Chapter Reveal | The Plus Ones

 

Love changes people.

I’m the first to admit that I, Keaton Bridges, used to be an immature, entitled ass.

Okay, maybe I’m the second to admit it—after Roxy Carter.

That loudmouth.

But I’ve seen what true love has done for my friends, and I want it for myself.

Somehow, I’m the only single guy left.

Somehow, she’s the only single girl.

The only time Foxy Roxy hasn’t been a loudmouth?

That time we were making out at our best friends’ wedding.

And every time we’ve seen each other in the five years since then,

because she refuses to talk about it.

Well, she’s going to have to talk to me now.

It’s the dead of winter, and our six best friends were planning a getaway

at a Caribbean couples-only resort.

One of the couples had to drop out, and I refuse to be left out in the cold.

All Roxy and I have to do is pretend to be in love for one week so we can

spend some much-needed time with our favorite people.

And all I have to do is pretend I’m not dying to kiss her again.

 

CHAPTER FOUR – Keaton
 Today’s the day.

I feel like I’m getting ready to go to summer camp to see my friends, except instead of sharing a cabin in the woods with a bunch of farting adolescent boys, I’ll be in a cottage on an island in the West Indies with a blazing hot woman who despises me. And instead of saying good-bye to my parents (one of whom might actually miss me), I’m saying good-bye to a dog whom I know for a fact will not miss me.

I know this because I’m trying to say a heartfelt good-bye to him before going to the office for a meeting, but he’s way too busy saying “hi” to the owners of the dog hotel to notice.

“Okay, bye, buddy.” I rub his back, and he barks happily at the nice lady who’s now holding his leash. I tell her I’ll check in with them tonight, I ask her to send pics and videos, I say good-bye to Jackpot one more time just in case he didn’t hear me the first couple of times, and then leave before I really embarrass myself.

Manny is double-parked outside, and just as I’m getting into the car, I get a call from Chase.

“Hey. Shouldn’t you be on a plane right now?”

“We’ll be boarding soon. Just calling to remind you that if you fuck around with my wife’s best friend, I will castrate you.”

“That is so sweet of you to remind me. Define fucking around.” I signal to Manny that he can drive.

“Any kind of penetration of any part of her body with any of your body parts. Including the metaphorical penetration of her heart.”

“I can’t help it if people fall madly in love with me when I’m not even trying to be charming. Define castration.”

“The slow and painful removal of your testicles.”

“You’re so literal. Does Aimee know you’re making this call?”

“I mean it. I’ve seen the way you check her out.”

“How does Aimee feel about it? Because I bet she’d be thrilled if we got together.”

“In what world are you and Roxy going to get together? I’m saying don’t hook up with her, don’t be a dick to her, don’t be too nice to her, don’t forget that you’re just pretending to be her boyfriend for the sake of the hotel staff and the other guests, and you are in no way obligated or allowed to pretend to be her anything when you’re in the room alone together.”

“I’m not ‘allowed?’ Put Aimee on.”

“Trust me, if you fuck with Roxy, you will be begging me to protect you from Aimee.”

“Did it ever occur to you that Roxy might want me to penetrate one or more of her parts?”

He’s quiet for a moment, and I know he’s squeezing his phone, and I think I can hear the steam shooting out of his ears.

“I’m just messing with you, asshole. I have no intention of fucking with Roxy. We’re oil and water.” As soon as I say the words “oil and water,” I picture myself in the shower with a tanned, naked, oiled-up Roxy Carter—but that doesn’t mean I’m going to fuck with her. That means I’m a straight human male. “So don’t even worry about it. We’re both just going because we want to hang out with you guys. Although right now I’m trying to remember why I’ve missed hanging out with you so much.”

“Yeah, it’ll be fun. I’m glad you’re going. I just had to say it so we’re clear. We’ll see you there. Safe flight.”

“You too. See you there.”

Chase “Straight No Chaser” McKay. That guy. We used to work together. Well, I guess, technically I worked for him when I was the CFO at his legal tech startup, but I was his first investor and I was on the board, so we were pretty equally weighted in terms of power as far as I was concerned. We have long since sold SnapLegal for ten times my initial investment, and he started a thriving business with his wife and I became a full-time venture capitalist. So he’s not the boss of me. At all. But I’ve always liked that he’d give it to me straight, ever since college. It’s why he’s my best friend. I just like it less when we’re discussing my personal life, and I like it very little right now. But he’s not wrong. And I have no intention of fucking with Roxy.

I don’t even have to wonder if anyone’s giving her the same warning.

They aren’t.

By the time I get to my office and my assistant has handed me the notes for my meeting, I pull out my personal phone and see a few messages on the lock screen from my Friends group. They’re probably all at the airport now, except for Roxy and me. Vince, Nina, and Joni are going to Indiana. Aimee, Chase, Bernie, and Matt are all flying out to Antigua together. I couldn’t get Roxy and me onto the same flight as our friends because I couldn’t justify rescheduling my morning meeting. Yet another reason for Roxy to be mad at me.

AIMEE MCKAY: I would just like to officially announce in text form how happy I am that Roxy and Keaton are finally a couple! <heart eyes emoji>

BERNIE FARMER: #ROXTON4EVA

ROXY CARTER: <raised middle finger emoji>

NINA DEVLIN: Roxy and Keaton sittin’ in a palm tree…

VINCE DEVLIN: F-A-K-I-I-N-G. Yes I know I spelled it wrong.

CHASE MCKAY: Congrats and keep your hands to yourself, KB

ME: What, these hands? <two raised middle finger emojis>

AIMEE MCKAY: Awww, their emojis match!

BERNIE FARMER: Do you have any thoughts on the matter that you’d like to share with the group, dear husband?

