As Smithy stood in the dark waiting for Paulo to arrive at the over-the-top party, Smithy could feel the nerves coming from his best friend, Kaden. Kaden was Paulo’s boyfriend, and the secret birthday party they’d planned was also going to involve a proposal, so the nerves were to be expected. It had been a long time since Smithy had proposed to his own beloved boy but he didn’t want to focus on how that had turned out. Not on a night that was supposed to be about celebrating the joy and love Kaden had found with Paulo.
Kaden fidgeted next to him, the scent of his aftershave wafting closer as he murmured quietly. “Where the hell is he?”
Smithy’s chuckle was cut off when the main door opened, revealing a shadowed frame that disappeared as the door closed. Although he couldn’t see his friend, Smithy could sense his movement, followed by a familiar Italian lilt. “Che diamine?”
Was that a cuss word? Smithy stifled the next chuckle, thinking about what Kaden would do to Paulo if he had indeed cursed. Cursing was something Kaden didn’t like, especially when he couldn’t understand his sub. No doubt he would punish Paulo for it later.
“Happy Birthday!” The room lit up and the loud shouts came from every direction, Smithy adding his own voice into the mix. He’d arrived only minutes before Paulo, just before the lights were turned off. It hadn’t given him time to clock who made up the large group of men now cheering at Paulo. The poor guy blinked several times, appearing a little overwhelmed. Kaden stepped towards him and his eyes widened when his gaze landed on the stunning bouquet of multicoloured roses his boyfriend held.
A tear leaked out of Paulo’s eye and he swiped at it as he gave Kaden a wobbly smile. “I thought you’d forgotten.”
Kaden handed him the flowers and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. Whatever it was he quietly said to Paulo drew out a glowing smile.
A stab of familiar sorrow forced Smithy to look away, not wanting his own past to chase away the happiness he truly felt for his friend. This time of year was always hard, the anniversary of the death of his boy, Denby, fast approaching. He’d hated when Smithy used his full name, saying it made him sad as it was only used when he’d been naughty, which was often. He went by Den and he’d been Smithy’s boy for four years before fate stole him away.
He’d gone in for a routine operation and had a catastrophic reaction to the blood thinners resulting in a bleed on the brain. He had an undetected blood disorder, which had come to light as soon as he was given the blood thinners. They’d stolen Smithy’s future and the light from his life. The maudlin thoughts clung on and Smithy worked to shove them to the back of his mind, a habit he’d been great at for the last six years. Recently, it had gotten harder seeing his friend find his life partner and highlight what was lacking in his own life.
Conversation flowed around him as he leant on the bar, looking for a distraction.
“Where’s my boy?” asked a stunning looking woman, who had to be Paulo’s mother given the resemblance. “Look at that, Massimo. Kaden got Paulo flowers.”
Judging by the identical nose and chin, Smithy assumed Massimo was Paulo’s father. He responded to his wife by rolling his eyes, though he was just clever enough to do it behind her back.
“See what you have done? I’ll never hear the end of this,” his loud voice boomed out, his Italian accent even stronger than Paulo’s.
“He gives us guys a bad rep, right Massimo?” Carl, the co-owner of The Playroom, where the party was being held, added as he strolled to them and slung his arm over Massimo’s shoulder.
“Si, he does.”
“Kaden is a romantic. Right, mio amore?” The woman gave Kaden a beautiful smile and slipped her arm through his.
A bemused look appeared on Kaden’s face as he shifted away from the woman a little. His family was nothing like Paulo’s. In twenty year of friendship, Smithy had come to hate Kaden’s family and their coldness towards their son.
“What kind of place is this, Kaden? You never said,” the woman asked as her gaze swept the room and came back to Kaden.
Carl made a choking sound as Massimo glanced about the place with more interest. “This is a…pole dancing club?”
This time, Smithy’s head tipped back and he laughed at the choking sound Kaden made. For a moment, the ache of loneliness was dispelled as Paulo summoned up the bravery to answer. “No, it’s a BDSM club.” The light of amusement in his eyes said he was seeing the funny side of having his parents invited to this particular venue.
The woman glanced about with feigned surprise. She played it well, but Smithy didn’t miss the light sparkling in her eyes. “It’s what?”
Massimo glanced at Carl. “Isn’t this your place? When Kaden rang, he said he was inviting us to a party that he was holding in a venue owned by you.”
It was Carl’s turn to blush. Smithy had met the big man several times now, so knew that he didn’t often appear to get caught out.
