Sometimes you have to get dirty to come clean.
When muscle-bound Denver Rogers effortlessly dispatches the frat boys harassing grad student Adam Ellery at the Tucker Springs laundromat, Adam’s thank-you turns into impromptu sex over the laundry table. The problem comes when they exchange numbers. What if Adam wants to meet again and discovers Denver is a high-school dropout with a learning disability who works as a bouncer at a local gay bar? Or what if Denver calls Adam only to learn while he might be brilliant in the lab, outside of it he has crippling social anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder?
Either way, neither of them can shake the memory of their laundromat encounter. Despite their fears of what the other might think, they can only remember how good the other one feels. The more they get together, the kinkier things become. They’re both a little bent, but in just the right ways.
Maybe the secret to staying together isn’t to keep things clean and proper. Maybe it’s best to keep their laundry just a little bit dirty.
THAT ADAM Ellery found his true love in a dirty laundromat was pretty ironic, considering his rap sheet of neuroses.
He didn’t recognize his destined partner at first. The beefy, surly-looking cowboy in a white tank top had nearly been enough to send Adam running for cover. The only reason Adam hadn’t ducked out the second their eyes met was because Cowboy had been bent inside a machine when Adam entered, and by the time he’d emerged in all his bulky glory, Adam had already deposited clothing and money into a washer.
To be fair, Cowboy hadn’t so much as glanced at Adam twice. Adam would know because he’d barely taken his eyes off the man. He’d had to use the smaller table to sort out his socks and underwear, which meant he had a lovely view of the choose-your-communicable-disease bathroom, but he knew where the larger man was at all times, and most importantly, he wasn’t blocking Adam’s way to either exit. Adam tried not to watch too overtly, because if Cowboy caught him, Adam probably would give off the wrong signals.
Because Cowboy was cut.
Not handsome. He wasn’t ugly, but he wasn’t magazine-slick, not even close. But muscles? Oh, yeah. Normally Adam didn’t go for muscles because muscles scared him. Muscles could hurt him. Muscles had hurt him on more than one occasion. Muscles stood good odds of hurting him again. On Cowboy, however, muscles seemed acceptable, at least for simple viewing.
It wasn’t that Cowboy looked ready to make trouble so much as Adam wasn’t taking any chances. Adam’s anxiety, always ready to tip into overdrive, had sprung into high alert once it realized the two of them were alone, and now his internal panic machine was set on potential attack! mode whether he wanted it there or not. It didn’t matter that Cowboy hadn’t done anything more interesting than shift clothes from a washer to a dryer, or read magazines other people had left strewn about the booths and tables. Anxiety didn’t work that way.
Relaxing as much as he could, Adam hurried about his business, and nothing happened except he ran out of quarters and had to go around the corner to the coffee shop and get change. He also got a latte, despite knowing the caffeine would wreak havoc on his nerves. He used the toilet there too, because it was a single-stall unit and much cleaner than the one next door.
When Adam returned, Cowboy was gone, and six frat boys occupied the laundromat in his stead.
None of them were older than twenty-two, and that was probably pushing it. They acted twelve. Three of them were definitely drunk, and two were possibly high as well. They weren’t as big as Cowboy, but they were bigger than Adam.
Unlike Cowboy, they noticed Adam right away, and they didn’t ignore him. They leered, and their evil smiles promised nothing but trouble—for Adam.
You don’t have to be such a victim. Adam could hear his ex’s lecture as if Brad were standing in front of him. If you act like a scared rabbit, they’ll treat you like one. Ignore them and act like you don’t give a damn about them. If you keep painting a fucking target on yourself, looking like you expect to be harassed, you will be.
Brad had brought up Adam’s cowardice and his penchant for panic in the presence of potential conflict many times, and Adam had done what he could to correct his deficiency. It just never worked. He wasn’t sure if he was too old to learn, if the bullying had started when he was too young, or if he was stupid. Sometimes he thought it was because he was nothing more than a rabbit. On the male evolutionary ladder, he occupied the bottom rung, where he had to survive by constant vigilance and the ability to hop the hell out of danger at a moment’s notice.
According to Brad, Adam’s problem was that he was mentally ill. Technically this was true, but even Adam’s mediocre therapist would argue clinical anxiety was more complex than that. Brad’s insistence in making Adam’s illness a blanket excuse had become a red flag of warning, which had led to their breakup and Adam moving out.
It had also indirectly landed Adam in this laundromat, his clothing held hostage by a pack of drunk frat boys.
Adam did his best to ignore these intruders the same way he had Cowboy, but this time his laundromat companions were entirely focused on him. The frat boys leaned on the table where Adam had left his basket of folded socks and underwear, and one of the guys giggled at Adam’s electric-blue hipster briefs which, like so much of him, screamed gay. The frat boy made eye contact with Adam, and Adam froze at the door of his dryer, trying not to look scared.
