It's friends-to-enemies-to-friends-to-lovers in this LGBTQIA+ Romance for fans of Red, White & Royal Blue and The Pros of Cons who enjoy:
- Ex-best-friends falling in love
- Gaming, conventions, fandom & cosplay
- Nerd culture at its finest
- Learning how to be true to yourself
Jasper Quigley is tired of being everyone's favorite sidekick. He wants to become the hero of his own life, but that's not going to happen if he agrees to help out his former best friend turned king of the jocks, Milo Lionetti. High school was miserable enough, thanks, and Jasper has no interest in dredging up painful memories of his old secret crush.
But Milo's got nowhere else to go. His life is spiraling out of control and he's looking to turn things back around. Step one? Replace the rare Odyssey cards he lost in an idiotic bet. Step two? Tell his ex-best-friend exactly how he feels—how he's always felt.
Jasper may be reluctant to reopen old wounds, but he never could resist Milo. There's a catch, though: if Milo wants his help, he's going to have to pitch in to make the upcoming children's hospital charity ball the best ever. But as the two don cosplay for the kids and hunt for rare cards, nostalgia for their lost friendship may turn into something even more lasting...
Praise for Conventionally Yours:
"Fast, funny, and fantastic."—Eoin Colfer, New York Times bestselling author
"Uniquely quirky."—Carrie Ryan, New York Times and USA Today bestelling author
"You will ship this couple."—Sarina Bowen, USA Today bestselling author
Release date: July 6, 2021
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Print pages: 329
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Out of Character: A Rivals LGBTQIA New Adult
We’ve got to find a new prince.
April’s latest text rattled around in my head as I shelved merchandise. My little sister was obsessed with our favorite game’s most iconic character. And I, being me, had promised to deliver for our cosplay group. Letting April down wasn’t an option. But where the heck was I going to find a dark-haired sea god on short notice?
“I need help. I’m in trouble, man.” The voice startled me, almost causing a catastrophe of epic proportions because I had a dozen card-set boxes precariously balanced. No way could I turn around without toppling my last half hour of work, but I also wasn’t in too much of a hurry. The voice was vaguely familiar, probably one of our regulars, and their definition of urgent issues differed greatly from the general population. Whoever it was could hold their dice.
“Give me a sec.” Even as I shoved boxes in place, I kept my voice as cheerful as possible. A customer was a customer, and God knew that the little game store where I worked needed more of those.
“Here. Let me help.” A large hand peeking out of a black winter coat landed next to mine, steadying the stack, and we made fast work of stabilizing the display.
“Thanks. Though I think I’m the one who’s supposed to be assisting…” My voice trailed off as I finally moved away from the display and turned to the customer. And it was trouble all right. Six feet and a couple hundred pounds of solid muscle of the worst kind of trouble. “Milo?”
Milo Lionetti did not belong in any game shop ever. I couldn’t even picture him reading a comic book or shuffling trading cards. And I didn’t care what the problem was—no way would he let himself be seen at the “Nerd Superstore” as he and his jock crowd had dubbed the place in high school. Nothing good could come of him being here.
“Yeah. I need—”
“To involve me in your latest stunt. Or are you here to gawk at the gamers?” I stared him down, all chipperness erased from my tone. Luckily, the shop was pretty slow for a Sunday in winter. There were a few random games going on at the tables in back, but no one was milling about the front part of the store to witness whatever the heck Milo had planned.
“I’m not here as a joke.” Milo stepped close enough to the counter that I could smell his sporty aftershave. Even his body products were strictly jocks-only, and damn whatever part of me that found the scent appealing.
“Oh? Our restrooms are customers only. Need a gag gift?” It was the only other reasons I could think of for why he’d even set foot in here.
“No. I need you.”
“For what?” I demanded. Even as some rogue electrical pulse zoomed up my spine, the words bounced right off my rigid torso. He was about eight years too late—four of them a miserable high-school eternity—and college hadn’t softened my stance toward all things Milo one bit.
His eyes narrowed. “You do work here, right?”
“I do.” Folding my arms in front of my red work T-shirt, I stopped just short of waving my employee keys in his face. He might have been less smug than usual, but I was no happier to see him than I had been back in school. Then as now, the sight of him heading my way was enough to get all my muscles tensing. Red alert. Trouble incoming.
“Good. Then you can help me.” He shifted his weight from foot to foot. His tongue darted out to lick at his lower lip in the same nervous gesture he’d had since forever. And in that moment, he wasn’t a bad high-school memory but rather the little kid who’d spent hours building complicated Lego structures with me. I missed that kid, far more than I’d give him the satisfaction of seeing.
