Authors: Allyson Lindt
This book is a work of fiction.
While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Allyson Lindt
All Rights Reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Manufactured in the United States of America
When two gorgeous strangers, Evan and Trevor, offer to keep Kathryn company during an anime convention, she’s not letting her shy-self screw up the opportunity. She decides to be a new, bolder her. The hook-up leads to her posing for a set of scorching photos with Evan while Trevor mans the camera. Best. Decision. Ever.
The more time she spends with them, both in private and public, the harder it becomes for Kathryn to ignore her attraction to the men, or to imagine going back to her old ways. If she doesn’t discover who she really is—shy, bold, or somewhere in between—and convince Trevor and Evan to do the same, the three will lose out on more than just incredible chemistry.
For my eternal dragon
When the elevator doors slid open, and I saw how many people were already packed into the car, I almost told them to go ahead without me. Someone dressed in a furry dog costume held the door, and another voice behind them said, “There’s room for one more.”
“I’m fine. I’ll take the stairs.” I waved the waiting people off with a smile.
“Come on.” A friendly female voice joined in. “We’ll make room.” As if it were a command, a tiny path formed in the middle of the box.
Discomfort crawled through me at the seven or eight sets of eyes on me. Rather than drawing out the attention any longer, I stepped into the miniature crowd of costumed and casually dressed people. The throng closed back around me, assaulting me with heat, a dizzying array of perfumes, and early-stage body odor.
It might have made someone else wince and complain, but it drew my smile back out. This was one of the reasons I loved anime conventions, and also why I was staying in the hotel, even though home was only an hour away. The full immersive experience of fans who loved the medium as much as I did—or more—was intoxicating. Some of the guys at the call center where I worked gave me grief for being a twenty-five-year-old woman who spent her time watching cartoons. They had their fantasy football though, and I didn’t see how this was any different.
If only I could get past my self-consciousness and let go, even for a few days, the way the people around me did... Then again, if I could let go of my insecurities, I might have gotten the job I wanted a few days ago, instead of being told I didn’t have the personality it took to teach.
I ran my hands over my ass and down my thighs, to smooth out my costume. The skirt of my school uniform stopped halfway to my knees, so every time I moved, it felt like my white cotton panties were on display. I had a hunch I’d be reminding myself all day this wasn’t the case.
If I were a bolder person, I’d have left the panties behind. An image nudged its way into my thoughts. I’d spill from the elevator with the crowds, wander into the hotel lobby, and catch the attention of some cute guy. He’d smirk as he looked me over, gaze lingering on my legs and chest. I’d pretend to drop something and bend at the waist to pick it up, giving him a private peep show. He’d introduce himself. I’d tell him I was Kathryn. Maybe we’d joke and flirt. He’d step into the elevator with me, on the ride back up. In the midst of the crowds, with people only paying attention to their own groups, he’d press close, slide a hand between my legs, and brush my bare mound.
The idea sent a naughty shiver through me, and I squeezed my legs together, to suppress the sudden pulse between them. Nope, as much as the fantasy turned me on, I wasn’t that girl. I’d feel accomplished if I made it through the day without tugging my skirt down too often. My sensei at the Aikido dojo was probably right. Regardless of how skilled I was at the art, I didn’t have what it took to stand in front of an entire class of people. All those eyes on me, those people expecting me to know what I was doing. The thought was almost enough to make me freeze.
We reached the lobby, and the pack around me dispersed. If I didn’t stash the unpleasant memories of my missed job opportunity, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this weekend. I stepped aside, to keep from being underfoot, found a wall to lean against, and pulled out my program. What first? I wanted to visit the Dealers’ Room and see what kind of neat trinkets I could lose my paycheck on, but it didn’t open for another couple of hours.
“Captain.” A male voice interrupted my browsing.
A second guy chimed in. “What are you doing here alone, Captain? You should have an escort with you at all times.”
