For a Good Time, Call... (A Bluewater Bay novel)
Thirty-seven-year-old Nate Albano’s second relationship ever ended three years ago, and since he’s grace—gray asexual—he doesn’t anticipate beating the odds to find a third. Still, he’s got his dog, his hobbies, and his job as a special effects technician on Wolf’s Landing, so he can’t complain—much.
Seth Larson, umpteenth generation Bluewater Bay, is the quintessential good-time guy, content with tending bar and being his grandmother’s handyman. The night they meet, Seth’s looking for some recreational sex to escape family drama. But for Nate, romantic attraction comes before sexual attraction, so while Seth thinks they’re hooking up, Nate just wants to talk . . . genealogy?
So they declare a “just friends” truce. Then Seth asks for Nate’s help investigating a sinister Larson family secret, and their feelings start edging way beyond platonic. But Nate may want more than Seth can give him, and Seth may not be able to leave his good-time image behind. Unless they can find a way to merge carefree with commitment, they could miss out on true love—the best time of all.
- Runner-Up: Best Asexual Book in the 2017 Rainbow Awards
Get this title in the following bundle(s):
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
It’s just a theater, not a torture chamber. You’re here to consult, as a favor to a friend, nothing more.
No matter how many times Nate Albano had repeated that to himself in the last few hours, his palms were still sweaty as he entered the Bluewater Bay Theater lobby. Chill. Focus on the task at hand—or on the building itself, not what it stands for in your own pathetic life.
From his research into town history, Nate knew that the theater had started life as a vaudeville house in the early twenties, but had hosted barely six months’ worth of acts before it closed, a victim of the rise of the nickelodeon and the difficulty of luring quality performers to the Olympic Peninsula. It’d had a second life as a first-run movie house in Hollywood’s golden era, but had closed again with the rise of the multiplex and a downturn in the local economy.
Now, it was experiencing another revival—in more ways than one. The vintage movie posters lining the lobby were a little yellowed with age, but now they were encased in glass and high-end frames. The carpet, still dotted with random crimson tufts where the installers had been sloppy with the vacuum, hadn’t lost the odor of newness. No doubt about it—the playhouse had benefited from its association with Levi Pritchard.
Nate could relate. He had Levi to thank for his own presence in Bluewater Bay. In the aftermath of Jorge walking out on their six-year relationship, Nate had burned so many bridges in Hollywood that he hadn’t worked for over a year. Then he’d gotten that call out of the blue—Levi had recommended Nate for a spot on the special effects crew of Wolf’s Landing on the strength of his work on the SFX crews of Levi’s indie films. So what if setting foot in a theater again knotted his belly and sent his pulse into overdrive? Levi had asked for his help on his latest community theater production—and Levi could pretty much ask him to do anything, short of taking a flying leap off the edge of Sandy Bluff, and Nate would follow through.
When he slipped into the auditorium, Levi was standing at the edge of the stage, flanked by a woman wearing a headset and a man scribbling notes on a clipboard. Nate knew the drill all too well—he’d logged enough hours in darkened theaters to identify the defeated slump of the crew’s shoulders and the tension fairly vibrating off Levi. Welcome to tech week.
Nate started down the aisle as Levi cursed under his breath.
“The set looks great, Jack, don’t get me wrong. But the vibe for this scene—Darla, can we do something with the lights to make this look more like a luxury hotel gone to seed and less like the Transylvania Holiday Inn?”
The woman muttered into her mic, and the lights bathing the stage dimmed and took on a bluish cast.
“Yeah, that’s it. Can we get more of the moonlight effect through the window? And what about— Nate.” Levi beckoned him over. “Thank God. Come meet everyone.”
When Nate reached the front of the house, Levi clapped him on the shoulder. “Folks, this is Nate Albano, who’s on the special effects crew for Wolf’s Landing. Darla’s our lighting designer.” She nodded but turned away to continue her conversation. Levi turned to the man with the clipboard, a thirtysomething guy with sandy hair and a determined chin. “And Jack’s my technical director. He’s done miracles with our limited budgets.”
Nate shook hands, nodding at the set, with its dark wainscoting and realistic plaster walls. “I can tell. You must have a killer fly system to be able to cap the walls with the ceiling that way.”
