Burn

burnAustin Lombard isn’t into names. For tonight, at least, he’s only up for an anonymous encounter and he insists that the irreverent Scot he meets in a bar not surrender his name. That’s how people begin to get attached, and Austin doesn’t want to get burned again.

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Chapter 1

I could have written a whole list of goals, but that night had only one rule: no names.

I’d had enough of them. Well, one in particular, but at least I’d managed to get rid of Sean Thomas eventually.

Sean. Thomas. My grandma, God rest her, had always said, “Never trust a man with two first names.” I only wished I’d taken her advice. But she’d been dead for a few years by the time I met him, not around to warn me off. Not that she was given to hanging around in gay bars anyway; bingo halls were more her scene. Besides, the alcohol I’d thrown down my neck that night had skewed my thinking processes somewhat.

To be fair, he was a good-looking bastard and that wasn’t just the beer goggles talking. Plus, he’d had the good grace to mask the fact he was a festering fucknut behind a rapacious sexual appetite. For a time.

It was just a shame that when I had crawled out of bed, bruised and battered (by choice, I hasten to add) and ready for a shower, he took his sexual appetite elsewhere. There was probably a “while my back was turned” punch line in there somewhere but going out tonight was supposed to be about forgetting Sean Thomas, not calling to mind his, uh, indiscretions.

I definitely wouldn’t be thinking about the number of times he’d screwed around on me. Nor the fact I didn’t care as much as I had expected to.

After instructing the cab driver to drop me off, “Just here,” I threw a twenty his way and told him to keep the change. Too jittery to care about a couple of dollars here and there, I just wanted to get out of the car and walk for a bit, which is why I’d got him to stop a block or so away from any of downtown’s more interesting establishments. I tried to convince myself I wasn’t heading to Archangel’s looking for anything more than a few beers even though it just so happened to be a gay bar…

I shrugged, then looked over one shoulder to check no-one behind me had seen the movement and judged me to be a twitching mental case. But the evening breeze was just strong enough to justify someone adjusting their jacket on their shoulders and shrugging deeper into it against the cool temperature, so I didn’t worry too much.

Trying to shake off those jitters didn’t work. I had to face up to the fact I was horny, and, attractive though Mrs. Palmer and her five daughters were, sometimes taking matters into my own hands didn’t cut it.

Because Sean’s sexual appetite had been exhausting to say the least–and damn it; I’d just thought of him again–we’d rarely left the house. It was less of a relationship, more of a fuck buddies kind of thing. No dating, just sex. Not something I had a problem with, but when I’d found out about his other paramours I’d wondered if I was the gay male equivalent of convenience food for him. A T.V. dinner with cock.

“Austin.” One of the bouncers held the door open for me and winked. “Haven’t seen you here for a while.”

“Did you miss me?”

“Like the deserts miss the rain,” he drawled, not even bothering to look at me, instead busying himself eyeing up another patron, the sarcastic jerk.

I gave him the finger and headed to the bar. “Bottle of Miller, thanks.” As I reached into my pocket to fish out some money, I heard something at the side of me which could only be described as an exaggerated snort. Exaggerated because I heard it above the pounding backbeat of music. Whoever was laughing or having some kind of seizure must have played it up a bit, specifically so I’d hear him.

“You seriously drink that American shite?”

“Um…” Handing some cash to the barman–service was fast here, the philosophy being get the clientele drunk, quick–I glanced to my right at the dark-haired guy, letting the server drop some change into my outstretched hand without even looking at him. “Yeah.” I shoved the coins into my jeans pocket and clasped the bottle like a weapon. Or a defence mechanism. “That’s why I ordered it.”

“You bloody Yanks; you don’t have a clue how to drink.”

I took a sip, letting it settle the butterflies in my stomach before I turned back to the…what was he? A Brit, definitely. Probably Scottish. “And you would be far more experienced in that regard, one assumes?”

“Ooh, get you, being all fucking posh. Are you sure you don’t have any English blood? Stiff upper lip and all that?” His smirk bordered on the mocking but something about him told me his teasing was absolutely devoid of malice.

“That’s not the only thing about me that’s stiff,” I muttered into the mouth of the bottle as I took another sip. No point beating around the bush. I just needed to admit to myself what I was there for.

“You sound like my kinda bloke.”

“Careful, you just uttered a sentence without any swearwords in it. You’re slipping.”

“Aye, you’re right. Got to keep up the national stereotype. Uh…bloody. Arse. Or something.” He threw back a mouthful of his not-American beer before grinning and looking at me sideways. “So with your stiff…” he paused, straightened, and turned to face me, still keeping one elbow on the bar, “…upper lip, is this where I ask if you have any English in you?”

“Then I say no, and you say would you like some?” Yeah, I needed to admit to myself what I was there for, but it had never happened this fast before.

“You’d be buggered in that case. Or not, as the case may be. I’m as Scottish as a haggis in a kilt. Playing the bagpipes. While drunk.”

“So why are you drinking German beer?”

“Because it’s strong enough to strip the enamel off your teeth and it’s the only thing that reminds me of home. Scots tend to drink aftershave mixed with battery acid. This?” He mock-saluted me with the bottle. “It’s the only stuff that gives me a kick that even comes close.”

“Why are you here then?” I frowned, curious about what brought him all the way over here if the aftershave and battery acid back home was so delicious. He certainly didn’t look as if he abused his body as badly as he claimed. He was just about as tall as me and I tickled six feet. Clean shaven, just the way I liked them. Stubble burn might have been trendy but it made for a metric fuckton of discomfort in the morning.

He looked around us, scanning the room, lingering at the sight of all the hips and elbows and white T-shirts on the dance floor. After a few seconds more, he returned his attention to me. “Trying to be gay.”

