David rummaged through his toiletry bag to dig out his sunscreen. He considered playing one of his divas playlists, but it seemed a shame to drown out the soothing sound of waves gently lapping against whatever architectural magic held his over-water bungalow above the Indian Ocean.
Last night had been a blur of jet lag, crying, time zone confusion, crying, Melatonin, and more crying. That deadly cocktail had made him substantially oversleep. Not that he could oversleep on a vacation with zero schedule, but it was jarring to wake up on his own after noon. He used to be a late riser, but that wasn’t an option as the on-air talent for a flagship HGTV show.
Starting his vacation feeling like he’d wasted half his first day wasn’t the vibe he wanted, so he’d forced himself out of bed to take advantage of the amenities in his super fucking expensive bungalow. His days in the Maldives were supposed to be about unplugging, rest, relaxation, rejuvenation, eating amazing food, and spoiling himself.
Actually, it was supposed to be about him and Sebastien reconnecting before Seb had called things off a few weeks ago. That’s where his crying had come in. He slid on his white-rimmed sunglasses to hide the residual redness around his eyes, though no one was around to see the evidence.
Honestly, the crying had been more about finally getting a real vacation after years of hustling, having looked forward to enjoying it with someone else, but ending up alone. Again. David was tired of doing everything alone. At least he was alone in a beautiful place instead of nursing his break-up blues in his L.A. condo with an ever-growing pile of takeout containers.
He squirted sunscreen in his palm and rubbed it into his arms and chest. Yet another thing he couldn’t do by himself—get the sunscreen everywhere it needed to be. God, he’d probably end up buying one of those drugstore aerosol brands with an angled nozzle to reach his back. Pathetic. What was next? Buying a buzzer to wear around his neck to call for help in case he slipped and hit his head in the shower? At least the network would hunt him down if he were so much as an hour late for work. Even if no one cared about him, the network cared about their asset.
Even when he wasn’t technically alone, he might as well be. Dating another celebrity wasn’t much better than being single, but it’s all he could manage. It was impossible to meet “normal” people (civilians?) in his world, but he’d love to. For once, he wanted to date someone who didn’t care how they looked on David’s arm, but cared about David. As if such a thing could exist outside of the rom-coms playing on loop in his mind.
He wanted someone who didn’t mind going to events with David, but didn’t spend all of their time trying to be seen. David had grown tired of the Hollywood life. He’d like to live with more substance, maybe even love. He wanted to spend most evenings cooking with his partner at him, snugging on the couch, unwinding after a long day, and sometimes getting dressed to the nines and going to a red carpet event. He’d like that to be the exception, no longer the rule.
David pulled a water bottle from the mini fridge and strode through the clear glass sliding doors to the deck. He dropped his sunscreen on the table and sat the water at the edge of the deck next to the pool. David stood at the top of the steps that led into the square pool nestled next to the bathrooms and tilted his face toward the sun. His body warmed quickly, despite only wearing swim shorts. He’d never really thought about a bathroom being gorgeous until he’d seen that oversized oval tub placed at the corner of two floor-to-ceiling glass walls overlooking the ocean. Splurging for the over-water ocean pool villa had been the right call, even if he was the only one to enjoy it.
A slight breeze took the edge off of the heat from the sun beating down on him. He had nowhere to be, no one tugging him from shooting promos to filming an episode to an interview to doing voiceover work in postproduction. He couldn’t remember the last time his schedule was really his own. Even his days off were a series of beauty treatments that had left self care territory and moved into work mode years ago. Maintaining his appearance was part of his job.
David walked through the other set of glass doors on the deck to the bathroom and grabbed an oversized towel. He draped it over the white lounger, then laid down on his back. A satisfied sigh escaped as he closed his eyes and focused on the sun beating down on him. He lost himself to the gentle laps of water, someone laughing in the distance, and a breeze tickling his toes. It was perfect.
He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when he snapped out of his light snooze. He’d basically melted into a puddle on the lounge chair. Time to test out his private pool. David pulled himself from the chair and stood. He lifted his arms toward the sky and stretched as high as he could reach, then arched his back and reached behind him. His body popped and snapped with the movement. He opened his now warm bottle of water, tilted his head back, and chugged half of it down.
