Friday, July 27, 2012

EXCERPT: Conduct Unbecoming

Title: Conduct Unbecoming
Author: L. A. Witt
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Format(s): ebook, print (coming soon)

When he walked into Palace Habu, I sat up so suddenly, I almost choked on my beer.

He’d never been here before; that much was immediately obvious. Maybe he was new to the island, maybe he was just new to the club, but he had that bewildered, fish-out-of-water look on his face of someone venturing into someplace unfamiliar.

Couldn’t really blame him. I’d given the place the same sweeping, disbelieving look when I stepped through that door a little over six months ago. Palace Habu was pretty much designed for sensory overload: flickering lights, bright colors, music videos playing on six different flat-screen televisions. A fog machine kept the air opaque on one side of the room, but an industrial-strength air conditioner prevented the place from getting too humid.

Whether or not it was deliberate, the gaudy, retina-searing sensory overload made it difficult for newcomers to make out those of us who were already in the bar, whereas a strategically placed spotlight made sure we all got a good, clear view of every man as he came through that door. In other words, if my commanding officer came waltzing in, I had a chance to make myself scarce before he saw me.

Which meant this new guy couldn’t pick me out of the onslaught of flicker-shadow-flicker, but I could see him. Oh God, could I see him.

He was obviously military. Of course he was. The vast majority of Americans on this island were, but he wore it even in civvies. The high-and-tight haircut was neat, but his dark hair was grown out enough on top to suggest he knew how far he could push the regulations. Even as out of place as he was, he didn’t give off much of a nervous vibe. He just looked like someone processing unfamiliar surroundings. He still had confident shoulders and fearless eyes, still carried himself like the kind of man who didn’t get intimidated but would look another man square in the eye even if he was intimidated.

He was the perfect combination of squared away and arrogant. Not enough of the former to be uptight, just enough of the latter to be irresistibly attractive. He must have been a pilot. They always carried themselves like that, and pilots were, as a rule, hot as hell.

I moistened my lips.

God, please don’t be meeting someone here.

That wasn’t likely. Men didn’t come here to meet someone with whom they’d already crossed paths. No one came here just to hang out, and no one came here on dates. This wasn’t a watering hole; it was a hunting ground, and on an island where out, attractive gay men were difficult to find, a man had to move quickly if he saw something he wanted. My head wasn’t the only one that had turned when he walked in, and I’d be damned if anyone else got to him first, so when he started through the crowd toward the bar, I flagged down the bartender.

Gesturing toward the newcomer, I said, “Kono hito no bun wa ore no ogori.” Loosely translated, Whatever he’s drinking, it’s on me.

The bartender, a balding local in a red Hawaiian shirt, grinned and said something I didn’t catch over the music. Then he smiled and sidled down the bar toward the newcomer.

Over my drink, I watched, pretending the moisture on my palm was from the ice-cold glass of Orion in my hand.

At the bar, the newcomer stopped, probably poised to order a drink, but then did a double take and looked past the bartender. His lips parted. Yep, he was new to the island. Everyone had the same “what the fuck” reaction when they saw Habu sake for the first time. It was, after all, a little unusual to walk into a bar and see a row of jars containing equal parts transparent amber liquid and angry-looking coiled snake.

He shook his head and returned his attention to the bartender. He placed his order, and while he waited for his drink, let his gaze drift to the Habu sake again. Grinning to myself, I wondered what he’d say if I suggested doing a couple shots of the stuff.

No, Connelly, don’t get ahead of yourself. Meet the guy first, then see what kinds of shots he’s willing to do.

The bartender slid the glass across the bar, and I held my breath as he put up his hand to reject the thousand-yen bill that came his way. He gestured toward me, and the newcomer’s head slowly turned. Through the fog-thickened air and the crazy lights, our eyes met. He raised his glass and inclined his head, a vague smile forming on his lips. I returned the gesture.

He broke eye contact as he took a drink, and I loosed a couple of curses that just got lost in the music anyway. But then he set the glass down, collected the yen he’d tried to use and slipped the bill back into his wallet. After he’d put his wallet in the pocket of his khaki shorts, he picked up his drink and started toward me.

