“For Christ’s sake, Benedict, you’re being ridiculous.” Shane heard the irritation in his voice, but he was entitled. It was his fucking birthday—not that he expected anyone to make a fuss over him—and being stuck in the bloody office all night catering to his partner’s whims wasn’t part of his plan for the night.
“What’s ridiculous is the way these papers keep piling up.” Benedict had been running his hands through his dark hair, and it looked wilder than usual. “Dave went through and organized all of this earlier in the year. Remember how it looked? Remember how everything was filed and it was possible to find, oh, for example, proof we’d paid the bills when we needed to?”
“Are we seriously going into that again?” Fine, it had taken a few hours to find the receipt, but he’d found it, hadn’t he?
“No, we’re not. Because you’re going to sort through all of this, and after that, it won’t be a problem anymore.”
Shane snorted. “That’s an interesting theory you’ve got there.”
“We agreed to this weeks ago. Don’t blame me because you kept putting it off until the situation became critical.”
“A few things fell over,” Shane protested. “That’s hardly what I’d call a critical situation.” To be fair, Patrick had slipped and fallen, but that could be blamed as much on the platform shoes he’d been wearing as on the small pile of papers.
“Then maybe we define the word differently. Not that Patrick’s likely to hit us with a lawsuit, but—”
“Bloody better not.” Shane gave an indignant huff at the thought of it. “Because if he did, I’d do some hitting of my own, I can tell you.”
“Absolutely not.” Benedict wasn’t taking his threat seriously, but that flat order sent a pleasant shiver through him. It had to compete with a flash of rebellion, but there was only ever going to be one winner in that fight. “Hands off the employees.”
“Yeah? Got somewhere else you’d like them?” Distracting Benedict with sex was a doddle at home, but in the bar they co-owned, not so much. It’d been a couple of years since Benedict left a promising career as an accountant to take over the gay bar left to him by his father, but his work ethic was as strong as ever.
“Yes. Dealing with the paperwork.”
“Shove it in a box for now. I’ll file it away tomorrow.”
Benedict checked his watch. “Nine minutes since I asked you to make a start on it. Nine minutes you’ve wasted on arguing. You could’ve filed away the supply invoices by now.”
Shane leaned against the huge table they used as a desk and braced himself with his hands, legs spread wide. Sod subtle. He’d go for blatantly obvious. “Lock the door and file your cock in my mouth.”
Benedict arched his dark eyebrows, the only visible reaction to Shane’s offer. Of course, he might be getting hard, but a chair blocked Shane’s view. Pity. Watching Benedict’s cock stiffen was one of Shane’s favorite ways to spend thirty seconds or so. Knowing he’d caused that helpless reaction blew his mind. “Now you’re embarrassing yourself.”
“Worth a go.” Shane was unrepentant. He’d bet young Vincent’s wages for a month that Benedict’s light gray trousers were on the snug side. “And since you’ll be taking your hand to my arse later no matter what I do, might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.”
He was still annoyed the day hadn’t begun with his birthday spanking, followed, naturally, by a nice slow fuck. Benedict had made him breakfast before hustling him through the door and off to the bar, claiming they had a busy day ahead. Scrambled eggs and bacon were a poor substitute for the measured beat of Benedict’s hand counting out Shane’s thirty-six years on the planet and turning his arse crimson and tingling in the process. Thirty-six. Jesus wept, how had that
Benedict came closer. Closer. Placed one hand on the desk beside Shane’s thigh and leaned in until his lips brushed Shane’s ear. “I might consider giving you the spanking you’ve been begging for all day. When. You’ve sorted through. These fucking papers.”
Shane sighed. “You’re a cruel man, treating me this way on my birthday.”
“I am,” Benedict agreed, straightening but leaving his hand where it was. “Very cruel. And you’re staying here until the job’s done, even if that means spending the rest of your birthday here. So you’d better get to work.”