“Trying?” I lifted my eyebrows in a request for an explanation.

“I think I need more practice.”

If that wasn’t a come-on, I didn’t know what was. And I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say in reply. Thank God I had a bottle of beer to drink from to kill a few seconds.

“This is a gay bar, right?” he asked.

“Yeah. Yeah, the pink neon lights around the bar would suggest so.”

“And the men snogging in the corner.”

“That too. Just wait ’til happy hour. The manager starts a daisy-chain jerk-off with the customers of his choice. First one to come has to suck him off in front of everyone else.”

Nameless Scot snorted just as he was about to take another drink. “Fuck. Jesus. I didn’t think Americans had a sense of humour.”

Dear God. I just called him Nameless Scot. And I always said I wanted to… I blinked a few times, as if such a move would clear my head. With someone whose name I didn’t know. I coughed, attempting to bring myself back to the here and now. “Who says I was kidding?”

“Oh man, I am so glad to be here now.”

“Speaking of which, you never did answer my question about why you’re here.”

“I told you. Trying to be–”

“Not here in Archangel’s–”

“Those pink neon lights are a bit much, though. They’d be as well calling this place The Pink Palace of Raging Queers. If the D.J. starts playing Cher, I may very well have to call him out, sir. Yes, call him out.”

“Stop avoiding the question. I mean in this country.”

“Ah. That would be telling.”

“Don’t tell me. You’re only here for the daisy chain?”

“Or something like it.” He pursed his lips in the bastard lovechild of a pout and a kiss. “So do I just call you Daisy, or do you have a proper name?”

“Austin.”

“Austin.” He rolled the word around his mouth like he was tasting it. “What’s your surname? Texas?

“Congratulations on your knowledge of American geography.”

“Do I win a prize?”

“Lombard.”

“Lombard? That’s your surname? How did an American end up with an Italian surname?”

“You know Italian geography too?”

“Oh, not much.” He held up a hand and brushed off my surprise as if the almost-compliment made him uncomfortable. “Just that Lombardy’s capital is Milan. Italy’s second-top tourist destination, don’t you know?”

“And how I ended up being named after the region I don’t know. I presume one of my ancestors fucked an Italian.”

He shivered, perhaps theatrically. “Yeah, I can understand the temptation. So are you impressed that a Scot stayed sober long enough to learn something about the outside world?”

“Immeasurably so.”

While leaning his forearms on the bar, he moved nearer to me, stepping sideways and leaning in close. “If you can point to Glasgow on a map of Scotland, I’ll be your best friend forever and ever.”

“Scotland?” I did my best to scowl. “Isn’t that a small town somewhere in England?”

“Hey, fuck you, Texas.”

“You wish.”

He rolled his shoulders, making no reply beyond “Mmm. Well maybe I do.” He cleared his throat and stood up straight again. “I guess if I’m going to be your best friend forever and ever–”

“Or not, depending on whether or not I can point to Glasgow on a map of England, was it?”

He rolled his eyes, but smiled at the same time, so I knew he hadn’t taken offence. I hoped. “I’d better tell you my name–”

“No. Don’t.” I’d uttered the words before thinking and the fact he didn’t recoil at my sharpness of tone settled the nerves in my stomach.

His arm had frozen, half-extended, in that terribly, terribly British gesture of here; shake my hand. Pleased to meet you. “No?”

“No.” I bit my lip.

“I can assure you it’s not something embarrassingly Scottish.”

“Even so.” A pause before continuing. “I’d rather not know what you’re called.”

“Then how can you possibly know what to shout? God, I can’t believe I even said that out loud. I’m so ashamed of myself.”

“Are you really?”

“Absolutely bloody not. I often find the cheesiest chat-up lines get a laugh and after that?” A casual shrug, completely devoid of shame. “I’m in there.”

“You’re trying to pick me up?”

“Why yes, Texas. I am. And I’m absolutely shameless.

“My name is Austin. Austin Lombard, as you very well know.”

“Yeah. But if I’m not allowed to tell you my real name, I get to call you whatever I like. Them’s the rules.”

Unable to help my amusement, I suppressed a laugh. His eyes, even under the artificial lights of the bar, twinkled with something more than merriment. Devilment, I’d have said. “Rules? You’ve done this sort of thing before?”

“Picked up a complete stranger in a club?” If the lighting hadn’t been artificial and neon, I’d have sworn his cheeks coloured then. The ones on his face.

Damn it, Lombard, now you’re thinking of his ass cheeks.

“Maybe I have. Would you still respect me if I had?”

“You…” I chanced a quick look at him, wondering what colour his eyes were under natural light, and his shameless, blatantly flirtatious grin nearly took my breath away. The indiscreet down-up of his eyes finished me off, and I turned away, exhaling nervous laughter.

“Well hey, I’m not the one who wants to fuck a guy without knowing his name.” He picked up his bottle and emptied it in one gulp, holding the rim–steady, Lombard, steady–to his lips for a second too long while he met my gaze with unblinking eyes. “Am I?” he asked, slamming the bottle down on the counter top.

“But…”

He lifted his eyebrows, silently daring me to protest.

“We’ve only been here five minutes.”

You’ve been here five minutes. I’ve been here ten. Maybe fifteen. Whatever.”

“You came on your own?”

“I frequently do these days,” he said, punctuating his words with an overdramatic sigh. “Which is something I’m hoping you can help me with.”

I opened my mouth to speak, said nothing, and ended up draining what was left of my American beer.

“Come on, drink up. We need to get out of here before they start playing Cher. Do you know, I used to have a friend who did that song on karaoke but he always sang do you believe in love without lube? Jesus.” He shuddered. “You can understand why I say used to have a friend. Well?” Stepping away from the bar, he looked back at me and asked, “Are you coming?”

Now there was a loaded question.

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