It was a good day. Hell, a great day. No particular reason. Things hadn’t really gone that smoothly. The beer delivery had been late, and there was a discrepancy in the cash drawer after Sylvia’s shift. But none of that mattered. There was something special about today. Something coming. He could feel it, and he’d learned to trust his intuition. His mom swore her mother had had the second sight. Jay didn’t believe he was blessed — or cursed — with his grandmother’s gift, but he could sense things sometimes, situations about to go sour or things about to take a turn for the better, like today.
He whistled tunelessly as he took inventory of the shining bottles of liquor. Needed more J.D. and Cutty, but the Dewars would hold.
“How about the Pistons last night? Some fourth quarter, eh?”
“Did you bet on it?” He walked to the end of the bar where Gunderson sat nursing his second beer of the afternoon. The old man was a fixture on his stool almost every afternoon and right through ‘til about midnight. It got tiresome listening to him ramble about the past or rant about big government, but Jay figured that was part of the service he offered. Somebody had to listen.
Leaning on the counter, he shot the shit with Gunderson, nodding in the right places and making eye contact, but also glancing past him at the rest of the pub. An exit sign had burned out, the windows needed washing, and Sylvia hadn’t filled the pretzel bowls before she’d left.
It was still early. Nobody much here except the old man and a young couple in the corner engaged in a serious argument. Occasionally their voices rose almost loud enough to make out the words then faded back to a viperous hiss.
The outside door opened, and a man stood silhouetted against the sunlight. When the door closed behind him, Jay saw it wasn’t anyone he knew. The man’s skin was milk chocolate, his closely shaved scalp gleamed in the dim light. He wore a white button-down shirt and slacks. In the dim light, the whites of his eyes gleamed as he scanned the room. He was tall, broad-shouldered and strode smoothly across the room toward the bar. An athlete, perhaps, with that height and grace.
“Hold that thought, Max.” Jay cut off Gunderson’s flow of words and moved to wait on the new customer, who’d taken a seat at the bar. He stopped in front of the man, took one look into his deep brown eyes, and knew this was the special thing that was coming his way. A surge of excitement rose in him, and it wasn’t merely the lift of his dick as it filled the front of his jeans, but a fluttering thrill deep inside that told him, This is someone special.
Jay braced his hands against the bar, leaning slightly into his customer’s personal space. “Hey. What can I get for you?” He smiled and lowered his eyelids and his voice a little, hinting at another meaning.
The man’s gold-flecked brown eyes widened in response, but he quickly looked past Jay’s shoulder at the bottles on the wall. “Grey Goose. No ice.”
Jay turned to get the drink, still smiling. Yeah, this is going to be a very good day.
Simon watched the bartender’s ass as he reached for the bottle. Tight jeans, tight ass, molded together in an eye-catching display.
“I’m Jay,” he said as he poured the vodka.
“Simon.” He took the glass and sipped, suddenly dry-mouthed and very thirsty. Jay’s eyes showed interest. There was no mistaking the quick scan of his body or the smirk in his smile when their eyes met.
Simon swallowed too fast and nearly choked. God, how he hated this part, the push and pull of two men sounding each other out. There was always the chance he’d misread the signals, make a suggestion and be rejected or even get his face punched. He wished he could simply move past “getting to know you” straight to sex, since that’s all he wanted. He wasn’t planning on having a relationship with anyone and probably never would. As a matter of fact, he hadn’t even been looking today — just came in for a drink. This wasn’t a gay bar, but a typical corner pub. Simon hadn’t expected to find an opportunity to let off steam, but then the bartender practically winked at him with those blue eyes and suddenly the afternoon was fraught with possibility.
“Where do you work?” Jay asked.
“Dunham and Chase Advertising.”
“That sounds…” He interrupted himself with a laugh. “I’m not going to lie to you and say it sounds interesting, but I’m sure it beats spending every afternoon with Max here.” He nodded toward the old man a few seats down, who was gazing morosely at his nearly empty glass. Max didn’t seem to hear and, a moment later, climbed off his stool and shuffled toward the men’s room.
The bartender leaned against his folded arms on top of the bar, inclining his body toward Simon, invading his personal space. A smile quirked his lips, and Simon guessed it was always there, that glimmer of humor lurking just below the surface. “So, do you like your job at Dunham and Chase?”
That was a question Simon avoided facing every day. He’d allowed himself to be sucked into his father’s business and so that’s where he was. Like or dislike didn’t enter into it. “It’s financially sound.” Unless clients keep slipping away, which they will, if Dad doesn’t allow us to get with the times.
