Drunken confessions. Sobering friendship. And two cowboys gambling on love…

The Bar Next Door, Book 1

Could he love me? Malachi has wanted to know the answer since his best friend, Daniel, confessed to being gay. He has never forgotten that long-ago conversation, or the secret hope that another confession would follow: that Daniel is in love with him.

Daniel is—and always has been—in love with Malachi. But how is he supposed to share that information without risking the only friendship that has ever mattered to him? He couldn’t handle it if he were kicked out of Malachi’s life. The best Daniel could do was move home to Texas, buy a little rundown ranch to work outside Austin, and visit the watering hole where Malachi tends bar.

Malachi knows that something heavy is riding his friend and he’s tired of watching Daniel’s downward spiral of too much beer and too many meaningless flings. Enough is enough.

Except, when he gets Daniel home and some strong coffee down his gullet, the truth comes pouring out. A truth that nearly knocks Malachi out of his boots.

Courage like that doesn’t come easy…and Malachi can only pray his answer is enough to turn lifelong friends into forever lovers.

Warning: This little tale tries to contain a gay bar, a lot of beer, a hot cowboy with a pitchfork, another one with a serious addiction to boots and coffee, and a secret yearning between the two for hot blooded, can’t wait to get naked, just leave your boots on sex. Oh, and there are doughnuts…

Excerpt:

Last call at The Bar Next Door. In about an hour, Malachi could go home. Cleanup would be handled by Eli. Per their deal, Malachi would open the bar in the afternoon and Eli would lock the door at the end of the night.

Last call.

Much as he loved the bar, he sometimes loved leaving it just as much. Especially tonight. Danny was here again and almost too drunk to sit steady on the barstool, and way the hell too drunk to stand, walk or drive himself home. All grown up and hotter than fire, tempting every man and woman with his crooked smile, his whipcord frame and his bright green eyes. When he was sober, that is. When he was drunk, though, as he seemed to be more often than not lately, he was all grown up and acting like a teenage kid, full of angst and sadness.

“C’mon. Time for you to go.” Malachi ‘Mal’ Rhalston, part owner of The Bar Next Door and Danny’s best friend, picked up Danny’s half empty glass of whiskey.

“Hey, asshole. I wasn’t done with that,” Danny said, louder than necessary.

Mal held up the glass and swirled the amber-colored liquid against the sides. “This? You weren’t done with this?” Mal looked at it. “It is a bad idea to waste such good whiskey, isn’t it?” He downed it himself in one swallow, feeling the burn all the way to his soul. Danny wasn’t the only one suffering, but he always liked to think he was. Selfish prick.

Danny squinted and though he was trying for menacing, it just came across comical. Mal had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.

“I was right. You are an asshole,” Danny murmured. It was said without heat or rancor, only a weariness that hurt Mal to hear.

Mal smiled his typical bartender smile. It wasn’t one he usually gave Danny, being they were the best of friends and all, but right now, it was all he could muster. “Never said I wasn’t.”

He wiped down the bar in the immediate area of Danny. The man never wore cologne but had a spicy, earthy scent all his own that Mal would be able to pick out anywhere. He didn’t know if anyone else could smell it and it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that he could, that he knew Danny so well…

He mentally shook himself and focused his attention once again on Danny, on his face. “So, what had you in here tonight, tyin’ one on?”

“Same shit, different day.”

One thing Mal always admired about Danny was the fact that the man could be stinkin’ drunk and still speak without slurs or ripples in his words. Most men in the bar who got that blasted couldn’t string the syllables of their own names together, much less carry on an actual conversation. To talk to Danny, one wouldn’t know he was fifteen sheets to the wind, aside from the lack of balance and the smell of his breath.

“Which shit would that be? Job shit or man shit?”

Danny was working a place a few miles outside town. It’d been a surprise to Mal when he’d bought it, considering neither of them had ever wanted to run the ranch they’d grown up on.

The Double M Double D was the name of their childhood home. Danny and his father had lived on one side of the ridge that ran through the middle, while Mal and his father lived on the other. They worked it from the moment they could walk. Their fathers knew the boys didn’t want the place, so when Mal went off to college and Danny to the military, they sold it. The two older men retired to Wyoming and started a dude ranch with half the sale money and split the other half between Mal and Danny. There’d been more than enough to do and buy nearly anything either of them had wanted.