Blood pounding in my ears, I casually hooked my foot around the leg of my barstool just to anchor myself in place. As he neared me, his features sharpened and came into focus like a developing Polaroid. High, smooth cheekbones. Disarming blue eyes. Lips that were probably always just on the verge of either a smirk or a devilish grin.

And just like that, some motherfucker with a death wish stepped into the five-foot gap between us and cock-blocked me.

I ground my teeth, glaring at the guy’s back. They both made a few small, casual gestures, as people do when making conversation, so I swore into my drink and turned back toward the bar. I wasn’t the type to give up easily, especially when I saw someone who intrigued me like this, but there was just enough of a wobble in the intruder’s posture to suggest he’d had a hell of a lot to drink. I was in the mood to get laid, not get into a bar brawl, and I had more than enough experience with rowdy drunks to leave well enough alone. No one in this place needed the JPs—Japanese Police—breaking up a fight and calling all our chains of command.

Oh, but for a man that attractive, I had to admit, it was tempting.

I took another drink and looked up at the backlit jars of Habu sake. The flickering strobes and wild disco lights rippled over the motionless, coiled snakes, which at least gave me something to look at besides someone else moving in on the guy who’d caught my attention like no man had in I didn’t know how long. Shit, maybe I was just way too horny for my own good tonight. It had been a while, after all. Maybe it was just that relentless itch to let some willing stranger distract me from how long it had been since the last willing stranger.

But…no, it was definitely him. Those eyes. That face. That bold I’m-completely-in-control way he carried himself in spite of being someplace unfamiliar. That…that…every fucking thing about him. Even from halfway across the room, the man didn’t just radiate sex, he radiated the kind of sex I’d been dying to have. Fuck my life.

Probably just as well someone had intercepted him. A man that hot, after I hadn’t slept with anyone in months, we were liable to break furn—

Movement beside me turned my head, and in a heartbeat, I couldn’t breathe.

From just inches away, so close he could touch me if he wanted to, he shot me a mouthwatering, asymmetrical grin. “Hi.”

I cleared my throat and managed a strangled, “Um, hi.” Up close, he was even more attractive. His features were sharp in all the right places, smooth in all the others, and the flickering and flashing lights didn’t even try to take the edge off the intensity of his blue eyes.

“I, um…” He paused, then set his glass on the bar beside mine. “Thanks for the drink.” He extended his now-free hand. “I’m Eric.”

“Shane.” Holding his gaze, I shook his hand, and oh my God, I want you. Heat rushed into my cheeks, and I was thankful for the club’s lighting, which hopefully hid any new color in my face. Desperate for some sort of conversation, I said, “You new to the island?”

He laughed, which did all kinds of weird shit to my blood pressure. With an expression that was probably as close to shy as he was capable, he looked at me through his lashes. “Is it that obvious?”

I smiled. “Nothing to be embarrassed about. Culture shock’s just part of the experience.”

“Yeah.” He looked around the bar, then sniffed as he raised his drink almost to his lips. “So much for the whole place being all Americanized and shit.”

“Someone fed you that crap too?” I shook my head and laughed, pretending I wasn’t holding on to my glass and the edge of the bar for dear life. “For all the bullshit people told me before I came here, you’d think we were talking about two different places.”

He eyed me. “So, the things people say, they’re not true?”

“If they told you the place was boring, Americanized or a dump? Then no, they’re not true.”

“Interesting,” he said, more to himself than to me.

“Trust me,” I said. “This place is awesome. You just have to, you know, get off the fucking bases and go check it out.”

“Is that right?” He rested his elbow on the bar. “So what else haven’t I been told about this island?”

“I don’t suppose anyone mentioned the castles?”

His eyebrows shot up. “Castles? No, I can’t say they did.”

I chuckled. “Didn’t you do any homework before you came out here?”

He rolled his eyes and gave me a good-humored scowl. “I got slam orders. Forget researching the place. I barely had time to schedule a pack-out.”

I grimaced. “Oh, ouch.”

“Yeah.” He took a drink, holding my gaze over the rim of his glass. As he set it down, he said, “So. Castles? Do tell.”