After another stretch, David dropped his hands to his hips and looked out over the aqua clear water. Movement to his left caught his attention. Someone standing on some sort of surfboard looking thing interrupted his serenity. Weren’t there rules about passing in front of someone’s bungalow? He could’ve been naked getting out of the tub or something. Maybe he should pull down the shades over the bathroom windows.
David’s sunglasses provided him the privacy to look at the man who was about fifty meters away. When David had stumbled into his accommodations last night after over thirty-five hours of traveling, he’d had a passing thought about how he’d lucked out to get the bungalow at the far end with only a neighbor on one side. The expansive views made it worth the extra bit of dock to walk. Now he realized it probably meant more water activity traffic, like the guy assaulting his eyes with his horrific jewel-toned tropical floral board shorts.
Vacation fashion faux pas aside, the guy had an athletic body. A sturdy frame with thick thighs that probably had the strength for some athletic sex, judging by his ability to balance on that floating thing. Those legs would look great framing David’s, with that tight torso bouncing up and down. And, yup, he needed to get laid. It was stage three in his break-up process, after all. Between eating his weight in white cheddar popcorn and swearing off dating.
The man looked out toward the open ocean as his defined arms moved the paddle through the water. What kind of sport was that? Beginner surfing or something?
Though the guy faced straight ahead, David got the feeling that he was looking at David through his own sunglasses. David really should look away because it was feeling awkward, but as he started to turn away, the guy appeared to lose his balance, and he teetered for a moment before falling into the ocean.
It didn’t appear deep, but David didn’t know what kind of wildlife lurked in the clear waters. He watched to make sure the guy didn’t drown because he didn’t need that on his conscience. When a pale head with wet auburn hair surfaced sputtering, he called out. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Just wounded pride,” the guy called back, laughing a little.
David stepped down into his pool and pretended not to watch the guy climb back on the floating platform, but, come on, how could he not look? It was enthralling to watch his muscles flex in the sunlight. David knew he could never climb back on that thing without falling over again, but that guy managed it with relative ease. He’d never understand sporty people.
The cool water of the pool soothed his heated skin. He sat on a bench and draped his arms over the edge of the pool. He looked up again. Maybe if he kept his attention skyward, he wouldn’t get caught looking at that attractive guy.
🌴 🌴 🌴 🌴 🌴
Patrick was careening toward creepy, and he needed to rein it in. The first time he’d paddle boarded by the row of over-water bungalows, he hadn’t noticed the guy. On his way back toward the dock, his attention had been pulled toward someone lounging at the last bungalow. The guy’s short, tight, tiny, white swim shorts practically reflected the sun. How could he not notice?
Patrick slowed his paddling and snuck a couple of glances at the man who seemed to be asleep. Patrick looked a moment or two longer than polite as he took in the man’s long, lean legs, olive skin, and the way his shorts hugged his hips. He started to head back toward the equipment return, but he still had twenty minutes on the rental, so he made another pass by in front of the bungalows.
The man hadn’t moved at all, so Patrick let himself have one more look as he paddled away from his ultimate destination. He’d get another look on his way back. Which was creepy. Too creepy. But how could he help it? The guy was absolutely gorgeous from what he could tell with his furtive glances. Either he was lonely or horny. Maybe both. Probably both. He’d gotten used to regular, pretty satisfying sex with Ken. He missed little about being Ken’s boyfriend now that he recognized they weren’t a good fit long term, but he definitely missed the sex. And cuddling. Cuddling was nice.
Patrick paddled quickly down the bungalows until he reached the end, then turned back around, but not too fast so it didn’t appear like he was loitering around that guy’s place. Because he wasn’t doing that at all. He was paddle boarding in a safe area away from boat traffic that just happened to be near a gorgeous man in tiny white swim shorts, with little slits at the sides, sunbathing on a lounge chair.
As Patrick approached the last bungalow, he nearly lost his footing when he saw the guy standing and facing him. Busted. Patrick tried to focus on keeping his balance and making smooth strokes of the paddle. He hoped the probable flush on his chest looked like a result of the sun, not being busted looking where he had no business doing so. The man was even sexier on his feet. Hands on his hips, a defined chest and angular jaw. He looked like he’d be taller than Patrick. He’d really like to try it with someone bigger than him.
