The Gravedigger’s Brawl
|$17.99 $14.39 (20% off!)|
|Print and Ebook||$22.98 $16.09 (30% off!)|
When the past comes back to haunt you, order a double.
Dr. Wyatt Case is never happier than when he’s walking the halls of his history museum. Playing wingman for his best friend at Gravedigger’s Tavern throws him way out of his comfort zone, but not as much as the eccentric man behind the bar, Ash Lucroix.
Ash is everything Wyatt doesn’t understand: exuberant, quirky, and elbow deep in a Gaslight lifestyle that weaves history into everyday life. He coordinates his suspenders with his tongue rings. Within hours, Wyatt and Ash are hooked.
But strange things are afoot at Gravedigger’s, and after a knock to the head, Ash starts seeing things that can’t be explained by old appliances or faulty wiring. Soon everyone at Gravedigger’s is wondering if they’re seeing ghosts, or just going crazy. The answer to that question could end more than just Wyatt and Ash’s fragile relationship—it might also end their lives.
2nd Place, Best Gay Paranormal Romance in the 2013 Rainbow Awards!
This title comes with no special warnings.
This story is cursed! Download at your own risk.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
Click on a label to see its related details. Click here to toggle all details.
Dr. Wyatt Case sat at his desk with his eyes closed, listening for the sound of footsteps in the outer office. His assistant had orders to stop anyone trying to see him with as much fanfare as possible so he’d have time to prepare for the confrontation. Or hide. But she was on her lunch hour and Wyatt was on his own for the mome.
The outer door creaked open and his entire body began to tense as if anticipating a physical blow. There were two voices—one male, one female—discussing his whereabouts. Wyatt slid out of his chair to his knees and crawled into the kick space beneath his antique desk.
He wasn’t ashamed, either.
It had been a stressful week and Wyatt wasn’t used to that kind of thing. His mind wasn’t built for strain, and his museum ran smoothly for the most part. But the trustees had been at him all week, jabbering about how the construction of the museum’s new wing was hurting attendance and they needed a fresh exhibit to draw in the crowds.
Wyatt hated to tell them, but the only crowds the Virginia Historical Society would be drawing this time of year were screaming schoolchildren and die-hard history buffs who would come to the museum regardless of construction or new exhibits. In late September, the summer crowds were all gone, and the weather was nice enough that people were still trying to squeeze life and fresh air from the outdoors.
There was a curt knock, and the door to his office opened.
“Now where in the world could he be?” Edgar Reth, the acting president of the society grumbled.
Wyatt closed his eyes, putting his hand over his mouth. One snicker and he was done for.
“It is almost lunchtime,” a woman said. Emelda Ramsay had sat on the board since before Wyatt was born. She was old Virginia money, concerned with nothing but the welfare of the museum and the historical society, rising above the politics and financial pressures that many trustees had fallen to over the years. She had been a key proponent of Wyatt’s when he’d been brought to Richmond to take over the museum and Wyatt considered her a friend and mentor. It was certainly bad form to be hiding from her beneath the very desk her grandfather had donated, but that was life. He was tired of her having to defend him from Reth, who was a pompous ass, but had clout. If Wyatt couldn’t please the trustees, not even Emelda could save him.
Emelda’s sensible flats echoed on the hardwood floors as she walked toward the desk. “I’ll just leave him a note,” she said as her feet came into view.
Wyatt rolled his eyes. This was ridiculous. He crawled out from under the desk, and Emelda gasped as he appeared at her feet.
“Dr. Case!” She pressed her hand to her chest.
Wyatt stood, dusting off his sleeves. “My apologies, Emelda, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“Dr. Case, what in the world were you doing under there?” Reth demanded.
Wyatt glanced at him, schooling his features into innocence. “Pilates.”
“You do Pilates under your desk?”
“You don’t?” Wyatt asked, eyes going wide.
Emelda cleared her throat and smoothed a hand over her smart blazer. “Indeed.”
“What can I do for you?” Wyatt asked as he looked between them.
Reth waved a file folder at him. “Have you seen the most recent numbers?”
“Why yes, Dr. Reth, I believe you emailed them to me. Three times. And had a courier deliver them to me. At my home. Which . . . wasn’t creepy at all.”
“Dr. Case, do you realize that we’re talking about your future here at the museum?” Reth asked. Wyatt could practically see the steam rising from his head.
Wyatt rubbed a finger across his eyebrow and nodded. He’d given them idea after idea, exhausting his mental stores as he laid out plans for all the possible exhibits they could create with the artifacts they had on hand. They couldn’t get any artifacts of significance on loan in the short period of time before the new exhibit was due, they couldn’t purchase or barter anything new, and they couldn’t pull magic out of their asses.
If they had listened to Wyatt and his subordinates when the plans for the new wing had been pushed through, they could have been prepared. Wyatt had tried to show them the cost of the remodel, and not just the monetary cost. He’d been overruled, though, and now they seemed shocked by the drop in attendance.
Reth tossed the file onto the desk. “If a solution is not presented to the board by the end of the week, you’re done here, Case. Is that clear enough?”
“Crystal,” Wyatt said through gritted teeth.
Reth turned on his heel and stormed out of the office. Wyatt sighed and turned to Emelda, who was shaking her head and frowning.
“He’s going to ask for your dismissal next month if we don’t have something spectacular to show the trustees.”
Emelda patted his arm and smiled encouragingly. “I have faith.”
Wyatt couldn’t help but laugh. “In what?”
She raised her eyebrows and cocked her head, surprised. “In you, Dr. Case.”
Wyatt smiled weakly as she walked away. She shut the office door behind her, and Wyatt sank to his chair and held his head in his hands. After a few minutes to compose himself, he glanced up at one of the framed posters on his wall, a copy of an original Thurston show marquee. It advertised “the Great Magician” and pictured Thurston at a desk, bent over a large tome being held up by red imps. The Devil leaned over him, reading over his shoulder and holding his oil lamp for him.
Wyatt glared balefully at the imps. He kind of knew how the man in the poster felt, his work aided and encouraged by evil.
What he needed was inspiration. Or somewhere better to hide than under his desk. As the head curator, such nebulous things as new exhibits, attendance, and public interest were Wyatt’s responsibility, and he would take the fall when the numbers showed hard losses over the construction. But every single suggestion he’d brought forth had been shot down as being too staid or not capable of drawing in the younger crowd. Virginia at War. Lincoln’s Private War. The World at War! The only one the trustees had really liked was How to Tell Your Curator to Stick It up His Ass.
Wyatt was prepared to tell them that if they wanted a younger crowd, they were going to need a younger curator. At thirty-eight, he didn’t consider himself old, but he was out of ideas and out of touch with the target audience.
That was one good thing about his line of work, though; historians never went out of style. In theory. But Wyatt knew you couldn’t force an interest in history on people. You couldn’t manufacture a love for it out of a few interesting baubles and trinkets being put on display, no matter how cleverly they were presented. It had to be organic, a spark of knowledge put into the mind. All you could do was offer the truth to the masses and hope they found it as fascinating as it was.
