Chapter One

 

“ADRIAN, WAIT!”

If Martin hadn’t fisted a hand in his jacket, Adrian wouldn’t have stopped. His palms were already sweating, his stomach in knots, and momentum was about the only thing keeping his shaking legs moving.

“Are you sure about this?” Martin whispered breathlessly, his eyes flitting nervously between Adrian’s face and his destination.

No, I’m not sure about this.

The words would’ve come out snippy, so Adrian took a breath and swallowed before opening his mouth. “What choice do we have? We’re in the middle of nowhere. Neither one of us can get signal enough to call someone, let alone google the number of the closest tow company.”

Martin’s cherubic features squinched in concern, and Adrian’s gut twisted again as he followed Martin’s nervous gaze. Despite the flashing blue-and-red Open sign in the window, the building did not seem at all welcoming. The log-cabinesque exterior might have been charming, with its long farm porch just begging for rocking chairs, if not for the Harleys and beat-up pickup trucks with gun racks parked in the gravel lot.

From the relative safety of the tree line, Adrian squinted through the haze of grime on the windows again, but what little he could make out didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Very large shapes huddled around pool tables and along a dark wood bar in the dimly lit interior. He could just make out the blue-black outlines of dozens of tattoos on thick, bare arms and lots of black clothing bearing the unmistakable sheen of leather.

Swallowing against another rush of queasiness, he looked down at what he and Martin were wearing and cringed. He had a feeling his beige sneakers, pressed khaki slacks, sky blue polo, and beige windbreaker were going to go over like a lead balloon. But at least his outfit was better than the orange skinny jeans, white boat shoes, and tight orange-and-pink-plaid short-sleeve button-down Martin had on under his white nylon jacket. In this neck of the woods, Martin might as well have a flashing neon sign above his head—“Homosexual here! For beatings, line up to the left!”

Under normal circumstances, Adrian actually admired Martin’s flair for style—so much so that he’d let Martin revamp his own dull and dated wardrobe over the eleven months they’d been together. But at that particular moment, Martin’s flair was more likely to get them sent to the hospital.

Shivering in the fading light, he removed Martin’s hand from his sleeve and clasped it between his own. “Martin, sweetie, why don’t you wait out here.”

Martin’s delicate auburn eyebrows lifted. “Are you sure? I mean, of course, if you think that’s best.”

Part of Adrian was relieved Martin wasn’t going to argue with him, but he couldn’t help feeling a little disgruntled that his boyfriend hadn’t put up more of a fight. After all, he was suggesting going into possibly hostile territory all by himself. With a sigh, he shook it off and managed a reassuring smile as he squeezed Martin’s hand and let go.

It made sense for Adrian to be the one to go in. Martin was barely five foot three, and his slender build made Adrian, at a whopping five eight, the more butch of the two of them—not even taking into account the wardrobe issues. If they went in together, they’d draw more attention than Adrian by himself. He was fairly good at being invisible, if his prior experience with bars was anything to go on. And honestly, if there was trouble inside, it wasn’t as if either of them would be rescuing the other. They’d probably both get pummeled.

At least if Martin stayed outside, he could run for help if Adrian was being beaten to a pulp. Someone could tell his parents where his shallow grave might be located.

In a last-ditch effort, Adrian fished his phone out of his pocket and lifted it above his head, praying for even one tiny little bar. His hopes and his stomach had just fallen in resignation when a notification popped up with a detected Wi-Fi network.

The bar had Wi-Fi!

Holding his breath, Adrian tapped on the screen, but the network was locked.

“Shit!”

“What?” Martin gripped his arm again and pressed close to look at the screen.

“They have Wi-Fi, but I need the password,” he groaned. “I still have to go in.”

“Oh.”

There was no help for it. The mountain air was getting colder, and cowering in the shadows at the edge of the gravel parking area wasn’t going to get them any closer to a tow truck or home. In the hour it had taken them to walk from Adrian’s lifeless car to this bar, they’d seen only one vehicle on the isolated mountain road where they broke down, and it hadn’t even slowed for their frantic waving. The sun was beginning to dip behind the mountain peaks, so this was their only option, unless they wanted to huddle in his car overnight and hope someone came by in the morning.

Taking a steadying breath, Adrian squared his shoulders and plucked Martin’s hand from his arm again. “Be back in a couple minutes.”

I hope.

His sneakers might not be biker boots, but they made a satisfying crunch as he strode across the gravel lot and stepped up to the covered porch. He took heart from that. He wasn’t exactly going to intimidate anyone inside, but he could put up a front that he wasn’t quaking in his khakis.