When he’d decided to go on the vacation anyway, after he and Ken had broken up a couple of months ago, a part of him had wondered if there would be a shot at a vacation fling. He wasn’t really the fling kind of guy. After breaking up with Rachel and coming out as one of the first openly gay professional baseball players, he had met Ken at a charity event hosted by Ken’s socialite parents. At first, it had been nice to date someone in the public eye who got it. Someone who understood the demand on Patrick’s schedule and didn’t get annoyed when people would approach him for autographs, but in time, it had felt like part of Patrick’s allure to Ken was his celebrity jock status.
Coming out had been a big deal—way too much of a deal than Patrick was comfortable with—and the extent of his public attention had shifted from baseball fans to more of the general public. Ken loved it. Patrick didn’t. He missed how his relationship with Rachel felt more normal. He loved Rachel and appreciated their ongoing friendship deeply, but he didn’t miss being in a relationship with her. He missed the way he could completely decompress with her. She happily accompanied him to any event he needed her to, but she never pushed him for more. Rachel had been perfectly happy spending Friday nights watching movies or playing games with their college friends.
But as he took another look at that man towering over the pool at the edge of his bungalow, Patrick wanted. He wanted to have fun without the prying eyes of the paparazzi. When Ken and Patrick had been nailing down the details of their vacation, the seclusion had appealed to Patrick. The Maldives were already remote, but that resort was the remote of the remote. As long as Ken got accommodations with a private pool, he had been happy. But that didn’t matter any longer because they had broken up, and now Patrick was on vacation alone. He should have trusted his gut that planning an international vacation so damn far away had been a bad idea, given they had only been together a few months. On the bright side, at least his refusal to lose money on the trip by canceling it had forced him into taking a real vacation for the first time in years.
Patrick knew, at his core, he was a relationship guy. He understood dating was a necessary evil to a relationship, but he never enjoyed the awkwardness of dating. The holding parts of himself back while navigating compatibilities with a person. Exhausting. Maybe he should just have a little fun for a while. The odds of finding someone to have a little fun with at a resort in the Maldives seemed like a slim possibility, but he let his mind run off with the prospect as he paddled past the gorgeous man.
He couldn’t tell if the guy was looking at him since he had sunglasses on, but he faced Patrick, so maybe? Now that he was paddling by the guy while he was awake, Patrick felt really awkward about making several passes. What if the guy hadn’t been asleep at all and was trying to warn Patrick off by staring him down? There was probably some sort of etiquette about paddling by the bungalows. Aside from white swim trunks guy, Patrick had kept his attention on the water as soon as he realized there were bathtubs behind floor-to-ceiling glass walls. He didn’t want to get an eyeful of anyone, well, most anyone. He wouldn’t mind getting an eyeful of that sexy guy. Get your head out of your trunks, Brewer.
Patrick imagined those long, tanned legs wrapped around his waist, his chest glistening with sweat, his—shit! Patrick put too much velocity in his paddle swipe to the left, and his body tilted to that side. He fell into the ocean before he fully realized what was happening. If he could breathe underwater, he would’ve stayed there until he was out of sight of the guy. But his need for oxygen pushed him sputtering to the surface. The guy was probably bent at the waist, laughing at Patrick’s epic fail. He hadn’t fallen off a single time until he started picturing how well that guy would take his cock.
“Are you okay?”
Patrick swung around to look at the man. Patrick wanted to hear his voice again, but he also sort of wanted a wave to crash over him so he could die from embarrassment in peace.
“I’m fine. Just wounded pride.” Patrick couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the situation. That would teach him for looking where he had no business doing so. At least he got back on the board with minimal embarrassment.
He glanced back at the bungalow and considered saying something else. Maybe thank the man for making sure he was okay, or ask him where he got his swimsuit so Patrick could write them a thank you letter. Instead, he gawked a moment too long as the guy stepped down into his little pool and spread his arms out like the king of his castle, waiting to be served.
Patrick turned back toward shore and focused on making even strokes with his paddle and not making an ass of himself again.
🌴 🌴 🌴 🌴 🌴
David flipped through the channels on the television for the fifth time. He was in a plush bungalow literally constructed over the ocean and he was channel surfing like it was a Tuesday night back in L.A. He hadn’t traveled halfway across the world to waste time watching bad reality television.