Thank God for that easy conversation piece. Nothing like a bunch of fourteenth-century castles to give us something to talk about while I tried to get used to just being this close to him. My heart pounded all the way through the stories of exploring the ruins of Katsuren, Nakagusuku, Shuri, and Nakijin Castles. When he asked about some of the hiking trails, the legendary aquarium, and the Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters, I had to ask him to repeat himself. I blamed it on the loud music, which was a convenient enough excuse. He didn’t need to know I was too distracted by thoughts of what he could do with his mouth to understand the words those perfect lips formed.

All through the conversation, one thing neither of us brought up was work. We both had the posture and haircuts, and we were both Americans on Okinawa. The vast majority of men who came to the island were military, and Palace Habu may as well have been a gay officers’ club. That answered any questions either of us might have cared to ask about what we did, and the less we knew about each other’s jobs, the less anyone here might overhear anything. In fact, right now, I didn’t give a shit what he did for a living, and I’d have bet money he didn’t care what I did. If I wanted to talk about work, I’d be out with my buddies from work.

And all the while, as we talked about the island and everything it had to offer, I still couldn’t quite find my equilibrium. The things this man did to my head were unreal. Especially since I was right about one thing: Eric didn’t shy away from eye contact. Not at all. And the more he held my gaze, the harder it was for me to hold his. Captains and admirals couldn’t get a flinch out of me, but he had me seeking refuge in my drink like a nervous kid.

After a while, as they often do, the conversation reached a lull. One of those moments when neither of us was in any hurry to leave, but we didn’t know each other well enough to know which direction to take the conversation.

I surreptitiously tapped my fingers on my knee beneath the bar, trying to figure out my next move. Some guys liked dancing. Me, I preferred to wait on breaking a sweat until the clothes had come off. Eric threw a few glances toward the dance floor, but most guys who were itching to dance couldn’t help keeping time with the music. Tapping a foot, drumming fingers, nodding to the beat. Not Eric. Wherever we went from here, the dance floor wasn’t it.

Eric gestured at my drink, which was almost empty. “Refill?”

“Yeah, sure.”

He smiled. “It’s on me this time.” He flagged down the bartender and ordered us a couple of drinks.

Silence once again set in, and it didn’t help that the music was getting progressively louder. This place never got extremely crowded, but more guys had arrived since Eric showed up, and there would probably still be more. More people, more music, more noise. I glanced at Eric. Maybe out here in the loud, wild open wasn’t the place to continue this conversation.

With a sharp but subtle nod, I indicated the other side of the room. “Want to grab a booth? It’s quieter over on that side of the club.”

“Sure.” He picked up his drink. “Lead the way.”

Most of the booths were occupied, but we found an empty one near the back. I slid onto the bench, and Eric followed. Though we were still in public, the high walls on three sides of us offered the appearance of complete privacy. We may as well have been alone now, and if not for the murmur of voices straining to be heard over the thumping music, I might have convinced myself we were.

“You’re right,” he said. “It is quieter back here.”

“Thank God,” I said.

“You know this club pretty well, I’m guessing?” he asked.

“Well enough.”

“You come here a lot?”

I laughed. “At the risk of sounding like a complete whore, probably more than I should.”

An unreadable thought narrowed Eric’s eyes and raised one corner of his mouth. “So you probably know all the little games people play between buying the first drink and getting into bed, don’t you?”

I gulped. He was certainly…direct. “I, um, yeah. You could say I’ve played them a few times.” I reached for my beer because my mouth had suddenly gone dry. After I’d taken enough of a drink to moisten my parched tongue, I set the glass on the tiny table. These booths were more bench than table; I wondered if the designers had the same idea I did for how to put such a booth to good use. I wondered if Eric had the same idea. Meeting his eyes, I said, “You know those games pretty well yourself, then?”

“I do.” He absently swirled his drink, ice cubes clinking against the sides of the glass. “And to be honest, I hate playing them.”

So much for my mouth not being dry. I coughed into my fist. “Do you, now?”

He nodded and held absolutely rock-solid, unwavering eye contact as he said, “Let’s just say, when it comes to things like this, I’m more of a shortest-distance-between-two-points kind of guy.” A quiet laugh parted his lips and sent my pulse into the stratosphere. Higher still when he added, “Leaves more time and energy to enjoy the destination, don’t you think?”