The heavy oak door swung open on a squeal of rusted hinges, but thankfully the country music was loud enough that only the rough-looking guy behind the bar seemed to notice his entrance. The bartender wasn’t much taller than Adrian, but he was a lot broader, a barrel of a man with beefy, tattooed arms protruding from a red T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. As Adrian squinted at him through the gloom, the man didn’t exactly seem hostile, but his quirked bushy eyebrow and the amused twist of his lips as he looked Adrian up and down didn’t exactly inspire confidence either.

“What can I get ya?” he said when Adrian hurried over to the bar, studiously ignoring the rest of the room. He really didn’t want to know what other looks he might be getting.

“Um, hi. Uh, sorry to bother you, but our car broke down a couple miles down the road, and I was hoping you might have a phone I could use to call a tow truck.”

Even without looking, he could feel eyes on him now, and a trickle of sweat slid down his neck to his spine. Then, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds, the bartender gave him a surprisingly warm and sympathetic smile, and just like that, Adrian could breathe again.

“Yeah, sure. Come on down to the end of the bar, and I’ll get it for you.”

On somewhat wobbly legs, Adrian followed the tattooed brick of a man to the end of the bar, keeping his back to the rest of the room and his gaze straight ahead. If he didn’t make eye contact, maybe everyone else would forget he was there.

“Here ya go,” the bartender said as he lifted a hideous snot-yellow rotary phone out from behind the bar.

The look on Adrian’s face must have been priceless, because the bartender laughed as he said, “Hey, no one ever tries to steal it. Let me get the phone book too.”

The man didn’t look more than twenty years older than Adrian’s thirty-two, but after hearing that, Adrian might need to revise his initial estimate.

Feeling a little like he’d gone back in time a few decades, Adrian said, “Oh, you don’t have to do that. If you just give me the Wi-Fi password, I can find someone on my phone.”

The bartender gave him that amused smirk again and slapped a phone book barely thicker than an IKEA catalogue onto the bar. “There’s only a couple of guys close enough to do you any good out here. It’ll take you longer to log in to the Wi-Fi than it will to find their page in the book.”

“Oh…. Yeah, I see your point. Thank you.”

Smiling sheepishly, Adrian thumbed through until he found the page and called the first number. The guy on the other end of the line gave him the number for someone closer, and after telling the new guy the name of the bar and approximate location and description of his car, Adrian hung up and handed the phone back.

“Thanks again.”

The man shrugged and smiled. “No problem. Can I get you a drink while you wait?”

“Thanks, but the driver said he wasn’t far. He should only be about ten minutes, so I think I’ll just—”

Adrian was going to say, “I’ll just wait outside.” But the words lodged in his throat as he felt someone come up close behind him and put his hands on the wooden back of Adrian’s barstool.

“Hey, Jack, I’ll have another Maker’s on the rocks, and put whatever he’s having on my tab too.”

The deep bass rumbling from close behind him sent a simultaneous jolt of fear and arousal through Adrian’s body, leaving him suddenly breathless. It was an odd sensation, and one he wasn’t sure he ever wanted to experience again. While he struggled to breathe, the hairs on his neck and forearms rose in reaction as the man’s body heat blanketed his back. Jack the bartender’s bushy eyebrows shot up, almost to his slightly receding hairline, and Adrian flushed for no reason.

Feeling ridiculous, he fought down his hormone surges and cleared his throat. “Oh, thank you. That’s very kind of you, but you don’t have to—”

That was all he managed to get out before he almost swallowed his tongue. While Jack had moved off to fix his drink, the man had slid onto the stool next to him, and as Adrian caught sight of way more than six feet of black-leather-clad gorgeousness, he might have forgotten how to speak.

The guy’s sleepy hazel eyes swept Adrian from head to toe and back again as his lips quirked in a smile that was pure sin. “Come on. Let me buy you a drink.”

Thick, dark brown hair, long enough to brush his shoulders, framed a strong, square face, rugged with what looked like a couple of days’ worth of stubble. His sharp features were saved from being too harsh by surprisingly generous lips that widened into a grin the longer Adrian stared. At least Adrian had been startled enough to clamp his mouth shut instead of letting it drop open to dribble drool down his chin.

“I, uh, well, I….” Adrian tried but stuttered to a halt.