He pulled himself out of the absurdly comfortable bed—he’d have to note the brand later and buy himself one—and made his third outfit change of the day. Pajamas to swim shorts to joggers and a T-shirt to linen capris and a white, short-sleeved button up French tucked in the front. Comfortable and casual while being acceptable attire should someone recognize him and immortalize his vacation on the internet.
It would be a good idea to explore the resort before the day got away from him. He only had five more days in paradise before he had to spend another day-and-a-half traveling home. If he caved and ordered room service on day one, he probably would end up doing it every day and never leave the comfort of the pool.
David slid his passport card and credit card into his pocket and pulled another water bottle from the fridge. It wasn’t scorching hot outside, but hot enough that he shouldn’t risk dehydration from the sun.
He took a leisurely stroll down the dock to the shore. It had been a quick trip on the golf cart that delivered him to his bungalow yesterday, but he kind of enjoyed the jaunt from the far end of the dock to the rest of the resort. He would probably enjoy it less with a full stomach after dinner later.
First order of business: scope out the restaurants. He remembered reading something about a library in the resort’s guidebook. He should book a few spa treatments, too, before things filled up for the week. It had been too long since he’d had a good massage.
He removed his sandals to enjoy the feeling of his feet pushing through the soft sand with each step. The beach was fairly narrow on that side of the tiny island. He slipped his sandals back on once he reached the wooden plank walkway that appeared to wind through the palm trees and greenery to the interior of the island where the restaurants and other buildings were connected. Feet splinters were incorrect.
David tried not to think about the tropical insects lurking out of sight in the lush foliage surrounding him. A couple of minutes later, he found himself next to the building where he had checked in yesterday.
“Mr. Rose, how is your stay so far?”
He turned toward the voice and saw the same friendly woman who had checked him in yesterday.
“Wonderful, thank you. This place is incredible.”
She smiled knowingly, but it had a sweetness to it. “I’m pleased to hear it. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“I wanted to check out the restaurant options and schedule a few spa treatments for the week. Do all the restaurants require reservations?”
She talked him through the restaurant options and showed him menus with the day’s specials. “The spa is down the walkway to the left. They would be happy to book you in for any treatments.”
David made a mental note of the restaurants he wanted to try, especially since his stash of travel snacks was nearly depleted after his lunch and afternoon snack. Then he walked over to the spa and scheduled himself for a few treatments.
It was amazing to think of how many creature comforts were available on a tiny island that felt so remote. Wi-Fi, television, pizza. What else could he need?
Hmm, a book. That’s what he needed. He’d packed his Kindle, but there was something about reading a printed book on vacation. He’d considered bringing one, but it wasn’t worth losing the precious space in his luggage.
He followed the way-finding signage toward the library. It was a cozy space with arched ceilings shaped like a wish bone, with natural wood in light tones with white trim. Like most buildings on the island, the walls were floor-to-ceiling glass and opened wide to let in the breeze. Jewel toned cushy chairs were placed around the library. Three shelves of books stood in the middle of the room with what looked like a mix of fiction, nonfiction, and maps.
David went straight for the paperbacks. Vacation reading called for a good mystery or romance. He picked out one of each and tucked them under his arm. As he was about to turn around, he spotted a telescope next to another shelving unit. David couldn’t resist looking in it. Not that he would see anything during the daylight, but he’d always been intrigued by telescopes. They seemed like something he’d have used before if he’d had a regular childhood. Instead, he knew his way around proper place settings and which fork to use.
“Do you know how to use one of those?”
David startled at the voice and jabbed himself in the eye with the business end of the telescope. He straightened up and blinked his eye several times to stop the watering, but instead of getting better, both eyes watered. He probably looked like an idiot.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you alright?” The voice was closer, but David couldn’t see through the tears welling.
“I’m fine. Just a klutz.” He gently wiped the tears away without being rough with the sensitive skin under his eyes. There was no need to reverse the work of his fancy eye creams with one rough swipe.
David’s eyes slowly focused as the tears cleared away. He saw a figure a few inches shorter than him, short hair, broad shoulders under a T-shirt with some sort of bird on it. He blinked a few more times as the person’s face took shape. Large, concerned eyes and a friendly smile. Wait, he’d seen that face before.