“Yeah.” Jack shrugged. “Thanks to Levi. He ponied up half the cost for the upgrade a couple years back.”
“Don’t give me more credit than I’m due,” Levi said. “Guy Parker was the real hero there. Between his fundraising campaign and his own donations—”
Jack leaned toward Nate and spoke out of the side of his mouth. “Only because he didn’t want the scenery to fall on his wife’s head.”
Levi chuckled. “Elle Parker is one of our regular actors—she’s playing Elizabeth. Hey, Elle,” he called. “Come on out and meet the man who’s facilitating your murder.”
A willowy blonde woman poked her head out of the wings. “You bellowed, oh fearless leader?” She walked out onto the apron, her long rehearsal skirt setting the residual construction dust swirling. A thin, nervous-looking man in a business suit followed her, squinting in the lights.
“Elle, meet Nate.” Levi nodded at the man. “That’s her husband, Guy.” Guy raised a hand in greeting but didn’t come closer.
Elle leaned over to shake Nate’s hand. “Pleased to meet you. I make it a practice to be on good terms with all my killers.”
“Don’t think of me as a killer. I’m more a serial enabler.”
“That’s right,” a deep voice boomed. “Don’t encroach on my territory.” A huge guy—made even huger by boots with stacked soles and a shirt with some serious shoulder padding—stomped onstage. His face was seamed with scars and distorted by some convincing prosthetics.
Holy— Ty, the cook at Flat Earth, was intimidating enough just wielding his long-handled pizza peel. But now? “You’re playing the Creature, Ty? Wow. Talk about typecasting.”
“Watch it, Albano,” Ty growled, “or I’ll slip jalapeños under the mushrooms on your next combo pie.” Then he grinned, offering Nate a fist bump.
“Elle, Ty, can you run through the blocking for this scene for Nate? I want him to see what we’re trying not to do.”
“Sure thing, Levi.” Ty lumbered off stage right, while Guy sidled over to stand next to Nate and Levi.
Elle took her place in the middle of the set and began to pace, glancing at the camelback clock over the fireplace, peering out the window as if waiting for someone to return.
Something thumped stage right outside the door. Elle spun around as the door swung open slowly, revealing Ty looming outside, filling the doorframe. He growled low in his throat, took a step forward . . . and banged his head on the lintel.
Elle burst into giggles as Ty rubbed his forehead.
Levi sighed. “Ty, we talked about this. You need to slam the door open. Try it again, and this time, really whale on it.”
“Got it.” He exited, closing the door gingerly.
The actors started the scene again, and on cue, Ty flung the door open so hard that it bounced off the wall and creaked closed in his face. This time, even Levi laughed—although he also pinched the bridge of his nose.
“See why I called you? This is a climactic scene. If we were doing Young Frankenstein instead of just Frankenstein, that would have been golden.”
Nate’s cell phone shrilled from his jacket pocket. “Shit. Sorry, Levi. Should have silenced it before I came in.” His mother would have murdered him for disrupting a rehearsal with a cell phone call. He pulled the phone out—speak of the she-devil—and took great pleasure in turning the damn thing off when he saw his mother’s name on the caller ID.
Levi cleared his throat. “Didn’t mean to invade your privacy, but Iris Bedrosian, Nate? The Iris Bedrosian?” His eyebrows snapped together. “You’re not leaving Wolf’s Landing for Broadway, are you?”
“Trust me. There’s zero chance of that.”
“Then why— I mean, sorry if I’m intruding, but it seems odd she’d call you if it wasn’t about a job.”
“Well . . .” Nate rubbed the back of his neck. “She’s my mother.”
“You’re kidding. We’ve known each other how long, and you never thought to mention it?”
“Not exactly something I advertise. I didn’t speak to her for over fourteen years.”
Levi nodded. “Mom issues. I get it. Been down that road myself.”
“Yeah? Did yours lie to you the way mine did to me?”
“Actually, it was the other way around. I lied to her and my father about being bisexual.”
“We didn’t have that issue, but—” Nate shook his head. “Hey. We’re not here to talk about motherly love or lack of it. I take it you want to beef up the impact of this scene.”
