Cheek to Cheek
121 pages / 50250 words
Paperback at Amazon
Firefighters Will and Mallory meet at a quiet gay bar, and they're both willing to keep things anonymous and impersonal. Mal has issues with his soon to be ex, and Will isn't willing to push. That plan works out fine until they discover that they'll be working at the same fire station, where Will is set to replace injured firefighter Drew.
Their agreement to keep their relationship easy and no-pressure, just a physical thing, soon go out the window. Everything in their lives seems to become a test, from old loves to meddling family, to the brave men they risk their lives with. The one thing that seems to make sense is the dance they share, both literal and figurative. Can Will and Mal find a way to reconcile the life they think they want with the need they have to be together, or will the dance be over before it really begins?
Two weeks later he had a small apartment full of boxes and new furniture. He'd gotten everything in, unpacked a few necessary items and said the hell with it to the rest. He needed a break and a change of pace.
A shower, clean clothes, a fast meal and he wandered the block and a half from his new home to the nearest bar, a nice place with a good reputation for being discreet.
He sat at the bar, facing forward so he could see in the mirror. He wasn't cruising, didn't want to pick anyone up, but he did want to check the room out behind him, see what kind of men frequented the place. He nursed his whiskey and sat quietly, watching men dancing on the small dance floor, watching other men sitting at tables having quiet conversations.
Mallory hadn't been with a man in almost eight years. He hadn't been able to see anything but Trish since the moment he'd met her. The last few months had been awkward and uncomfortable, his fantasies returning more and more to men rather than women. He didn't see any point in resisting his urges, but at the same time he wasn't about to go to a club he didn't like just to pick up someone with the right parts.
He knew that Cleo's was in the neighborhood when he'd picked out his new place, and he knew it was supposed to be a nice place. He was pleased with what he'd found, somehow glad that if he'd wandered in off the street not knowing it was a gay bar he might not have guessed, other than the dancing. The place had that indefinable thing called 'atmosphere' and seemed suited to people who wanted to have a quiet drink and to talk about stock options. The bartender wore a tie, the wood paneling was dark and rich, the brass rails shone. It felt comfortable.
He finished his drink and was going to raise his hand to draw the bartender's attention when someone slipped onto the barstool beside him. Mallory looked over out of reflex and saw a beautiful man smiling right at him. No one else, just him. He looked into the most beautiful eyes he'd ever seen, liquid and warm, dark brown, rimmed with long sooty eyelashes, and swallowed hard.
"Hello," the man said in a quiet, smooth voice.
Mal swallowed again, hoping he was subtle about it. "Hi," he finally offered, leaning back to take a better look and disguising the move to make it look like Mal was giving him space. The stranger had skin the color of milky coffee, full lips, and broad shoulders. His hair was short and tidy, he was wearing a dark gray sweater that looked soft, and he was utterly gorgeous.
"I'm Will." Will's smile was warm and friendly and he was looking Mal over just as carefully as Mal had checked him out.
"Mallory." Part of Mal wondered what this man was doing, talking to him. He figured he was older than Will by at least a dozen years, and the bar was full of pretty men.
"Can I buy you a drink, Mallory? Or maybe ask you to dance?"
Mallory opened his mouth to accept the drink and found himself agreeing to a dance. "That would be nice," he said as he stood up.
Will's smile grew and he looked at Mal through lowered eyelashes as he took Mal's hand. They reached the dance floor just as the music changed to something cool and slow from the upbeat tune that had been playing. Will glanced at him. "Change of pace okay?" he asked.
Mallory nodded. "Just fine," he assured Will as they moved a little deeper onto the floor. When Will put one hand on Mal's hip and held the opposite hand at shoulder height, Mallory felt a thrill go down his spine and settle in his groin. Will could dance, could really dance. The others on the floor were swaying in a lazy circles, arms around waists and shoulders, but Will could actually do a proper waltz, and could lead as well. Mallory threw a silent thank-you to Trish for insisting he master being led as well as leading, and followed along as they wove their way back and forth across the floor.
Will was warm. His sweater was as soft as it had looked, and he danced like he was born to it, with a natural-feeling sense of grace and movement. He smelled good. Mallory found himself smiling as they danced, growing warmer in a way that had very little to do with the exercise of dancing.
Will smiled back and pulled Mallory a little closer, his big hand spanning the small of Mal's back. They were almost touching by the time the song ended, standing eye to eye.
Mallory knew the other patrons were watching them, but was unsure whether it was because he and Will were dancing properly or because they were the only bi-racial couple on the floor. He didn't particularly care. Will danced too well to let minor things like being watched get in the way of Mal's enjoyment.
The song ended and melted into the next, which was another waltz, and they kept going, still not talking. Halfway through the second song they were pressed together, both of them hard and apparently willing to show it, at least to each other. The rest of the bar didn't need to see.
As the last notes of the song died away, Will kissed him. It was slow and soft, his tongue barely tracing Mal's lower lip. "Mallory?" he asked, his voice low.
Mal nodded and whispered against his cheek. "I live a block and a half away."
Sometimes love is complicated.
Copyright 2016 Chris Owen