I looked up from my program, to see two guys standing in front of me, both apparently talking to me. Or rather, to the character I was dressed as—the captain of a submarine, masquerading as a student. My pulse sped, as I traveled my gaze over them. Guy One had almost military-short brown hair and brown eyes I could fall into, and he filled out his T-shirt to the point I itched to trace the definition of his chest with my fingers. Guy Two was just as gorgeous. Spiked dark hair, pale skin, and green eyes. The contrast made my breath catch. He was a couple inches shorter than his friend, which still made him at least six inches taller than my five-foot-four. His shoulders were narrower, but that didn’t stop my imagination from running rampant, planting either one of them in my daydream from a few minutes ago.
“I’m okay, really.” My response squeaked out, and I cringed. I could have played along. Told them I’d love an escort. At least gotten in character long enough to ask their names. Why did I always think of these things too late?
Guy One quirked his lips in a half-question, half-smile. “Are you sure, Captain? We’d be happy to make sure your visit’s enjoyable.”
The simple but emphatic answer struggled against my shyness, but lost the battle. “Thanks, but I’m meeting friends real soon.” It wasn’t technically a lie. My brother, Jackson, and his partners would be joining me after they finished work that night.
“If you’re sure,” Guy Two—Mister Green-Eyes—said, “we’ll take our leave.” They both bowed from the waist, and Guy One gave me one last glance before the crowds swallowed them.
Regret pinged inside me, though it was better this way. They were cute to look at, but they’d be happier escorting one of the women who didn’t mind squealing in joy and running up to random strangers for a hug who were dressed as their favorite character.
Now back to how to spend my morning.
I meandered toward the hotel conference rooms, keeping half an eye on my surroundings as I scanned the con schedule again. I could watch something in a viewing room, but I’d seen everything currently playing, and none of them ranked high enough on my list, to sit through again.
Laughter and chatter drifted from one of the rooms ahead. There was no sign to indicate what panel started next, but according to my schedule, it was an Alternate-Reality Game. The description read,
If you’re looking for a game within a game, something to keep you busy and give you the inside track during your con downtime, check us out.
I paused in front of the door and glanced in. Unlike any other panel room, this had no chairs. Small groups of people milled about in front of a makeshift stage with a podium on it, chatting and laughing.
It looked like fun but also sounded like a lot of interacting with random people. I was about to move on, when my gaze landed on two people near the front. Guy One and Green-eyes from outside the elevator. Before I could think myself out of it, I let my feet carry me into the room, but I hovered near the back. There was no harm in checking things out. I tried to summon the courage to approach them. Someone else probably wouldn’t hesitate. My heart hammered at the thought of walking up and casually introducing myself, and my palms grew clammy. Why couldn’t I be someone else?
At least from back here, I could enjoy the view.
Someone stepped up to the podium. A woman, maybe a little older than me. It was hard to tell. A few other people turned to look at her, but for the most part everyone kept talking. “Let’s get started, everyone.” The woman spoke into the microphone. The talking continued. She turned to the man next to her and gave a slight shrug. He stuck his fingers between his lips, and seconds later, a shrill whistle threatened to split my eardrums. Silence washed over the room.
I massaged my ear until the ringing stopped. This ought to be interesting. Guy Two glanced behind him and met my gaze. My mouth went dry, and I licked my lips to try and get some of the moisture back. He winked before he turned back to the stage.
This was definitely going to be interesting.
“Better.” The woman at the podium smiled. “Thank you, everyone, for coming. I’m Chloe, this is Jordan, and we’re your contacts for the weekend. For those of you who’ve played these games before, let everyone who hasn’t listen. The basic concept is simple—there will be a series of quests for you to complete. As you finish each one, it will lead you to a new task, and more of the story will unfold for you. Some goals and tasks will be obvious. Some not so much. Just because a clue led one person or group somewhere, don’t expect it to do the same for you, as we’ll adapt according to how you play. Recruiting new people—they have to tell us you referred them when they start—is worth bonus points, as are other things. There will be a grand-prize winner. The person who unravels the answer first. There will also be a bonus prize, for whoever gets the most bonus points.