“Mm.” The low vibration of Jay’s murmur of assent made Simon’s skin prickle. “This place isn’t.” Jay indicated the building around them. “But it’s all mine and that’s cool. Bought out my partner last year so I own it for better or worse.”
Nodding, Simon searched for something nice to say about the crummy tavern. “It’s very…”
“Run down? Decrepit? Or, as I prefer to say, lived in? Yeah, I know I have some repairs to make. But the customers are regular and the bills get paid, more or less, so I can’t complain.” He glanced around the room. “I’ve been considering taking out a small business loan and doing a complete makeover. You think a facelift can draw a more upscale crowd in here?”
“Honestly, I don’t think yuppies are your target market. Not in this neighborhood, no matter how much you spruce it up.”
The bartender nodded. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
“Better to play to your strength, sell it as an old school, ‘everybody knows your name’ tavern, and try to draw in the disenfranchised middle class from other areas of the city who are tired of their local pubs being transformed to trendy bars. They’ll make the trip across town if the ambiance draws them.”
“Hah, I knew you were more than just a pretty face. Thanks for the advice.” His flashing smile displayed the merest suggestion of dimples in each cheek that came and went like lightning, as did the heat in Simon’s groin, except that heat didn’t leave, but settled there and burned warmly.
“So, you’re good at your job?” Jay said.
“I guess I am.”
“You don’t sound sure. Or, at least, you don’t sound like you enjoy what you do very much.”
Simon shrugged, uncomfortable with discussing his feelings about his work. “The most exciting job in the world probably gets boring after years of doing it.”
“True enough, I suppose, but that’s when it’s time to switch jobs.” Jay held up a finger. “Just a minute.”
He came out from behind the bar and walked to a table in the corner a couple had just vacated. The door was still swinging closed behind them, letting a few rays of sunlight into the gloomy room. He picked up glasses, wiped the table, then returned to the bar, where he set the glasses and rag down and sat on the stool beside Simon.
His presence radiated heat and energy, and Simon couldn’t stop sneaking glances at the muscular forearm resting on the countertop so near his own. Fine brown hairs matted it. He longed to brush his finger through the soft fuzz and feel the strength and warmth of the body beneath. He focused his attention back on his glass and saw it was already half empty.
“Is your business nearby?” Jay asked, leaning on an elbow and facing him.
Simon glanced up and was caught by the other man’s eyes. They were almost unearthly in their sapphire brilliance. “I — uh… No. I was meeting a client out this way. The discussion was a little intense, so when I passed your place, I thought I’d stop for a few minutes and de-stress.”
“Need another one?” Jay nodded at his drink.
“Guess not. I should probably get back to the office.”
“Naw.” Jay’s warm grin crinkled the corners of his eyes and made them shine even bluer. “Remember back when you used to play hooky from school? Stolen moments are the sweetest. Everybody’s gotta have an afternoon off now and then.”
“I never skipped school.” Simon smiled briefly. “I’m afraid I was one of those nerdy kids who got a certificate for perfect attendance at the end of the school year.”
Jay’s grin turned to a laugh. “I bet you were! You seem like a ‘toe the line’ kind of guy.”
Instinctively, Simon glanced at the mirror behind the bar to see what Jay saw. Did he really look as uptight as he knew he was? Did he walk around as if he had a poker up his ass? All the mirror showed was a couple of guys sitting at a bar, one dark-complexioned, one light, one tall and lean, the other muscular and stocky. They looked very different. Simon had no doubt they were. “What makes you think I wasn’t a real rebel?”
“Something about your eyes.” Jay met his gaze in the mirror. “I’m guessing you don’t like to step outside the box too much. You don’t strike me as a hellraiser.”
“Let’s see. I’ve never ridden a motorcycle, never received a ticket, not even for illegal parking, and never been in a fistfight.” He ticked the items off on his fingers. “Yeah, I guess I’m not much of a rebel, although I’ve smoked a joint on occasion.”
One sandy eyebrow lifted, and Jay looked from the mirror into Simon’s eyes. “Is that an invitation? I can give old Gunderson another drink then turn the sign to ‘closed’ for a while.” His voice was a sexy, husky rumble that made Simon’s already stiff cock swell even harder.
“Oh, no. I didn’t mean… I don’t have any pot on me. I meant in the past I’ve occasionally indulged.” Simon knew he was talking too fast in his sudden nervousness and sounded like a priggish dork. The bartender wasn’t asking him to smoke dope with him. Something else was about to happen here. The tension floating in the air was thick enough to cut with a knife.
Jay’s blue eyes had darkened to indigo. “I’ve got something guaranteed to de-stress you,” he continued in the same suggestive tone. “Come back to my office and I’ll show you.”