“Come on. Out with it. What do you need?”
He took a deep breath, shoulders rolling back. “I need a complete play set of Frog Court cards in foil.”
I laughed. Like full-out, whole-body chuckles, a few tears short of being a human emoji. When I’d recovered enough to speak, I couldn’t stop shaking my head. “Tell me another one. Who put you up to this? Luther? James?”
Both of Milo’s sidekicks were too stupid to know much about rare cards from the hugely popular Odyssey game, but this was the type of stunt they’d relished back in school. Send a dupe in with a ridiculous ask, embarrassing the requester and wasting the time of everyone involved.
“No, I’m serious.” Milo held up his broad hands. Even in bulky winter wear, he managed to look ready to star in an Italian car ad. His short, dark hair was neatly trimmed, and he’d recently shaved. He didn’t look to be drunk, hungover, or otherwise impaired, but no way was this anything other than some frat-boy dare.
“Uh-huh. Well, unless you have a spare five to ten grand and a burning desire to go treasure hunting, it’s not happening. Not here. Arthur’s had this place for years now, and I know for a fact he’s never seen a complete set of all four cards, especially not in foil.”
“Ten grand?” Milo paled as he gulped. “I need those cards.”
“The money and a hunt,” I corrected him. “They’re not simply out there on the open market for the taking. Those are a serious collector’s item, and people spend years looking to find a matched set.”
Milo’s eyes squished shut. “Damn it.”
“Hate to tell you, but if someone made you promise the cards, they’re having you on.” Despite everything that had passed between us over the years, I actually felt for the guy a little. It sucked to be on the losing end of a prank. As I well knew.
“I…lost them.” Milo went from pale to greenish gray, and for a second, I worried I’d be cleaning up puke next, especially when he swallowed hard.
“You lost what?”
“Bruno’s cards.” Milo’s voice was low and pained. “I had no idea they were that rare. I—”
“Hold up. Bruno, your brother who’s some sort of special forces, plays Odyssey?” I had vague memories of Bruno, who was a good four or five years older than Milo and me. He’d joined the navy right out of high school, and last I’d heard from the mom gossip network, he was one of the people who worked on SEAL boats and other top-secret stuff. Not the sort of person I usually saw across the gaming table.
“Yeah. A girl got him into it in high school, then he fell back into card games living in the barracks. He’s wicked good at it too.” Some of the pain in Milo’s tone was replaced with pride, which I would have found cute on anyone other than Milo.
“Won stuff off his teammates, that sort of thing. Anyway, he left a bunch of things with Mom and me before this last deployment. We played a few rounds when he visited.”
“You played?” I blinked, trying to picture the badass SEAL support guy and jock king playing cards at their mom’s pretty, white dining table.
“Quit looking so surprised.” Milo made a dismissive gesture, nearly taking out one of the boxes of holographic dice we had by the register. “I can read the cards, same as anyone else. It’s not a hard game to learn.”
Actually, it was rated among the world’s most complex games to master, but far be it from me to convince a guy who’d probably played less than ten games total. “I’m still not sure how you go from him showing you how to play to losing a set of the rarest cards in Odyssey.”
Milo might be an idiot, but Bruno had always been smart on top of being brawny. No way would he have had those cards in an intro deck he used to teach newbies like Milo.
Milo rubbed his temples. “Whiskey.”
“No kidding.” I’d been right. His jerk friends and alcohol were never a good combo.
“The guys I’m living with had a party a while back. And there was this dude big into Odyssey there. I said I could play some and told him about Bruno’s kick-ass collection.”
Sensing where this was going, I groaned. “Tell me you didn’t show him the cards.”
“Whiskey and Coke. Like I said. Anyway, he invited some of us over to play last night and tells me to bring my cards. There was food and drinking and some friendly betting going on.” Milo nodded, like I was supposed to sympathize with this tale of woe.
“Odyssey is not a drinking game. Or even one to try buzzed.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know that now, Mr. Serious Gamer, but cut me some slack here. It’s just cardboard.” Milo still had the ability to make a simple eye roll condescending as all get out.
“Says the guy who apparently lost near-priceless cardboard.”
“I know. And anyway, I’m good at the game. Even Bruno said so. Last night, I won several rounds in a row. His decks are that good, I guess, and then George says—”
Despite my determination not to feel sorry for Milo, my stomach took the express elevator all the way to the tile floor. “Oh, hell no. George Bryant? Our age or a little older? Tall guy, dark hair but longer than yours?”
