Time and distance have a way of sneaking up on feelings thought long buried.
The Bar Next Door, Book 2
Five years ago, Eli held the hand of his dying lover and made a promise he never intended to keep. Find someone new to love? Be happy? Fat chance. Eli’s happiness died that day. He’s doing well to put one foot in front of the other, much less risk his heart again.
The only thorn in his side is Asa, part-time waiter at The Bar Next Door, who can’t seem to take a hint.
After years of carrying more responsibility on his broad, cowboy shoulders than most people twice his age, Asa knows what he wants when he sees it. Eli. Shadows haunt the gorgeous older bartender, who also happens to be one of Asa’s bosses, but Asa doesn’t care about potential complications. He only wants to banish Eli’s ghosts—and bring Eli back to life.
Persistence, a little impatience, and Asa’s very wicked mouth go to work on Eli’s grumpy, prickly defenses. But Asa may have to block the door to love with his foot—or his heart—before Eli slams it in his face.
Warning: Beware of stubborn cowboys, sticky bar floors and hot sexy showers, eavesdropping cooks and well-meaning friends, Irish whiskey, and a young man who doesn’t understand the word no.
“You’re changing the schedule again?”
The voice startled Eli and he struggled to keep hold of his pencil. He hadn’t expected Asa for another half hour or so. The younger man was light on his feet. That he could sneak up on Eli was testament to just how deep in his own mind Eli often was. And what pissed him off most? His thoughts weren’t of Thad and all he’d lost. No, his thoughts were of Asa. His thoughts and his fantasies centered around Asa. Cocky and quiet. Contradictions from head to toe. It drove Eli nuts.
“I am,” Eli confirmed. “We’re going to be short-handed tomorrow night. We need you.”
“So you automatically assume I can work the late shift and close? Again?”
Eli gritted his teeth. He forgot smart-aleck in his rundown on the little pain in his ass. “Yeah. I automatically assume everything.” He felt belligerent, sounded belligerent, but when it came to Asa, Eli couldn’t seem to control his reactions to the man. “You’ve been closing for the past couple of weeks. Now you’ve got a problem with it?”
The tension in the small room jumped a few degrees but leveled off again just as quickly.
“Nope. I’m good. I don’t have plans and don’t have class until noon the next day.”
Asa was standing so close—right up against the back of Eli’s chair. He was leaning over Eli’s shoulder and his breath fanned Eli’s neck with each exhale. Tension coiled in Eli’s shoulders until he bolted up and out the office door. The late afternoon bar crowd was small. Things wouldn’t pick up for another few hours and he huffed out a frustrated breath. What he wouldn’t give for wall-to-wall cowboys, ranch hands, business men and college students. At least then he’d have a hell of a lot more to do that didn’t include having to escape Asa’s all too interested blue-eyed stare.
“Why do you avoid me?” Asa asked, close on Eli’s heels.
“I do nothing of the sort.”
“Bullshit,” Eli growled. He slipped behind the bar as fast as his booted feet would carry him, but damn if the punk wasn’t hot on his ass.
“See, you’re doin’ it now.” Asa’s tone was a little too cheerful for Eli’s taste. He was tired of clenching his jaw. He was tired of fighting the two things he wanted most: Asa…and Thad.
Only Thad was dead and Asa wasn’t. Only Thad had made Eli promise to keep living, to fall in love again.
And only Asa had stirred any kind of feelings in Eli since. Only Asa made him want to start doing more than simply getting up in the morning and going to sleep at night.
“I think it’s ’cause you like me,” Asa teased.
“I think you should get to work.”
“I think you want me.”
Inwardly, Eli nodded at Asa’s jab. The waiter had no idea just how much Eli wanted him. “I think you need to shut up or find another job.”
“I think you just need to know I want you too.”
Eli whipped around. “I’m warning you.” His heard the low, dangerous tone of his voice. He hadn’t gotten so worked up since… He shook his head. He wasn’t going to think about that night. “Get to work. That’s all I want. You.” He pointed at Asa. “Work.” He jerked his thumb toward the bar.
When he pushed past the stunned and no-longer-smiling man, he hoped he wouldn’t have to get into this again. His fantasies and dreams of Asa needed to stay private. They were keeping him sane, as strange as that was for him to understand. But he didn’t need anyone knowing about them, especially Asa. It was bad enough he felt he was cheating on Thad, even though finding someone else was Thad’s deathbed wish. Damn dead man. Eli would love to wrap his hands around Thad’s shoulders and shake him. He’d love to beg him to explain why he wanted Eli to keep on living. There wasn’t a day that had gone by since Thad’s death that Eli hadn’t wanted to die too.
He shut himself back in the office and picked up his pencil. He sent it flying across the room and watched it bounce off the wall and clatter on the wooden floor.