“You’re the guy who fell off that surfboard.”
He rubbed the back of his neck and looked up bashfully at David. David was relieved his eyes were working well enough again to catch the blush on the guy’s cheeks.
“Yeah, that wasn’t my finest moment. I usually have more coordination than that.”
“Did you see a shark in the ocean or something?”
The pink on his cheeks deepened, and he glanced away. “Something like that.”
David swallowed. Either it was wishful thinking, or he was picking up a vibe. “I probably couldn’t have gotten to a standing position in the first place. I can barely balance on a yoga mat, let alone floating on water.”
“I’m sure you’d do great out there.” He shoved his hands into his—oh, god—cargo shorts.
David waved him off. “If I fell off that thing, I’d have had to paddle back on my belly like a dog. You got back on it so easily.”
One side of his mouth turned up. “You watched me get back on the paddle board, huh?”
David liked his smug little smile, but wasn’t willing to give anything away, so he tucked his own smile to the side of his mouth. “Who am I to ignore entertainment literally right in front of me?”
The guy’s blush returned a little, but he didn’t ease up on the grin. “So you haven’t tried paddle boarding yet, and I’m guessing you’re new to the telescope too. Have you done any other activities on the island beyond sun bathing?”
David liked the teasing attitude this guy had. He didn’t encounter many, okay, any, people in L.A. who carried that level of confidence while also seeming so wholesome and nice.
“I arrived yesterday. All I’ve managed so far is jet lag-fueled fitful sleep, napping while sunbathing, and a nice soak. I figured I should probably explore the island to minimize the self-loathing.”
The guy nodded slowly. “There are some great activities to help with the self-loathing. Snorkeling, whale watching, scuba diving, sailing, and cruises, I think. There are some good couple’s activities, if you’d be looking for those. Or family activities.” He glanced around like he expected a couple of kids to run around David’s ankles or something. God, imagine?
“No couple or family activities for me. My boyfriend dumped me, and my romantic getaway has more of a How Stella Got Her Groove Back vibe now.” As the words left David’s mouth, he realized he’d intended the quip to mean seizing life, his personal journey or whatever, but the amped up wattage of the guy’s smile reminded him there was the whole vacation fling part of that movie. Which, well, looking at water sport guy up close? Didn’t seem like a bad idea.
“What a coincidence.” His owlish eyes blinked. “My boyfriend and I broke up, and our couple’s vacation turned into my need to get the hell out of town for a week.”
David’s smile grew, and he didn’t care to stop it. “Huh.” He sent a silent thank you to whatever celestial body had put him in the path of a sexy, single guy on vacation.
“Yeah,” the guy said, pulling his hands from the ridiculously long pockets on his fugly shorts and placing them on the waist David had gotten a solid eyeful of earlier.
The guy held out his hand, and David tucked the books under his left arm. His handshake was firm shake, but not brotastically showy. The kind of handshake that wasn’t about asserting dominance, but showed he was there, focused, in the moment. “Patrick.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Patrick.” He caught Patrick glancing down at his smile. He wasn’t used to it naturally coming out so easily. Normally he turned it on for work, but his genuine smile felt different. He was a little out of practice with it, but the stretch in the muscles was nice.
David waited for a moment, as he always did when meeting someone new. That moment where he learned whether the person recognized him. Patrick’s smile didn’t budge. He looked interested, but there wasn’t a sign of recognition beyond having seen each other earlier in the day.
That’s new. He wasn’t used to running into people who didn’t know him from his HGTV show or the memes. The fucking memes. Usually people paid attention to him because he was somewhat famous and they wanted to get something from him, or claim him as a conquest. Or the other group of people who liked to shout, “that’s incorrect!” at him during inappropriate times, like at the bar or buying toilet paper (because he wasn’t that famous to not have to do that himself).
But Patrick looked at him like he was an intriguing stranger, and maybe someone Patrick would like to get to know. Not because of his job or because he was a Rose. Because he was also a single guy on vacation.
“Do you have dinner plans?” David bit his bottom lip.
“I hope I’m about to.” Patrick’s eyes twinkled.