“Yeah, that’s probably him. He goes to Gracehaven but lives off-campus in a nice condo.”
Yup, that was George, and if there was one person I disliked more than Milo and his squad, it was probably George. He’d cost me several of my best transforming cards with a dirty play style that might win him games but also made enemies out of most of the game-store regulars.
“He’s in my year, and he’s total bad news. Arthur had to ban him from playing here. That’s the last guy you should have been betting with.”
“Now you tell me.” Milo’s shoulders slumped further and he leaned on the counter. His eyebrows drew together as if he’d seriously expected a warning when we hadn’t exchanged more than ten words in years. “He seemed like an okay dude right up until he suckered me into betting the frog family cards—”
“The Royal Frog Court, ultra rare—”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it, okay? And I lost.” The pain was back in Milo’s voice, which legit cracked. Damn. The guy really was hurting, and if he were anyone else, I’d pat his shoulder or something. “He wouldn’t even play me to try to win them back. So now I’m screwed.”
“Yup.” I couldn’t argue with that assessment.
“You don’t have to sound so happy about it.” Milo pushed away from the counter, making the dice rattle in their boxes.
“I’m not.” Seeing anyone screwed over by George wasn’t my idea of fun, even if I didn’t exactly have warm and fuzzy feelings for Milo himself.
“I tried to think of who I knew who might be able to help me. And you’re the biggest gamer I know.” His eyes were soft and pleading, the same look that had always earned us extra cookies from his mom. “Are you sure you can’t help?”
“I’m sure. It’s not like we have those cards here, and I’m on duty right now. I can’t drop everything for a hunt for you.” The way I saw it, Milo was boned, with or without my help, and Google could convince him of that as well as I could.
“After work?” More of that pleading face, and snapshots from every sleepover, every birthday party, every playdate danced in my head. He’d been such a great kid right up until he wasn’t. And no way was I going to go down the path of trying to convince myself he’d changed back into the boy I used to know. We weren’t friends now, and I wasn’t particularly interested in changing that fact, opening myself up to that kind of pain.
“Is it because of high school?”
I wasn’t going to lie. “Part of it. You think I’ve forgotten?”
“We’re older now. And I’m sorry. I guess we were kind of jerks to your crowd—”
“You think? Kind of?” I kept my voice down, but I couldn’t stop the sarcasm from seeping into my tone. I wasn’t going to start listing incidents like I kept an accounting of all the hurts he and his crowd had dished out to anyone who dared to be smart, nerdy, or anything other than a vapid clone in their popular jock clique, but I deserved more than some half apology.
“Okay, some shit went down. Like I said, I’m sorry. Are you sure you can’t help me? For old times’ sake?”
“F—” I was about to lay into Milo about how far “old times’ sake” had gotten me back when I could have actually used someone to defend me and all my geeky interests, but then my boss, Arthur, called my name as he came from the back of the store, and all I could do was shake my head. I was older now and I was my own damn hero. Maybe others didn’t always see me that way, but I’d grown way past “old times’ sake” sentiments.
“Jasper! Who has the private room booked?”
“It’s that dads-who-game club,” I told Arthur, trying to ignore the way Milo seemed to collapse further, despair rolling off him. He glanced at me again, and, apparently not liking what he saw there, he headed to the door, a slight limp to his steps. I had to stiffen my back muscles and plant my feet, trying not to feel anything as he walked away. Not curiosity about what had caused the limp and definitely not regret. I didn’t have time for either.
He paused to hold the door for some patrons, light catching his expression. His eyes had transformed from pleading to resigned, like a world-weary soldier returning from a battle he hadn’t won. His head was high even as his shoulders slumped, and he was perhaps more regal in defeat than he had been when he’d been so sure I’d agree. In that instant, he looked exactly like Prince Neptune. April would have freaked at the resemblance and would have begged him to cosplay with us. She always was a sucker for the story lines where Neptune faced losing odds and had to claw his way back from the edge of defeat. Maybe…
No. Not going to go there. Milo was no prince and certainly not anyone I needed in my life.
I was not going to be swayed by his worried eyes. Angry Milo and jerk Milo were easy to dismiss, but sad Milo had always managed to get under my skin. This time, though, I wasn’t going to let him. He’d managed to get himself into a heck of a mess, but he’d have to get himself out again without me. I turned my back on him, same as he’d done with me all those years ago. But even as I turned, my stomach cramped, the battle between the urge to shut him out and the urge to swoop in with the rescue way more real than I would have liked.
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