“It’s mine and Nathan’s.” The level of alarm Carl displayed got a laugh from Kaden.
Those around them started to take notice as Kaden wasn’t usually one to laugh. A pretty blond, who gave Smithy instant boy vibes, grinned at the stiff looking dude at his side. A second later, at whatever the dude’s response was, the boy’s smile dimmed and the longest eyelashes Smithy had ever seen dipped. A second after that, the boys shoulders drooped, along with his pouty lips, the guy he was with seemed either unaware or uncaring that he’d hurt the boy’s feelings. The boy was definitely submissive showing Smithy hadn’t lost his touch. Not that he was feeling particularly happy to have picked up correctly with the way the other guy was treating the boy.
As both a Daddy and a Dom, the dominant part of Smithy came to the fore, filled with the urge to put that sunny smile back on the pretty guy’s face. He’s spoken for and you ain’t looking for long term, remember!
The talking-to Smithy gave himself didn’t last more than a heartbeat before he glowered at the guy who gave off the vibe of a dominant. Giving him an assessing look, Smithy got a distinctly bitter taste at the ultra-trendy suit, which seemed all the rage right now but would look like a dog’s dinner on him. The guy’s jet black hair was styled to perfection. There wasn’t a hair out of place and spoke to someone who valued how others saw them. Most days, Smithy barely remembered to run a comb through his thick, brown hair. He only remembered to get it cut because the barber he went to, who kept his beard trim, insisted on doing both. Smithy’s beard had a mind of its own if left unattended. It was a little like an unruly boy.
He stroked it now as Ben, a chef who worked with Kaden and was also his second in command, stopped in front of the blond. The guy returned to smiling, though it wasn’t as bright as the first one. There was a little gap between his teeth and they were a little crooked, giving him an adorable look.
A second later, Ben wandered off and the blond glanced about as if he were at a loss for what to do with himself. His gaze swept the room and when it rested on Smithy, he couldn’t resist giving him a cheeky wink and grin. The warmth of the returning smile would have kept Smithy’s home hot for the whole of the winter. He felt a familiar tug of desire until the blond was nudged, forcing him to glance at the guy beside him.
The nudge was strong enough to get the blond rubbing his side, increasing Smithy’s ire towards the arsehole, if for no other reason than he appeared to be a bully. Smithy loathed bullies. If that sweet man had honoured him with his affections, then Smithy would make sure to praise the boy continually.
It didn’t matter that it was rude or possibly being intrusive, Smithy just couldn’t stop watching the pair, who were clearly a couple. There was a familiarity that said they were lovers, yet they didn’t…match. The blond was dressed more casually in deep raspberry drainpipe jeans tucked into boots that weren’t fully laced. A fitted shirt in cream was tucked into the jeans, showing off a dark grey belt that had some design Smithy couldn’t make out in the dimly lit club.
“Can I get you a drink?”
Smithy glanced in the direction of the bar and smiled pleasantly at the older looking man giving him an expectant look. “I’ll have a bottle of sparkling water please.”
The guy’s brow quirked up. The Playroom had a fully stocked bar, though he knew it was off limits to those who chose to play in the club. Tonight wasn’t for playing though. The place was closed to the public so alcohol was flowing freely.
“Are you sure, sir? It’s a free bar tonight.”
“I’m driving and as it’s Friday tomorrow, I’ve got an early start.”
“Ahh, I see, sir. One moment.”
Seconds later, after Smithy declined the ice, a bottle of chilled, sparkling water was poured into a glass. However, before he could take a sip of his water, someone knocked into his elbow. Water splashed up at his lower face and dripped off his beard.
“Oh bugger, I’m so sorry. That was so clumsy of me,” crooned a soft, musical voice. Smithy turned to meet the unusual eyes of the cute blond. They were grey one moment and a deep sea green the next.
Had the guy bumped into him on purpose?
Water dripped off Smithy’s beard and onto the bar, drawing the blond’s gaze. His lower lip trembled and the possibility he’d done it on purpose immediately disappeared. “It’s okay, angel eyes, accidents happen.”
The guy was so petite, his head craned back as he looked up at Smithy. The wobbling lips parted and a shy smile formed that took Smithy out at the knees. He forced his hip against the bar to stop from making an arse out of himself. Inhaling to gain his bearings didn’t help, though, when he got a blast of the guy’s scent, which was as sweet as the smile. The secondꟷmuch harderꟷtug of desire was tougher to resist when it brought out all of Smithy’s Daddy needs. Ones he’d not succumbed too for more than six years, feeling it would tarnish what he’d had with Den.
