Saturday, August 31, 2013

EXCERPT: The Best Man

Title: The Best Man
Author: L. A. Witt

Walking through the front door of Wilde’s was like stepping into another world.

Seattle was blessed with numerous gay and gay-friendly clubs, and Wilde’s was one of the somewhat higher brow places: Live music, top shelf liquor, a strict dress code, low lighting everywhere except the dance floor. It was relaxed, but swanky, with leather booths and bow-tied bartenders. The music was just loud enough to warrant getting extra close to someone to talk, but not enough to leave a person’s ears ringing after they left.

Gulping back my nerves, I paid the cover and checked my coat. The atmosphere here was just subdued enough to keep me from shying away. This whole thing was intimidating enough without blasting music and wild lighting to assault the senses. Walking through the crowd, I couldn’t recall ever feeling quite so out of place. So lost.

A few times, I considered backing out and heading home, but since staying here meant not spending the evening at home pining over Craig, I convinced myself to face an intimidating night out on the prowl.

On the prowl. Christ, I don’t even know what I’m looking for.

A knot twisted in my gut as I headed for the bar for a little courage on the rocks. It was entirely too soon to even think about a relationship, so if I met anyone tonight, it was either casual sex or friendship. Glancing around at the guys getting close on the dance floor and even closer in booths, friendship was pretty much off the menu in a place like this.

I had never been particularly promiscuous. I wasn’t against casual sex on principle, it had just never been my thing. Craig had often ribbed me about being a serial monogamist, and maybe he was right.

But tonight, I told myself as I took one of the available bar stools, I would just see what happened.

A bartender materialized in front of me. “What can I get you?”

I gave the top shelf selections a glance to see if anything sounded good, then went for my usual. “Jack and Coke.”

He nodded and went about mixing it as I pulled my wallet out. I took my drink and he took the cash, and then I turned my bar stool enough to give me a wide view of the club and its patrons.

The place was crawling with attractive men, some of whom caught my eye and exchanged smiles—even suggestive grins—with me. But I didn’t know where to start.

Hi, I’m Jon, care for a fuck?

My name’s Jon. I’m emotionally fucked in the head right now but wouldn’t mind a roll in the hay.

I shuddered. This was just not me. What the hell was I doing? What was I thinking?

Maybe this was a bad idea. Oh well. At least I’m out of the house for once.

Sighing, I turned back around to face the bar, and my breath caught in my throat.

Leaning casually against the counter below the top shelf bottles was a different bartender. Even the club’s dim light didn’t detract from his striking, pale green eyes, and I couldn’t look away from him if I wanted to. He didn’t seem to mind the fact that I was staring, though. After all, he was looking right at me.

When I could finally look somewhere other than his eyes, I wasn’t disappointed.

The tux shirt perfectly emphasized his broad chest and shoulders, while the black cummerbund subtly drew my attention to his narrow hips. It seemed that everyone else on staff in this club was clean-shaven, but stubble heavily shadowed his angular jaw. Still, he didn’t seem out of place. He had a kind of classy, dignified air about him that let him get away with not shaving, even with a tux shirt and bowtie. As he wiped down a rocks glass with a white towel, I noticed then that his sleeves were unbuttoned and pushed partway up his toned forearms. He must have had some seniority if he could show up unshaven and with his sleeves rolled up so casually.

“Refill?” He nodded toward my empty glass.

“Uh, yeah, how about—” I looked down at my glass, trying to remember what the hell I’d been drinking.

“Jack and Coke?”

“How did you know?”

He smiled as he set the rocks glass down and dropped some ice into it. “I saw Zach pouring the first one. Figured you were a creature of habit.”

“Perceptive.” I folded my arms on the bar and leaned on them. “Anything else you figured out about me while I wasn’t looking?”

“Well,” he said, pouring what looked like more than a single shot of Jack Daniels into the glass, “I’m guessing you’re either new in town or newly single.”

My eyebrows jumped. The corners of his eyes crinkled with amusement and he finished making my drink. When he set it on the bar, I started to pull a five out of my wallet, but he held up his hand.

“On the house.”

“Is the psychic reading free, too?”

He laughed. “The drink’s on me. As for the psychic reading, the only charge for that is that you might have to put up with my lack of conversation skills for a few more minutes.”

“I haven’t noticed anything lacking so far.” I lifted my glass.

“Likewise,” he said with a wink.

My cheeks burned and a second later, so did my throat. I was right, he definitely put more than a single shot of Jack into the drink. Just the way I liked it.

“So, what makes you think I’m either new in town or newly single?” I asked.

He rested his hands on the bar, his shoulders lifting slightly as he shifted his weight. Nodding toward the door, he said, “The ‘fish out of water’ look on your face when you came in.”

