The new Loving on the Edge romance from the New York Times bestselling author of Nothing Between Us turns on the heat between two men who wonder how much they’re willing to risk in the name of love.
Four years after an accident tore their friendship apart, Hunter and Devon are living separate lives. Hunter is now the all-America hero—a congressman’s son and a pro pitcher in Houston preparing to marry his beauty-queen girlfriend. Devon is in Dallas running a new restaurant.
But when Hunter unexpectedly shows up in Devon’s bar, Devon can’t turn him away. Damn it if the man isn’t still gorgeous. But engaged? Hell no. All he’s doing for Devon is bringing back memories of their college-roommate days, and the night their relationship went too far. Turns out Hunter has never forgotten it either.
Now Devon can’t help but be drawn in all over again by the only guy who’s ever gotten close enough to break his heart. Maybe one more night together would be enough for both of them to finally move on. Or maybe one night will change everything…
Includes a preview of Roni Loren’s Call on Me
Praise for the Loving on the Edge Novels
“I can’t wait for Roni Loren’s next tantalizing story!”—Jo Davis
“Hot and romantic.”—Shayla Black, New York Times bestselling author
“Roni Loren, just like the men in her books, knows how to keep you up all night.”
—Tiffany Reisz, international bestselling author
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
If Hunter had to eat one more bite of cake, he was going to fucking lose it.
Macy held another forkful up to his mouth. “This one has cream cheese frosting instead of buttercream. I think I like the other one better, but maybe you should try it. It may go better with the strawberry layer. Or maybe we could go with fondant . . .”
He opened his mouth to cut her off, but the iced confection hit his tongue instead, and he inhaled crumbs right into his windpipe. He gagged, choking on his words and the cake.
“Oh, honey,” Macy said, reaching for a glass of water and handing it to him. “I’m sorry. I thought you were ready for it.”
He coughed hard, the water sloshing over the rim of the glass, and hitting his chinos.
Ready for it? Ha. Wasn’t that the assumption of the day—of the year.
Macy patted his back as he tried to clear the last of the blockage. The cake lady, or pastry chef as Macy had insisted he call the woman, stared at him, her lips in a disapproving line—as if his choking was some statement on her baking.
He took a sip of water, his eyes tearing up, and finally swallowed down the last of the cake.
“You okay?” Macy asked, her hand now rubbing his back in gentle circles.
He nodded and then managed a hoarse, “Fine. I’m good.”
Macy gave him one last concerned look and then shifted her focus back to the tray of samples on the table. “Okay, so let’s go with the buttercream.”
Cake Lady nodded, made a note, and motioned for her assistant with a flick of her wrist. The younger girl who’d brought in the original tray of samples removed them and came back a minute later with another silver platter full. The girl eyed Hunter in that starstruck way he’d grown used to . . . and tired of. He much preferred the old days when it was only his dad people recognized on the street.
He mustered up a smile since it wasn’t the girl’s fault he was in such a foul mood, but her shift in expression said his smile must’ve come across more as a grimace than friendly.
Madame Pastry Chef waved a hand over the new tray. “Now it’s time to pick out the groom’s cake. Typically, it’s chocolate, but there are some less traditional options as well . . .”
Macy straightened in her chair, her hands folding primly around one of Hunter’s. “Let’s look at the chocolate options.” She sent him a smile. “We like traditional.”
The words, Macy’s always-sweet smile, and the smell of more cake had his skin feeling clammy, the room too small. Another half hour of this and. . . . he launched himself out of his chair, knocking the table with his knee and rattling the platter. “I’m fine with whatever you choose, sweetheart. You pick the rest. I need some air.”
Her brows disappeared beneath her bangs. “Everything all right?”
“Absolutely.” He leaned down and kissed the top of her blond head. “Take your time. I’ll be outside when you’re ready.”
Ready. There was that word again. Like a cymbal smashing against his head, reverberating.
The wedding was three months away. He loved Macy. Shouldn’t he feel ready by now?
Would he ever?
He headed out of the bakery, trying to slow his racing thoughts and climbing anxiety. Cold feet. That’s what they called it, right? But he was far from cold. Hot all over was more like it.
The word whispered through his head like a siren call. He climbed into his Audi and stared at the speedometer, wondering, not for the first time, what would happen if he just floored the pedal and didn’t look back.
Would the local media hunt him like a fugitive? Would his father send his congressional district out in a search party? Would Macy be more upset about losing him or about canceling the wedding she’d worked so hard to plan? Would he miss this life?
He put his hand on the gearshift, flexed his fingers, thought about where he would go.
Macy pulled open the passenger door and slid inside, her ponytail swinging. “Hey there, planning to leave without me?”
His grin was too quick, too bright. “Course not.”