Another knock at his door made him wince, but he didn’t have time to duck beneath his desk before the door opened.
To his eternal relief, Noah Drake stuck his head in and grinned at him. “You’re hiding from the suits, aren’t you?”
Wyatt sighed. “They caught me even though I just spent two minutes crouching under my desk.”
“There’s a disturbing amount of head room under there.”
Noah grinned wider and nodded as he stepped inside. “Some people pay big money for that.”
Noah laughed. “Come on. We’re going to lunch.”
“We are?” Wyatt asked with a hint of dread.
The last time he had let Noah drag him somewhere, he’d wound up in Virginia Beach without a car and mysteriously missing his socks and boxers. Noah rode a motorcycle to work and his long hair was often pulled into a ponytail as he lectured. Like Wyatt, he was openly gay. And God help the poor soul who made a derogatory comment, because while Noah may have had an Ivy League degree, he also had several Krav Maga belts at home.
Noah laughed as Wyatt frowned at him. “Don’t look at me like I’m about to eat your canary. Come on, I promise nothing untoward will happen.”
Wyatt sighed and then allowed himself a small smile as he stood and grabbed his coat. He was already placing bets on whether or not the bartender was going to have sleeves. “I assume I’m driving?”
“Actually, we’re walking. I heard about this great place in the Fan last weekend.” They stepped out into the hall and Wyatt turned to lock his office door.
The Fan District was an aptly named neighborhood nestled across the street from the museum, called that because of the way its streets fanned out from its center. The Fan District was one of Richmond, Virginia’s lovingly restored historic districts, full of converted condos, restaurants, and used books stores. It was a history buff’s dream, an emo kid’s hunting ground, and getting trendier and therefore less authentic all the time. He thought they’d hit every restaurant in the Fan, but it seemed like new ones popped up every week. Wyatt had no problem wandering into the area for a little lunch.
He did have a problem with the mischievous glint in Noah’s eyes, however.
“What’s the catch?” he asked.
Wyatt stopped at the outer door and gestured for Noah to peer around the corner.
“This is escalating quickly,” Noah said, but he humored Wyatt and looked around the corner for any trustees on the prowl.
Once he gave the all clear, they made their way to the employee exit. Lately, Wyatt felt like he was in a live action version of Spy vs. Spy, and it was only getting worse.
“This is some dive that serves heart attacks, isn’t it?” Wyatt asked.
“Wyatt, I promise, there’s no catch. Just a nice walk and some lunch. Why,” Noah asked with a narrowing of his eyes that didn’t camouflage the mischief. “What have you heard?”
“They have a hot bartender or waiter or something and you’re dragging me there as cannon fodder so you can flirt with some buff guy in cutoffs.”
“Hardly!” They nodded to the security guard at the staff entrance and stepped out into the chilly autumn afternoon. “He’s not really buff.”
“And I doubt he wears cutoffs. I like them a little more—”
“Please, spare me any details.”
They stopped at the streetlight and waited to cross the busy street named simply Boulevard. The boundary between the Fan and the boutiques of Carytown, Boulevard was lined on each side with turn-of-the-century houses, most restored, others still languishing as rundown condos with bikes and Christmas lights hanging off their once-splendid balconies. It wasn’t hard to imagine it as it had been in its glory days, though.
Wyatt grinned and shook his head as they crossed the four lanes and wide grassy median at a jog. The wind whipped at them and sent dried leaves skittering across the road at their feet. It had been a mild mid-Atlantic summer and was cold now at the end of September. Wyatt wasn’t complaining, though. He would much rather bundle himself up in a jacket than suffer through the sweltering summers and warm falls the Eastern seaboard was accustomed to.
They walked down the sidewalk, shoulders brushing. “So, tell me about your latest conquest. And then tell me why you need to drag me along.”
“I figured you’d do anything to avoid Reth,” Noah said wryly.
“A fair assumption.”
“So play wingman for me and stop complaining. I met this guy at the shop. He’s got this great World War-era bike,” Noah said.
“I see.” Wyatt pulled the collar of his coat up against the chill. “One or two?”
“He’s only got the one.”
“World War I or II,” Wyatt asked.
“Oh. Irrelevant to the story, but II,” Noah answered. He was wearing a stupid grin, not going into further detail about the bike because he knew Wyatt neither understood nor cared about any more of the particulars. Noah spent a lot of his spare time at the motorcycle shop on the seedier end of Boulevard, the one right next to the tattoo parlor with the checkered floor. Wyatt sometimes suspected he owned part of the place.
“He told me he tended bar at this place in the Fan and that I’d like it, so I checked it out this weekend. It’s got great ambience.” Noah gave a dramatic flip of his hand.
“Ambience. People only talk about ambience when there’s nothing else good to say, Noah.”
“No, Wy, you’re gonna love it. The food’s pretty good too.”
“Uh-huh. And since you’ve already got an in with this guy, you need me why?”
“Because I think you’d really like the place.”
Wyatt stopped short and turned to glare at his companion. “This guy doesn’t have a friend, does he? Are you trying to set me up?”
“I’m sure he’s got no friends. No friends at all.”
“No friends, I swear!”
Wyatt narrowed his eyes and glared for another moment, but Noah’s innocuous stare never wavered, so Wyatt turned and began walking again, smiling grudgingly. He had the very distinct feeling that he was being set up with some random guy Noah had found at a bike rally or something. But there wasn’t much he could do about it if he wanted to duck the trustees, which seemed the greater of two evils just now.
Wyatt didn’t date seriously; he just didn’t have the time or interest in it. He had always been happy on his own. But he would have fucked a polar bear if it meant not being bothered by Edgar Reth today.
When they got to the bar, Wyatt found a beautifully restored Victorian with a carved wooden sign hanging outside that read Gravedigger’s Tavern. A chalk marquee on the sidewalk indicated the day’s specials in a pleasant scrawl, and below that, Olde Richmond Towne Ghost Tours was permanently advertised in paint.
“Fun,” Wyatt drawled. “Do you have to be wearing eyeliner to get in?”
“Don’t read too much into the façade,” Noah said as he took Wyatt’s elbow and pulled him to the door.
It wasn’t all that crowded because they were behind the lunch crowd, and it looked like the few patrons inside the tavern were regulars. No one sat at the tiny booths that lined the walls of the long, narrow room. Instead, the four people in the establishment were all leaning against the bar that covered the length of one wall, talking with each other and the man serving. One patron wore a long black trench coat. A young woman wore red and black striped tights under a leather miniskirt. Two others wore work vests and had orange hard hats on the stools beside them. An eclectic assortment, to say the least.
Wyatt gave the surroundings a wary glance. It wasn’t dirty or greasy like he had expected from a place an acquaintance of Noah’s worked, but it looked . . . well-used. In fact, Wyatt liked the vintage feel of the place. The walls were dark and rich, covered with black and wine-colored brocade fabric, and there were antique sconces along the walls that filtered soft light into the room. The ceiling sported tin tiles, and all the woodwork in the place seemed to be original to the old Victorian structure. At night it would probably be quite intimate. The dark wooden floor appeared to be original as well; it was smooth and dull from years of use, any wax or lacquer long worn away.