I shrugged. “Could just be that I’ve never been to this particular club.”

He shook his head. “I see a lot of new people come through that door who have obviously been around clubs, just not this one.” His smile turned into a cocky grin that suddenly made my drink taste like water. “But then there’s the people who come in looking like they’ve just arrived from another planet. And over the years, I’ve found that most of those have either just moved here or are trying to move on after a relationship.”

I raised my glass. “Very observant.”

“So, if it’s not too forward of me…” His eyes narrowed a bit as if he was trying to read between the lines of what I thought was a neutral expression. “Should I be welcoming you to the Emerald City, or buying you another drink to commiserate?”

I drained the last of my drink and rolled it around in my mouth as I set the glass in front of him.

“Sorry to hear it.” The amusement faded from his face as he pulled another glass out from under the bar and filled it with ice.

“Just make it a Coke this time.” My head was already light, but I couldn’t tell if it was Jack or… whatever his name was.

He nodded and topped the glass off with Coke.

“So if you’re commiserating,” I said. “I’m guessing you’re recently out of one too?”

“Ooh, yeah.” He grimaced. “Three years, and he picks up and walks away like nothing ever happened.”

“Ouch.” I sipped my drink. “I’ve actually been single for a while, just didn’t feel like meeting anyone right away.”

“Understandable,” he said. “It’s only been a couple of weeks for me. S.O.B. hasn’t even gotten all of his shit out of my apartment yet.”

“You haven’t done the ‘come and get it or I throw it out the window’ ultimatum yet?”

He laughed, but some of the humor disappeared from his expression. “I have. I think he just wants to make it as miserable as possible. Anything to draw it out, even if he initiated it.” He dropped his gaze for a second.

“I’ll bet I can beat that.”

“Try me,” he said.

“My ex came by tonight to tell me he’s getting married.”

His eyes widened. “How long did ago did you say you split up?”

“Six months.”

He whistled. “He doesn’t wait around, does he? Er, sorry, no offense.”

“None taken.” I put my finger on the end of my straw. “But it gets better.” Keeping my finger on the straw, I lifted it out of my glass and put the other end on my tongue. As I let my finger go so the Coke would come out of the straw, I noticed his eyes were following. When I ran my tongue around the end of the straw, his lips parted and he looked away, clearing his throat.

His cheeks colored. “So, um, what happened?”

“He wants me to be his best man.”

The bartender blinked. “You’re kidding.

“Maybe we should introduce our exes.” I paused. “Well, if they were both still single, anyway.”

He opened his mouth to speak, then glanced down the bar. “Shit, I need to take care of some other customers.” He looked at me again. “You going to be here a while?”

I am now. I smiled. “Not going anywhere.”

With a wink that made my head spin, he stepped away to see to his other customers. It was only when he was gone that I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. Ever since I’d turned around, since I’d first laid eyes on him, I hadn’t drawn a proper breath.

I thought of the way he’d watched me with the straw and shivered. The way he’d looked at me when I first turned around. I wasn’t imagining it, was I?

As he tended to customers a few feet away, smiling and laughing politely with them, he cast me a quick look and his smile faded. It didn’t fade in the sense that he was suddenly embarrassed or annoyed by my presence or the fact that I was looking at him. Quite the contrary.

His eyes said nothing if not, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

My heart pounded. I knew nothing about him beyond his job and the fact that he was recently single. I didn’t even know his name, but I suddenly wanted to hear him growling mine in my ear.

We continued that way for a while, shooting the breeze while he was between customers. Every time he was sure that every glass and bottle on the bar had been filled, he came right back to me.

At one point, while he filled drinks, several more bartenders appeared and a few others left. Shift change, I guessed. When he caught sight of one of the newcomers, his expression changed. This time, it was annoyance. As the other bartender approached him, they exchanged a few brief and, by the looks of it, terse words. Then they disappeared into the back.

It was almost fifteen minutes before he came back into view, his jaw set and his eyebrows knitted together over narrowed eyes. He kept his eyes down as he approached me. Before I’d even said a word, he went about filling another glass with Coke. Glancing back the way he came, he pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket.

“My boss is here, and he’s on the warpath today, so I can’t chat.” He put the drink I hadn’t ordered on a napkin, slid it toward me, and tucked the piece of paper under it. Then he met my eyes. “I’m off in an hour.” Tapping the bar beside my drink, he said, “If you want to talk someplace quieter, I can meet you there.”

With that, he turned to go.

“Wait,” I said.

He paused and came back, glancing over his shoulder and swallowing nervously.

“Do I have to wait until then to find out your name?”

He smiled. “Liam Sable. Yours?”

“Jon Beatty.”

“I’ll see you in an hour.”

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