She eyed him in that don’t-you-lie-to-me way women seemed to perfect by age seven. “What’s going on with you? You forgot your last tux fitting, you still haven’t picked a best man, and Brent said you turned down his offer for a bachelor party.”
He sniffed. Bachelor party. Right. He didn’t drink anymore, he didn’t party, and the thought of a strip club held about as much appeal as choking down more cake. Plus, wouldn’t the press have a field day over that? Straitlaced Astros pitcher and son of conservative congressman Tom Riley sighted stuffing dollar bills in G-strings at Tops Off before he married the former Miss Houston. “I’m sorry, Mace. I think I’m just exhausted after the end of the season. I’m used to getting a nice, solid break in the winter. With all the wedding stuff and the media buzzing around me after the back injury, I feel like I haven’t had a day to breathe.”
Macy tilted her head, her expression softening. “You do look tired, baby.”
Boy, was he. Only he wasn’t sure it was the kind of tired he could sleep away.
She stared at him for a moment more, wrinkle between her brows, and then her finger went to her lips, tapped. “Hmm.”
Uh-oh. Her idea face.
She turned in her seat, squaring her shoulders to him. “How about this? What if in lieu of a bachelor party, you take a little solo vacation?”
He blinked, the words sounding foreign to his ears. “A solo vacation?”
Was this his fiancée, the woman who’d insisted he attend ten different auditions for a wedding singer?
“Yes. You don’t need a night with the guys. You need downtime. I don’t want you getting to our wedding burnt out and grumpy.” She dug through her purse, pulling out her phone. “I have an old friend who runs a private spa and resort. You could take some time away from all the wedding stuff, get off of the local media’s radar for a while.”
“You’re being serious right now? This isn’t one of those tests for the husband-to-be, is it?” The suggestion sounded like angels singing, but he’d learned Macy was into those little tests—setting up seemingly innocuous situations that held biting traps beneath the surface, ones that asked, How much do you really love me? How far will you go for me? He knew she didn’t do it with malice. It was her version of insurance. She’d grown up with parents who had made a mess of their marriage, and Macy wanted her relationship with him to be a sure thing.
He was trying to be her sure thing. But he’d stepped in those traps too many times along the way not to be wary.
She waved her hand. “No, nothing like that. I can take care of the last-minute wedding stuff. You know I love it. And”—her tone went wistful—“it could be kind of romantic to spend some time away from each other as the big day gets closer. You know . . . build up the anticipation.”
For the wedding night. She didn’t have to say it. The honeymoon loomed for the both of them—the true test of whether they were going to have chemistry in the bedroom as well as they did out of it. God, he hoped they did. He’d lived the last two years celibate. She’d lived the last twenty-three. That’d be a long time for her to wait to end up disappointed.
The crushing pressure he’d felt moments earlier, that trapped feeling, eased up a notch. “Sweetheart, I’d hate to be away from you, but I can’t say that a break doesn’t sound about perfect.”
She beamed. “Who’s the best fiancée ever?”
He smiled, a genuine one this time. “So, where is this place?”
His mind conjured images of some seaside resort in Mexico, or maybe the Bahamas . . .
The bottom fell out of his peaceful thoughts, crashed into a fiery mess beneath him.
She looked down at her phone, already scrolling through her numbers. “It’ll work out great. You’ll only be a few hours from Houston if I need you. And you can finally take care of your best man issue.”
She looked up, narrowed her eyes. “Don’t give me the lost look. I ran into one of your old frat brothers a few weeks ago at an event, and I was telling him you hadn’t picked a best man yet. He seemed surprised, told me how close you were with your old roommate Devon Crowe in college and was shocked that y’all hadn’t kept in touch. I can’t believe you’ve never mentioned him.”
Hunter swallowed hard. That was because he made a point not to talk about Devon. Or think about Devon. Or . . . anything about Devon.
“Did you know he lives in Dallas now?” Macy added.
Dev was in Dallas? That close? Hunter tugged at his collar. “Really?”
She smiled. “Yep, I Googled him for you.”
She waved a hand. “Look, I get that you probably lost touch after the accident when you moved back to Houston to finish school or whatever, but you know how many friends I’ve reconnected with when I reached out to invite people to the engagement party? Old friends are the best friends and when you meet up again, it’s like no time has passed. I’m sure it’d be the same for you. You’ve got to have someone besides one of my brothers you want standing next to you at the wedding. One of your old college buddies would be perfect.”
His palm went damp against the gearshift. Old college buddy.
That wasn’t exactly how he’d label things with Devon. Complete and total college fuckups maybe.
“Mace . . .”
She put her fingers to his lips as she raised the phone to her ear. “Thank me later. Just bring me back a well-rested groom and a best man, so we can finish planning the wedding of our dreams.”
He closed his eyes, dread prickling his skin.
Dread and something else altogether . . .
