrassment. He wasn’t going to go along with their crazy threesome idea, but he wasn’t going to let it ruin his friendship with Martell, dammit.
The man was good looking; he was confident enough in his masculinity to admit that to himself. But then as soon as he’d had the thought, something cracked across his mind like Annie had learned how to psychic-slap him. Like Jules Cassidy is any less masculine because he’s in love with a man. Hell, Chadwick’s no slouch himself, even if he is just an actor.
All right, so Martell was good looking. Hot, even. And maybe Ric had noticed that even before Jules Cassidy came along to shake up his heteronormative worldview. And maybe he’d even wondered what it would be like to kiss him. That was normal, right? You notice someone, you wonder what it would be like to kiss them. Didn’t mean you ever wanted to try, not for real. Not in real life. But seriously, had Martell been thinking about him, too? That was kind of flattering.
He caught himself before he started preening and picked up his coffee for another sip.
“So,” Ric mumbled into his cup. He would man up enough to treat this seriously, but he still wasn’t going to agree. “When did you guys start thinking about this?”
Annie looked at Martell, indicating he should go first, and Martell shrugged. “I don’t know. Hanging around Cassidy and Chadwick got me kind of curious, you know? And then when I started thinking about it, it didn’t seem that bad.”
Well, that confirmed Ric’s suspicions about that. He’d figured Martell had half a crush on Cassidy. “Annie?”
“Oh, from the first time I met Martell.”
Ric sputtered, barely managing to keep his coffee-spew in the cup. “What?”
“C’mon, Ric. He’s hot.”
“He—” Ric cut himself off before he could disagree with her, which would have been just the greatest idea in the world with Martell sitting right there.
“Look.” Annie sounded disappointed but resigned, and Ric could just feel his balls shriveling up. Aw, man, not the stoic disappointment. Anything but that. …Well, that or tears. “We’re not going to force you into it, and I’m not going to sleep with Martell if you’re not okay with this.”
Ric blinked. It was a sign of how much they’d thrown him for a loop—or how much he trusted his girlfriend and his best friend—that the idea of Annie sleeping with Martell behind his back had never occurred to him.
“We just thought it could be good, you know? And if we try it and it doesn’t work out… no harm, no foul. We’ll still all be friends.”
Martell reclined in the ugly green armchair he was occupying, and Annie sat perched on the matching—sort of—footstool. Ric saw them looking at him hopefully and felt just like Ebenezer Scrooge telling Bob Cratchett that no, he couldn’t have another lump of coal for his stove, and he absolutely could not leave early on Christmas Eve.
“Goddammit, fine.” He took another drink of coffee to keep from having to look at them, but when neither of them said anything, he had to venture a glance. They were both staring at him, wide-eyed and frozen in place. “What? I said fine. We can try it. Once. And if it doesn’t work, we never speak of it again.”
Annie launched herself at him across the table, and he barely got his cup of coffee out of the way before he had to catch her. Oblivious now to any attention they were drawing to themselves, Annie peppered happy little kisses all over his face. He was just starting to think that maybe it was all worth it, just to make Annie this happy, when he felt the dry skim of fingers across the back of his hand. He looked over Annie’s head and saw Martell smiling at him, his eyes so full of gratitude and… affection… that Ric felt his stomach drop like he’d just taken a loop on a roller coaster.
He didn’t think he was prepared for this, but he’d be damned if he chickened out now. The hell Jules Cassidy was going to keep the record for the insane stunt bonus.
But maybe it was time to get out of the café.