“What do you mean ‘no green beer’?” Bridget put her hands on her hips.
“Whaddya think I mean? If someone wants to profane good Guinness by adding green dye, he can bring his own frickin’ food coloring.” Joel shook his head as he pushed past the bartender. “Jeez. Pissing green. What a stupid frickin’ holiday.”
Zach shrugged as he checked out the stock behind the bar. “Pissing Green wouldn’t make a bad name for a drink, though. But we’ll stick to Fuck Me, I’m Irish for tonight.”
“Great. Give the whole bar a few. Maybe someone’ll get lucky, but more likely everyone will be too drunk to eff anyone. That’s an Irish tradition for you.”
“Don’t hold back, Joel. I’m not absolutely sure what you’re thinking.” The mellow, amused Southern drawl behind him belonged to Chaz.
Joel almost smiled. He almost turned around too. But he wasn’t going to let his partner stop a good rant that easily.
“I said ‘frickin’’ and ‘eff’ instead of what I was thinking because of you.” Joel pulled out some gum from under the cash register and began to chomp before he turned to glare at the taller man. “Mealymouthed redneck.”
Chaz looked down at his chinos and cashmere sweater and then, more pointedly, at Joel’s battered T-shirt. “If you didn’t insist on opening your mouth and letting all that Yankee bile out, people might mistake you for the redneck, Bryant. And folks might get the idea you aren’t proud of your Irish name, the way you carry on about St. Patrick’s Day.”
“People can kiss my” -- Joel swallowed hard -- “half-Irish behind. Ha! No matter how you push, I haven’t sworn a word yet.”
“You said ‘pissing,’” Bridget called out from the other end of the bar.
“Oh, fuck. That’s not a curse.” Joel put his head down on the bar as everyone yelled and stomped. “Everyone in this…er, this place…is keeping score.”
Chaz had made a very public bet that Joel would swear at least a dozen times before closing time on St. Patrick’s Day. Joel now realized he’d been insane to agree to the wager. It wasn’t fair to have to give up cursing and smoking too.
“You have a foul mouth, Bry.” Chaz leaned over to whisper in his ear. “Makes me wonder why I want to stick my tongue in it.”
“I can think of better things for you to stick your tongue into,” Joel muttered back. Damn it, no one else called him Bry. Just like no one else could make him melt inside with the nickname.
“I’ve got some accounting to tend to this afternoon. Stop by the office in a few hours and we can attend to that. Oh, and don’t scare off the clientele in the meantime, partner.” Chaz made it sound all business.
“This place doesn’t charge enough to have clientele. Customers will do.” Joel called his parting shot to a disappearing Chaz.
The man would spend the next few hours adding and subtracting bills, and pay attention to it too. Meanwhile Joel was going to be thinking about tongue.
Tongue attached to a drawling, self-possessed Southern boy who could always make Joel look like a wild man. Feel like one, too, when Chaz got his hands on him…
“We’re having Celtic musicians show up tonight. That’s frickin’ Irish enough for me to suffer through. No green beer.” Joel glared at Bridget again and went back to the kitchen.
Smart-mouthed waitress. You’d think she owned the rights to St. Patrick’s Day just because of the red hair and some distant Irish ancestor who had to leave the Old Country or starve, and good riddance.
Emmy was chopping cabbage, humming a little bit to herself. Joel had often wondered what might make the restaurant’s resident hippie chick ever lose her serenity. St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t going to do it. She’d cooked through Joel’s worst temper tantrums, floods, power failure, and during one memorable evening, managed to cook and wait tables when every other staff member had come down with the flu and a hurricane threatened to descend on the Fan District. People had showed up that night too. No one wanted to miss Emmy-inspired food.
“Everything cool here?” Joel asked anyhow.
“Beautiful. I sent Kiki to buy curry for the lamb. And it should work for the new vegetarian dish.”
Joel knew better than to point out neither curried lamb nor a new vegetarian dish was what had been planned for the menu tonight. Emmy definitely always did her own thing.
“Great. Let me know if you need something.”
“Thank you. And I’ll light some aromatherapy candles in your office as soon as I get the chance. It should help calm you.” Emmy finished chopping onions and began to put them in a pan.
“I’m totally frickin’ calm, Emmy.”
“Of course you are. The candles will help.”
Joel knew better than to try to stop her. He hoped Chaz liked the scent of Emmy’s hand-dipped candles better than he did. The office would reek of them before Joel showed up.
Hours. Chaz had told him hours before they could get together.
Not that he didn’t need to make sure the staff was there and everything was set up first. Joel gritted his teeth and got on with it.
I Heart That City was a decent place. He’d enjoyed it as much as he enjoyed anywhere. But he’d been here almost ten years now when he’d figured it would be three or four years max.
Richmond was totally not his town and never would be. What was a Brooklyn boy doing in the former capital of the Confederacy? When he first arrived, he’d spent six months waiting for someone to tell him what the joke was. It took that long before it dawned that these people really believed the stuff that came out of their mouths. In their heads, the South had never lost and Yankees still weren’t entirely to be trusted.
He was as Yankee as they came. Half-Jewish, half-Irish, all New Yorker.
Joel glanced up at the clock. The lunch shift was almost over. The usual crowd was putting away the cabbage and corned beef special along with their dark Guinness. Joel wondered what Chaz’s clientele would make of curried lamb for the special tonight instead of something faintly Celtic-related.
