Blurb: Every starlet wants master painter Kenon Alavi to do her portrait…and more. But Kenon prefers firm to soft and sates his desires with the boyfriends of the women he paints, enjoying the diversity of many lovers but shunning any attachments.
Wallace Harte’s English degree isn’t helping him find a job and working at a bar is the closest he’s gotten to being the Second Coming of Faulkner. Something’s gotta give soon or he’ll be out on the street.
Kenon zeroes in on the bartender at an art exhibition, intending to add him to his long list of conquests, but Wally bolts, initiating a heated game of cat and mouse. Kenon delights in the game until he discovers what Wally is writing. Feeling betrayed, Kenon swears off all entanglements until he reads Wally’s story and discovers true love is sometimes between the pages and not the sheets.
Inside Scoop: This book contains hot, sexy scenes of M/M interaction of an artistic nature. Who knew having your portrait painted could be so hot?
Another day, another drink for those who had dollars. Wally slipped the candied cherry into the Manhattan and handed the glass to the tall brunette leaning against the bar. With barely a nod, the woman slinked away as if on skates, joining one of the clusters of patrons waiting on Kenon Alavi’s arrival. The artist, notorious for being late, probably wouldn’t arrive for another ten minutes at least. Light jazz floated through the air from the ensemble set up in the far corner and spots of colored lights beamed up the walls to the tall ceilings that arched over the studio space. This would make a great setting for a novel, Wally mused. Too bad he didn’t have the plot to go along with it. His creativity had hit an impasse as cliché as the proverbial brick wall.
“Martini. Wet and stirred, no olive, no twist.” The man put his hand on the bar and looked over his shoulder toward the gallery door. “I’m tired of waiting. Don’t care how special Alavi thinks he is, my time’s important too.” He tapped his fingers on the bar. “Annoying bastard. Wouldn’t be here if my wife wasn’t so keen on having him paint her.”
Wally pulled out the glass for the martini, not speaking to the customer. He’d been hired to make drinks, not socialize. The man was just complaining anyway. He wasn’t really expecting a conversation, especially from the bartender. Plus, tonight Wally had to remember all the different highbrow cocktails. He rarely served anything but beer and frozen drinks back at the Cellar Bar. He poured the vermouth into the sloped glass, then stirred the concoction. As long as Mr. Alavi paid his wage, who cared when he actually showed up? His gala, his schedule.
“Told her we could get a portrait done for a lot less but she insists on this guy.” The finger tapping grew more vigorous. “He’s refused her calls for two months now. Arrogant bastard.”
Wally nodded and set the drink in front of the man. Mr. Alavi sounded like a typical snobby artist. Big surprise. “Here you go, sir. Wet and stirred. No olive, no twist.”
“Top shelf?” the man asked, raising an eyebrow. He toyed with the rim of the glass, running his finger around it as if he was checking for chips.
“It’s all we serve,” Wally mumbled, wiping up a few drops of condensation from the top of the bar. Alavi’s guests were snobby too. “Only the best.” Bottles of fine alcohol that could pay off his student loans with cash left over for a few months of rent. He looked out over the room of people. Wealth and privilege as far as he could see, well, except for the musicians in the corner. He smiled. At least they were making a living off their art. One day he would too—if he could ever shed his writer’s block.
The man shrugged and tipped up the glass, finishing off the cocktail in one gulp. He held the glass to the light and examined it, then set it on the bar. “Good thing Alavi has an open bar at this reception. Otherwise, I’d leave right now, no matter what my wife said. I’ll take another, please. The same.” He resumed his tapping.
Wally took out a new glass and prepared the man’s drink. The jazz music was making him sleepy. He’d much prefer something a little more lively. Having spent the previous night out on the town dancing to a club beat didn’t help. But he couldn’t refuse the extra money this bartending gig would put in his pocket. He pushed the glass over to the man and tried not to yawn.
Silence hit the entire room at once, echoing off the vaulted ceiling in thick waves. Someone gasped, then the patrons broke into applause. Mr. Alavi had arrived. The large front doors banged closed and the music softened.
