Page 34 of Eight Dates

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He was doing this for Nova—for his absurd idea that Ben needed to finish out this journey because he might resent Nova if he didn’t. He couldn’t make heads nor tails of that logic, but he also understood in a way. Ben had his own strange hang-ups after his ex cheated and humiliated him.

He hadn’t taken on another TA since Chris, and he wasn’t sure he ever would. And should he ever crack and relent under department head pressure, he’d probably have a panic attack if the new TA and Nova ever met. It wouldn’t be fair to Nova, but Ben had a feeling he’d understand.

So he could do this.

He could sit through pointless, useless dates and smile and nod. He could play nice and polite and then go home and dream that the next two days flew by because that was all that separated him and Nova from being able to kiss him and touch him without anything standing in their way.

He’d gone home the night before with tented pants and blushing cheeks. He’d immediately hopped in the shower, jerking off with his tongue curling around Nova’s name, the sound of it like a prayer whispered under a moan, bouncing off the tiles as he painted them with his come. He’d damn near fallen to his knees with the force of his orgasm, and he’d crawled into bed after that, staring at Nova’s name in his phone.

He hadn’t been brave enough to call, but he was regretting that now.

Squaring his shoulders, Ben glanced at the time, then grabbed his thicker peacoat and headed for his car. The sky was a strange pale grey from the thick clouds, and it started snowing the moment he got on the road. The fat flakes were distracting as he navigated familiar roads to the bar, and he felt a strange rush of relief when he saw the parking lot was nearly empty aside from one SUV, which he had a feeling probably belonged to Beau.

Ben pulled up and killed the engine, then took several breaths before stepping out. He shoved his hands into his pockets and hurried for the door, shaking off a few drops of melted snow as he stepped inside. The hostess wasn’t the same one as before, but the woman must have seen him around because she just jerked her head toward his table, and he fought back a laugh as he walked in and glanced over.

His eyes found the bar first, where Nova was standing, leaning on the counter and chatting with one of his servers. His eyes lit up when he saw Ben, but he didn’t do more than nod in greeting. Ben wanted to kiss him. He wanted to cradle his face and taste his soft, lush lips again, and it was killing him that he wasn’t allowed.

Swallowing heavily, he moved his gaze to his regular table and took in the guy sitting there. He was good-looking—though once again not quite Ben’s type. Very blond, tall, with muscular forearms that showed beneath a Henley with sleeves pushed up to his elbows.

His expression was passive, but he did a very obvious once-over the moment he realized who Ben was.

After an awkward beat, Ben started walking again and had his hand out before he reached his chair. “Hey. I’m not late, am I?”

Beau shook his head as their palms met. Beau’s was warm and calloused, the skin strangely thin and hard. “Not at all. I got here a little early. I was nervous.”

That was…new. And kind of sweet. It had no effect on how Ben felt, but he realized he wouldn’t mind having at least one kind date out of the eight his brother had scheduled. “Yeah. These things are always…you know…”

“Awkward?” Beau asked with a small grin.

Ben shrugged off his coat and hung it off his chair before taking a seat. “My brother’s the one who set me up on the app,” Ben told him. He glanced over and realized there was a tonic and lime sitting at his space, and from the perfect curl of peel, he knew Nova had made it. His heart beat a little faster. “Which I know is super strange.”

Beau shrugged. “Last week, my sister set me up with a guy who farms for a living. And I have nothing against that, but he did a literal pig call in the middle of the restaurant. So yeah. You have a lot to live up to if you want to go for strange.”

Ben couldn’t help a laugh. “Uh. Wow. I’m not great at limbo, so that bar might be stuck where it is.”

Beau laughed quietly, and something flashed in his eyes, but whatever was on his mind, he didn’t say it. “Anyway. So. Annoying first-date questions? Or did you want to order something first?”

“I’m good. Why don’t I start,” Ben said, and Beau looked oddly relieved.

Before the server arrived, Ben learned that Beau was recently single, was a CPA at a small tax firm at the edge of town, and had three dogs. He didn’t seem annoyed or impressed by Ben’s job and life, which was fine by him, but he couldn’t help wondering how the date would feel if Nova didn’t exist.

Would he have settled after all the chaos of the first five?

“Good evening, gentlemen,” the server said, dragging Ben out of his thoughts. “Is there anything I can start for you tonight?”

Ben opened his mouth to reply, but Beau immediately cut in. “Isn’t it customary to wait until the people at your table are done talking before you interrupt them?”

Andthere it was. Ben sighed and smiled up at her. “It’s fine, really.”

“It’s not,” Beau said. “I was a server for years, and it’s just basic etiquette. It’s not going to affect your tip or anything,” he added, like that made being a condescending asshole better, “I’m just saying it’s something you could put into practice.”

The server licked her lips, then smiled tightly. “Of course. I can come back—”

“You’re already here,” Beau said, then pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why don’t you tell the chef to make us something off menu.”

The server blinked. “Um…”

“Or is it just a kitchen full of line cooks?” Beau asked.