Seth Carson only ever wanted to play hockey, but he’s been moving from team to team for as long as he can remember. The Texas Thunderbirds are just the latest in a long line. Good thing he knows how to not get attached, because he won’t be here long.

Tyko Saari is tired of taking the blame for the Thunderbirds’ terrible season. He’s just the goalie; he can’t do the whole team’s job, especially when the defense keeps hanging him out to dry. He definitely doesn’t expect anything to change when Seth gets traded.

In the wake of a viral PR video, the fanbase decides that Seth and Tyko are dating. Faking a relationship for positive press coverage isn’t in their contract, but they both have their reasons for agreeing to do it.
Of course, the longer they pretend, the blurrier the line between real and fake becomes. But none of this was ever going to be real—was it?

Excerpt:

“Seth, good.” Tasha gives him a look and suddenly he’s halfway across the room. Maybe Perry is right. Maybe it is witchcraft. “Have a seat.”

He sits where he’s directed, in one of two Thunderbirds-blue folding director’s chairs in front of a green-screen backdrop. Even though he’s almost never been important enough for these things, the camera and mic setup pointed at the chairs is familiar enough that he dismisses it almost at once.

The table between him and the camera is worrisome, though. Well, not the table itself—it’s a standard folding table draped, of course, with a Thunderbirds-branded tablecloth.

No, the part that’s worrying him is the objects Tasha’s swarm of assistants are laying out on the table. Two strips of fabric, also in Thunderbirds blue, and a selection of small, innocuous-looking boxes.

Seth doesn’t trust them.

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He’s distracted from the feeling of doom, though, when Tyko comes through the door. “Sorry I’m late, Tasha, Coach wanted—”

“That’s fine.” Tasha looks him up and down in a split-second appraisal before apparently determining that he’ll pass muster. “Come sit. We’re almost done setting up.”

Seth feels slightly better when Tyko also casts an apprehensive look at the table as he crosses to sit in the facing chair. Since Tyko is a smart person, he waits until Tasha turns away before leaning in, close enough that Seth can smell the generic locker-room soap scent on his skin.

“What’s in the boxes?”

Oh. Right. The boxes. The video. “I don’t know, they were closed when they brought them in.”

Tyko frowns.

Before he can say anything else, though, Tasha adjusts one of the boxes maybe a millimeter to the left and turns back to them. “Okay, boys, listen up, because I’m only going through this once.”

The way Seth’s spine straightens again at the sound of her voice would be more embarrassing if he couldn’t see Tyko doing the same thing out of the corner of his eye. Tasha clearly missed her calling as a coach, or maybe a Supreme Military Dictator. He’s willing to bet any government she ran would be a well-oiled machine.

“Today we’re doing Truth or Dare. I have cards with suggested questions, but you can ad lib a little. Not a lot, I don’t want Dana to spend more than a few hours on editing. If you’re getting off-track, I’ll stop you and we’ll stick just to the questions on the cards.”

She pauses, quirking an eyebrow at them as if inviting questions.

Tyko clears his throat. “What—what are the blindfolds for?”

Seth’s cheeks heat at the belated realization of what the strips of fabric are.

Tasha’s grin sharpens. “That’s the Dare part. If you pick Dare, or if you aren’t willing to answer a question, the other person will feed you something out of these boxes. You will try to identify it, while blindfolded.”

“I—” Seth bites his tongue when Tasha turns her too-perceptive gaze on him, but he’s pretty sure this is the kind of thing he should ask about. “I can’t eat raw vegetables?”

Much to his relief, Tasha’s expression softens, just a little, into something approving. “I have a full list of team allergies and sensitivities, but I’m glad you told me in case. The only vegetables in those boxes are cooked. Any other questions?”

Seth can’t think of anything, at least nothing he’s willing to waste Tasha’s time with, and a quick sidelong glance at Tyko shows him also shaking his head.

“Excellent.” She hands each of them a small stack of cards and claps her hands together briskly. “In that case, let’s begin.”

Stepping out of the frame, she nods to the assistant holding the boom mic. They flash her a thumbs up, and, after a second, so does the person with the camera.

“All right. Someone’s getting blindfolded first. Do I have a volunteer?”

Seth freezes, and he’s pretty sure Tyko does, too. After an endless, silent moment, Tasha shrugs. “All right. Rock, paper, scissors it is.”

Shrugging, Seth turns toward Tyko, fist resting in his palm and ready to go. “Uh, wait. Are we doing rock, paper, scissors, shoot, or one, two, and then on three we do it?”

“And does the winner get blindfolded? Or the loser?” Tyko winks at him on the side away from Tasha.

Tasha’s voice is elaborately patient, so much so that Seth doesn’t quite dare to look at her, in case she saw the wink. “Rock, paper, scissors, shoot. Winner blindfolds the loser. Now are there any more questions, or can we actually begin?”

Tyko catches Seth’s gaze, quirking an eyebrow at him. Seth nods, and they’re off.

