Rules of the game: Players are asked “truth or dare” and must freely choose one. There must be a stated punishment if the players break this rule or refuse to tell truth or proceed after choosing dare. No one can dare anyone to tell the truth.
“What’s this ‘dinner and game night’ thing?” Beck asked, peering through the passenger window at the small house. Lights shone in the windows. Someone had shoveled a path through the snow to the front door. “We could’ve eaten at a restaurant.”
Zach shifted in the driver’s seat. “Remy wanted to stay in. He slipped on the ice and bruised his…backside.”
“You mean his ass.” Beck grinned. “Was he out training for another marathon?”
“Actually, it happened in the hospital parking lot.”
“There’s irony for you. The ER doctor going to ground outside the ER.” Of all the places Remy could fall, the hospital wasn’t in Beck’s top ten. “Still. Game night? We don’t know them very well and I’m not exactly the game-playing type.”
“I think it’s more of a get-to-know-you-better kind of thing. Very PG.” Zach seemed to be fighting a smile.
The car engine ticked in the silence. Beck heaved a sigh. “Monopoly?”
“I don’t know. It could be cards.”
Narrowing his eyes Beck asked, “Strip poker? Because I’m not into that. Or…or foursomes.”
Zach laughed. “I’m sure they’re not into that. I’m not into that. Okay?”
It still sounded weird. Grown men sitting around playing games. “Why did we have to bring swimsuits?”
“They have a hot tub.”
Oh. Well. That wouldn’t be so bad. “And Remy said there would be food? Because I’m starving.”
Zach rolled his eyes. “Let’s go.”
They climbed out of the car into the frosty night air and hurried up the sidewalk. Beck carried the bag with their bathing trunks and a box of Zach’s gourmet cupcakes. Game night. Sheesh. Game night should mean watching football.
Zach took the porch steps in one bound and knocked.
After a pause there was a series of metallic thunks and clunks. The door opened, revealing Jamie in sweats and a T-shirt, his blond curls a messy riot. “Hey guys.”
“Hey.” Zach grinned.
Beck shoved his hands deeper in his coat pockets. Zach was the one who had made friends with Remy at some cooking class; Beck had only met their hosts twice before tonight, each time at a restaurant. And no games.
Jamie held the door open and stepped aside. “C’mon in. Pretty cold out.”
Zach entered and Beck followed. It was a small house; neutral-colored walls, photos in natural wood frames, overstuffed furniture in shades of cinnamon and walnut. Vintage jazz played softly in the background. The fragrance of something spicy and rich curled around Beck’s nose. Dinner.
“Remy made chili,” Jamie said, opening the coat closet.
Score. Beck had been afraid it would be something fancy served on microscopic plates.
“Sounds great.” Zach peeled off his coat and handed it over.
“Smell great,” Beck offered. He shrugged out of his parka and gave it to Jamie.
“It’s a healthy version. Turkey and seven kinds of beans.” Jamie gave a wry smile. “Better for training and for brain maintenance.”
“I’m all for brain maintenance.” Zach glanced around. “Where’s Remy?”
“Kitchen. You guys go on back.” Jamie gestured toward the back of the house.
Beck trailed Zach through the living room.
The kitchen turned out to be small but updated. Remy stood at the stove, left hip flexed as he stirred a pot. “Hey. Glad you could make it. Beer and water in the fridge; help yourselves. We’re about ready to eat.”
Zach relaxed into the sofa and glanced at Beck. After a couple of beers and a bellyful of chili, Beck had relaxed enough to converse with the other men. The mysterious games had not yet begun. Now Zach was the one questioning what Remy had in mind. An Emergency Medicine doctor and his massage therapist boyfriend might have cooked up something—
“Zach?” Remy tilted his head. “Something wrong?”
“No. Sorry. Just woolgathering. What did I miss?” He plastered on a smile and sneaked a look at Beck, who had one eyebrow hiked.
Remy said, “We’re ready to start the game.”
“Um, what is it?” Zach turned toward Beck.
“Truth or dare.” Beck sounded like a man clinging to a frayed rope above a pit of alligators.
Shit. Beck held his personal information close to the vest. Hell, he held it inside a locked titanium vault; after months together Zach didn’t know all the details. Beck wasn’t exactly free with particulars about his childhood and family.
“Maybe we should try poker instead,” Zach said, forcing a light note into his tone.
“I made all the cards today,” Jamie said. “I swear there’s nothing hurtful in there. You’re not locked in.”
Zach gripped the couch cushions. “Still—”
“It’s okay,” Beck said. “Why don’t we try it?”
Zach locked gazes with him. Was he serious, or should Zach push for cards? Or Monopoly. Charades. Anything but the potential pain of truth or dare. Tell me what to do, Beck.
Beck swallowed and said, “Let’s play.”
God, I hope this is the right decision. Zach turned to Jamie. “Okay. Let’s go.”
Nodding, Jamie removed the lid from the decorative basket on the coffee table. Inside was a collection of folded cards, each sealed with tape. “Go ahead and pick, Beck.”
Lips pressed together, Beck fished out a card, pulled off the tape, and perused the contents. “Truth or dare, Jamie?”