Noah waved to the bartender and slid into the nearest booth. The man nodded at Noah and smiled as he wiped out a glass with a dishrag.
“Is that the guy?” Wyatt asked as he sat across from Noah and shifted on the leather seat. It was real leather, he was surprised to find, worn and smooth from age and use.
“That’s Ash. He’s hot, right?”
Ash was a good-looking guy: dark curls, darker eyes, tall and wiry. Wyatt tried not to smile. “Not what I was expecting.”
Noah raised an eyebrow.
“Big muscles, braided ponytail, goatee with beads in it.”
Noah snorted and rolled his eyes, looking away with a smile and shake of his head.
“Sleeveless leather vest and patches that say ‘The bitch fell off’ on the back.”
Noah laughed, holding out his hand to make Wyatt stop. “You have a low opinion of my taste in men.”
“Not low. Just . . . you know, leather-bound and hairy.”
“You suck,” Noah said as a woman with purple hair came up to take their orders.
She must’ve caught Noah’s words, because she grinned at Wyatt and said, “You’ll be popular in certain circles then.”
Noah threw his head back and cackled. Wyatt could feel himself blushing, thankful for the low light and the heavy curtains on the windows.
“What can I have Ash make for you?” the woman asked as she rested her hands on the edge of the table.
Wyatt fought the urge to lean away from her. She had piercings everywhere: in her eyebrow, in her nose, one in the side of her lip, and so many in her ear that she probably picked up NPR on clear nights. Her long hair was done in a beautiful array of old-fashioned curls and loose braids, only it had royal purple streaks and white feathers through what appeared to be natural black. She was wearing a corseted dress over fishnet tights, outrageous heeled boots, and velvet gauntlets on her wrists.
“What’s good?” Noah asked, unperturbed. They hadn’t been given menus.
“Oh, you’re fresh meat?” the waitress asked with something like unholy glee as she turned and pointed them out to the bartender. “Hey, Ash, is this the guy?”
The bartender nodded and pointed a dirty glass at them. “1951 tan Indian Chief. Hey, Noah.” He offered them a small smile.
Noah nodded in return, the smile on his face threatening to become permanent.
The waitress whistled and looked back down at Noah, impressed with the mention of the motorcycle. Wyatt felt distinctly out of place, and he took up his customary post in the background as he listened.
“I’m Delilah Willis,” the waitress said. She offered her hand to Noah, then crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the side of Wyatt’s booth. “Nice to meet you. You got it with you?”
It took a moment for Wyatt to decide that she was asking about the motorcycle.
“We better make sure your food’s good enough to get you to come back. That means I’ll be cooking it,” Delilah said, loud enough for the bartender to hear.
“We’re not up to fire codes right now,” the bartender replied.
“Caleb’ll cook it then,” Delilah said without missing a beat.
Wyatt couldn’t help but smile. Noah always managed to find some real characters. God only knew how.
“What would Caleb recommend?” Noah asked.
“You want meat, non-meat, or other?”
“Cheeseburger?” Noah asked.
“Club sandwich?” Wyatt ventured.
“Other. Coming right up,” Delilah promised, and turned away.
Wyatt frowned at Noah, who was laughing silently. “How is a club sandwich ‘other’? What have you gotten me into?”
Noah waved him off and shook his head, still chuckling.
Wyatt watched Delilah as she headed for the little door at the end of the bar that led to the kitchen. Another waiter came almost at the same time, nearly running her over. He was at least a foot taller than she was, broad in the shoulders and lanky. He grabbed her and spun her around to keep from toppling her over, then smacked her on the ass as she continued into the kitchen.
“Dammit, Ryan, every time you do that I end up with a hand print on my ass for a week.”
“You love it.”
“I know I do,” Delilah said before disappearing behind the swinging door.
Wyatt couldn’t help but stare. He found the casual attitude fitting in the quirky establishment, but it still shocked him. He was also shocked to find that he was feeling more at ease, despite this not being his type of place.
Ryan the waiter waved at them both. “This the guy?” he asked Ash, and the bartender nodded.
Wyatt would never say anything, but he thought the burly waiter was much more Noah’s speed than the man behind the bar. Though both had dark hair and eyes and the same easy way of moving and smiling. Wyatt wondered if they might be related somehow.
Ryan came over and shook their hands. “Ryan Sander, nice to meet you. Talk later.” Then he left for the front door and the patio.
Wyatt found Noah looking at him with a crooked smirk.
“What do you think of the place?”
Wyatt narrowed his eyes. He leaned over the table and pointed his finger in Noah’s face. “I don’t want to be set up.”
“He’s your type, though, right?” Noah asked with a glance at the bar.
“Are you kidding? I don’t go for guys more than half a foot taller than I am, thanks.”
Noah barked a laugh and shook his head, edging closer. “I’m talking about Ash. The tender.”
Wyatt’s brow furrowed, and he risked a longer look at the man behind the bar. Ash was leaning both elbows on the bar top and talking with one of the men seated there. He wore a long-sleeved white dress shirt, sleeves rolled up to his wiry biceps, with black suspenders and pin-striped black trousers. His eyes were lined in heavy kohl, and when he spoke, Wyatt caught glimpses of metal on his tongue. His black hair was slicked back, long enough that it ended in riotous curls behind his ears and at the nape of his neck. He looked almost like an Old West bartender in his getup. As unusual as the total package was, it was appealing on that particular man in this particular setting. There was something very pseudo-Victorian about the whole thing.
Was it a uniform or just personal style? Ryan had been wearing something very similar, sans the suspenders and tongue ring.
Wyatt studied it for too long, and when he looked at Noah, he once again found his companion grinning. “Your type, right?”
“I don’t have a type.”
“Yes, but if you had a life, he’d be your type, right?”
Wyatt rolled his eyes. “I thought we came here for your eye candy.”
Sure we did. “If that’s the guy you came to see, why are you trying to set me up with him?”
“I met Ash a few weeks ago, just like I said,” Noah said quietly, leaning closer. “We hit it off, but he’s not my type and I’m not his. He told me he wanted me to meet the guy he worked for and I thought, ‘Hey, I’ll toss him Wyatt in return.’”
“Real stand-up of you.”
“He’s a sweet guy. Don’t let the gaslight bent throw you off.”
“Gaslight. It’s like steampunk without the steam. Or the punk. Victorian throwback, gothic without the emo?”
“Are you speaking English right now?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“He’s quirky and he likes things like suspenders and top hats and riding crops. And I didn’t tell him you’d be coming to meet him so you can play it . . . however it is you academic types play it.”
“Noah. You are an academic type.”
Noah waved that off with another mischievous grin. “But I’m the awesome kind who tends to get laid a lot.”
Wyatt pressed his lips together, trying not to smile.
“If you don’t like him, you don’t have to do anything. Just eat with me and we’ll go back to work. But if you have the hots for him, then I think maybe you two would get along pretty well. And here’s your perfect chance to get to know him.”
Wyatt glared at him.
“Did Delilah get y’all’s drinks?” Ash asked from behind the bar, and Wyatt and Noah both jumped guiltily. The patrons at the bar had all left.
