The bar suited his mood. Dark, a
little musty, it looked like the renovations throughout the old Los Angeles
hotel hadn't made it this far yet. Candles glowed on the few tables at the back
and on the massive horseshoe-shaped bar that dominated the room. He climbed
onto a barstool away from the door. From their badges, it looked like a few
conference attendees had found the place, but he didn't recognize anyone.
"What can I get you?"
The buxom, California-blonde
bartender smiled and looked like she might be offering more than a drink. No
fucking thank you.
"A dirty martini, two olives." He
barely knew what that was, but he'd heard a friend order one and liked the
sound of it. Just the way he felt.
Lack of performance. At
twenty-five. Not exactly every young man's complaint. In college, he'd been a
serious cocksman, banging half the girls he met. He wasn't exactly proud of
that, but it was the truth. The last couple years, though, except for his
dreams of Em, he just didn't have the enthusiasm. Since his PhD. Since Tom.
The bartender placed the drink
carefully in front of him, displaying a rack to make a centerfold weep. He
grabbed the martini and took a swallow --
The bartender grinned as his eyes
teared. She inconspicuously placed a glass of water in front of him and walked
away. He'd definitely failed the finals in macho tonight. Another mouthful, and
he let it slip down his throat this time. Was this supposed to be good? Bitter,
burning. He'd think of it as penance.
Thinking. There was the rub.
Tonight wasn't the first -- or even fifth -- time he'd been half-cocked with a
girl. Maybe it was the studying, writing his dissertation. He knew doctors said
that stress could affect a guy's…ability, interest. He'd gone for months
without a girl while finishing the doctorate. No problem. But, of course,
there'd been Tom. Tom had cared for him. He could admit it now, even though
he'd tried to ignore it then. And Jake -- shit. He'd been a shit.
The next big swallow of the
martini went down real smooth.
"Want another one?"
He startled at her voice. "Sure."
'Cause he felt very, very dirty.
A nice buzz set in. Not much
of a drinker. He adjusted his wire rims. Man, he'd never feel the same way
about them after tonight. Clark Kent, huh? He liked that.
He looked across the bar through
a comfortable little haze. There were a couple of conference nerds, possibly an
LA hooker trying to persuade them to view her etchings, some other random
business types, and --
Who did that guy think he was,
Brad Pitt? A baseball cap and sunglasses in this black hole. How could he see
his drink? Jesus, was he drinking champagne? Alone?
The bartender was
Johnny-on-the-spot with the next martini, and Jake took another mouthful. Oh
yeah, just like silk. He hoped there was a lot of nutrition in an olive,
because this sure as fuck was dinner.
He looked up again at the guy
across the bar. At least he thought it was a guy. He could see longish hair
sticking out from under the cap. And the mouth… From what he could see, those
lips would make Angelina Jolie jealous. Maybe a girl?
As he took another swallow, he
saw the guy/girl's hand reach out for its flute of bubbly and miss. Only a
quick grab saved the glass from tumbling over. Jake could almost feel how
pissed the person was. The cap was ripped off by an impatient hand, letting a
mane of shining, black, chin-length hair fall free. The creature looked around
like it was searching for predators, then pulled off the huge black sunglasses.
Holy fucking Christ.
Gorgeous. He knew this was LA,
the land of the genetic celebrities, but this was ridiculous.
Okay, Jake, you're staring. He looked down into his martini
and took another slug. But he had to look again.
Peeking up over the edge of his
glasses, he watched the guy -- it was a guy, he was pretty sure now -- take a
deep breath, like he was really relieved not to be flailing around in the dark.
Cheekbones. That was what you saw first on that face. Architectural
masterpieces with perfect hollows beneath. Shit, the guy was looking! Jake looked
away fast but was pretty sure the guy had seen him staring. Now that was
embarrassing, but he couldn't quite believe what he'd just seen.
He took off his glasses, wiped
them on a napkin to kill time, and then put them back on. He sneaked a peek back
to find the guy looking down at his champagne, so Jake just stared. The guy was
the most beautiful man -- person…creature -- he could ever remember seeing.
Yeah, it was definitely a guy, even though the face was like some kind of
idealized being, half female, half male. Large eyes rimmed with heavy lashes
and the Angelina lips were offset by a clean, very male jaw and strong, arched
brows. His hair looked black, although the candles on the bar picked up a
little touch of red, and it was cut in a lazy European style that swept hair
onto his forehead and shagged it around his face. As Jake watched, the man
pushed his fingers into that hair, pulling it back off his luminous face for a
moment, and then released it to fall again in idle perfection. The guy was young,
probably younger than Jake.
There was just one problem. If
this was a guy, why did Jake suddenly have less room in his suit pants?