Drink forgotten, the man strode off to join the mass of bodies that now moved as one as they pushed toward the door where Mr. Alavi waited to be greeted. Wally squinted to see what the excitement was but the crowd blocked his sightline. He’d heard the artist put on quite the spectacle and with the number of people and amount of money spent on the reception tonight, he didn’t doubt it for a second.
The crowd parted like the Red Sea in front of Moses and a man walked toward the grand doors that led to the open studio in the back of the room.
Mr. Alavi’s stopped to shake hands with a tall gentleman and then moved on through the crowd. Light glinted like a beacon off the silver brooch at his throat. Murmurs filled the room—whispers, really. Like a creature of the night, Mr. Alavi was dressed in black from head to toe with a few flashes of silver sparkle sprinkled here and there. God, why did all the handsome men have to be rich and unattainable? Alavi was probably straight too. Life was definitely not fair.
Wally reached for the two martini glasses and bumped one over. He caught the stem of the second one just as the glass bowl shattered against the bar. His heart pounded and blood rushed to his ears. When he looked up, Mr. Alavi was staring at him, looking him right in the eye with a piercing gaze and unreadable expression. Everyone in the room watched. Wally’s face flooded with heat and sweat trickled down the back of his tuxedo shirt. Fuck.
“Sorry,” he stammered to no one in particular.
Before anyone could respond, Mr. Alavi moved in his direction and Wally’s throat tightened. Would he fire him on the spot? He began picking up pieces of glass and dropping them into the bar wastebasket, avoiding Mr. Alavi’s approach. Way to go, Wally, blow your chance to earn some extra cash. The one glass probably cost more than the night’s wages.
He bent to drop a large piece of glass into the trashcan, still holding on to the marble bar with his free hand. He squeezed his eyes closed. He’d get through this. Bile rushed into his throat. Why did he always screw things up? He took a deep breath. What was the worst thing that could happen? He’d been fired before and for worse offences.
A warm hand covered his, sending a wave of fear up his arm. Wally stood, coming face-to-face with Mr. Alavi. Wally wanted to pull his hand away and run but fifty wealthy snobs would stop him before he made it to the front door and onto the New York streets. He was trapped.
“Everything okay?” Mr. Alavi asked, his voice as smooth and dark as his slick black satin shirt.
Wally met the man’s gaze—green eyes lined in kohl, set in warm skin that shimmered in the bar light. Black spiky hair dusted with glitter.
Mr. Alavi squeezed his hand and Wally shivered.
“I said, is everything okay?”
“Y-y-yes,” Wally stammered. Even from over the bar, he could tell that Mr. Alavi was tall, well over six feet. His shoulders broadened and then tapered to trim hips. Wally’s mouth filled with saliva. The man was hot. Even if he was about to fire him for breaking the barware.
Avoiding eye contact, Wally studied the black leather jacket Mr. Alavi wore. It was no rental but made to slip around his body like water, hugging the right places, with a few silver studs and spikes on one shoulder. Designer-made, no doubt. In place of a tie, he wore a silver serpent brooch pinned at the neck, its eyes made of tiny rubies and its forked tongue licking out.
Wally gulped and his already-warm face burned. The man must think he was an idiot, drooling and fumbling like a fool. The crowd had gone back to chattering and mumbling but a few people still glared toward the bar, probably annoyed that Wally had taken the artist’s attention away. Mr. Alavi lifted his hand and pulled Wally farther down the bar, away from the rest of the broken glass. The artist looked out at the crowd. Wally didn’t see the look he gave them but anyone staring suddenly turned away and ignored the scene at the bar. The man had the power, no question about it. This was his scene and his alone. Wally’s pulse quickened. At least he wouldn’t be totally humiliated by stares when Alavi fired him.
“What’s your name?” Alavi asked, squeezing Wally’s hand.
“W-w-wall…Wallace Harte, sir. I’m sorry I broke the glass.”
He brushed away Wally’s comment with his free hand. “Ah. An unusual name. Wally for short?”
Wally nodded and gulped down the panic in his throat.
“Call me Kenon,” the artist said, stretching out his name in a French-sounding accent. He ran his thumb over Wally’s knuckles in a slow circular motion and Wally closed his eyes.