“So . . .” Nate squinted at the coffered ceiling on the hotel room set. “How would you feel about an audience-shits-their-pants moment?”
Levi grinned. “I’d kill for one. Think you can deliver?”
With this set and a competent TD? “Yeah, I can do that.”
“That’s why I love working with you. What have you got?”
Nate pointed to the ceiling. “We can take full advantage of the current design. All we have to do is—”
“Levi?” Carter Samuels called from halfway down the aisle. “Are you ready to go?”
Levi’s smile bloomed as he gazed at his husband. “Hey, babe. What—” He winced. “C.J.’s party. Damn. I forgot. But it’s tech week—”
“Yeah, and your actors and crew have other jobs.” Carter sauntered over. When he gave Levi a kiss, the expression on both their faces was one of total adoration. Just like I thought I had once. “Come on, you slave driver. Let everyone go.”
“You’re right.” He turned to the stage. “That’s it for tonight, everyone. Tomorrow night, same time.” He grabbed Nate’s elbow. “Not you, though. You can fill me in on your ideas at the party.”
“I . . . uh . . . wasn’t planning to go.”
Levi frowned. “How long have you been in this town? Six months? Seven?”
“Eight and a half, actually.”
“Eight and a half, then, and you haven’t gone out with us once.”
“I have. A couple of times.”
“Only because you were forced. This’ll be an easy one. It’s just over at Ma Cougar’s, nothing too fancy, everyone welcome.” Levi lowered his voice, let go of Nate’s elbow, and squeezed his shoulder instead. “It’s been three years since he left. Isn’t it time to get out there again?”
What was it about people who were stupid in love? Why did they think everyone else burned to be in the same state? Nate was managing just fine on his own. He had his job, his dog, his hobbies. If he was lonely from time to time, so what? Better that than a futile search for a soul mate, someone who got him. I’ve had that. Twice. Can’t expect lightning to strike a third time.
“I’m good, Levi. Really.”
“Even so, you’re coming along tonight. Have a drink or two and tell me about your ideas, because we’ve only got a week to implement them. Jack? Can you join us?”
“Sure. Soon as I lock up.”
“See you there.” Levi slung his arm across Carter’s shoulders. “Let’s get going—the sooner we make our appearance, the sooner we can leave.”
Nate sighed and followed the couple up the aisle. What the hell—it wasn’t as if he had to meet anyone’s socializing expectations. It’s just a drink. For Levi, surely he could survive one evening out.
On Sunday morning when Seth Larson went to his grandmother’s house to steal coffee, he found her lying in wait for him. “I’m absolutely certain there are squirrels in the attic,” she said in greeting after he’d let himself in the kitchen door.
“Grandma.” That was totally a whiny voice. You’re thirty, shape up. “Let me at least finish one cup first.”
Peering at him over the top of her newspaper, she nodded. He’d been his grandmother’s de facto handyman long enough—twelve years, on and off—to read her unspoken message. This was part of her plan to get the Sentinel House—the Larson family manse—in shape to sell.
He couldn’t crush her dream of getting rid of this albatross and moving into Bluewater Bay Senior Estates. So, he spent the next eight hours hunting for squirrels in all the hidey-holes and crawl spaces his great-great-grandfather had had built into the place.
It took all day, and he never found a single squirrel. He did run across a total of five mummified rodent corpses. Thank God for work gloves, because when he planted his hand right in the remains of the first one and it crunched flat under his weight, he nearly shrieked. He managed to contain it to a yelp. Yet another reason for Grandma to sell the damn place. If only they could convince the rest of the family.
Finally done, he had to rush back to his studio apartment over the garage. He had barely a half hour to clean up and make it to Ma Cougar’s to meet Lucas Wilder. Even though he was looking forward to going out tonight, Seth debated with himself about it while he was in the shower. Grandma had seemed unnaturally melancholy. Maybe leaving her alone wasn’t a good idea. But he wanted to get out, even needed it. Since his grandmother had decided to get the house sale-ready, she’d been having him do more chores than normal around the place. He’d hardly seen anyone under fifty all week other than at work.
What am I going to do when Grandma moves?
Well, there was something he hadn’t thought of.