He sees Tyko’s hand flatten out into paper just a second too late to change his rock into scissors. Tyko crows his triumph, his hand warm where it wraps around Seth’s fist. The touch is almost startling, enough that Seth freezes a little at the proximity. At the reminder that he might have a good twenty pounds of muscle on Tyko, but they’re the same height, and Tyko’s hand is big enough to completely enclose his fist.

“All right.” Tasha’s voice cuts through Seth’s private meltdown, bringing him back to the present. “I’m going to count you down. Tyko, you’ll blindfold Seth, we’ll do the questions. I’ll let you know when it’s time to switch.”

She doesn’t ask if they have questions this time, because she’s a smart person. Just counts them down, pointing a commanding finger at Tyko when she reaches “one” and watching them with raised eyebrows.

Smirking, Tyko picks up the closest strip of fabric. When he gets up out of his chair and circles behind Seth, he practically prowls, moving like a fucking cat. The hair rises on the back of Seth’s neck, but he forces himself to sit still. Waiting.

The air moving above his head is the only warning he gets before the fabric comes down over his eyes, blocking out the lights. Despite everything, knowing the room is full of Birds staffers, some part of him relaxes as Tyko knots the fabric at the back of his head.

“Too tight?” The tugging at the fabric stops, Tyko’s hands resting lightly on his shoulders. “Can you see?”

Seth shakes his head, fighting not to lean into the touch. There’s a damn camera on them, for fuck’s sake. This isn’t sexual, no matter how hopefully his cock is trying to perk up. His mouth is dry, but he manages to make his voice sound normal when he gets the words out. “No. It’s fine.”

Tyko squeezes his shoulders gently before the grounding touch is gone. Seth tracks his movements by the sound, the rustle of his shorts as he circles back around Seth, the slight creaking noise as he sits back down.

“Okay. Truth or Dare?”

As vulnerable as Seth feels right now, this is a hockey interview. They’re not going to ask him anything actually terrible, and he doesn’t feel like having an unidentified food shoved into his mouth just at the moment. “Truth.”

Tyko doesn’t speak for a moment, like Seth’s answer has surprised him, maybe? Seth wishes he could see his face, read his expression. “Okay. Uh—” a shuffling sound, like he’s messing with the cards Tasha gave him. “We’ll start you off easy. If you could only have one phone app, which one would it be?”

That surprises a laugh out of Seth. He knew hockey PR shit was bland and dumb, but this is some next level stuff. “Uh, I don’t know. Whatsapp, I guess? That’s where I mostly talk to people.”

“Wow, what are you, ninety?”

“Fuck off.” Seth shoots back automatically, wincing as soon as he realizes what he’s said. The one benefit of the blindfold is that he doesn’t have to see Tasha’s disapproving look for swearing on camera.

Well, and he doesn’t have to see Tyko smirking at him. It’s surprising to realize he can picture the smirk, even though they’ve only known each other for a couple of days.

“Fine. Okay. Who’s your celebrity crush?”

Seth’s face heats, even though it was already warm. “Pass.”

Tyko’s laugh is almost a snort. “Oh, wow, that bad, huh? I’m totally getting it out of you later, but for now—”

The chair creaks, clothes rustling as he gets to his feet. Seth closes his eyes behind the blindfold, since they aren’t doing him any good anyway, focusing on keeping his breathing even. The team won’t actually poison him. It’s fine.

“Let’s see.” Tyko hums to himself, almost covering the sound of boxes opening and closing. “Oh, here we go.”

Seth has time for one inhale and one exhale before Tyko is standing in front of him, his legs warm and solid where they brush against Seth’s knees.

“Open up.”

Probably Seth should pretend reluctance, ham it up for the camera, but he doesn’t think of that until his mouth is already open, reacting instinctively to the order. Whatever, it’s not like he’s good at this PR shit.

Then Tyko’s hand is brushing his chin, probably cupped under his mouth to catch any drips or falling food. Something lands on his tongue and he closes his mouth instinctively, catching the tips of Tyko’s fingers as they pull out.

Seth chews and swallows, doing his best to ignore the mixed signals his poor confused cock is getting. He’s supposed to be identifying this food, not fantasizing about sucking Tyko’s fingers back into his mouth. “Uh, some kind of sushi?”

“C’mon, you can do better than that.” Tyko hasn’t moved away, still standing between Seth’s spread knees. “What kind of sushi?”

“Uh—” Seth forces himself to concentrate on the flavor and texture. “Spider roll?”

Tyko squeezes his knee gently before disappearing. To sit back in his chair, judging from the slight creaking. “Good job.”

Seth swallows the rest of the sushi. Maybe the blindfold was actually a good idea. The last thing he needs is to be visibly panting after his goalie in a PR fluff piece. Hopefully his sweats are heavy enough to hide any other evidence. “How many more questions before it’s my turn?”

He’s even more grateful for the blindfold when Tyko chuckles, the sound sending shivers down his spine. “Oh, we’re just getting started.”

“Karma’s a bitch, Saari.”

Tyko just laughs again, like he can tell Seth’s heart isn’t in it. Or like he can tell Seth will enjoy being on the other side of things just as much.

Seth can’t stop himself from smiling in return.

COLLAPSE

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