“I might manage it if you’d give me a bit of incentive,” Shane suggested. “A kiss, for example?” It wouldn’t satisfy him, but there’d been times in the past when one kiss had led to more despite Benedict’s intentions. Maybe this would be another.
Benedict appeared to consider the request, meeting Shane’s eyes while he brought his other hand up to thread his fingers through Shane’s hair. Hair he’d insisted Shane grow longer than the close-cropped style Shane had favored before they’d met. “One,” he decided. “And after that, no more discussion.”
“Works for me.” It didn’t, on so many levels, but he’d learned when he could push and when he couldn’t. The games they played, darker and more intense than when they began, but tempered by a love Shane had grown to trust, lacked official rules, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any.
One of which was that at the bar, they stayed professional, but it was his fucking birthday, and if that didn’t buy him some leeway along with his promised kiss, then what did?
“Say it.” Benedict was close enough his words were tangible as well as audible, a whisper-breath against Shane’s waiting lips. “Tell me you’ll do as you’re told after this.”
Now who was breaking the rules? Shane might roll over and beg in bed, but here at the Square Peg, they didn’t give each other orders. The staff, yeah, though the people working for them knew what they were doing. Even Patrick. Hooking up with Vincent hadn’t dimmed Patrick’s sparkle, but it’d directed his energies in a more productive way. Shane had never thought he’d say it, but Patrick was a valued employee these days.
They’d invent calorie-free beer that didn’t taste like piss next.
“I’ll be good.” He paused deliberately, watched Benedict frown, then added a sweetly provocative, “Sir,” dripping with insincerity.
Cheating, but he wanted a proper kiss that left his mouth knowing it’d been used, and if that meant winding Benedict up, so be it. He’d pay for it, but he’d never been one to dodge a debt.
Benedict pulled Shane’s hair with enough force to make his eyes water. The sight of Benedict’s hard smile made something inside Shane twist with pleasure. “You’ll be good for me whether you want to be or not.” He brought his lips down, bruising Shane’s mouth against his teeth and taking Shane’s breath away.
This was what Shane loved best—the Benedict who refused to tolerate bad behavior, who saw what he wanted and took it, who understood that Shane yearned to be the object of that attention regardless of what was behind it. Benedict traced the edge of Shane’s teeth with his tongue and forced his mouth to yield. He tasted of orange juice—must have been drinking it earlier—tangy and sweet. When he pulled away, Shane whined and tried to follow, only to be stopped by Benedict’s hand on his chin, thumb rough on his lower lip.
“That’s all now,” Benedict murmured, putting words together the way Shane would have. In that moment, he sounded English. “Get back to work.”
Shane might have protested, but if he was being completely honest, he was still starry-eyed in the aftermath of the kiss. By the time any coherent words occurred to him, Benedict had left the office, shutting the door firmly in his wake.
“Get back to work,” Shane said under his breath, then licked his lips and did just that.
Two hours later, he’d made brilliant progress despite his lack of interest in the job. It wasn’t that he couldn’t understand Benedict’s desire to have things neat and orderly, but he didn’t mind spending his time searching for something misplaced. Made more sense than spending it putting things away carefully when it was possible he’d never need them again. He’d gotten the many piles of papers sorted and filed and reduced to one neat stack when Benedict opened the door and stuck his head into the room.
“Come out here for a minute, would you?”
“I’m nearly done,” Shane told him.
“Great, but leave it for now. I need to show you something.”
That sounded ominous. More concerning was the fact the lights were out in the hallway. “Did we blow a fuse?”
“I will if you don’t get your ass out here.”
The amusement softening the words made sense only if someone was within earshot. Benedict didn’t talk to him like that unless he planned to back it up with action, and when he did, arousal was what Shane heard loud and clear, not a chuckle.
The bar would be closed soon. Tuesday nights were quiet, a breathing space before the buildup to the weekend. Next door in the Empty Box, David, the Peg’s former chef, would be prepping for tomorrow, the restaurant dark. No point in staying open late when most people finished eating well before ten.