“This isn’t a purely altruistic gesture on our part; you’re helping us test new software. The rules are simple. Sabotaging your fellow players won’t be tolerated. You’re welcome to work in groups or alone, though keep in mind more minds can give you different perspectives. And all the con’s policies around harassment must be followed. Questions?”
The room erupted in chaos again, but one voice carried over it all. Guy One, with his seductive tenor. “That’s all well and good, but it’s really vague.”
I nodded my agreement. I was familiar with the idea of an alternate-reality game. Basically, it was an interactive experience that used the real world and its participants as a medium. Role playing in tandem with reality. But it still didn’t tell me much about what I should be doing specifically.
Chloe’s smile grew. “It’s supposed to be. If I give you all the details now, there’s nothing left for you to do. Unless you’ve really twisted your head and viewed the situation upside down, very little of this will be what it appears on the surface. That being said, your first task is simple. Go out there, take cosplay pictures, and share them online using the hashtag RINARG. Where you post them is up to you, just make sure you’ve got the cosplayer’s permission to post. Tag everyone in your group, including the cosplayer if they want, and it counts for all of you.”
“That’s it?” someone else asked.
Another voice chimed in “Boring.”.
“Then don’t play.” Chloe stepped back from the podium. “It’s up to you.”
I let the idea roll over in my head. If the game wasn’t what it appeared, what was it? Curiosity, both for the game and the attractive guys at the front of the room, spilled through me. A familiar voice nagged in the back of my mind. The first task involved talking to people to take their pictures, and odds were it would only get more social from there. I shoved the irritating voice aside. Screw insecurity. I took a deep breath, and summoned my courage past lingering uncertainty. This was a game, right? Why couldn’t I be someone else for the weekend? There was no reason to be shy, withdrawn Kathryn, who didn’t dare flirt back, let alone approach people on her own. I was going to dive into this and enjoy it.
My gut protested the decision, and I told it to hush. It was time to enjoy myself. Bold-me donned what I hoped was a playful grin, and strode toward the cute guys, who were fiddling with their phones. I swallowed my doubt and forced out my greeting. “Can I be your first model?”
Instead of replying, they exchanged a look I didn’t know how to interpret. I’d expected a more enthusiastic response. So much for stepping outside my shell. I should leave now, before I made a bigger fool of myself.
Guy One turned a warm smile on me, his brown eyes almost melting my insides. “I don’t know,” he said. “It wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t even know your name.”
Hope and giddiness sparked inside me, and I bit my bottom lip. I was bold. I was friendly. I didn’t shirk. “Sounds fair to me, as long as it works both ways. I’m Kathryn.”
Guy One shook my hand. “I’m Evan. He’s Trevor.” His grip was warm. Firm and tantalizing and enough to summon my earlier fantasy. Desire skittered over my skin. “I’m glad you changed your mind about us, Kitten. You did change your mind. Right?”
I seared the names in my mind, wanting to remember both for a long time. Kitten. The nickname rolled under my skin, and danced in my thoughts. “I’m still making up my mind”—I let the words roll past my lips without pause. —“but so far, I like what I see.”
Trevor offered his hand next, and his touch was just as enticing. “I’m glad.” He pointed his phone toward me. “Pose for me?”
Pose. What was I supposed to do? Panic flashed through me. I buried it under improvisation, set my feet at about shoulder width, bent slightly at the waist with one hand on my hip, and extended my other, fingers held up in a
. Any awkwardness I expected vanished behind the natural-feeling gesture.
They both snapped pictures and stood on either side of me, to show me the results. Trevor settled his arm against my back, and the sharp scent of cool body wash—probably with a name like Mountain Spring—filled my head. His warm breath caressed my ear when he said, “Absolutely gorgeous.”
Evan trailed a finger down my arm, drawing my focus. “Give me your user name. I’ll tag you.”
There was no way I was sandwiched between two hot men, both vying for my attention, and neither looking like he wanted to beat the crap out of the other. Maybe I was still asleep, dreaming soundly in my hotel bed.
If so, let it last a little longer.
I turned to Evan, my voice light. “I’ll share, but only if you promise not to use it to stalk me.”