With an evil grin, the boy murmured something to the others. As his buddies turned their smirking, stoned-out gazes to Adam, the instigator pulled out the electric-blue briefs and tossed them in the air. Adam would have crawled into the dryer with his damp clothes if he hadn’t thought they’d turn it on and barricade him inside.
They threw around his briefs, his club shirt, and his Ten Reasons You Shouldn’t Bug an Entomologist tee. “Look at this shit,” they said, laughing.
One of them leered at Adam, dangling his underwear just out of reach. “This yours?”
Adam knew better than to answer. They were teasing him, but they weren’t hurting him yet, and they might not hurt him at all if he played his part in the game well. If he was lucky, he’d just lose a pair of underwear and a few of his favorite shirts.
He didn’t want to think about being unlucky.
“You wear this freaky blue shit, huh?” They snickered in unison as the frat boy snapped the briefs near Adam’s cheek and one of them bumped Adam’s shoulder. “What color you wearing right now?”
Adam did his best to stifle his flinch, pushed his glasses higher up his nose, and hunkered deeper over an ad circular. He was well past potential attack! and firmly into attack mode engaged! which ironically made him so much calmer. That was the thing about anxiety. It always knew an attack was coming. It was the absence of danger that made it uneasy. Once its point was proven, it tended to settle down.
Just ride it out, he told himself. Keep calm and ride it out.
“We’re talking to you, fag,” one of them said.
When Adam continued to ignore them, they took his glasses. Right off his face.
Okay, that was a little more than he could ignore. He had a backup pair at home, but he couldn’t drive without them. “Please.” Adam reached out to take them back, then stopped himself, knowing that would make it worse. He’d been in this position before. It was time for him to beg. It wouldn’t do any good, but it was the only role he had in this play. “Please give me my glasses back.”
“Show us your underwear first, freak.”
The nervous flutter in the pit of Adam’s stomach turned into sick fear. “Please,” he whispered.
His fear only fueled them now. “Strip, faggot.” Someone shoved at his shoulder again. With a sick heart, Adam realized he’d soon be removing his clothes. He only hoped this was where it ended.
“What the fuck is going on?”
Adam startled, but so did the frat boys. One of them swore, and all of them staggered back, parting from their circle around Adam’s table, allowing him to see the newcomer.
He sauntered in from the side door, ambling toward Adam with a slow, steady gait that made his hips roll enticingly in his beat-up jeans and was punctuated by the clip-clop of his equally worn cowboy boots. The closer he got, the more he slowed down, giving the frat boys plenty of time to take him in. Best yet, Cowboy didn’t look pissed. He looked irritated.
When he glanced at Adam, however, that irritation melted away. “You okay, boy?”
Eyes wide, heart pounding, Adam nodded. Holy crap. None of Adam’s fantasies had involved a muscle-bound, cowboy-hat-wearing avenging angel before, but they would now.
Initially thrown by Cowboy’s entrance, the frat boys recovered. “We’re just messing around, old man,” one of them murmured.
Cowboy said nothing, only stared at the boys. His gaze lingered on the one holding Adam’s glasses.
The one holding Adam’s glasses took a step back.
One of the others, though, had apparently decided six frat boys outranked even Cowboy’s muscle, because he tossed his hair out of his eyes and took up a stance. “Did we pick on your boyfriend, honey? We’re sorry.”
A few of the frat boys giggled. The others shrank away from Cowboy.
Something bounced against Adam’s hand. When he looked down, his glasses lay beside him on the bench. With a relieved gasp, Adam swiped them and put them on. Lifting his gaze, Adam saw Cowboy now stood one beefy arm’s length away from the ringleader. His expression up to that point had remained cool, but now Cowboy’s face split in a nasty grin. The other frat boys shrank into the corner, whispering various panicked expletives under their breath. The ringleader tried to keep his cool, but Adam could see his facade cracking.
The laundromat went silent as Cowboy ran a thick, gnarly finger down the frat boy’s chest.
“Don’t be jealous. You want my cock, little boy, all you gotta do is bend over.”
The frat boy sputtered, swore, and swung.
Cowboy blocked the blow, grabbing Frat Boy’s nuts. “Tell your buddies to give the man his clothes back.”
Frat Boy yelped in pain as Cowboy’s grip tightened. “Fuck—do it,” he cried, and seconds later Adam’s clothes came sailing and landed on the tabletop.
Cowboy jerked his head in a curt nod. “Good boy. Now all of you apologize. And just so it’s clear, you’re getting this one shot to do it without your pants in a long, hot cycle in the washer and your dipshit asses waiting outside until they’re done.”
Adam kept rigid, head spinning, as the frat boys came up one by one and murmured terrified apologies before speeding like bullets out the door. The ringleader was last, making his apology on his knees before the table, hair held tight in Cowboy’s grip. Then he was gone as well, leaving Adam frozen in place with his mouth gaping open, alone with his rescuer.
Cowboy tipped his hat, turned around, and walked away.