Mathew wiped down the bar, then grabbed the clipboard at the end of it to check the inventory for the night. They would need beer on tap—the colder the better. Then, he had to ensure they had bottled beer and other spirits that might be necessary. Though the larger part of the Wilted Flower’s clientele drank more beer than fancy liquor, there were the odd few who ordered things because they saw it on their favorite television show, or heard that their favorite celebrity consumed it. To make the night more unpredictable, add a live band, and he had to make sure he had double of everything. He must have been preoccupied with what he was doing, for he didn’t hear the door open.
“Hi there,” a man’s voice called.
“Sorry, buddy. But we’re closed.” Mathew tapped his pen lightly against the side of a blue curacao bottle. It was partially empty. Why the hell did Andre not put that on the list, or ask the owner to replace the damn thing? Mathew scribbled against his notepad. “You have to come back later.”
“Um—Look, I just want something to drink.”
Mathew frowned and whipped around with every intention of telling this man to go to hell. But when he did, the man sitting there was anything but some weirdo. No, this fellow was the perfect definition of sex on a stick. The newcomer was decked out in designer clothes with a pair of what looked to be Prada sunglasses sitting atop his head. His low cut hair was perfectly shaped—no doubt by some high-end barber. The man’s large brown eyes were flanked by long lashes. His proud nose flared slightly with each inhalation. As Mathew allowed his eyes to drift lower over the most perfect, thick lips he’d ever seen on a man, he was desperately trying not to stare. But how could he not ogle the way this man’s tongue slid out to moisten those beautiful lips? Mathew wanted to lean forward and kissed that gentle cleft in his chin, just before allowing those lips to do amazing, mind-blowing things to him.
Mathew tried being a good bartender, but as his cheeks flushed, he knew he’d failed miserably. He couldn’t find the words he wanted to say, and that anger he’d felt mere moments ago, was a distant memory. Instead of saying anything, just in case his voice should crack and give away what he was feeling, he cleared his throat.
“You okay?” the man asked. “You seem a little deer in the headlights
at the moment. Is something on my face?”
Mathew shook his head.
“Hey, Matt, you got that list for me yet?” Andre questioned, leaning both elbows on the counter. “I have to go pick up these like—yesterday.”
Mathew wanted to tell him to go fuck himself, but smiled, ripped out the page he’d been writing on, and handed it to Andre. But Andre was busy eyeing the man sitting at the bar like he was the latest dessert.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be, Andre?” Mathew questioned in a calm voice.
Andre sucked his teeth, grabbed the paper, and turned for the door. Mathew watched him for a second, then shook his head to clear it. “Yeah, like I was saying. We’re closed. We can’t serve you liquor until we open, or we could lose our license.”
“All right,” the man said. “How about a cranberry juice with soda water? Can I have that?”
“Sure.” Mathew grabbed a clean glass, dumped some cranberry juice in, added the soda water, and set a slice of lemon against the rim. He placed it before the guest.
The buzz of speakers coming on filled the room, and Mathew turned his attention to the stage. It had taken them close to an hour to get set up and they still hadn’t gotten around to the dang speakers. He went back to prepping for the evening crowd. He wondered why the boss scheduled him with Andre, but said nothing. The last thing he wanted to do was rock the damn boat. In a few weeks he could walk away and not look back, but until then, he needed the job.
“What band is playing tonight?”
Mathew set the sliced lemons into the cooler then opened the ice bin. “They’re called Troubadours,” he explained. “Apparently they’re pretty good. I’m not really a fan, so I wouldn’t know.”
“My sister is obsessed with them. She’s the one who suggested we do this tonight.”
“Well, maybe they’re amazing, and she has good taste.”
The man laughed. “What’s your name?”
Mathew stopped and faced him. He tossed the towel he’d been wielding over a shoulder and folded his arms across his chest. “Do you always ask your bartenders their name?”
“No, just the ones I’m curious about.”
He tried going back to what he was doing, but the man’s voice stopped him.
“Asher Mulgrew—my name.”
“What? So now you think I owe you? Is that it?”
Asher smiled. “No. Nothing like that.” He took a drink from his glass. “Okay. I’ll start calling you—um—Bob. You look like a Bob.”
Mathew shook his head.
“I heard the other guy call you Matt,” Asher began. “Okay, Matt…”
Asher smiled and it took Mathew’s breath away.
“So your name is Mathew. I tell you, you don’t look like a Mathew.”
