Secrets can derail even the most powerful attraction.
Logger Sven Larson has never found a man worth publicly coming out of the closet for. But his family has other plans. As a thirtieth birthday gift, his mother hires the online dating service Perfect Match to find Sven the love of his life. To say Sven isn’t thrilled is an understatement, but it’s too late to cancel, and Jayden Calver arrives.
Perfect Match’s success rate is unsurpassed, but they don’t come by it honestly: if a client can’t be matched, the agency uses a stand-in to fulfil their guarantee and protect their profit.
Tough luck has left Jayden in debt, and playing Perfect Match’s deceptive game is his only option. So he travels — sparkling toenails and all — to a remote camp deep in the mountains to meet Sven Larson and pretend to be his perfect match for a few days.
Sparks fly on first contact. But as the two men get closer, Sven grows more and more suspicious of Jayden, and Jayden struggles with guilt over his deceit. They both want a future together, but first they must find the courage to be honest with themselves and each other.
“So, they offered you a job?” Jayden interrupted Sven’s thoughts as they settled down to eat. Before Sven could answer, Jayden took a bite of pasta, closed his eyes, and let out a delighted moan. “Mmm, so good. Wow! Orla is a fantastic cook.” After his little display of pleasure, he waved his fork around, gesturing for Sven to answer his question.
“Yes.” Sven adjusted himself under the table. Did City Boy have any idea how much he affected him? Desperate for a distraction, he started to talk.
“I worked in a logging camp a few seasons, so I know what it’s about. And I’ve also written a few articles about safety on the job, but I’ve never done a project like this. It’d be different. There’d be a team of writers and editors. There needs to be a real plan. Terminology needs to be consistent, so you need glossaries and style guides. There are also tools now that will allow you to recycle content in different output formats . . .” Sven looked up. Jayden had stopped eating and sat with a smirk on his face. Okay, yes, it really is a great job offer. No question. Sven’s ears heated as he stuffed a huge piece of pasta in his wayward mouth. They ate in silence for a while.
Finally, Jayden offered his opinion. “So, on the pro side we have good pay, fixed job with benefits, and what sounds like a cool new challenge. Why are you not jumping on it? There must be more than shirts and ties under cons.”
“It’s a temporary contract. Three years. And the whole project is headquartered in Vancouver. Long-term I don’t want to be in the city. And it’s just not my thing. I want to be able to see the mountains when I step out of my home. Not traffic jams.” Sven got up to get the water. “Refill?” he asked waving the bottle in Jayden’s direction.
Without being prompted, Sven gave Jayden another piece of lasagna.
Jayden tilted his head to the side as if he was contemplating Sven’s words. “So, you want to settle down somewhere permanently, and this job would delay you by three years, right? I get that. That’s definitely a valid reason.”
Jayden had connected the dots pretty quickly, while Sven’s family hadn’t picked up on his real concerns at all. Sven was tired of moving, tired of starting new, finding a new place to live, new friends. Sometimes it felt like being in foster care all over again. With Duncan’s death, he had lost a fixed point in his life, and it made him yearn for something more permanent than yet another temporary home.
For a while they simply focused on devouring their food, but then Sven added, “Also, I don’t want to leave Orla alone right now. Vancouver is hours away. I couldn’t come home every weekend.”
At his words, Jayden grew silent. For a few minutes, he picked at his pasta without eating much. What could Sven have said that put him off? Maybe it was just the fact that Sven wasn’t too keen on living in Vancouver. Jayden was clearly a city kid through and through.
“Eat up!” Sven grumbled. “You can use a little extra.”
Jayden ignored him and pushed his plate back. “My mom hated that I stopped school when she got sick. Absolutely hated it. She never had the opportunity to go to college because she got pregnant with me. So she was really, really excited for me when I started. She worked hard for it all her life. To give me the chance, you know?” Jayden’s voice sounded a little hoarse. “When the first test results came in and we still had hope, she tried to get me to go back, but after a while it was clear that this would be our last time together, so she stopped sending me away. Toward the end, I had to promise her every day that I wouldn’t give up on finishing my degree.”
Surprised by the sudden personal admissions, Sven wondered where Jayden was going with this. So far, he wasn’t quite clear what Jayden’s story had to do with his own dilemma, but he stayed quiet, giving Jayden a chance to continue.
“Marketing was my mom’s dream. If she hadn’t gotten pregnant with me, that’s what she would have chosen. And she would have been awesome at it, but me . . .” He let out a helpless snort. “I’m not creative. Not one bit, but I never told her. Back then, I thought it was the right thing to do, but every time I promised her to go back and finish my degree, I hurt inside. They were the last days with my mom, and there was this huge lie between us. I . . .” Jayden’s voice broke. He reached out for his water glass, but pulled back his shaking hand, his eyes brimming with unshed tears.
He was beautiful. Vibrating with raw, honest emotions. So beautiful and so fucking brave. Being this exposed, most men Sven knew would run at this moment. Remember something they’d forgotten in the lodge. Excuse themselves to the bathroom. At least make a stupid joke. Not Jayden. With grief, regret, and sadness written all over his face, he wasn’t hiding anything.
“All I want to say, really, is don’t put this on Orla. It’s not fair. Makes sense now that she is trying to push you into this so hard. She loves you. She doesn’t want to be the reason you miss out on a great opportunity.”
Sven said the first thing that came to his mind. “So you think staying here with my mother, who lost my dad only a few months ago, is wrong?” Shit. When had he gotten so defensive that he couldn’t have a normal conversation anymore?
Jayden quickly stood up and took his half-eaten plate to the sink. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I overstepped. My fault. You should have told me to mind my own business.”
“Listen, I hear you. I understand what you’re saying. Truth is, I never had a job offer like this before. To work as a full-time writer. I never thought of it as a job. Maybe I’m just . . . out of my comfort zone.” Yeah, that sounded better than plain scared. “And with my dad gone, Orla’s alone. It’s a difficult decision.”
“I think anyone who ever had to pull their life back together after losing someone they love understands that.”
Jayden turned away from him. His body was ridged and his breath uneven. Without much thinking, Sven stood and put his hands on Jayden’s shoulders, feeling the tension in his muscles. He hated to see anybody in pain, and Jayden had lost the only person in the world who had truly cared about him. Now, he had nobody.
After a few tense seconds, Jayden let out a whispered sigh and leaned back. Sven slowly wrapped his arms around Jayden, whose body went limp as he melted into the embrace. Sven couldn’t help the ridiculous thought that Jayden fit perfectly into his arms. Madness! Jayden’s head was tucked under his chin, and Jayden’s soft hair tickled his jaw. In the end, it was Jayden who eventually stepped away to wash the dishes. Sven hadn’t wanted to let go of him.
Eighteen years ago, AG Meiers came to the US for adventure and stayed for love. Currently, she lives in New England with her husband and two awesome kids—balancing work, friends and family, and writing.
When she has some free time, her favorite thing to do is travel and visit new places. Her past trips have already brought her to a variety of countries on four continents. She never passes up an opportunity to experience different cultures, diverse people and amazing locations.
Even though she has been dreaming up stories all her life, she has only recently started to write them down and share them with the world. As a writer she loves to put her characters through a lot of challenges, conflict and heartbreak, before she allows them to find their happy-ever-after.
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