Huh. Realizing he was doing nothing but standing in a spray of warm water, staring at droplets forming and then running down the glass door, Seth shook himself from his thoughts and finished washing up.
It only took him a few more minutes to fix his hair and trim his beard with the clippers in order to keep it just the length he liked. He was only meeting Lucas after all, this wasn’t a date in either Grandma’s sense or his own. He hadn’t gotten “social” in a while, but he had high hopes that Lucas would make a good wingman.
Maybe “high” hopes was a bit of an exaggeration.
Ma Cougar’s was less than a block away. The hip new gastropub had been built on the site of the town’s first lumber mill, which in turn had been built by none other than his own great-great-grandfather.
Interesting how his father and uncle were okay with selling off the mill land, but couldn’t bear to part with a house neither even wanted to live in. He filed that thought away for future use, when the sale of Sentinel House became a family “discussion.”
Light met him at the double doors that opened on the restaurant side, and warmth blasted his face the second he walked in. For some reason, when he wasn’t working he preferred entering this way. Like going in the front door instead of the servants’ entrance.
“Hey, Diana.” He smiled at the assistant manager as he passed the hostess stand. She smiled back and waved before continuing what she’d been saying to the new hostess under training.
He found Lucas at a table in the narrow passage between the bar and dining room areas.
He and Lucas should have been friends in high school. They were in the same grade, were each descended from pioneer families that had settled the area and—most importantly in Seth’s mind back then—they were both gay. They hadn’t been friends though, because Lucas had been a douche.
Except Seth had an inkling that if things had been reversed and Lucas had been the accidentally outed gay boy while Seth had been the closeted one desperately trying to appear straight, he might have avoided Lucas like the plague much the same way Lucas had avoided him.
Even back then, Seth was pretty sure he’d been the more butch one of the two of them. An impression he only confirmed for himself as he watched the dude sipping a fruity drink through a straw while waiting for him. Or maybe not—Lucas jerked his head back from the glass after a sip and grimaced at it, as if it had personally offended him. His expression was still one of distaste when he caught sight of Seth and lifted a hand half-heartedly.
Did no one want to see him tonight? Buck up. Diana had been busy, and Lucas was being, well, Lucas. Not all of the dude’s douchebaggery had been left back in his teen years. The difference was now he apologized if it was pointed out to him, and he seemed truly repentant. It was the only reason Seth socialized with him.
Well, that and the need he seemed to have to make Lucas like him. There was something he wished he’d left back in twelfth grade.
“This is disgusting,” the man in question said once Seth was within hearing range. “I hope when you start tending bar you don’t force shit like this on me.”
“Someone forced you to order an orange drink with a pineapple and a little parasol?” Seth shrugged his jacket off and hung it on the little hook at the end of the booth. As he turned to sit, he found Lucas had stood and was kissing him on the cheek before plopping down again.
Seth snorted as he slid into the booth. “Sometimes you make it really hard to forget you haven’t lived here since you were eighteen.”
“No kissing friends hello, then, huh?” Lucas rolled his eyes before leaning forward to take his straw back into his mouth, biting it and shaking his head with his teeth bared. Apparently that was his opinion of social customs in Bluewater Bay.
“Kiss me if you want.” Seth shrugged. “I’m just saying people don’t see two guys greeting each other that way around here often.”
“Why did I move back again?”
“Gabe,” they both said at the same moment, and Lucas’s dissatisfied expression melted away as he went dreamy-eyed. There was no other word for it. Lucas sighed and sipped his drink, which apparently killed his mood all over again.
“Yuck. Screw this.” He shoved the glass toward the end of the table. “I can’t do it. I’ll have that beer I usually order.” Leave it to him to assume Seth would know what he meant. “The light caramel one, you know? Just a skosh bitter?”
Of course, Seth did know. Lucas ordered it every time he came in, as soon as someone reminded him what it was. “Local Logger Lager.” How hard was that to remember? “How’d you end up with—” he squinted at the pear-shaped cocktail on their table, trying to place it. Got it. “—a zombie, anyway?”
Lucas bobbed his head toward the wall next to them, and the glossy, picture-laden specialty cocktails menu that was posted there. “I couldn’t resist the name. You should come up with some classier mixed drinks.”