Asa could never know how Eli felt about him.
Eli had no interest or intention of fulfilling his promise to Thad, no matter the tug Asa had on Eli.
“Asa, will you grab the last of the tumblers off that back table?”
Those were the only words Eli had spoken to him all night since he’d stormed off to the office. Anytime Asa needed anything from Eli, he asked and the deed was done without a sound, gesture, or grimace. Nothing. What he wouldn’t give to take back whatever he’d done or said to send Eli over the edge. He didn’t care much for the chasm that grew between them as the night wore on. That hadn’t been his intention at all with his teasing. He’d only hoped to get Eli to smile or laugh, something that would crack the stony facade he always seemed to put up.
“Sure, boss,” he said lightly.
“Make sure to wipe it down too. Those yahoos were back there for several hours tonight.”
“Got it.” Did the man not think Asa knew how to do the job? And what the hell was up with scheduling them together the last few nights? Asa didn’t have an issue closing the bar with Eli—he just wasn’t sure why he was suddenly the chosen one. A small smile stretched his lips. It wasn’t the first and it wouldn’t be the last time he’d wonder if Eli returned his feelings. He didn’t know what was up with Eli and why he held everyone—especially Asa—at arm’s length, but Asa wasn’t planning on giving up either. He wanted Eli, even if he was grumpy most of the time. There was something riding him, something keeping him from getting close to anyone other than Malachi, the other bar owner, and Asa wished he knew what it was.
He grabbed the glasses from the table and made sure to wipe down the surface. Twice. The second time in a big show of effort so Eli wouldn’t have reason to question whether or not he’d done what he was told. The floor around the chairs was sticky and Asa didn’t want to know why, shuddering at the possibilities. Anything from sodas to spunk. All kinds of things took place in the back of a bar where no one could see unless they were right up on you.
“Everything all right?” Eli asked when Asa set the glasses on the bar top.
“Sure. Why wouldn’t it be?”
Asa shrugged. “Okay.” He headed for the back and returned with the mop bucket. Eli didn’t say anything else, but Asa knew if he turned his head, he’d find Eli staring a hole in his back. The soapy water in the bucket was clean to start with, but as the mopping concluded some minutes later, it was nothing but a dingy gray. This and the bathrooms were the parts of closing he could do without. He’d rather be in the kitchen washing a mountain of dishes than cleaning a bar bathroom.
“You ’bout done?”
Asa turned. Eli was half sitting, half leaning against one of the stools with his arms crossed over his chest, one booted foot hanging by the heel on a low rung. Eli’s hat sat low on his forehead and Asa nearly came in his jeans. Eli was the hottest man he’d ever wanted, and he’d wanted many men. He could admit to having been a slut—though a very safe slut when he first came out a few years ago—wanting to taste and touch and lick every gay cowboy he could get his greedy hands on. He could top or bottom, but what he really loved was a man’s arms tight around him, a rough whispered Southern drawl, a bit of facial scruff and a gruff voice. Give him all that and he was putty. Eli fit the bill perfectly.
“Yeah. Just gotta dump the water and I’ll be ready.”
“I gave you tomorrow night off.”
Asa whipped his head around. “What? Why? I don’t need it.” Eli was pulling even further away. Shit. The boss man was going to drive him completely insane.
Eli shrugged and tipped his hat back. “We don’t need you.”
“We? Or you?”
“Boy, I’m telling you now, you don’t want to go there.”
“Why not? Afraid of me?”
“Turn that question around.”
Asa scoffed. “You don’t scare me, Eli, and the all business all the time boss routine isn’t going to work.”
“I should scare you.”
“You scare yourself and you’re scared of me.”
“You’re a kid and my decision is based on nothing more than we are fully staffed tomorrow night.”
“You weren’t earlier.” Asa called Eli’s bluff.
“We are now.” Eli was nothing, if not stubborn.
“You can try to get rid of me all you want, but I’m not going anywhere.”
“I can fire you.”
“True. But you can’t keep me from coming back as a customer.”
Eli’s cheek twitched. Irritation. Asa had become inordinately good at pushing Eli’s buttons. It hadn’t been on purpose at first, but for weeks now, Eli had made it way too easy. Now Asa didn’t even have to try to worm his way under Eli’s skin.
“Just take the night off. Go out with friends. Have a good time. We’ll see you on your next shift.”
“What’s with all the ‘we’ and ‘we’ll’ crap? Don’t you mean you? You will see me on my next shift?”
“I’ll see you, but others will be here as well. Don’t take everything quite so personal. Nothing is meant by anything.”
“You’re kidding yourself, Eli. You know it and I know it. Every bit of it is personal. This attraction between us is very personal.”
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