“You one of them brothas that think all black guys should have a name like…Lequan or something equally stupid?”
Asher laughed. He laughed so hard he doubled over with his forehead on his arm on the bar. When he lifted his head, his brown eyes shimmered beautifully. The techs behind them were testing the microphones, but the noise didn’t seem to disturb what was happening between him and Asher.
“Lequan? Damn, Mathew.”
Mathew cocked a hip.
“I just want to make pleasant conversation,” Asher said. “That’s all. I’m not hitting on you or anything quite so typical.” He drained his glass and set it on the counter. He then pulled money from his wallet and dropped it on the counter. Asher rose and removed his sunglasses from his head. “I’m making you uncomfortable. I’ll see you around.”
Mathew watched him leave, and suddenly he felt like an ass. Then when he saw that Asher had left a twenty dollar bill and not asked for change, Mathew felt like an even bigger ass. The sound of the door clanging shut pulled Mathew from his daze and he rushed after Asher. When he got outside, however, a Corvette sped by him out of the parking lot, and he tossed his hands up.
Why wouldn’t Mr. I’m-too-sexy drive a sexy-ass Corvette?
He went back to work. All his life people told him he was too serious. But how could he not be? Everyone, with the exception of Karen and Kenneth, always wanted something from him whenever they were nice to him. On top of that, he had to be a special kind of serious for people to respect him. Mathew wouldn’t have gotten his first job at fifteen if he wasn’t staid. That job saved him, gave him a sense of responsibility, for Mathew knew chances were he’d be dead or lying drugged up in a filthy hovel somewhere if he hadn’t score that gig.
* * * *
The hours ticked by.
Slowly, the Wilted Flower filled up.
The music blared from speakers, strategically set around the venue. The bar was busy and though Andre worked in close quarters with him as the waitresses worked the floor, he didn’t say a word to the other bartender. It seemed Andre was still pissed off about him not paying attention the other night. There was nothing Mathew could do about it now.
“Eh, Matt,” one of the waitress leaned into the bar to call.
When he looked at her, she crooked her finger at him, motioning for him to come closer. He did, and she whispered in his ear. “There’s a man here to see you. Says he wants you to serve him personally.”
Mathew made a face. “We don’t do that.”
“I know, but he’s a client and looks like a big spender, so humor him? Please?”
“Gimme a break, Sabrina. You know I can’t leave Andre alone. It’s not fair to him since we’re busy.”
“Oh, please. We both know the two of you are pissed off at each other again. You can do with the break. I’ll cover.”
Mathew chewed on his lower lip silently for a second. “Fine. Where?”
“Table four, by the stage.”
Taking a breath, Mathew handed her his towel and left the bar. He made his way across the crowded dance floor, dodging regulars who always seemed to be overly chatty. He was exhausted and irritated and really didn’t think his patience would hold out with the usual. At table four, he just about fainted. Mister Sexy-lips from earlier was lounged back in one of the plush seats with a beautiful woman across from him. But Mathew’s gaze wasn’t on her. It was on Asher, who looked so at ease in designer clothes.
Once more he was caught in a trance, wondering if a man had a right to be that sexy.
“Oh, hi!” the woman said.
Mathew gave himself a mental shake, praying she didn’t see him drooling. She was probably his girlfriend or something. Mathew found a smile from somewhere deep inside and pushed it to his lips. There was no reason for him to be so aroused by this man. He didn’t know the guy, and for all he knew Asher was straight. With that thought firmly in mind, he hunched down next to Asher, meaning to speak close to his ear. Instead, Asher’s cologne seeped into his senses and made his head spin. “You rang, Your Highness?” Mathew said.
Asher chuckled, easing forward. “If you’re ever going to call me anything like that,” Asher said softly, huskily, “it will
“Is that so?”
“Yes. But that’s for another time…”
Asher laughed. “Can we get a pitcher of Stella?”
Mathew rose and headed back for the bar. His body was throbbing in all the right places. He was turned on by that one conversation more than he’d ever been, and he hated himself for it. After filling a pitcher with beer, he grabbed some coasters and glasses and walked them back to table four. After setting everything down, he spared Asher a glance. Asher was watching him the way a predator would watch his next meal. That one look made Mathew feel as if he was being stripped naked, caressed thoroughly, then licked. He shivered and dragged his gaze from Asher. He quickly fled back across the dance floor to retake his position behind the bar.