Screw ’em. They’d eat it and love it.
Soon it wouldn’t matter what they wanted anyhow.
He stepped out into the alley, the way he had a million times, out of habit. Then he reminded himself that he wasn’t going to have a smoke to steady his nerves.
He touched the letter in his pocket. He’d been thinking about the news off and on all day when he wasn’t busy fighting nicotine cravings and checking on the bar.
The letter had to be a sign that it was time for Joel Bryant to change his ways yet again.
He glanced over at the light shining through the door of the back office. He’d have to tell Chaz first.
There wasn’t anything to be nervous about. Hell, except for Chaz, who else was there to tell? No one would really give a damn. He’d go in and say what needed to be said to his business partner, and that would be that. They’d been good in business, better in bed, but that’s as far as it ever went. The two of them were too different.
Not many people knew they were business partners. No one else even imagined Chaz was more. Chaz had insisted it be that way. He didn’t want to upset his very proper, wealthy Southern family. Joel could see how he might not think it worth the effort of explaining a temporary friends-with-benefits relationship with a crazy Yankee. Joel took another breath in and out through his nose.
Almost ten years. Hey, everything was temporary, right? This gig had lasted a little longer than expected, but it was time to leave.
Joel patted his pockets, looking for a cigarette, and then realized what he was doing. He clenched his hands into fists instead.
Yeah. Just tell Chaz, and start getting ready to move on.
But he wished he could have a smoke first. One of his self-appointed nannies would catch him, though, and it wasn’t worth it. They’d run and tell Chaz. Once he left, he wouldn’t have Chaz on his ass about anything anymore. It got old. He didn’t need nannies or Chaz to tell him how to live his life.
Joel pushed the door and headed to the office. He opened it to a dim and smoky glow.
Chaz had pulled the blinds and was reading papers at the desk by aromatherapy candlelight. Joel opened his mouth to make a crack and shut it again. He’d rather admire the view.
The man was goddamned gorgeous. Tall, dark-skinned, and runner lean. Self-possessed. Not much got past that controlled concentration. Joel thought about all the ways he could try.
“Wondered when you might drop by, Bry.”
And he had that damned rich drawl -- he’d make a fortune if he took up phone sex. His voice alone could make Joel want to jump him, even without the chocolate good looks.
“Well, I’ve dropped.” And here he was: short, stocky, five o’clock shadow by three thirty, and with a Brooklyn accent that wasn’t ever going away, no matter how long he stayed out of the borough.
No wonder they’d never gotten further than good business and great sex.
“Something on your mind, Bry? You’re twitching like a landed trout.”
“You fish too, don’t you? Ride, play golf and tennis, a little squash on the weekend with the boys. The all-around country gentleman.”
“I work most of the time. I teach at VCU when I’m not helping run this place, if you recall.” Chaz leaned back and crossed his arms. “You want to fight about my lifestyle?”
“Naw.” Joel swallowed and turned the nearest candle around in his hand. “You look good by candlelight, Chaz. Like a landed gentleman with an estate. But then you are. The oldest son of a fine old Virginia family.”
Chaz laughed. “You make me sound like I own a plantation. My granddaddy was the one who made the money to buy our country place. He didn’t leave anything to maintain
it. There are plenty of mortgages and taxes on that estate, Joel. That’s why my parents unloaded it on me and retired to a condo in Hampton Roads. Plenty of problems with the relatives too. But seeing me by candlelight isn’t what you have on your mind, I’ll bet. What’s going on? Being indirect isn’t your usual style.”
They could just go back to the restaurant, eat dinner, and then go back to his place or Chaz’s. Forget the whole thing. Stay the way they were.
“Got something from a lawyer today.”
“I Heart That City isn’t being sued, is it?”
“For God’s sake, Chaz, no. My aunt died. We used to be pretty close when I was a kid. I didn’t know she was so sick. No one told me.” Joel began to pace. “No one in the family thought to. Hell, no one in the family went to visit her to find out.”
“She left me her place in Canarsie of all places. I’m a landed gentleman now too.” He tried to smile, although Chaz wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t even blinking. “Chaz?”
“So you’ll have to go back to settle that.”
“Well, yeah.” Joel fingered the letter again. He didn’t want to say the rest. Not while Chaz looked so worried. Chaz knew there was more. But Joel knew a way to make the man feel better quick, and it wasn’t conversation. “Listen. We can take a break for an hour or so. Go to my place.”
“Let’s go to mine.”
“Mine’s cleaner.” Chaz stood up. “Has a bigger bed too.”
He pulled Joel to him and kissed him hard, the way Chaz rarely did, grinding himself against Joel’s suddenly hard cock.
“All right.” Joel was a total sucker for Chaz when he got eager enough to get a little rough. “Snuff the damn candle. I only want to burn up your sheets, bud. We can’t afford the smoke damage.”
“Shut up, Bry, and get in my car.”
Joel pulled his face away with an effort. “Walk. We might not find a parking space close enough. I’m not spending a half hour looking for one right now.”
Chaz laughed, even though his eyes were hot. He pushed against the small of Joel’s back almost painfully, and his hand curled over part of Joel’s ass cheek. “Move, Yank. Time’s a-wasting while you take one of your misnamed New York minutes to chat instead of screw.”