It’s typical of video game programmer Josiah Simmons to be the last one on the plane on the way to the biggest meeting of his career. Though he’s (mostly) coping with his ADHD, he can’t handle another distraction. But he also can’t ignore his rugged seatmate—especially once he learns the military man’s a fan of his game.
Ryan Orson refuses to let his severe injuries pause his career as a navy SEAL. He’s got hours of grueling physical therapy ahead of him, and no time for anything that might get in the way of his return to active duty. But that doesn’t mean he’s above a little first-class flirtation with geeky-cute Josiah.
When a delay strands the pair in St. Louis, they agree to share a hotel room and a night of gaming. Neither expects their new connection to move to the next level in the light of day. Opposites may attract, but is this game over before it’s even begun?
Book Three of the #gaymers series
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Somewhere between the third newsstand and the fourth moving sidewalk in LAX, Josiah regretted not joining his friend Ravi in training for a 10k charity race. Nothing like a flat-out sprint from the check-in counter to the slow-moving security lines and another dash from security all the way through gates to make him rethink his aversion to cardio. And the worst part was that for once in his life he’d made every effort to be on time, getting up before the alarm, starting coffee, making sure they were out of the house by o’dark thirty ready for his early morning flight to Germany via a stop in Washington, DC.
Carry-on with both laptops, tablet and assorted accessories? Check.
Suitcase with more shirts with buttons than he’d ever owned in his life? Check.
Double-checking that his ticket was booked under “Josiah” not “Joseph”? Total fail, but in his defense, it never occurred to him that the travel agency his employer used would give the wrong name. And the check-in attendant at the airline counter didn’t want to believe that there was a mistake. Thus, every careful endeavor he’d made to ensure that he was on time—early even—went up in a huff of waiting for a supervisor and then another supervisor.
And now finally he was sprinting to make sure he didn’t miss the plane. Forget being there in time to priority board, he was going to be lucky to make the plane period. His first time flying first class—thank you, Space Villager for being such a bestselling game—and it was off to an inelegant start thanks to a stupid mistake.
Finally, finally, he reached the last few gates of the terminal. The TV sets scattered throughout the waiting area were all taking about that huge freak snowstorm heading for the New York area and whether it might veer south enough to cause snow along the whole Eastern Seaboard. Josiah shook his head, trying to not get sucked in to the TV. As long as he got to Germany on time, it wasn’t going to affect him and he needed to stay focused on—
“Last call for Flight 324 nonstop service to Washington Dulles International,” the loudspeaker blared.
“I’m here, I’m here,” he panted as the gate attendant set the red phone back on its hook. He held out his ticket. The woman was around his mother’s age with very red lipstick and very short blond hair and a spectacular frown just for him.
“Ah. Mr. Simmons.” She looked up after scanning his tickets, decidedly less frosty once she saw his first-class seat number. “Come with me, I’m going to have to walk you down.” She spoke into a walkie-talkie as they headed down the walkway. “We’re going to need to gate check your bags. I’m so sorry, but the first-class overhead compartments are all full.”
“Crap.” She gave him a questioning look, and Josiah remembered that he was supposed to be Mr. Smooth and Sophisticated Project Manager, not some whiny kid. “Sorry. That’s fine. Just let me grab my laptop.” He grabbed the laptop with the longer battery life before the attendant put a pink gate-check tag on his two bags. “But…uh…fragile.”
She gave him a tight smile, but added a yellow Fragile tag to his laptop bag. “You’re in Seat 1A,” she said, handing him his ticket back. “You’ll get your bags back when we land, I promise. Enjoy your flight.”
After a brief conversation with the gate attendant, a male flight attendant shut the plane door behind Josiah. “Welcome aboard,” he said to Josiah in a tone that clearly meant, “thank you for pushing back our departure.” In fact, the plane was rolling away from the gate before Josiah almost tumbled into the empty aisle seat of the first row.
“You made it.” A warm chuckle eased past the pounding of Josiah’s heart.
“Wha—what?” he whipped his head over to the window seat—a farther distance than one might expect. The first-class seats were huge padded affairs and there was a thick console dividing the seats. And…hello, most gorgeous guy Josiah had ever seen.
Wide, mischievous smile. Sparkling hazel eyes. Unshaven jaw. Short dark brown hair. And holy hell, arm muscles for days. Bulging biceps with tats poking out of his T-shirt sleeves.
All of a sudden this flight started looking way up.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you. I just meant I was beginning to think I’d get the row all to myself.” The guy’s voice was possibly even more attractive than his model-worthy face, deep and soothing, with an undercurrent of the sort of confidence that never failed to make Josiah shiver.
And he was all Josiah’s for the next five hours.
Well, except for the part where he seemed ready to take a nap and tune Josiah out—the guy had a pillow behind his head and a blanket on his lap. He yawned, revealing gleaming teeth worthy of a toothpaste ad.
“You’re not a model, are you?” As usual, Josiah’s tongue leaped into action before his brain could restrain it.
“What? No, not a model.” The guy laughed, more of that smoky chuckle that did things to Josiah’s insides.
“TV star? Athlete? Because it seems like I should know you from somewhere, and I don’t want to get to DC and people be like, hey, you were next to that Laker the whole flight…” He trailed off because his friends were right that he had absolutely no filter, and that was triple true around Muppet-flail-worthy hot guys.