Noah glanced at Ash and then back at Wyatt, giving his head a jerk as he slid out of the booth. He walked up to the bar and reached over, shaking Ash’s hand.
Wyatt followed, uncertain of how he would handle this. If he blew off the informal introduction, Noah would poke fun at him for the rest of the day for being a prude or antisocial or any number of other things that were partially true, and then he would forget it and life would go on. Noah was anything but overbearing or nosy. Usually. But the bartender—Ash—was an attractive man who seemed to have earned Noah’s approval. And it took a lot to earn Noah’s approval.
“What can I get you?” Ash pulled up two glasses and set them on the lower shelf on the inside of the bar.
Noah slid onto a stool. “What do you have on tap?”
“Sarsaparilla.” Ash had a nice drawl that Wyatt thought may have come from the Gulf Coast, dulled by years away from home.
Noah sighed in mock disappointment and shook his head.
Ash filled up one of the beer mugs with what did appear to be root beer, straight out of one of the taps. “You’re educating the city’s youth, you can’t drink until noon.”
“It’s past noon.”
Wyatt claimed a stool. “Is that really root beer? On tap?” he asked, despite his inner filter telling him to keep quiet and observe rather than interact just yet.
“Best in town,” Ash said with a hint of amusement. “Make it two?”
“Sure. What sort of bar serves root beer on tap?”
“The kind that encourages designated drivers,” Ash said wryly. He nodded his head at Wyatt. “Who’s the critic?”
“Oh! Shit, I’m sorry. Ash, this is my colleague, Dr. Wyatt Case. He’s the head curator at the museum. Wyatt, this is Ash Lucroix. Gravedigger extraordinaire.”
Wyatt and Ash shook hands, then Ash placed the two glasses of root beer in front of them and smiled crookedly.
“Gravedigger?” Wyatt asked with a hint of wariness. He wasn’t certain he wanted to know the story behind the name, but he just couldn’t help himself.
Ash nodded. He popped a stirring straw into his mouth and grinned.
“Is this some sort of slang I’m not aware of?”
“As opposed to slang you are aware of?” Noah teased.
“Touché. Is it?”
“No,” Ash said. He pulled the straw out and gave Wyatt a disarming smile. He had beautiful teeth, save for a small chip in one of his canines that gave him an impish quality. It was the only imperfection on his otherwise stunning face. “The barkeeps are all called Gravediggers here. The current rumor is that it’s because we make the best drinks in town.”
Wyatt shook his head. “I don’t get it.”
“Their drinks are so good that people stay until they can’t go home,” Noah said.
Ash smiled. “Something like that.”
“Is that where the place got its name?” Wyatt asked. He could never help it; history always pulled him in.
“No.” Ash leaned his elbows on the bar. “It was originally called Fossor’s Tavern. This house was built by a family called Fossor.” He pointed over his shoulder at the back of the bar. Most of the wall was lined with shelves, but near the center was an old marble fireplace, just like many of the other houses in the Fan.
The mantle was well polished and empty, and Wyatt wondered why they didn’t use it as a shelf to store bottles or glasses on, or at least some sort of decoration. The gilded mirror above it was showing signs of age, with black spots and the occasional crack around the edges. It was clean, though, and appeared to be original.
Etched into the marble of the fireplace beneath the mantle was the name Ash had mentioned: Fossor.
“When Caleb bought the place, he called it Fossor’s as a tribute.”
“And this Caleb person knew that fossores were what the Romans called gravediggers?” Wyatt ventured with a knowing smirk.
Ash cocked his head and blinked, his story derailed. “Yeah.” He laughed, looking back at Noah. “Museum set, huh?”
Noah shrugged immodestly.
“Well. Anyway, Caleb knew what the word meant and he called us his gravediggers. Most people didn’t even get why the tenders were called that, but they went along because that’s what people do. It got so popular that we changed the name of the tavern a few years ago.”
“Fascinating,” Wyatt said in earnest.
Ash smiled and nodded, still looking like he was a little thrown off his game. When he turned to begin putting away the glasses he’d cleaned, Noah waggled his eyebrows at Wyatt. Wyatt snorted.
Delilah stepped back through the narrow door beside the end of the bar and planted her hands on her hips, glaring at Ash as the man restocked glasses on the back wall. The motion drew Ash’s attention and he did a little double take that Wyatt found kind of adorable.
“What?” Ash asked when Delilah didn’t say anything.
“Did you bang on the wall again?”
“No.” When Delilah’s eyes narrowed, Ash held out his hands, each clutching the handles of four beer mugs. “No!”
Delilah glanced at Noah and Wyatt and both men shook their heads in silent answer. She muttered and disappeared back into the kitchen.
“What’s that about?” Noah asked as soon as the door had stopped swinging.
“I think she’s trying to freak me out in retaliation for scaring her with a broomstick last month. She’s got the others in on it, I can feel it.”
“Scaring her with a broomstick?” Noah asked, laughing.
“It was elaborate and brilliant.”
“If you say so.”
Ash finished setting the glasses up on their shelves and turned back around. Wyatt admired the way the wiry muscles in his shoulders moved under the thin white shirt. The suspenders were . . . intriguing.
“The place is supposedly haunted, but I’ve worked here five years and I’ve never seen anything. They’re trying to make me think there’s a ghost.”
“So, what, October comes calling and they’re trying to get you all spooked?” Noah asked with obvious enjoyment.
Ash flopped his dishrag in the direction of the beautiful Victorian glass door. Outside, the chalk sign advertised ghost tours. “October is our bread and butter. Have you heard of the Gravedigger’s Brawl?”
Noah nodded, but Wyatt shook his head.
“It’s . . . huge,” Ash said, obviously struggling to find a better word. “Hottest Halloween party in town every year. Costumes are required; it goes until dawn. Caleb rents all these props and gets pros to come in and do our makeup.”
Wyatt nodded, smiling at Ash’s obvious excitement but inwardly cringing at the thought of such a crowd. “Sounds . . . awful,” he admitted with a laugh.
Ash began to grin crookedly. When Wyatt looked into his nearly black eyes, his stomach did a little flip.
“Anyway,” Ash said with a sigh. “I think they’ve got some sort of scheme brewing, ’cause they won’t stop talking about hauntings and seeing things and hearing noises upstairs. They’re using me as the guinea pig ’cause ghosts freak me out.”
“How do you know the place isn’t just haunted?” Noah asked.
“Because I refuse to be scared at work.”
“Mind over matter,” Wyatt said.
“Technically,” Noah countered, “it’d be mind over non-matter.”
Wyatt shook his head, trying not to laugh.
Ash leaned against the opposite shelf of the bar and began cleaning another glass. The panel that held the mirror above the fireplace lifted up with a swishing sound, and Noah and Wyatt both jumped. Through the hole where the panel had been, they could see the gleaming stainless steel kitchen on the other side of the wall. That explained why they didn’t keep anything sitting on the mantel.