Which told him he needed to stay far, far away from Dallas.
But when Macy got on the phone to set up things with her friend, he didn’t say a damn word. And when she hung up and declared everything set, he kept his mouth shut. And when they drove home, he did nothing but pack his bag.
He was so fucking screwed.
Devon counted to five in his head before addressing the newest cook. “Bryce, how long did you leave these scallops on the grill?”
“Two minutes, just like Chef Carl told me,” he said, his spine hunching.
Devon poked the rubbery scallop with a fork, his patience draining. He could deal with inexperienced cooks, but liars were another story. “It’s like a pencil eraser. If I dropped it on the floor, it’d fucking bounce.”
Devon’s voice reverberated over the hot line, and Bryce looked down. “I might have looked away for a second to fire a steak.”
Devon grabbed the plate and dumped the contents in the trash, disgusted. Maybe if Bryce had been more concerned about cooking than flirting with the waitstaff, Devon wouldn’t be tossing valuable product in the bin. “That’s the third plate off your line that was sent back. You’re off the grill for the night. Switch with Sarah and manage the salads.”
Bryce’s face had gone red, but he nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Devon sighed and pushed his way out of the narrow kitchen, needing a break from the heat and the annoyance. He didn’t want to become that asshole boss everyone hated, but he also couldn’t afford to let food costs get out of control. Elizabeth, the owner, was counting on him to make this place work, and she had little tolerance for incompetence. She would’ve given Bryce his walking papers right there. But Devon believed in second chances, so he’d tell Chef Carl to give Bryce some remedial training before letting him near a flame again. If that didn’t help, Bryce would need to take his rubbery scallops elsewhere.
The soft music and murmured conversation of the Savor Wine Bar wrapped around Devon as he made his way through the restaurant. It was getting close to closing time, and all but three tables of customers had drifted out. On a Monday at this time of night, they were usually dead, but there’d been a big concert at the arena and they’d caught a nice wave of people when it let out. He’d take all the help he could get. Elizabeth had given Devon this job on faith when he’d needed to move out of California to somewhere with a cheaper cost of living to make ends meet for him, his sister, and her daughter. The last thing he wanted to do was let his friend’s fledgling restaurant shut down under his watch.
Devon leaned against the bar and sighed, weariness digging into his bones. “I think the kitchen staff is going to put me on blood pressure medication.”
Paul, the bar manager, chuckled and pushed a glass of Devon’s favorite pinot noir his way. “Nah, you’re too young for that. You just need some time off. Liz will be back from her trip tomorrow. Let her whip the newbies into shape while you get some rest. Or better yet, get laid and forget the rest. I find that helps with the blood pressure every time.”
Devon sipped the wine, the corners of his mouth lifting around the glass. “That does sound like an excellent plan.”
And it did. He’d lost track of how long it’d been since he’d gone out for a drink with a guy, much less taken anyone to bed. Between helping his sister with her three-year-old daughter and working with Elizabeth to launch the restaurant, every second of the last ten months had been sucked up.
“You should check out that place that opened over on Delmont on your way home. I went last weekend. Fun crowd, great music. Drinks are overpriced but by the third one, you forget about that part.”
“I might just do that,” Devon said, his spirits perking up at the idea. He didn’t do the dating thing, but a night of dancing and maybe more with a hot guy could be just what he needed.
“But first . . .” Paul said, wincing a bit. “I have one more customer who requested to see the manager.”
“Ah, fuck.” One more complaint tonight and Devon might lose it. “Where?”
Paul pointed to a booth near the front window. “Big guy in the baseball cap. He’s nearly polished off a bottle of cabernet, so be warned.”
Great. Only thing worse than an unhappy customer was a ranting, drunk one.
Devon swallowed another sip of his drink and then headed toward the corner booth. The guy’s back was to him, and he seemed to be staring out the window at the cars passing by on the downtown street. The flatbread he’d ordered was sitting mostly untouched in the center of the table.
Damn, Bryce couldn’t have managed to screw up a simple pizza, could he? Devon squeezed between two empty tables and straightened his suit jacket before stepping around to face the man, an apology poised on his lips. “Sir, how can I help—?”
But the question died in the air as the man looked up from beneath the bill of his ball cap. Dark, soulful eyes stared back at Devon from a face he knew better than his own. Any cogent response melted right out of his brain. “Jesus Christ.”
Hunter looked Devon up and down, his brows knitting in that way that indicated alcohol-blurred thoughts. “Wow, you look . . . important.”
Devon couldn’t help taking his own eyeful. Shaggy black hair peeking out from beneath the cap, tight T-shirt spread over shoulders and pecs honed for top athletic performance—a body Devon had ogled way too many times when he and Hunter had shared a room in the frat house.