The scant hairs on his arm stood erect and he hoped Kenon couldn’t feel how damp his palm was beneath his grasp or how his pulse beat a frantic escape rhythm. From the corner, the music started playing again and the low murmur of the crowd drowned the silence in his ears. Deep breath.
“Thank you, sir,” Wally said. He opened his eyes and met Kenon’s gaze. For a moment, he stared into Kenon’s green eyes, pausing to fully examine them. Enhanced with dark eyeliner, the artist’s eyes almost glowed with feral sparkle. Predatory. Waiting. Wally looked down, not daring to move his hand. Mr. Alavi must be quite the lady-killer. Who wouldn’t want to be with him?
“Time to open the show, Mr. Alavi,” a gallery aide said, sidling up to Kenon at the edge of the bar. “Everyone’s getting impatient.” Wally had seen the aides milling around, making sure things stayed perfect. It must cost a fortune to produce an event like this.
“This is my show. Let them wait,” Kenon growled and clamped down on Wally’s hand.
The aide looked at Wally and smirked. “I’m sure the bartender won’t mind talking to you after the show.” He emphasized the word “bartender” as if it were a dirty word.
Kenon snapped his head and turned to the man. “I said I’m busy.” This growl was louder and deeper and the aide’s eyes widened and his shoulders tensed.
“Yes, sir,” he said and backed away, hands up.
Wally began to shake. He tried to tell himself it was from the air-conditioning but he knew it was from a mixture of fear and longing to be near this mysterious man. The artist must always have a rapt audience. Despite his growling, everyone seemed to be taken in by his charm. Kenon milked Wally’s finger in a stroking rhythm and Wally clenched his thighs together, willing his dick to be still. Kenon was too close and it was a good thing the bar was between them or things could get embarrassing.
“Now,” Kenon said. He tugged Wally’s hand close to his chest, tightening his grip once again. “Lean in so I can whisper what I have to tell you. Privacy you know.” He smiled, a tight line of control.
Wally leaned toward Kenon, drawing in a deep breath of what was likely the most expensive cologne he’d ever smell, combined with a fresh scent that could have been makeup or fine-milled soap. Underlying everything was an all-male scent of danger combined with sex and power. The bar was cold against his chest but the man’s breath was hot in his ear. “Yes?” he asked, voice trembling. “I’m sorry I broke the glass.”
“I said I’m not worried about the glass.”
“What, then?” Wally squeaked out.
“Why are you shaking?” Kenon touched his nose to Wally’s earlobe and Wally tensed. “Am I too close?”
“I…I…don’t know,” Wally said, his breath stuttering in his throat. Why was he shaking? He’d not had a boyfriend in ages but had never responded to man’s presence so strongly and so urgently before. Especially a straight man. At least not while he was sober.
Kenon pressed closer and his warmth radiated over Wally’s neck and face. Wally stood statue-still under the assault of heat. “I want to see you after the show,” Kenon whispered. “Will you stay around? To…talk…”
Wally nodded. Was he in trouble?
“Goooood,” Kenon blew. “See you then.” His lips brushed Wally’s ear and then he nipped it gently, holding on to the lobe for a second before releasing it. Wally shuddered as heat jolted straight to his groin. Why was Kenon flirting? Wasn’t he straight? And why was he so close? Wally squirmed as his pants tightened and his dick disobeyed the order to stand down. The ruby eyes of the serpent brooch glinted as Kenon pulled away.
Just as quickly as Kenon had latched on to Wally’s hand, he dropped it. Turning, he sauntered off as if he were strolling along a promenade without a care. The crowd, cued into his movement, followed him through the open doors to the main exhibit hall. Wally stared after him, watching the people meander into the larger room where Kenon’s latest paintings would be unveiled.
What had just happened? And why had he agreed to meet Kenon after the show? He knew better than to tempt fate with an employer, especially one he was so attracted to and who was so out of his league. He always screwed things up. He adjusted himself and sighed. What did he have to lose?
Available for purchase at: Ellora's Cave
Author Bio: Kerry writes about love in its many forms, and enjoys exploring the dynamics of relationships and the quandaries people get themselves into. She lives in suburbia, but is making plans to escape to the ocean and NYC, as both places hold a piece of her heart.
Be sure to visit Kerry at: Website