Shane didn’t get that. After a night out drinking as a teenager, he and his mates had headed for the nearest Indian restaurant for a curry, staying there well past midnight surrounded by plates of food they’d barely touched, appetites satisfied after a few bites. Waste of good food, looking back at it, but they’d tipped with the generosity of the well and truly pissed.
He went out into the dim hallway, following Benedict, too familiar with the layout for the lack of light to slow him down.
Before Benedict joined him at the Peg, a dark bar might’ve been due to an unpaid electricity bill, but Shane was confident that wasn’t the case. He mislaid bills, but only after Benedict had paid them. And Benedict was working to get most of the bills sent and paid online. Some of their suppliers preferred paper—so did Shane—but Benedict was saving a tree or two.
Besides, the lights were still working in the office. Maybe a bulb in need of changing.
Benedict stepped into the gloom of the bar, but before Shane could follow him, the lights came on all at once, and there was shouting. It took a moment for Shane to make sense of the words.
Everyone was standing there, smiling and looking pleased with themselves, including David and half the staff of the Empty Box. Even Vincent, who had the night off, and David’s boyfriend, Jeremy. Benedict, holding a noisemaker Patrick had hastily thrust into his hand, stepped in and kissed him, a public kiss, which was fine with Shane under the circumstances.
“Here, boss.” Shelly indicated a chair at the head of the table. Tables, actually, several of them pulled together.
“I take it the balloons were Patrick’s idea?” Shane was still stunned. His heart rate hadn’t returned to normal after the shock of the blazing lights and everyone shouting at him.
“I helped,” Vincent said, loyal to his boyfriend as always. There were a few dozen balloons tied to chairs and a collection of paper streamers that looked to have been hung by someone with an eye for flair.
Patrick wore a party hat in a lurid turquoise shade. “I was in charge of decorating! How’d you guess?” He was beaming and, to Shane’s horror, coming toward him with another party hat, obviously intent on putting it on Shane’s head whether he wanted it or not.
“No!” Shane pointed at him as if that would halt him in his tracks. “No hat. They give me a headache.”
Patrick pouted, then brightened. “That’s okay. Ben can wear it!”
“Sure.” Benedict was watching Shane, but he let Patrick put the hat on him before gesturing at the chair. “Sit down. Patrick made you a drink.”
“Then I threw it away and got you a pint of Hobgoblin.” Shelly grinned.
“Knew there was a reason I liked you,” Shane told her, sitting and doing his best to ignore the balloon string brushing against the back of his head. “Cheers, everyone, and thanks. Appreciate the effort.”
He did. They’d planned this and gone to some trouble. More than anyone had since he’d moved from England to the US. When he was a kid and birthdays mattered, his mum had always baked him a cake unless she was working, in which case she’d bought one from the corner shop, a squishy bright yellow sponge cake oozing jam and a white, sickly-sweet imitation cream. He’d loved biting into the huge slice his mum had cut for him as a reward for blowing out the candles. That bite symbolized another year older, on his way to being independent.
The birthdays when his dad was around weren’t worth remembering. Better buried, in fact. Out of prison, Alfie went between maudlin and vicious, depending on how much he’d drunk and how well he’d done at the bookies. On Shane’s tenth birthday, his cake—a homemade one, chocolate sponge with peppermint buttercream—had ended up decorating the living room wall.
“Did you think I was indulging my sadistic side making you do all that office work?” Benedict murmured into his ear an hour later.
“Nah. You left me to it. What’s the fun of making me suffer if you’re not there to watch? Should’ve guessed you had something like this up your sleeve.”
“You should have.” Benedict traced a random pattern on Shane’s thigh, the pressure of his finger maddeningly light. “It’s your birthday. I wouldn’t let it pass without doing something.”
Jane Davitt & Alexa Snow