“I’m only a lowly bartender, I’m not in charge of that stuff,” Seth reminded him as he flagged down Zoe. “Plus, I technically don’t start the new job until tomorrow.” Ma Cougar’s seemed extra busy tonight, and Zoe looked extra flustered as she headed their way, carrying a fully laden bar tray. “Hey, hi.” He gave her his most winning smile as she lurched to a stop next to their booth.
“You guys want something else?”
“A couple of Local Loggers?” He hated asking her when the place was packed. “Or I could go get them myself.”
“Nah,” she said over her shoulder as she started off again. “Let me, it’s your last night before starting the new job.”
Lucas spent the first half hour catching Seth up on his life. It was mostly about some gallery show Lucas was making a lot of work for, and everything Gabe had been doing regarding his tree farm. To hear Lucas tell it, it sounded as if Savage Tree Farm was quickly turning into a marijuana operation. Seth didn’t need all the updates—his regular customers kept him current on just about everything and everyone in Bluewater Bay—but he took a sip every time Lucas said his boyfriend’s name. He’d finished his first beer and nodded at Zoe for another before Lucas asked, “So, what’s up with you?”
“Nothing, really.” He shrugged. “You already know about my promotion, and otherwise it’s same old, same old.” Mentally debating whether it was a good idea to tell Lucas about sprucing up Grandma’s house to sell, he busied himself with spinning a beer coaster on its side.
Until Lucas slapped it flat, killing all motion. “So no one new?” he asked pleasantly, in complete contrast to how aggressive his coaster offense had been. “Seeing anyone regularly?”
Seth raised his brow and pointedly eyed Lucas’s hand, still palm down on the table in front of him.
“Sorry,” Lucas sighed, withdrawing his arm. He grimaced apologetically and picked up his beer—still nearly full—sipping it while he watched Seth over the rim.
Ever since Lucas Wilder and Gabe Savage had gotten together, Lucas had been cajoling Seth into finding a “one true love.” In keeping with his preferred lack of making an effort, Lucas did so by asking a lot of questions about who Seth had been messing around with, and what kind of “future” they might have as a couple.
The guy was motivated by his own guilt, and his desire to get rid of it. Guilt over being a dick to Seth in high school and over “stealing” Gabe. Probably mostly over the stealing of Gabe, which was all in the dude’s head. Seth and Gabe had been fuck buddies and friends, nothing more. He still had half of that, and it wasn’t very difficult to find someone to hook up with in this town, not since Wolf’s Landing had started filming here.
Right now, talking about Grandma’s house seemed like a better topic, even if he was trying to keep gossip from getting around until after the rest of the family had agreed to the sale. Lucas wasn’t likely to tell anyone, anyway. He wasn’t likely to remember it past tonight. The guy gave new meaning to “self-absorbed.”
Maybe I still have issues with him . . . Whatever.
Seth’s thinking silence had consequences. “I haven’t seen you around much, lately,” Lucas continued as he set his beer down. “I thought maybe you and—”
“I’m helping Grandma get her house ready to sell.” He wasn’t throwing her under the bus by telling. Not really. “She wants to move into the Bluewater Bay Senior Estates.”
“Oooh!” Lucas’s eyes lit up, which seemed a pretty damned odd reaction. “Gramma—Gabe’s grandmother—would move there in half a second if she thought she could.”
Crazy. Even talk of Gabe’s family affected the dude. Or he really liked Gabe’s grandmother. Not impossible to believe—Seth really liked his grandmother. “That so? Huh.”
“I think she wants to be closer to the gossip.” Lucas squinted. “And her friends.”
“Why doesn’t she move?”
Lucas shrugged. “She feels like she needs to stay with her family. Gabe’s mom would be all alone in the house if she left. I mean, Jane tells her it would be fine, but Gramma doesn’t believe it, I guess.”
Jane was Ms. Savage’s first name? He’d never known that. Lucas must be pretty close to Gabe’s family. Of course, the couple lived in an apartment that Gabe had built years ago in the horse barn, while Gabe’s grandmother and mother lived in the “big house.” It was a lot like Seth’s own situation, minus his mother and a live-in partner. Oh, and his apartment was much smaller.