The panel hit one of Ash’s cleaned glasses that he’d placed on the mantel and sent it tumbling off the shelf. Ash caught the glass as it fell, flicked his wrist, and let the glass roll up his forearm to his elbow, where he popped it into the air and caught it again. He placed it on the proper shelf and then turned around to peer through the open panel.
Wyatt and Noah gaped.
Delilah was leaning over, smirking through the panel from the other side. She pushed two plates of food through the opening. “Soup’s on.”
“Evil bitch,” Ash singsonged. He set the plates down in front of Wyatt and Noah and the panel whooshed shut again.
Wyatt stared, mouth ajar, as Ash walked to the far end of the bar and grabbed some rolls of silverware. He cut his gaze to Noah, who was looking at him with wide eyes.
“Wow,” Noah mouthed to him.
Wyatt nodded and glanced back at Ash Lucroix. He wasn’t just attractive. He was interesting.
Ash pressed his lips together and watched them for a moment. He had the distinct look of someone who wanted to say something but couldn’t figure out how to do it. Noah looked up at Ash as he picked up his hamburger and then glanced at Wyatt.
Wyatt poked at his sandwich, wondering if he should excuse himself to go wash up or take a piss or something so Noah and Ash could talk about the man Noah had come to meet.
“It’s okay,” Noah told Ash. “Wyatt’s been oblivious to all things sex-related for like fifteen years, you can talk about it.”
“I have not.”
“Too busy for all things sex-related then.”
Ash looked him up and down and raised an eyebrow. “That’s a shame.”
Wyatt met his eyes, unable to look away as the heat of a blush crept up his cheeks.
Noah cleared his throat, breaking the spell. Wyatt tore his eyes away and Ash shook his head, then leaned against the bar again.
He looked at Noah and dropped his voice to a whisper. “So? Still want to meet Caleb?”
Noah grinned. “Got nothing to lose, right?” he said with the typical Noah Drake joie de vivre.
“Oh, you’ll love him,” Ash drawled with a hint of mischief worthy of Noah himself. “Come back tonight, he’ll be around and able to talk.”
Ash smirked and glanced at Wyatt. “Come with him, Wyatt. I’ll serve you something besides root beer.”
Wyatt smiled crookedly.
Ash looked away and stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth, patent disbelief on his face. “I cannot believe I said that. I’m gonna go clean the bathrooms.” He gave a mock salute and walked away.
Noah and Wyatt both snickered. Wyatt watched him until he disappeared through the kitchen door.
“So?” Noah whispered.
“I like him.”
“I’m a genius,” Noah crooned before biting into his hamburger.
It was with great regret that Wyatt found the lunch hour dwindling. He and Noah lingered as long as they dared, chatting with Ash, Delilah, and Ryan whenever the trickling stream of patrons died down enough for them to be able.
They left with promises to return that night, and on the walk back to the museum Wyatt had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning like a fool the entire way.
“I don’t like being set up,” Caleb Biron growled through the opening of the wall. He spoke with a cultured British accent. It was well after the lunch hour and the tavern was empty, save for a few regulars sitting in the booths and reading or doing work on their laptops.
Ash bent over, peering through the opening as he rested his hands on the back bar. “You don’t like much of anything.”
“I like being left the hell alone.”
“Ash,” Caleb mimicked, his voice high and whiny as if Ash were nagging him.
“Come on, Caleb.”
“I won’t be nice to him.”
“If you can’t be nice to Noah, then you can’t be nice to anyone.” Ash narrowed his eyes and bent closer to the opening in the wall. “Although from what I’ve seen, that’d be pretty par for the course.”
Caleb growled and pulled the stick that held up the hidden panel. It came crashing down on the back of Ash’s head with a dull thwack. Ash winced and jerked back, rubbing the back of his head as he glared at the now solid wall. Stars skittered to the edges of his vision and disappeared.
“Fuckwad,” he grumbled. When he turned around, Ryan was standing at the bar. Ash huffed at him. “What?”
“You got a grudge against this Noah guy? He seemed pretty all right to me.”
“No! I just think they’d hit it off.”
Ryan cocked his head and looked at the spot where the partition opened. “Yeah. They’re made for each other.” He reached over the bar and grabbed Ash’s neck, pulling him forward and making him bow his head so he could look at where he’d been hit. “Do you have a confusion?”
Ash swatted Ryan’s hands away and straightened back up. “It’s a concussion.”
Ryan smirked. “Sounds even worse.”
“Shut up. Go do something productive.” When Ryan turned away, Ash frowned again and rubbed the back of his head.
He glanced at the clock and took a deep breath to settle the nervous flutter in his stomach. It was nearly five o’clock. He hadn’t asked when Noah and Wyatt got off work, but he assumed it was around five. But then, he had no reason to think that, other than because it was when everyone else got off work. He didn’t even know when the museum closed.
He tried to tell himself that the butterflies were due to the dread of introducing Noah and Caleb now that he was sure Caleb would be a bastard about it. It was partly true, anyway. But the moment he’d seen Wyatt Case walk through the door, he’d been intrigued by the man’s aura. Confidence mixed with uncertainty. Intelligence countered by naiveté. Smoking hot swimmer’s body camouflaged by khakis.
As the grandfather clock near the entrance began to chime the hour, Ash exhaled slowly. The crowds would be in soon, and then the fun would begin. Gravedigger’s had become infamous in Richmond for being the first bar in the state to introduce flair bartending. They added in magic tricks and sometimes even performances on the bar. Other establishments had tried it since, but Ash and Ryan were still considered the best in town.
Hopefully he would be too busy to be nervous or even think about Wyatt Case.
By dusk Ash was up to his elbows in drink orders and laughing, carousing patrons. It was Thirsty Thursday and Gravedigger’s was packed, and would remain that way until midnight.
Noah and Wyatt had failed to show, but Ash still glanced at the door every time he heard it open. He didn’t want to admit that he was disappointed, but trying to deny it was beginning to get distracting, and it was dangerous to be distracted when you were flairing. Ash had more than once been hit in the head with a flying bottle of booze in the early years.
The door opened again as Ash tossed a bottle of gin in the air and caught it behind his back. He managed to glance over, and a rush of relief and renewed nerves swept through him as Noah stepped into the bar, followed closely by Wyatt.
Ash rolled the bottle over his wrist and held it upside down, pouring as he nodded at the two academics. Wyatt met his eyes, a smile playing at his lips as he gave a bashful nod. Ash couldn’t help but grin. The guy was cute as hell. His sandy blond hair was cut short and neat, allowing him to run his fingers through it without mussing it. He had beautiful sea-blue eyes that looked like they could cut glass. He was about the same height as Ash, maybe six feet tall, and had that whole bumbling academic with pent-up sexual frustrations vibe going.
Ash was lucky that what he did was second nature as he watched Wyatt work his way through the crowd. He’d have been sure to get another bang on the head otherwise.
He mixed one more drink to finish out the bottle, let the empty roll down his arm, and then popped it with his elbow to send it flying into a receptacle at the rear wall. He set his other bottle down and held up his hands.
“All right folks, that’s all for me!” The people lining the bar, two rows deep in places, waved bills at him and called out; others applauded and whistled. Ash leaned over the bar, taking the tips and nodding his thanks as Ryan set up behind him.
“Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week,” Ryan was saying as the applause for Ash’s work died down.
When Ash had gathered all the tips and taken one little bow, he sidestepped out from behind the bar and tried to make his way through the crowd to Noah and Wyatt.
“Hey!” Noah shouted above the din.
Ash took the hand he offered and shook it, pulling their clasped hands to his chest as he hugged the man with one arm. “Thought you’d chickened out,” he said into Noah’s ear. It was hard to hear above the music and cheering and general merriment. Ash had always loved the chaotic atmosphere of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, but it made it hard to converse.
“We got held up. Museum emergency.”
“Right.” Ash patted Noah on the back and let him go. Wyatt was looking around and trying not to watch them too closely. Ash stepped toward him and held out his hand. “Wyatt, good to see you again.”
Wyatt looked down at his hand in surprise and then gave that adorable, bashful smile as he took it. Ash pulled him close and hugged him in the same manner he had greeted Noah. It was how he greeted everyone he knew, but when he pulled Wyatt closer, it made his chest flutter and his breath catch. When he pulled back, his heart was pounding just a little faster.
It had been a long time since he’d had that reaction to someone he’d just met. He enjoyed the rush of the sensation, the exciting prospect of new territory to explore.
“Y’all want a drink?” Ash offered. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder at Ryan.
“We’re good right now. Work in the morning, you know,” Wyatt said, just loud enough for Ash to hear.
“Museum emergencies,” Ash repeated, amused. He nodded toward the door to the kitchen. “Come on then, it’s quieter in the back. Hey,” he said as he pulled Noah closer and they began to force their way through the crowd. “Caleb’s cranky. If you want to tell him to go fuck himself, I might have to blow you in the alley out back as a thank you.”
Noah cackled, his eyes shining with good humor. “Interesting offer, but I’ll pass either way. Cranky, huh?”
Ash winced. “You said you like a challenge.”
“I love a challenge.”
Ash opened the door and ushered them in. The kitchen was much quieter than the outer bar, although the music still filtered in through speakers in the ceiling, and the two evening cooks argued constantly as they worked. Ash looked around and found Caleb sitting on one of several empty crates in the corner near the back door. He was smoking a cigar and letting the fan next to him blow the smoke out the open door.
“Caleb, these are the health inspectors I forgot to tell you about,” Ash said, deadpan.
Caleb glared at him and then gave the other two a salute as he blew thick blue smoke out his nose. “I don’t want to be set up, and this little git knows it.”
“Ash said you were a cranky bastard,” Noah said. He stepped past Ash, knelt in front of Caleb, and took the cigar, examining it with a critical eye before taking a slow drag.
Ash watched in stunned silence, holding his breath as they waited for Caleb to respond.
Noah handed the cigar back and blew a perfect ring of smoke past Caleb’s face toward the door. “Cubans, huh?” he asked with a cheeky smirk.
Caleb stared at him for a long moment, mouth ajar, the trail of smoke from the cigar slithering up into the air between them as Ash and Wyatt waited, tense and silent.
Caleb finally tore his eyes away from Noah to look up at Ash. “I like him.”
# # #
“Looks like you have an eye for matchmaking.”
Wyatt and Ash sat at a booth in a quiet corner of the bar. The boisterous crowd had died down just before midnight, when Ryan’s shift ended. Most of the people in the bar now were there for the calmer, more intimate atmosphere.
Ash raised his glass and grinned before he took a sip. “I’m a freaking magician,” he drawled.
“We’ll just call you Thurston.”
Ash raised one eyebrow and grinned. “Greatest magician to ever live. More popular than Houdini in his time. I’m impressed.”
“If that sort of knowledge impresses you, then I like my chances,” Wyatt said, and Ash laughed. He raised his hand to call for two more drinks.
Caleb tended the bar for the last two hours of the night most nights to wind people down from the shows Ash and Ryan put on. Tonight, Noah sat at the end of the bar talking to him whenever he was free. They hadn’t stopped flirting for five hours, and they were getting along even better than Ash had expected. Most people could only tolerate Caleb for limited periods of time. He was blunt, rude, grumpy, and possessed a rapier-like wit that he wasn’t afraid to use, all topped off like a cherry by that damned British accent that made you feel inferior. Ash, Ryan, and Delilah were, as far as Ash knew, the only people he was even marginally civil to.
When Ash had met Noah, he’d known that not only would Noah be able to match wits with Caleb, he’d probably enjoy it.
Ash looked back at Wyatt and smiled. Wyatt was watching him as if the rest of the bar didn’t even exist. “You always this . . . intent?”
“Only when I’m fascinated.”
Ash raised one eyebrow in disbelief. He usually read people well, but he hadn’t expected the shy museum curator to be so forward. He liked that Wyatt could surprise him.
Wyatt laughed and shook his head, looking down at the table. “I’m sorry, I don’t drink much. It makes me braver than I really am.”
“Does it?” Ash planted both hands on the table and leaned forward, pinning Wyatt with his gaze. “I’ll just go hurry those drinks along then,” he murmured before smirking and sliding out of the booth.
The drinks he brought back were stronger than they should have been, but he was feeling daring tonight.
“So tell me what exactly a museum emergency looks like.”
Wyatt groaned and ran a hand through his hair. As he told Ash about his problems at the museum, the playful air faded from him and the worry lines seemed to grow deeper. Despite trying to make a joke of hiding under his desk that morning, Ash could see how deeply troubled Wyatt was by it all.
“So you see my dilemma, right?” Wyatt asked, motioning pleadingly with his hands. Ash was torn between watching those hands and watching Wyatt. “I mean, I’m lost. If I can’t come up with something, I’ll be fired.”
“Doesn’t seem right. They should have known construction would hurt business and planned ahead.”
Ash couldn’t help but laugh at Wyatt’s sincerity, though he did feel sorry for him. He seemed so stressed now that he’d gotten on a roll speaking about it. Maybe that was why Wyatt had allowed Noah to drag him here when it was so obviously not his scene: he needed a release.
“So you’re here researching a new exhibit?” Ash ventured. “Or is it stress relief?”
“Neither,” Wyatt said with the honesty of too much alcohol. He gulped down the last of his drink.
Ash cocked his head and bit his lip against a smile. “I could probably help you with one.”
Wyatt’s blue eyes met his with intense interest, but then his expression softened and he leaned forward. “You already have,” he whispered, the sound conspiratorial. They both laughed as if it had been a joke, and continued talking and drinking as the night wound down around them.
Another hour and Ash realized that perhaps he’d made those drinks too strong. He could hold his liquor, but it had been a long week and he was exhausted on top of being drunk. Caleb agreed when Ash tried and failed several times to sit on one of the bar stools, and promptly took his keys from him.
“That’s so unnecessary,” Ash grumbled as he leaned against the bar.
Noah and Wyatt were the only ones left, and Caleb had already locked the door and turned off the outside lights.
“I don’t drive to work, Caleb. Remember?”
“Do I trust you to walk home by yourself when you’re sober? No. Do I trust you to stumble home alone tonight? Hell no.”