“Nope, not famous.” The guy studied Josiah for a long moment, considering, the sort of are-you-for-real expression on his face that Josiah was well used to. Seeming to come to some sort of decision, the guy stuck his right arm across the console. “Lieutenant Ryan Orson, US Navy.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Josiah accepted the handshake. Navy made sense given the Navy-emblazoned T-shirt stretched tight over the guy’s aircraft-carrier-wide chest. Holy crap, the guy was big. Josiah was a skinny 6’2” with big hands and feet that always got in the way. But this guy’s hand made Josiah’s feel downright dainty. “I’m Josiah, Josiah Simmons.”
“Well, Josiah, want to know a secret?” Ryan asked in a conspiratorial whisper.
“Sure.” Josiah was down with whatever secrets this guy wanted to share.
“Not only am I not famous, I’m not even supposed to be in first class.”
“Nope.” Ryan winked at Josiah. He had a very disarming wink, all good humor and twinkly eyes.
“The check-in clerk bumped me into first.”
“You got the nice clerk.” Josiah was still a bit grumbly over the name hassle.
“She lost a brother over in Afghanistan.” There was a subtle hint of “grow up” in Ryan’s tone. Josiah straightened, remembering again who he was supposed to be. And here was this impossibly attractive guy to practice on. Sure, he might be Josiah the clueless geek back home, but here he was Josiah the new project manager. This Josiah knew the right way to act and speak and could impress even tough audiences.
“That’s so sad for her.” Josiah tried for sophisticated empathy, something he knew he kind of sucked at.
“Yeah, it is.” Something indecipherable passed over Ryan’s face, his eyes getting darker and cloudier and that wide smile flagging a bit. “Anyway, guess she saw…the Navy connection and had a spare seat to bump me into.”
“What do you do? In the Navy I mean?”
The guy went silent, considering, and Josiah was afraid he’d been too nosy again, but right when he was about to apologize, Ryan finally spoke. “I’m a SEAL. I do a little bit of everything, but mainly I make things go boom. You?”
“Oh my God, you’re Special Forces. Do I ever have questions for you!” Josiah babbled again, only slowing down as Ryan’s easy smile morphed into grim line. “Sorry. I’m just excited because I’m a video game designer. And special ops is our new expansion pack.” And it happened to be the one Josiah was in charge of.
“You program games?” Ryan blinked, and Josiah wasn’t sure what he’d expected Josiah to do, but this clearly wasn’t it. “Anything I’ve heard of?”
Ah. That was it. He assumed Josiah was some sort of kid programming a dot matrix game in his basement. Josiah knew he looked too young for his job, because he was too young. At twenty-three, he was the youngest lead developer on the design team. Thus, he took no small amount of pride in saying, “Space Villager.”
“Oh wow, really?” There was a new note of respect in Ryan’s voice. “I love that game, especially the pod racer and first-person shooter expansion packs.” There was a hint of Texas or something else Southern in his voice, and Josiah could listen to him all day.
“Yeah? Well you’re going to love our special ops expansion pack even more.” Josiah projected far more confidence than he actually felt. He could make this project a success. He had to. The PR team had already hinted that the next expansion pack would revolve around special ops activities on a small war-torn planet, so Josiah didn’t worry too much about sharing this much with Ryan.
“I bet. My ex got me to back the crowdfunding drive, and I’ve been hooked ever since. My buddies were already teasing me about how much time I spent gaming, but there’s something particularly addictive about your game.”
Your game. Josiah liked the sound of that. He only knew a handful of women who played Space Villager, but the ones who did tended to be rabid fans. It was possible he might even know Ryan’s ex by her user handle, but Josiah had just enough self-control to not ask.
“Prepare for takeoff,” the pilot intoned over the PA. This was the part Josiah hated, the acceleration and stomach-dropping ascent. Today he hated it even more, knowing they might catch the edge of that storm. Focusing on turbulence that was probably hours away wasn’t logical, but then, Josiah’s brain seldom was.
“You always so antsy or are you a nervous flyer?” Ryan asked.
Oh crap. Guess he wasn’t doing such a bang-up job projecting the aura of a with-it project manager. He laughed nervously. “Both?”
“I promise we’re going to be okay.” Ryan gave him a quick friendly pat on the knee.
Oh. Josiah’s eyes went wide. Ryan was missing part of the pinky finger on his left hand and had some wicked scarring further up his forearm. Josiah tried not to stare, but knew he failed miserably.
“Mission gone wrong,” Ryan said gruffly. “Now back to flying, millions of people fly every day. It’s safer than car travel.” His tone made it clear further discussion of his hand was not on the table.
“I know flying’s safe. Knowing that’s not the same as believing it.”
Ryan’s answering laugh seemed to strip some of the tension from his face. “How well do I know that attitude. My ex got nervous before every flight, and his buddies used to razz him about it mercilessly.”
Man, two ex references in five minutes. Ryan must be totally hung up on his ex…wait. “His buddies”…What the hell?
“Your ex is a guy?”
“Yup.” Ryan’s smirk said he’d pegged Josiah ten minutes ago, probably when Josiah couldn’t peel his eyes away from those tasty biceps.
“Cool.” He was grinning, but he couldn’t make his facial muscles behave. Hot damn. Gorgeous, muscled, single, gamer, and gay. He ticked every last one of Josiah’s “perfect man” boxes. And if the gods were kind at all, Josiah could keep it together long enough to make a lasting impression.
Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.
Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter. In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two children.
Represented by Saritza Hernandez of the Corvisiero Literary Agency
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