“Listen, don’t tell anyone about the house, we’re trying to keep it secret. Although she might already have a buyer—Charley Sykes and his wife want to turn it into a B&B.” They were locals, about ten years older than Seth and Lucas were, but their kids were already off to college. People started young in small towns. Some people.
He could tell by the way Lucas squinted and stared at the ceiling that he had no clue who that was. Lucas didn’t ask though. “So once your grandma sells the house, are you leaving Bluewater Bay?”
The question startled Seth so much he could only blink for a second. But Lucas didn’t jump in and continue, instead he waited with what looked like true interest. “Um, I wasn’t planning on leaving, no.” Not that he’d made a plan to stay. Or any plans at all. Why had this whole issue only occurred to him tonight?
“Really?” Lucas screwed up his brows. “If it wasn’t for Gabe, I wouldn’t stay here.”
As if Seth didn’t know Lucas was only here now because Gabe was tied to his family’s tree farm? Oh, cool it. Getting prickly with Lucas because of his own questions about what he was going to do and why he was even still here in this town was stupid.
Still, he didn’t feel like revealing any of his internal quandary to Lucas, no matter how civilized the dude had become. “Why would I want to leave? This is the farthest north you can go in the continental United States and still regularly bang TV stars.”
Lucas laughed, and Zoe came by just then, giving them a work-mode smile that Seth knew well. “So, are you guys planning on ordering any food, tonight? Because—”
“We can move to the bar, no problem.” Seth was already scooting to the edge of the booth and grabbing his jacket. When he reached back for his beer, he caught Lucas’s frown. Darn it, was the guy going to cause problems? Did he think his butt was too important to make room for a more lucrative customer’s?
“I didn’t even think of that,” was all Lucas said, though. “It is really crowded in here, huh?”
“It’s Prime Rib night,” Seth explained, then tried to decide the fastest way to get Lucas to cooperate.
Except he didn’t need to because Lucas had already stood and taken his own glass, contradicting all Seth’s assumptions about the guy’s self-centeredness.
Shit, he really was still holding a few grudges about Lucas, wasn’t he?
With the chaos of the party swirling around their corner table, Nate had to almost shout so Jack and Levi could hear him. “See what I mean? We’ll only have to deal with this little section . . .” He scribbled a few final notes under his sketch and passed the paper to Jack. “It’ll be easy to replace for each performance.”
Jack nodded, a smile finally dawning on his face after a solid hour of scowling into his beer. “Yeah. Yeah, that’ll be a snap.”
“This is outstanding.” Levi threw back his head and laughed, causing everyone in the bar to look their way—Levi wasn’t normally a gut-laugh kind of guy. “I owe you. Big time.”
“The least I could do. Besides, design is the easy part. Jack has the tough job—he’ll have to prep the new sections and rebuild the lab table in a week.”
Levi slapped Jack on the shoulder. “No fear there. This guy can work miracles. Sometimes I think he actually lives in an alternate dimension where time runs at a different pace.”
For a dour guy, Jack blushed like a teenager. “It’s nothing. Just doing my job.” He stood up. “Thanks for the drink, Levi. And Nate? These designs—well, I hope I do them justice.” He lifted a hand and threaded his way through the crowd of Wolf’s Landing cast and crew, stopping near the door to exchange a couple of words with Carter.
Levi’s gaze lingered on his husband for a moment before returning to Nate. “Seriously, I can’t thank you enough.”
“No thanks necessary, man. After you went to bat for me—”
“No hardship there—in fact, Anna practically genuflects to me every time you pull off another effect that supports her anti-CGI position. And if you keep the actors safe . . .” His gaze wandered again, to where Carter was chatting with C.J. and Ginsberg.
Yeah, it’s not “actors” in general that he’s protective of. But Nate didn’t begrudge them their happiness—much. Well, begrudge wasn’t the word precisely. Envy. Yearn. Crave. Those were words he could get behind, when he was honest with himself, because it was obvious how connected the two men were, regardless of what went on in the bedroom.
That was what he missed, what he had little hope of finding again—someone who knew him so well that they’d meet his eyes across a room and their smile would be enough to ground him at the same time it lifted him up. A promise that no matter what crap life threw at the two of them, they were in it together.