“I could drive him,” Noah offered as he flicked his keys in his hands.
“I can walk home with him,” Wyatt said, voice soft and gruff as he leaned against the bar.
Caleb glared. “You’re more sloshed than he is!”
“But less likely to wind up sleeping in the street,” Wyatt countered with a goofy grin. Ash smiled at him. There wasn’t a chance in hell he’d get through the night without falling into bed with this guy.
“Oh, Christ,” Caleb grumbled before ushering them all out of the bar, where they were no longer his problem.
# # #
Wyatt wrapped his coat around himself and they turned the corner, walking down the side of Gravedigger’s and away from the heart of the Fan. “How far is it?”
“About six blocks. It’s usually not such a bad walk when you’re going in a, y’know, straight line.” Ash waved his hand in front of him, trying to illustrate said straight line without weaving.
Wyatt glanced at him and smiled. Ash was wearing a black pea coat and a lime green scarf, the only bit of color on him. He was hunched against the wind, head resolutely down to watch his footfalls. Wyatt reached out and slid his arm around Ash’s waist. The contact sent a thrill through him.
“Two drunks are better than one,” he said to excuse the brazen move.
Ash snorted and slid his hand into Wyatt’s coat pocket. Wyatt bit his lip to hold back a foolish grin. They were both unsteady on their feet, but leaning against each other did have its benefits. It kept them warm in more ways than one, stoking that hint of excitement that came from the touch of someone new.
And it kept them from falling over.
The walk to Ash’s building on the very edge of the Fan wasn’t a short one, but when they reached it, Wyatt found himself regretting that it hadn’t been longer. He stood with Ash at the massive glass door to his building and searched for something even mildly appropriate to say. He wanted to come in with Ash, wanted to spend more time with him, wanted to see what sorts of things he held dear in the condo upstairs, ask if maybe he could see him again. But it had been so very long since Wyatt had even had a passing interest in someone else, he couldn’t decide how best to vocalize any of those desires.
“You don’t think I’m going to let you walk back to the museum alone, do you?” Ash asked as he slid his key into the lock, flicking his wrist and pushing in with practiced ease as he opened the door. He stepped into the foyer and reached for Wyatt, pulling him by the lapel of his coat. Wyatt glanced around the building distractedly, his nerves making it hard to meet Ash’s eyes as the man helped him down the couple of steps into the building’s foyer. The walls were exposed brick and the stair railing was ironwork that looked like it might have been original.
“Eighteen twenties?” he asked.
“Yeah, how’d you know?” Ash sounded breathless as he let the massive door fall closed behind them with a loud clank.
“Museum,” Wyatt grunted. He realized that Ash was taking much of his weight, and he straightened up and cleared his throat. He overcompensated and almost lost his balance.
Ash grabbed him, but he pushed at him instead of pulling, slamming him against the wall at the base of the stairs to keep him from falling. Wyatt couldn’t tear his eyes from Ash’s; their dark brown depths were nearly black in the low light. He could feel Ash’s breath on his lips, the scent of beer and something more earthy, like sandalwood, assaulting him. Wyatt’s entire body tingled.
Then they began to laugh. They tried to remain quiet so as not to disturb the neighbors, but it swiftly degenerated into the simultaneous snickering and snorting and hushing that always manifested when drunks tried to be quiet.
“Please tell me you can walk up the steps,” Ash said with a hushed giggle.
“How many floors?” Wyatt looked up the narrow, winding stairway.
“One little flight,” Ash whispered, his voice low and tantalizingly intimate. He slid his arm around Wyatt’s waist again and pulled him away from the wall.
Wyatt turned into him and kissed him hard. Ash stumbled, and his back hit the wall as Wyatt pressed into him, his body thrumming as Ash returned the kiss.
The bang of a closing door several floors above them forced them apart to look up. They stood frozen, panting against each other’s mouths as they waited. The door closed again and all was silent.
“Okay,” Ash whispered, nodding as if he were agreeing with something. “Okay.”
“Stairs,” Wyatt murmured against Ash’s lips. Ash nodded once more before Wyatt kissed him again.
They climbed the stairs together, staggering and gripping the railing. As they neared the top where the stairs curved around, Ash bent over and began crawling. Wyatt leaned against the wall and laughed as Ash reached the landing and sprawled on his back in front of the first door, but his laughter died away as he let his eyes drift appraisingly over Ash’s body.
“That your door?”
Ash managed to nod without lifting his head from the floor, and held up his keys as he lay on the landing, his legs still on the steps. Wyatt leaned over him, bracing his hand on the floor as he took the keys. He pressed his body down onto Ash’s and kissed him.
Ash’s arms wound around his neck and Wyatt growled low in his throat, rolling his hips against Ash’s groin. He couldn’t quite believe he was being so reckless, but the combination of the drinks and his intoxicating companion was too much for his inhibitions or common sense to combat.
With a great deal of effort, Wyatt pushed himself back up and stood, pulling Ash to his feet. Ash took the keys and hastily unlocked his door.
They said very little as they made their way across the living room. Ash shed his outer layer of clothing as he led Wyatt toward the bedroom, and Wyatt gave the condo a cursory glance as he followed. It was clean and neat, with large pieces of dark wood furniture that had the strange effect of making the small rooms look bigger.
The bed in Ash’s bedroom was large, too, and unmade—an endearing quirk amidst an otherwise tidy home. Wyatt was sure he’d appreciate it later, when he didn’t have more pressing things on his mind.
He reached for Ash’s suspenders and used them to pull the man closer. Ash grinned as Wyatt looked him up and down.
“These things come in handy,” Wyatt said as he slid his fingers up the coarse material.
“They do have their uses,” Ash purred. He slid his thumbs under the suspenders and pulled them off his shoulders, backing away from Wyatt’s grasp with a wicked twist to his lips.
Wyatt followed, entranced.
Ash flopped onto the end of the bed, pushing his trousers to the floor as he slid up into the middle of the bed and lay out on his back. Wyatt dropped his jacket and reached for his belt.
“Do you make this a habit, Dr. Wyatt?” Ash asked as he pushed his boxers down his hips.
Wyatt took a deep breath, enjoying the free show. “Not really.”
Ash smiled in the half-light that filtered through the blinds, his eyes shadowed and unreadable. “Me either.”
“Good to know.” Wyatt pushed his own pants to the ground, yanked his shirt over his head, and climbed onto the bed.
Ash reached for him. Wyatt settled between his spread legs as they kissed messily, and Ash pulled a knee up and slid his leg over Wyatt’s hip. He grinned as Wyatt gasped against the kiss. “You like the tongue stud, right?”
Ash kissed him again, then whispered, “Kissing’s not the only thing it makes more interesting.”
“Oh, Jesus.” Wyatt’s cock jumped against Ash’s thigh, stirring an intense desire deep in his gut.
Wyatt loved the way Ash writhed and whimpered when he stroked his fingers down his thigh, the way he curled around Wyatt in an impressive display of flexibility. He loved the way Ash’s skin smelled of cigarette smoke, liquor, sweat, and sandalwood, a heady combination that evoked thoughts of taboos and forbidden territories. He loved the way Ash tasted like something new and unexplored, how Ash’s tongue ring made each kiss something he’d never experienced.