God damn, but he was aggressive. Usually, I was the forward one. I was the one who bought a drink for a guy before he even made it to the damned bar. I sure as fuck wasn’t the one who broke eye contact first or waited for the other guy to make a move. I was never caught off guard when someone all but brazenly suggested we go someplace else and fuck, because I was usually the one who said it. I wasn’t used to someone who was easily as aggressive as I was, almost to the point of intimidating.

I wasn’t used to it, but I liked it.

I moved closer to him and draped my arm across the back of the bench. Before I could even speak, Eric’s eyes flicked toward my arm, then met my own, and the grin on his lips said nothing if not, That the best you got?

Oh, so it’s gonna be like that, is it?

In one smooth motion, my arm was around his shoulders. He broke eye contact long enough to watch his own hand deposit his glass on the table, and as he looked at me again, his now-free hand went to my leg.

I cleared my throat just to get some air moving. “So are you suggesting you prefer to skip everything between point A and point B, and go directly to point B?”

His hand drifted farther up my thigh. “Abso-fucking-lutely.” If I thought his eyes were intense when they locked on my own, they damn near liquefied my spine when they flicked to my lips, then met mine again. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what he was thinking, and I didn’t doubt I wore the exact same thoughts on my sleeve. We both knew where this was going, and now we stared each other down, our eyes issuing silent dares to make the next move.

I let my gaze flick to his lips. The corner of his mouth rose slightly, bringing that almost-there grin to life and sending a shiver right through me. Then we made eye contact, and we both moved in for the kill.

Our lips met, and everything was still. The club pulsed and flickered around us, but here in this booth, nothing moved except my pounding heart.

Slowly, we eased into motion, wrapping our arms around each other as I dragged my lower lip across his. Eric’s hand continued up my inner thigh, and I was sure he intended to tease my painfully hard cock through my shorts. Instead, though, he lifted his hand, then let his fingers drift up the front of my shirt, catching every button on the way up like a silent countdown to making contact with my neck.


His fingers snagged just below my collar.


Eric parted my lips with his tongue.


Warm skin grazed the side of my throat.

I closed my eyes and shivered, and Eric took advantage of my being off guard just long enough for him to shove me up against the back of the booth. His kiss went from still and calm to desperate and violent, and I raked my fingers through his hair, returning his kiss with equal ferocity. We both drew sharp, rapid breaths that hissed over the music.

God damn, I wanted to take him someplace private, but I didn’t want to stop. Not long enough to stand up, get a cab, go somewhere else and start all over again. I was hard-pressed to think coherently right now, never mind to stop kissing Eric.

His mouth was vaguely sweet with the drink I’d bought him. It was something strong; that much was for certain, though I couldn’t identify it. I didn’t imagine a man like him needed much liquid courage, but if he did, he certainly used it well.

He held the back of my neck with an unforgiving hand, pressing his fingers in just enough to order me to banish any thoughts of pulling away. As if pulling away was an option. His deep, demanding kiss was fucking addictive.

I slid my hand over the front of his shorts, and he whimpered into my kiss, pushing his erection against my palm. His hand materialized over the back of mine, pressing it even harder against his cock as he kissed me hungrily. Goose bumps prickled every inch of my skin as blood pounded in my ears.

I grabbed his hair and pulled his head back. He groaned, then gasped when my lips met the hot flesh of his throat. He dug his fingers into my back, and we both pressed against each other as I kissed up and down the side of his neck.

He wore some kind of spicy cologne, and it overwhelmed my senses. On some visceral level, I recognized it. I’d smelled it before. Whatever association I might have had with that cologne and some other memory was erased, though, at least for now. All it said to me now was Eric. I’m breathing Eric.

The thought of inhaling that spicy, Eric-cologne while I was deep inside him drove me out of my mind. I couldn’t wait. Not another goddamned minute. We had to get out of here, or we were going to end up fucking in the men’s room.

I was used to men who balked at my aggression, not someone who saw my offer of a drink and raised me a blatant comment about skipping the games and cutting to the chase. I usually had to rein it back to keep from scaring a guy away. Not Eric. He gave as well as he took. Hell if I knew if he was a bottom, a top, or if he—please, please, God, please—switched, but I didn’t really fucking care. I had to get this man into bed.

I brought my head up and, just before our lips brushed, said, “What do you say we get the fuck out of here and get to point B?”