A movement beyond Carter’s shoulder caught his eye. Over at the bar, a blond guy with a neat jawline beard stood up, turning a knockout smile on the waitress.
That’s the kind of smile I wish was waiting for me at the end of every day. But how likely was that? Given how few people understood the nuances of his orientation, the odds were astronomical. He’d beaten the odds twice—for a little while at least—but he’d given up on hitting the kind of jackpot Levi had with Carter. And given how gutted he’d been when both his previous relationships had ended, he was better off not gambling on another one, not with his lousy luck.
Much safer that way. Lonely, but safer. Although—he couldn’t help stealing another glance at the smiling blond—it would sure be nice to beat the odds for good.
The bar was unusually crowded for a Sunday—sometimes that happened for no rhyme or reason—so Seth led the way from the booth toward the barstools, which were probably their best shot at getting an actual seat. The very moment he stepped out of the dining room proper, the air grew staticky. Maybe it was because the area was so crowded—at least a third of the patrons were standing, unable to find seats. Maybe occupancy in excess of the fire marshal’s limit created electricity.
Did Lucas feel that strange atmosphere too? Seth screwed his head around to catch a glimpse of Lucas out of the corner of his eye. “What guy?”
He turned back the way he was going just in time to avoid walking into another pillar. Except this pillar was a person.
Oh, Guy. “Hey there.” Seth smiled at Guy automatically. He was good people. “Come have a drink with us?”
A sharp, shoe-sized object kicked him in the ankle from behind. Lucas doesn’t like Guy? The dude was a total geek, even in his thirties, but perfectly agreeable. Maybe a bit overly eager to be accepted, but he’d always been that way.
Be nice, it’s good for you, he thought at Lucas while nodding Guy toward the bar area. “Behave,” he hissed over his shoulder once Guy turned to lead the way to a stool that was opening up at that moment.
Guy reached it, then waved Lucas’s butt onto it as if he were landing Air Force One, ignoring the other plane lined up to land. Namely, Seth. He’d just managed to drape his jacket on the stool’s backrest before Lucas had completely claimed it.
Okay, that might be annoying. But it was Lucas’s bad luck to be one of those people that others were desperate to have like him. Seth couldn’t claim he had a lot of sympathy.
After five minutes of experiencing Guy in “schmooze” mode, he had all the sympathy. Guy was downright obsequious toward Lucas. First he insisted on buying them drinks, even though theirs were nearly full, then he peppered Lucas with inane questions about his work and his life before Lucas had moved back to Bluewater Bay, with heavy emphasis on what kind of “presence” he intended to create in the community.
Well, you had to give Guy points for caring about the town.
Regardless of Seth’s attempts to find this side of Guy tolerable, Guy didn’t ask him a damned thing. Which was sort of expected—Seth saw Guy frequently, usually as his waiter, and Elle, Guy’s wife, was the one who usually chatted with him—but he couldn’t say he liked being ignored in favor of someone deemed more important.
“So, you’re flying solo tonight?” he asked once Guy had taken a break from flinging questions at Lucas.
“Um.” Guy finally looked away from Lucas. “No.”
“I meant,” Seth said, as Guy continued to frown at him, “Is Elle with you?” Then he’d have someone to talk to.
“Oh, got it.” The parts of Guy Seth actually liked shone through at mention of his wife. He perched his elbow on the bar top and leaned his weight on it, smiling less maniacally than before but much more believably. “No, she didn’t come. She had to go home after rehearsal to finish prepping for tomorrow. She’s a teacher, you know.” He directed the last part at Lucas. “I came with some of the theater crowd. You know, from the Bluewater Bay Playhouse. Used to be the Theater Company, but we’re rebranding.” His eyes lit up as he leaned closer to Seth to stage-whisper, “Levi Pritchard invited me. Hey,” he continued in a normal voice, gaze flicking between them. “You guys want to meet him?”
“Who’s Levi Pritchard?” Lucas asked guilelessly. But the split second of side-eye he shared with Seth showed the lie—Lucas knew who the actor was.
Predictably though, Guy bought it, deflating instantly. “Yo