Ash’s hands dragged over Wyatt’s skin, tugging at him, digging in as they rutted against each other, nails leaving burning trails as Wyatt kissed him. Finally, he pushed at Wyatt to make him sit back on his knees. Ash was stunning, spread out on the bed, legs wrapped around Wyatt’s waist.
He was even more stunning when he had Wyatt’s cock in his mouth a few moments later, lips sliding against skin, tongue doing unspeakable things that made Wyatt curl over him and grab a handful of his hair in warning.
When Ash pulled back and smirked up at him, Wyatt could hardly breathe. Ash made sure to lick him up and down one last time, leading the way with that piece of metal that seemed designed just for this sort of thing, before crawling across the bed to stretch for a nearby drawer.
Ash tossed a condom and lubricant to Wyatt and turned over to his hands and knees.
Wyatt rolled the condom on, his entire body thrumming for more intoxicating exploration. Ash moaned, long and loud, when Wyatt gripped his hips from behind and worked his cock into him.
Wyatt lowered his head and groaned, his entire body swamped by lust and alcohol and an unusual feeling of being in a different atmosphere. He promised himself he would analyze that feeling later, when he didn’t have his cock buried in the most fascinating, alluring man he’d ever met.
When he began to move, he groaned again, louder this time. His thrusts were slow at first, to give Ash a chance to adjust, but Ash gasped and pushed back into him demandingly. Wyatt bit his lip and sped his movements, unable to close his eyes for the need to watch the way Ash’s lithe body moved against his, the way his cock spread Ash apart and pushed inside him.
Ash reached up and grabbed the headboard of the old wrought-iron bed, preventing it from banging against the wall as Wyatt thrust into him harder and harder. As orgasm threatened, Wyatt bit his lip and stopped moving, gasping as he fought it. He pulled out of Ash with the greatest of care and crawled backward, yanking at Ash’s hips. Ash rolled onto his side, and Wyatt slid off the bed, standing at the edge and holding Ash’s hips, forcing himself to wait, letting the pressure in his gut die down as his cock throbbed.
“Wait,” Wyatt gasped.
“I don’t care, I just want you back in there,” Ash said as he arched his back and pushed up with his hips.
Wyatt slid his hand down the middle of Ash’s back and pulled on his hip, pushing into him again. The mattress recommenced its creaking as Wyatt thrust into him, but the headboard didn’t complain any longer. Wyatt grabbed Ash’s shoulder, fingers digging into the skin as he held Ash still and pounded into him. Ash gasped desperately, threw his head back and arched, pushing into Wyatt’s thrusts. Wyatt reached with his other hand and grabbed a handful of Ash’s damp hair, panting as he rode him.
Ash cried out again and Wyatt released his hair and reached around to fist his cock. Ash bucked against him, writhing wantonly, groaning as he spilled himself into Wyatt’s hand. Ash’s pleasure seen to, Wyatt pushed him all the way to the mattress, holding him down flat and fucking him without mercy until he came with a stifled shout.
He continued rocking until he was spent, his breath coming in gasps against the back of Ash’s shoulder. He made certain the condom came with him when he pulled out, and he flopped onto the sheets, rolling onto his back, gasping for breath.
Ash grunted and turned his head. He was breathing heavily, skin damp with sweat, hair mussed and eyes still lined with the heavy kohl. How it wasn’t spread all over his face by now, Wyatt would never know. He looked completely debauched with the rumpled cognac-colored sheets as his backdrop.
Wyatt stared at him for a long time, breathing hard and letting his body recover, stunned by how such a sordid night could feel so fucking beautiful.
Ash closed his eyes. “Jesus, that was fun, Wyatt.”
Wyatt kissed him, a long, languid play of lips and tongues that banked the residual heat between them.
When they finally parted, they sprawled sideways across the bed. Wyatt stared at the ceiling as uncertainty and incredulity flooded in with the cool air of the open window. What had he been thinking? He didn’t even know this man, had spent a mere five hours with him getting drunk and pretending not to be intimidated by his perfect face and his unfamiliar lifestyle, and now here he was in his bed? He never behaved this impulsively.
“I need water,” he grunted as he pushed himself off the bed.
“Ash didn’t move or open his eyes.
Wyatt huffed as he padded into the tiny bathroom, his mind spinning with thoughts of his next move. He stayed in the bathroom long enough to calm his racing heart. The encounter had been incredible, but rather than tiring him, adrenaline was racing through him, burning away any remnants of the drinks that had fueled his initial bravery and foolishness.
He looked at himself in the mirror. What the hell should he do now? Was he brave enough to face someone like Ash in the morning, when all the liquor and sexual tension was gone and there was nothing left between them but an awkward morning after?
When he poked his head back into the bedroom, Ash hadn’t moved. One arm cradled his head and one knee was cocked to the side. His other foot hung over the far edge of the bed, just as Wyatt had left him when he’d come inside him. He was sound asleep.
Wyatt licked his lips and swallowed hard, letting his eyes linger. Then he began quietly gathering his clothing.
# # #
Ash cracked an eye open and managed a tortured groan as the morning light streamed through the blinds of his bedroom. He was still sprawled sideways on his bed, naked and freezing despite the blanket that covered him.
The place was silent as a grave. Not even the floor above creaked with the footsteps of his neighbors yet. He raised his head carefully and looked around, pleased when it didn’t make his head hurt or make his stomach revolt. He knew instinctively that he didn’t have to waste his breath calling out for Wyatt Case. Wyatt had covered Ash with a blanket before he’d left, but he was long gone.
Ash pushed himself up and winced at sore muscles and a crick in his neck. “At least it was a good time,” he grumbled.
Despite his attempt at a cavalier attitude, he couldn’t help but be disappointed. And pissed off. He knew better than to bring someone home from the bar. For some reason, a sweet museum curator who had spent the entire night talking to him hadn’t struck him as the type to fuck and duck.
Ash sighed and shuffled into the bathroom. He stood in front of the toilet and looked out at the street through the bathroom’s window. It was the last week of September, but the house next to his building was already flying a Halloween flag at its stoop. A ghost with goggle eyes grinned stupidly at him as orange and red leaves fluttered across the road behind it.
October at Gravedigger’s meant big business, and Ash would need to go in soon to help with prep. He had no time to mope about being left alone in bed by a virtual stranger. He huffed and looked down, muttering as he flushed the used condom left in the bowl.
I am completely obsessed with the character of Ash.
[V]ery interesting . . . Roux is a remarkable story teller. I look forward to reading more from this author.
[R]ich historical details, a setting with a life of its own, amazing characters, and most of all, a terrific love story. You won’t want to miss it!
Everything about this book was right up my alley. There was history, ghosts, creepy buildings, hot men in steampunk-ish outfits, and a good amount of humor.
[E]xciting and sensual . . . [T]he perfect balance of romance and genuine scares . . . I applaud what Ms. Roux did with The Gravedigger's Brawl . . .