He chuckled. “I prefer a much more direct approach than following someone in the shadows, who doesn’t want to be followed. We like a woman who knows we’re here, and who we know is interested.”
My mind stumbled over the pronouns. He hadn’t said
I swallowed past a new lump of excitement. I wouldn’t mind hooking up with either or both of them. Not that I’d ever done something like that before, but it sure sounded good in my head. No reason to get carried away, though. This was harmless flirting. An exchange of names and photos. It wasn’t as if they’d invited me upstairs.
Then again, the day was still young. No reason to rule anything out. “I’m definitely interested.” The words sounded awkward. Did people really talk like that? Neither of them was backing away from me in shock, so apparently it was the right answer. I gave them my user name, and seconds later received the alerts they’d both posted their photos.
“Hey, can we get a pic?” Someone new interrupted the conversation. I nodded and fell into my pose, for them and several more people. Ten minutes later, the crowd finally thinned, and then dissipated. I felt like my grin was permanent, and though my cheeks ached, the quick burst of attention had been a blast.
Happiness fluttered through me that Evan and Trevor still waited, just out of range of all the cameras.
“You’re practically famous now.” Evan dragged his gaze over me, leaving a path of heat in its wake. “Can we say we knew you way back when?”
“I have a better question.” Trevor held up his phone, as if to take another picture. “Will you still volunteer to be our model if the next challenge involves a fan service shot?”
Fan service, in short, was a term for showing a hint of something provocative. My pulse stuttered, and then raced ahead at a full gallop, with bold-Kathryn at the reins. “Are you asking to see my panties?” I forced my voice to sound coy. At least I hoped it did.
“He’s asking”—Evan stepped closer, voice low and gravelly—“to take a picture of you flashing your panties.” Unlike Trevor’s scent, his was a faint musk.
My bravado faltered. “Not in public.” Crap. That’s not what flirty, fun Kathryn should say. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the idea. On the contrary, the suggestion filled my head with all sorts of delicious images. The kinds of things normally relegated for alone-time with my vibrator. Putting on a private show for the camera. Knowing the guy on the other side was turned on by the teasing. My nipples tightened at the idea, straining against the satin of my bra. “I mean, that’s the kind of thing that’s better done discreetly.
“We have a room,” Evan said. “If you wanted to take us upstairs, you should have just asked.”
There was that plural again.
The notion they knew exactly what they were doing filled me with a new level of trepidation and excitement. “You started it,” I said.
“It’s true”—Evan turned me toward the door—“but we’d rather not finish it alone.”
“We’re still talking about the pictures, right?”
“For now.” Trevor stepped next to me.
Hesitation raced back in. Being bold was one thing, but I’d known these guys for less than half an hour. And
was a generous term. I wanted to say
and go along with them, but I couldn’t silence my concerns enough to make that leap. “Who decides if it’s about more?” I tried to keep my tone light, but a shadow crept in.
Evan shifted enough to look me in the eye. “You have the final say. I promise.”
He seemed sincere. They both did. But could I trust my gut on this? “I just…” I wanted to give a clever answer. Something to keep the conversation going, instead of scaring them off. Words failed me. The idea was enticing, but I couldn’t find a way past my doubts.
Evan studied me for a moment. “You said you were meeting people later. Right?”
“Text one of them. Give them our room number. Tell them to send management up if they don’t hear from you in an hour.” He paused and furrowed his brow. “Unless you’re not interested.”
The ache of my nipples hard and straining against my bra insisted I was, and my curiosity and sense of rebellion wanted a reason to say
. I hesitated a moment longer, before sending Jackson a quick text. Then I turned my smile back on the guys and let the fun glide back into my response. “Behave, or someone comes knocking when our time is up.”
Evan intertwined his fingers with mine, and Trevor placed a hand at the small of my back, both of them prompting me toward the elevator.
“I never promised we’d behave. Just that we wouldn’t misbehave unless you wanted to,” Evan said.
My heart hammered in my throat, and damp excitement grew between my thighs. I had no idea how I got myself into this, but I was going to enjoy it for all it was worth.