Gorgeous, dark-haired, tattooed strangers with miles of muscle encased in leather pants and tight black T-shirts did not hit on him in bars. In fact, he could probably count the number of people who had ever hit on him anywhere on one hand—not that he was ugly or anything, just average, ordinary, “kinda forgettable,” as his college crush had informed him one mortifying night many years ago.

Adrian might have tried to manage another string of garbled nonsense, but Jack the bartender returned, saving him from himself. As Jack handed over the stranger’s drink, the guy finally broke eye contact, and Adrian was able to remember why he was there… and where he was.

In sudden fear, he darted a glance around the bar. A couple of the guys at the pool tables were looking in their direction, but they seemed more amused than angry or disgusted. When Adrian turned back to Jack, the man was actually watching the two of them with a knowing smile. Flustered and a bit confused, Adrian ignored the weight of the distractingly gorgeous man’s gaze and took another look at his surroundings. It wasn’t until he spotted the first rainbow patch on a black leather biker jacket hanging on a hook by the pool tables that he figured it out.

Holy shit. I’m in a leather bar.

Like the parting of the veils, he saw the bar with new eyes. Sure enough, mixed among the wood paneling and antler décor was a movie poster for Midnight Cowboy. There were more deer butts than deer heads on the walls, and the two deer heads that were mounted on the far wall were angled toward each other, antlers intertwined, like they were sharing a kiss. Though not lit, he could just make out strings of rainbow party lights tacked to the dark wood trim by the ceiling. And now that he wasn’t too afraid to make eye contact, he could see a few of the men at the pool tables were standing a bit closer to each other and touching a bit more often than was absolutely necessary.

He nearly laughed out loud in relief. He was such an idiot. He’d come in here so sure of what he’d find, that was exactly what he’d seen. In his defense, who would’ve ever thought to find a gay bar in the mountains in Maryland, this close to West Virginia, off a backcountry road Adrian hadn’t even heard of until his Garmin had led him to it?

Feeling a little less flustered now that the threat of a bashing was significantly reduced, he turned back to the tattooed man still eyeing him like he was dessert and managed to find his tongue, and a little pride.

“Thank you for the offer, but my boyfriend’s waiting outside, and I should get back out there before the tow truck arrives.”

He saw a flicker of something in the man’s hazel eyes that he couldn’t put a name to before the guy gave him another sexy smile, grabbed his drink, and stood up. Jack moved away at the same time after a call came from one of the tables for more beer, and whatever spell Adrian had been under was broken. He started to climb to his feet but froze when a large warm hand landed on his shoulder and the stranger’s body heat enveloped him again.

“If you were mine, I never would’ve let a hot little power bottom like you within ten feet of this place without me by your side.”

The warm breath and brush of soft lips against his ear sent an involuntary shiver down Adrian’s spine and shut off his brain, until the hand disappeared from his shoulder and the man sauntered off toward the back of the bar.

Too caught up in sensation, the words didn’t even register until Adrian was already outside, gulping in a little fresh air.

What did he mean, power bottom? Who says I’m even a bottom at all?

Not that there was anything wrong with that. In fact, he was pretty versatile, though with Martin, he usually topped.

And why was he even worrying about what some stranger in a bar thought anyway?

Shaking his head, he stomped across the gravel lot.

If I were his….

“As if,” Adrian huffed.

“As if what?” Martin said as he trotted over, meeting him halfway.

Adrian started guiltily. He’d almost forgotten Martin was there. Shaking his head again, he said, “Nothing. It doesn’t matter. The tow truck driver is on his way. He should be here soon.”

“Oh, thank God.” Martin clutched anxiously at Adrian’s arm. “You were gone longer than I expected. I was getting a little worried.”

Tamping down on the sudden claustrophobic urge to shrug Martin’s hand off, Adrian forced a chuckle. “We didn’t have to be so scared. It’s a gay bar, if you can believe that.”

“Seriously?”

This time Adrian didn’t need to force the laugh as he pushed aside the weirdness of his encounter in the bar and focused on his boyfriend’s disbelieving expression. “Seriously, a leather bar. I never would’ve guessed it either, but I actually got hit on.”

“Really?”

Martin’s speculative glance at the bar rankled less than the patent surprise in his voice, but both took some of the humor out of the moment. Adrian was tempted to give him some shit, in hopes that he might inspire some other reaction, like maybe jealousy from his boyfriend. But then the loud rumble of what he hoped was the tow truck rounding the bend in the road distracted him, and he decided to let it go. He was tired, strangely off-balance, and just wanted to go home.