His Best Friend's Brother
Despite being deeply in the closet, thirty-one-year-old Kade Harlow loves his life as a bartender at the Tavern, unglamorous as that life may be. That is about to change, however, when his best friend's younger brother returns to town.
Alex Rowe has had a crush on Kade since he was a teenager, despite their nine-year age difference. When he gets an acting job at the local theater, he moves back to town then stops by the bar to visit Kade.
Wary of Alex's interest in him, Kade fights his growing attraction to the younger man for reasons he's unwilling to reveal to Alex--the same reasons that have kept him closeted his entire life. Can Alex break through the barriers Kade has put up or are his dreams of a relationship with Kade doomed to failure?
When Kade walked into the Tavern Wednesday night, he was greeted with shouts of "Happy Birthday" but that was it. No hats or noisemakers, No streamers. There was a sign above the bar that said, Happy Birthday, Kade. That, he could live with.
He called out "Thanks" as he made his way behind the bar. After that, it seemed as if it would be business as usual, other than customers coming over to offer personal birthday wishes.
It was close to eleven, and Kade had just finished filling a large order that Dan, one of the waiters, had given him for one of the long tables he was serving. The night had turned out to be much busier than usual for a Wednesday--because of his birthday, Kade knew. As a result, he hadn't had much time to do more than mix drinks or open beer bottles. "Some birthday," he grumbled under his breath, even though he was glad to be so busy. That way he didn't have a chance to think about the fact he was now a year older. And not much wiser.
With a second to himself, Kade leaned against the back bar to catch his breath. He closed his eyes for a moment, letting the noise wash over him. Then a voice cut through it, saying, "You haven't changed a bit. I'd recognize you anywhere."
Kade frowned, turning to see who was talking. A handsome, blond, young man was seated on the corner stool. For a second, Kade wondered who the hell he was. Then it hit him. "Alex?" He hadn't seen Mark's brother since he'd graduated from high school and gone out of state to college.
"One and the same," Alex replied, grinning. "Happy Birthday."
"Damn. You've grown up. You're not a kid anymore."
"Happens to everyone." Alex rested his elbows on the bar, studying Kade. "You really do look the same as I remember."
"Uh-huh. Just older and more worn. Want a beer?" He paused. "You're twenty-two, right?"
Alex rolled his eyes. "And counting. A beer sounds good."
Kade felt a bit disconcerted when he got Alex's beer and found that the young man was still watching him intently when he set it down on the bar. He asked, "What brings you back to town?" in hopes of moving his attention to something else.
"I've joined the company at the Civic Theater."
"Seriously? That's great. The last time I talked to him, Mark told me you'd finally gotten your acting degree. Of course, that was...hell, a year ago. We're not too good at keeping in touch since the baby came along."
Alex smiled. "Yeah. Micky's the center of their world, now. He's a cute kid though, so it's no surprise."
"He's what? Four? Right?"
"Yep. And the spitting image of Mark."
"I noticed. They sent me a card last Christmas of the three of them."
Alex turned to look at the crowd. "I don't recognize more than a couple these people."
"After four years, I'm not surprised--especially since you were too young to hang out here back then."
"True." Returning his attention to Kade, Alex asked, "So, how's life been treating you? Are you still dodging the ladies?"
"How the hell did you know about that?"
Alex chuckled. "I remember Mark trying to set you up and you avoiding it like the plague--at least, according to him."
Kade shrugged. "If I'm going to find a woman, I'll do it myself, without anyone pushing their flavor of the month at me."
"Yeah. I get that." Alex took another drink, looking as if he were going to say more, when Brody came out of the tavern's kitchen carrying a huge birthday cake. A cheer went up when he set it down in front of Kade.
At that point, Kade didn't have a chance to continue his conversation with Alex. He blew out the candles then, with Brody's help, they handed out slices of cake to anyone who wanted one. That took a while, and by the time they'd finished, Kade realized Alex was no longer at the bar. Looking around, he saw him sitting at one of the tables with another man and two young women. Probably people from the theater, he decided, as he'd never seen any of them before tonight. Alex had his arm around one of the women, whispering to her. She glanced at the bar and nodded.
So help me, Alex, if you're going to try to fix me up with her... Kade shook his head then got back to work.