MATT MCGOVERN: I’m literally sitting right next to you, darling wife. Why don’t you just ask me with your sweet voice?

BERNIE FARMER: Because you’re staring at your phone. This is how Matt feels about it, you guys: <neutral face emoji>

MATT MCGOVERN: I am in fact delighted by and for the adorable fake couple.

ROXY CARTER: I hate all of you.

ME: Oh honey, you don’t mean that.

ROXY CARTER: Especially you, Bridges.

AIMEE MCKAY: So cute. We have to board now guys. See you there!!!!!
I cannot fucking wait to get some quality time with those people.

Now I just have to get Oiled-up Shower Roxy out of my head before I go into my meeting and before I pick her up in a couple of hours.

I have not been able to get Oiled-up Shower Roxy out of my head for the past two hours. I don’t even know what I said in that meeting, and I’ve already forgotten who I was meeting with. My brain is a dick. All of a sudden, I’m glad it’s so cold in New York, because Roxy emerges from her building all covered-up with winter clothes. Layers of clothes. So many layers of clothes between me and her naked, probably not oiled-up or wet body.

I step out of the back seat of the car, and I’m greeted with a classic frown.

“Good day,” I say.

“Good day,” she mutters.

When Manny comes around to take her luggage, she presents him with all of the warmth and smiles that she’s withholding from me.

“You got your passport?” I ask.

She rolls her eyes.

“It’s a valid question.”

“An eye roll is a valid answer. Do you have your passport?”

I smile. “Yes, I do. Thank you so much for asking.” I gesture for her to get into the back seat. She smells like cocoa butter. I wonder if she’s already wearing suntan lotion. I wonder if she’s wearing a bikini under there. Maybe she’s planning on stripping down to her bikini as soon as we land in Antigua. That seems like the kind of thing Roxy would do.

I am so fucked.

I get into the car and keep my eyes straight ahead for a good five minutes, I’d say. At first Roxy is typing on her phone, and then I can see out of the corner of my eye that she’s watching me not look at her. She is amused. She is such a jerk.

“How’s it going over there?”

“Fine. Have you been to Antigua before?”

“No. Have you?”

“No. But I’ve been to St. Barts, the Caymans, Turks and Caicos.”

“Of course you have.”

“And you? Have you been to any of the Caribbean islands before?”

“I have not yet had the pleasure, no.”

“Really?”

“Why is that so surprising?”

“They’re so close to the East Coast.”

She shrugs. “I like Florida.”

I roll my eyes and say nothing.

She snorts. “Do we not approve of the Sunshine State? I thought rich white people liked the art scene and the party scene down there.”

“I’ve never been all that into art or partying.” I glance down at the leather messenger bag by her feet and see that she’s brought her laptop. “You planning to do some work while you’re there?”

“A little. Aren’t you?”

“A little.”

I look out the window and continue to think about Oiled-up Shower Roxy because I have completely lost control of my fucking brain and she just smells like she wants to be naked. That cocoa butter is sexually assaulting my olfactory system. I can feel her watching me and smirking. I am quite certain that she knows I’m having sex thoughts and that it amuses her. She is the worst fake girlfriend ever, and I just want to stick my head under her shirt for five minutes and then I’m done. It’s out of my system.

She’s not even my type.

I mean—Roxy Carter is every man’s type.

But she’s not my type.

She’s made it perfectly clear that I’m not her type.

Everyone we know has made it clear that I’m not her type.

I am well aware of the fact that I still have a tendency to long for the women I know I can’t have.

So I won’t dwell on her.

This trip isn’t about her.

It’s definitely not about showering with her.

“Wow, you are an even more fun travel companion than I expected you to be.”

I do not look over at her when I say, “I thought you would appreciate it if I gave you some space.”

“I do, thanks! And I’d really appreciate it if you’d figure out a way to be a little less obvious when you’re having pervy thoughts about me, because it’s creeping me out.”

I slowly turn to glare at her. “Trust me, it’s unpleasant for me too.”

“I’m not having sex with you.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“So pull it together and think about something else.”

“You know what, just keep talking. Every word you utter is like a bucket of cold water being tossed on my pants.”

“Did you just say the word ‘utter’ out loud? You are so pretentious. I do not utter words.”

“You’re right. I meant ‘spew.’”

“You know what—let’s go back to not talking.”

“Fantastic idea.”

“I’m sure I’ve sufficiently uttered enough boner-reducing words already.”

“I did not have a boner—I’m not eleven—and yes, you have.”

She yanks her scarf off her neck, angrily unzips her coat, and takes it off in a way that is both violent and somehow really fucking sexy and also evil because now I have to look at her in a really thin cardigan over a tight black top.

Hello!

Perhaps someone should not have removed her coat if she didn’t want to reveal just how aroused she is right now.

“Warm in here,” she says.

Really? Because you look a little cold to me, Roxy Carter.

“How long until we get to the airport?”

“About another half hour, miss,” Manny says.

She exhales loudly and peels off her cardigan, exposing a tight black tank top and her toned bare arms. She lifts her hair up off her neck, revealing the tie straps of a bright red bikini under her tank top. She glances over at me, smirks for like one second, and then lets her hair fall back down around her neck and turns to look out her window.

She’s the fucking devil.

And I want to stick my head under that tank top for twenty minutes and then I’m done.

 

 

Before writing steamy romantic comedy novels, Kayley Loring had a fifteen-year career as a screenwriter in Los Angeles (under a different name). She mostly wrote PG-13 family comedies that studios would pay her lots of money for and then never make into movies. In 2017 she decided to move to the Pacific Northwest and write about all the fun stuff that she wasn’t allowed to write about in those PG-13 scripts. Now she’s breathing cleaner air and writing dirtier words. It’s an adjustment she’s happily getting used to.

 

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