“What’s your best memory from college?”
Jamie got a goofy look on his face. “My first, uh, dating experience.”
Beck shifted forward. “Care to elaborate?”
“I got to hook up with guys.” Jamie’s blue eyes twinkled in the lamp light. “That enough?”
“Plenty.” Remy grimaced and ran a hand through his hair. “Go ahead and draw, Jamie.”
Jamie plucked a card and opened it. Faint frown lines formed between his brows. “Truth or dare, Zach?”
I have nothing to hide. “Truth.”
“Have you ever cross-dressed?” Jamie sounded reluctant.
The chili in Zach’s stomach hardened to a ball of concrete. Next to him, Beck gave off waves of tension. Zach could practically hear the unspoken questions. This was the sort of thing that made the game dangerous. A half-truth would have to do. “When I was twelve, I stole some of my sister’s clothes to dress up at Halloween.” Zach glanced at Beck. “I’m afraid I wasn’t very convincing.”
Jamie grinned. “Must’ve been a sight to see.”
“There are no surviving pictures,” Zach said. He drew a card. “My turn.”
On the inside of the index card was written, Where would you like to go for a weekend getaway? Pretty benign. “Remy. Truth or dare?”
“Dare.” No hesitation whatsoever.
Zach considered. It should be something sort of fun; no humiliation. Nothing dangerous. “I dare you to get down to your shorts and roll in the snow.”
Remy’s eyes widened. “Seriously?”
“Yeah.” Zach laughed. “Would you rather do it bare naked?”
“I’m injured, man.” Remy stood and pulled off his sweater.
“Ice is good for contusions.” Jamie’s grin had a wicked curve to it.
“Whose side are you on?” Remy tossed the sweater on Jamie’s head. Laughter came from beneath the knit. In short order Remy toed off his shoes and stripped out of his socks and jeans. “Okay. This’ll be in the backyard. I don’t need the neighbors thinking I’ve lost my mind.”
“Fine by me,” Zach said. “Lead on.”
Remy headed for the kitchen and opened the door. Cold air rolled in. It had gotten considerably colder since they’d arrived.
“Here goes.” Remy gimped down the steps and into the snow-covered yard, lowered himself to the ground and lay back. “Ff—fricasse! It’s cold.” He moved his arms and legs to form a snow angel and then hopped up and jogged to the kitchen. Jamie wrapped a winter parka around Remy’s shoulders.
“I should’ve chosen truth,” Remy said, shivering, sandy hair dusted with snow. “You guys are cruel.”
Zach pushed his hands into his pockets. “Nah. I let you keep your briefs.”
Remy snorted and headed for the living room. “Yeah, that was big of you.”
“The card asked where you’d like to go on a weekend getaway,” Zach said.
Whirling around, Remy said, “You’re kidding me.”
“Absolute truth.” Zach grinned.
Groaning, Remy picked up his clothes. After he redressed Jamie brought out a tray with coffee and cookies. Zach inhaled deeply over his mug, enjoying the rich scent. The first sip was heavenly.
After a slug from his cup, Remy drew a card and then focused on Beck.
Please don’t get personal. Zach wanted this friendship to work out.
“Truth or dare, Beck?” Remy tapped the card against his palm.
Beck set his cup on the table. After a weighty pause he said, “Truth.”
Zach’s heart took off running. There was so much buried deep inside Beck and sections of it had to be painful. Hell, the parts Zach knew about were like knives, and he didn’t have the whole story. Not by a longshot.
Next to him Beck swallowed. “Let’s have it, Doc.”
“Are you ever going to put a ring on it?”
Beck froze. “Ex-excuse me?”
“You know,” Remy said. “Get married.”
“I know what it means.” Beck’s eyebrows came together.
Zach held his breath. They’d never talked about any sort of formal commitment, including marriage. Not that he’d be opposed, but this was the wrong venue for that to come up. Zach had considered the cards might ask about embarrassing personal situations or work, things that could trigger Beck’s flashbacks. But this? No way.
“It’s okay, Beck.” Jamie took the card from Remy. “I put that one in there for Remy.”
“What?” Remy snapped his attention to Jamie.
“Every time I drop a hint about discussing it you act like you don’t get it.”
“That’s because I didn’t get it.” Remy sounded winded.
Beck looked at Zach, eyebrows lifted.
“Have you ever thought about putting a ring on it? On me, I mean.” Jamie sounded hopeful.
I do not want to be here if this falls apart. Zach tipped his head. “It’s getting late. I think we’ll head out.”
“No!” Remy stood. “No. Stay. Please.” He shot a look at Jamie. “We’ll discuss this later. Alone.”
Zach got to his feet and Beck did likewise. Beck said, “Thanks for the chili. I enjoyed myself.”
“Me too,” Zach said. “We’ll get together at our place next time. Soon.”
“Thanks for coming.” Jamie’s subdued tone made it clear what he thought Remy would say.
Grimacing, Remy walked them to the door. They shrugged into their coats and stepped out into the frosty night.
In the car, Zach started the motor and turned on the heater. They sat in silence as the clouds of exhaust billowed into the night.
“What would you say?” Beck asked.
“Hmm? About what?”
Zach stared at him.