“And you look . . .” Fucking amazing. Perfect. Even better than on TV. “Drunk. What the hell are you doing here, Hunt?”
His grin was lazy, lopsided. “I’m on vacation.” He raised a finger to his mouth. “Shh, don’t tell anyone. Top secret.”
Devon braced his hands on the table and sank onto the bench seat on the other side of the booth, not sure his legs were going to continue to hold him up. “Vacation?”
Hunter lifted his glass. “You know I haven’t had alcohol in four years.”
Four years. Which was exactly how long it’d been since Devon had last seen him. He tried to take a breath, but the room seemed to have less air in it than a moment before. He ran through the reasons why Hunter could possibly be here right now. Drinking. In his bar.
The guy had become the poster child of clean living after a bad car accident in college. And over the last few years, the sports media had nearly canonized him for the turnaround. The congressman’s son. The stellar pitcher. The all-American guy with the beauty queen girlfriend.
Not that Devon had been paying attention. Or recording every game he pitched.
God, he was pathetic.
He cleared his throat, trying to come up with something to say. “Why are you drinking now?”
Hunter pointed at him, his finger wavering. “Good question.”
He followed up with a sage nod like he’d explained everything.
Fuck. The guy was hammered. The waitress probably hadn’t blinked at letting Hunter order a few glasses. He was big and broad—a guy who looked able to handle his liquor. But Hunter’s tolerance had always been low, and if he’d been sober for four years, that would only have made it worse. Devon grabbed the stem of Hunter’s half-empty glass, moved it to the side, and then replaced the spot in front of him with the flatbread. “You need to eat something, big man.”
The old nickname rolled off of Dev’s tongue before he caught it, and Hunter stiffened. Sober awareness flickered in his dark eyes, as if the words had snapped him temporarily from the wine haze. He shook his head. “Need to go.”
He shifted as if to stand, but Devon jumped up and put a firm hand on Hunter’s shoulder, pushing him back down. Their gazes locked for a moment, Devon looming over Hunter, the position dragging him back to memories he didn’t want to access right now, fantasies he’d conjured since. He shook them off and cleared his throat. “No way. Not until you eat something and sober up. Did you take a cab here?”
“You’re definitely not going anywhere, then. Try to leave, and I’ll have my bar manager call the cops.”
Hunter’s expression soured at that, and he shrugged from beneath Dev’s touch. “I’m fine.”
“You’re wasted. Let’s not test fate to see if you can survive two drunk driving accidents. I think one may have been your limit.”
He looked away, grimacing.
Devon tucked his hands in his pockets, trying to keep his cool. “We’re about to close, and I’ll be here for a while getting everything wrapped up for the night. Eat and get your head clear, then we’ll figure out where you’re supposed to be and how to get you there.”
Hunter’s phone vibrated on the table, the screen lighting up with a text message. Hunter’s gaze shifted that way, his jaw flexing. A few messages looked to be unanswered.
Devon forced himself not to read what was on the screen, but he caught the name Macy. The girlfriend. “Someone looking for you?”
“She’s just checking that I got here okay,” he mumbled. “Can’t talk to her like this.”
“You could just text her back.”
He closed his eyes and squeezed his temples. “She likes to say goodnight in person every night. It’s her thing.”
“Well, it’s a shame how loud this bar is tonight. You’d never be able to hear her pretty voice,” Dev said, unable to hide the sarcasm in his tone.
Hunter looked up and glanced around at the now-empty bar. “What?”
Devon picked up Hunter’s phone. “What do you call her?”
“Pet name?” The words tasted bitter crossing his tongue, but he forced them past without a hint of emotion. “Sweetie, baby, sugar dumpling, what is it?”
Hunter glanced down at his flatbread and picked at the crust. “Sweetheart.”
Devon gave him a stiff smile. “Great.” He started typing and reciting the words for Hunter. “Hey, sweetheart, got into town a little late and am grabbing a bite to eat. Really loud in here so I can’t call. Miss you already.” He showed the screen to Hunter. “That work?”
Hunter’s gaze met his, some of the bleariness clearing as their stares held for a few seconds too long. “Add ‘I love you.’”
The simple words jabbed right into Devon’s side, twisted. “Of course.” He finished the message, pressed Send, and tossed the phone on the table. “Problem solved. Now eat. I’m going to send over a cheese and cracker plate, too. And some coffee.”
Hunter opened his mouth like he was about to protest, but Devon leveled him with a look that shut him up. Dev would’ve normally gotten some satisfaction from silencing Mr. Powerful Baseball Star with a simple look, but he couldn’t enjoy it.
Whatever reason Hunter was here wasn’t a good one. You don’t pop up back into someone’s life after years of radio silence to have a drink and a round of shoot the shit with your former college roommate—especially not with the gay roommate who let things go too far the last night you saw each other.