Survival instincts kicked in and Smithy went to step back, only to be blocked by someone standing behind him.
“Angel eyes?” the blond whispered in that oh-so-sweet voice.
Small hands fluttered in front of Smithy before the guy reached to pick up the small serviette that had come with his drink. His eyelashes fluttered as he appeared to consider if he should maybe wipe the drops of water still dripping from Smithy’s beard. The guy lowered those incredibly long lashes and hid the confusion Smithy couldn’t fail to notice.
Jesus, this is madness. It was, but Smithy couldn’t seem to bring himself to get out of the way of his own uncontrollable feelings, especially with the guy looking at him with such…need.
“Go ahead, angel eyes. It’s okay to touch me,” Smithy rasped, conflicted with the knowledge the guy wasn’t single, yet unable to resist soothing the young man with what he was actively seeking. In all his years as a Dom and Daddy, though Smithy would dole out a punishment when needed, he was at heart a caregiver, wanting his boy to fly from their heart.
The hand holding the serviette trembled as the guy raised it and came up on his tiptoes to reach for Smithy. His gaze held Smithy’s and it was as if he was falling into a Caribbean sea. Warmth washed over him and the chill that Den’s death had left in its wake seemed to lessen. The intensity of the connection was all consuming, like that one time he’d been messing with an electrical box and got shocked from a faulty wire. His body reacted immediately to the stimuli and shocked his heart into a funky rhythm. He was powerless to pull away as gentle fingers tugged on his beard while the other used the serviette to remove the remaining water.
Unable to say how long they stood staring at each other like that, Smithy didn’t hide from whatever it was passing between them. He couldn’t, it was too pure. The world could have caught on fire around him and he wouldn’t have noticed. Everything else ceased to exist bar the gentle fingers tugging playfully on his beard.
A strident voice broke the spell. “What is this? Jessie, what the hell are you doing touching this…man?”
The latter was spat out, and in Smithy’s direction, the snooty guy dismissing him with one look. “I’ve been waiting more than five minutes for you to bring me my drink. I don’t know why you thought this was something I’d enjoy. Clearly the service here is shoddy if you have to wait so long. I should have taken Roache up on his offer of dinner and drinks.”
The hands that had dropped from Smithy’s face shook violently at the man’s continued tirade. The crestfallen expression revealed hurt that cut at Smithy’s heart and, though not a man to use violence to solve issues with arseholes, he had to reign in the need to punch the fucker in the mouth and shut him up.
Glancing at the bartender, who hovered as if undecided if he should call for assistance, Smithy gave him a gentle smile. Nodding toward the snooty man, Smithy said, “This arsehole needs a drink. Something sweet to get rid of the acid tongue.”
The guy’s mouth fell open and thankfully, he shut up. Smithy focused his attention on Jessie. “You’re a boy?”
There was the smallest of nods, confirming what Smithy had suspected all along. “Life’s too short Angel Eyes, to give your precious time and energy to arseholes like him. Dump his arse before he takes your light and crushes it.”
Swiping his glass of water off the bar, Smithy headed away from temptation and away from a man that was spoken for, regardless of the fact it was by a dickhead who didn’t appreciate a good thing when he had it.
Kaden stopped him a minute later, his brow furrowed. He stared at the bar then back to Smithy. “What was that about? You looked like you wanted to rip off either Jessie’s head, or the guy’s he was with.”
Smithy ignored how his heart leapt at the knowledge Kaden knew Jessie. “You know the blond?”
Kaden’s nod was slow in coming. “He’s my sous chef.”
That nugget of information was far too tempting to pick at, but Smithy resisted going on the offensive. “It wasn’t Angel Eyes I had issue with, just the jerk he’s with.”
“Angel eyes?” Kaden’s look of disbelief was quickly followed by a narrowing of his eyes. “No, you are not messing around with one of my staff. I can’t afford to lose Jessie.”
There was a little clutch under Smithy’s heart as he shook his head. “Keep your damn hair on, he’s got a boyfriend,” Smithy said, ignoring the accompanying discomfort that came from the words as he shook his head. He glanced back to where he’d left Jessie and found both men had disappeared. He stifled a sigh as he met Kaden’s hard stare. Changing the subject, he glanced down. “You got the ring?”