“Man.” Danny spat the word with disgust and Mal wiped the bar again just to be on the safe side. “It’s always about a man.”

“Things not work out with that pretty thing you carted out of here the other night?” The glare Danny leveled at Mal would have frightened a lesser man. Mal wasn’t now nor had he ever been scared of Danny. Their friendship went back too far. They knew everything about one another. Danny, drunk or sober, wouldn’t hurt anyone unless it was to protect someone else and he sure as hell would never strike Mal.

“You should know the answer to that one.” Mal did know, and secretly, whether it was the right thing or not, he was glad. Danny always did do things the hard way.

“Then why do you bother?”

“Can’t have who I really want.” The words were miserably spoken, full of sadness and resignation. Mal understood exactly what it meant and felt like to want someone so much and not be able to have them. He’d been dealing with it most his life, having realized he was both gay and in love with his best friend fairly early on, but hearing those words from Danny… Well, it was the first time the other man had admitted he felt something for someone.

“You mean there is someone? A serious someone?” He desperately wanted to ask who had Danny all fucked in the head and drinking the desire away every night. He wanted to know who had been lucky enough to garner Danny’s romantic interest so he could help the guy get his head out of his ass. Danny was special and deserved someone just as… Mal should know.

Truth be told, he’d always wanted to be the man Danny fell in love with. Unrequited love was a bitch. At the same time, how could he expect anything at all when he’d never come clean about his own feelings?

“Jesus, Mal. Where the hell have you been? Of course there’s a serious someone. You think I like fucking a different ass every other week? I thought you of all people would… Shit. I’m outta here.”

“I’ve been trying to get your ass outta here for ten minutes.” Mal laughed at Danny’s confused look and hoped he’d pulled it off as nothing more than friendly. “Last call, remember?”

“Fuck you.”

Mal didn’t comment, though he wanted to ask if Danny’s words were an offer because he’d sure like to accept. Instead, he went around the side of the bar and helped his friend to stand. “Who is he?”

“Someone,” Danny said softly. The one word sounded so dejected that Mal’s heart ached, and he longed to tell him how he felt, but fear kept the words clogged inside. He knew Danny well enough that if he took the chance now to tell him that there was someone he wanted too, Danny would just think it was to make him feel better and not feel so alone. That would be part of it, but not the ultimate reason. Mal was tired of carrying it around.

“Does he know?” Mal asked, walking Danny toward the door. He looked over his shoulder at Eli to find the other man staring after them. Eli nodded and Mal returned the gesture in silent acknowledgement.

“The boy toy? Yes. I called him the other guy’s name during a blow job.”

Mal winced. “Not good. But I meant the serious man. Does he know how you feel about him?”

“No. Not good to call a twink or anyone else some other guy’s name,” Danny agreed. “They can get vicious. I still have the scratch marks to prove it. And no, Mr. Serious doesn’t know.”

The cab driver had the door open at the curb and Mal helped Danny get settled inside. “How’d you get here tonight?”

“Dropped off.”

“Okay.” Mal knelt on the sidewalk and looked at his friend, doing his best to school his own features into a mask of support. He didn’t know if he was relieved or disappointed that he wouldn’t need to take Danny’s truck out to the ranch. “Maybe you should tell him. At least get it out in the open, Danny.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he wanted to bite his tongue. It wasn’t the first time he wondered if he should take his own advice and tell Danny the truth.

Danny slowly shook his head. “I’d lose him if he knew,” he said, dropping his head backward and closing his eyes. “Can’t lose him. Can’t lose…”

Other than Mal himself, who could Danny know so well and whose friendship meant so much to him that a confession would tear their friendship apart? Maybe someone from when he was in the Army? Again, Mal wanted to ask but didn’t. He wasn’t sure he wanted the answer if his own name didn’t pass through Danny’s lips.

“How can you lose him if he doesn’t even know how you feel?” Mal stood after a few seconds when Danny had no response.

Malachi closed the door and spoke to the cab driver, paying him in advance and giving him directions out to Danny’s place. He paid a little extra for the driver to make sure Danny got inside safely.

He turned away without watching the taillights disappear. Danny would sober up and everything would be fine. It always was after a binge like this. His friend would be back tomorrow night, all smiles and ready to pick up the next little toy to warm his bed.

Available now at Samhain Publishing (It’ll eventually be available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and All Romance eBooks)

~lissa

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