What the hell am I doing here?
Gabe Anderson scanned the crowded club in the mirror opposite the bar before looking down into his scotch with a self-deprecating smile. This had seemed like such a great idea an hour ago, when he’d been staring at an empty weekend in an even emptier apartment.
Saron was located in a side alley, a short walk from Shinjuku’s main club strip. Despite its somewhat shady location, the place oozed style.
Gabe had hesitated when he’d seen the suited doorman guarding the entrance and wondered if access was by invitation only. He only knew of Saron from overhearing his clients mention it a few nights ago. From what he’d made of their excited conversation, it was the place to hang out in Shinjuku if you were of a particular sexual inclination.
The doorman had checked Gabe over for all of three seconds before wordlessly unclipping the rope from the stanchions framing the steel doors. He had obviously passed some kind of test, though what it was he didn’t know.
Beyond a foyer with a cloakroom manned by a male attendant who looked like he’d walked straight out of a GQ shoot were a set of shallow steps leading to a wide, sunken floor.
Despite the butterflies churning his stomach, Gabe had stopped and stared appreciatively at the decor. As a consultant for one of Chicago’s biggest design firms, he could tell how much money had gone into giving Saron its unique look. The club was drowned in deep reds, dark purples, and rich earth tones. Scattered across the oak floor were Brazilian cherry wood tables and armchairs boasting plush velvet upholstery and satin cushions. Discrete booths dotted the walls and afforded privacy to those who needed it, although the muted lighting provided enough of that as it was. A polished mahogany counter with wine-red leather and walnut stools ran the length of the bar on the right.
At the far end of the room, a woman in a black cocktail dress stood on a raised podium. She was crooning a song in a sultry, deep voice, her eyes closed and her glossy ruby lips glistening in the mellow spotlight. Behind her, cymbals vibrated gently, a piano tinkled, and a saxophone hummed, the sounds somehow rising above the voices of the men packing the place.
It was as he’d made his way to the bar that Gabe had realized why the doorman had let him in. From the looks of the club’s patrons, Saron catered exclusively to an upscale clientele. He was willing to bet a week’s wages none of the suits in the place cost less than five hundred dollars.
“Ah, fresh meat.”
Gabe froze in the act of sitting on a barstool, his gaze swinging up to meet a pair of amused green eyes on the other side of the mahogany counter.
“Excuse me?” he said stiffly.
The bartender, a striking blond in a slate, silk tuxedo vest and crisp white shirt, flashed him a grin.
“I’ve not seen you around these parts before. What will it be?”
Gabe swallowed, wondering whether the man had seen straight through him and grasped the reason he had come to Saron.
“What will what be?” he mumbled, unable to mask the apprehension in his voice.
The bartender pursed his lips and observed him with a shrewd expression before leaning across the counter.
“Relax,” he murmured in Gabe’s left ear. “I can tell it’s your first time in a place like this. If you keep up that deer-in-the-headlights look you’ve got painted across that pretty face of yours, you’re gonna be a target for every sleaze ball in this club. And, trust me, they might be wearing thousand-dollar ensembles, but some of these assholes are nothing but dirty pigs in suits.”
An involuntary bark of laughter left Gabe’s lips at the mental image the bartender’s words had conjured. The sound carried along the counter, drawing stares.
The knot of tension that had been sitting between Gabe’s shoulder blades ever since he ventured into Shinjuku eased as he smiled at the bartender.
“I’ve never been called pretty before.”
The guy winked.
“Trust me, you’re the hottest thing on legs in this place right now. Besides me, of course.”
Gabe chuckled and ordered a scotch, his confidence boosted by the compliment.
Two months had passed since he’d relocated to Tokyo from Chicago. When his bosses had sprung the offer on Gabe in early spring, the chance of a fresh start in a place void of the dark memories that had plagued him for eight years was too much of an attractive proposition for him to reject. He’d left Chicago with two suitcases and five crates full of books and artwork, the only things he had to show after a decade in the city.
Though he had been prepared for the culture shock, life in Tokyo had still come as a surprise, albeit an invigorating one. He had always had an interest in the country and its intoxicating mix of traditional and contemporary customs ever since he made his first business trip to the Japanese branch of the firm four years ago.
Luckily, his new position suited him to a T. He had thrown himself into his first assignment with his usual drive and passion, leading the team under him to make good on a project, one which his predecessor had only made a half-assed attempt to complete. He had delivered on time, on budget, and on schedule, despite the nearly impossible deadline. The crazy hours and weekends he had put in had not gone unnoticed, and the praise lavished on his team at the grand opening of their client’s luxury hotel earlier that week was all the acknowledgment Gabe needed to realize he had made the right choice in moving to this city. The fact that the money he was making could easily afford him a two-bedroom condo in the exclusive neighborhood of Meguro didn’t hurt, either.
Yet, despite having relocated thousands of miles to the other side of the world, his mind would not let go of the bite of his past. Which was why, when faced with the prospect of his first free weekend and the boxes he had yet to unpack, he had looked up Saron’s location on the spur of the moment and decided to take a gamble.
He had promised himself this move would not be just a fresh start for his mind, but for his body, too. That he would start taking risks in his personal life again. That he would not let the bastard who had made it impossible for him to ever have a satisfying physical relationship win.
Fifteen minutes into his first drink and Gabe wondered whether he had made a bad choice. So far, Ethan, the bartender, had helped him field a burly, yakuza-looking type with tattoos up the side of his neck, three old men with sweaty palms and bald patches, and a couple of young guys who looked barely past the legal age of drinking.
With his lean build, dark hair, and blue eyes, Gabe knew he was an attractive prospect. Add in that he was a foreigner and he was coming to the conclusion that he had become a beeline for all the men in the bar who wanted to make a conquest out of the white guy – a white notch in the proverbial bedpost. They all wanted to fuck him or be fucked by him.
A cynical half-smile twisted his lips at that thought. If only they knew.
He raised a hand to the back of his neck and rubbed the warm spot that had been bothering him for a while. Something made him look up from his drink then – call it instinct or that subconscious voice that warns of imminent danger. Movement in the mirror opposite the bar caught his gaze. Or, more precisely, a lack of it.
Stormy gray eyes pierced him from the other end of the club. They locked on him, a beam of light in the gloom. Transfixing him. Immobilizing him.
The man sat apart from the crowd, alone at a table that could have accommodated three, a tumbler full of dark liquid clasped casually in his left hand. His red silk tie was crooked, as if he had slipped a finger through the knot to loosen it. The top two buttons on his white shirt were open, revealing tan skin covering toned muscles and a hint of curls.
Gabe couldn’t tell whether his hair was dark brown or dirty blond. It was hard to say in the dim light. What wasn’t hard to see were the subtle and not-so-subtle stares the other men in the bar were giving the stranger.
With his stubbled face, smoldering looks, and what appeared to be an incredibly ripped body beneath a custom-tailored charcoal suit, the man looked like a king sitting on a throne, commanding a roomful of servants. Servants who appeared more than willing to either get fucked by him or fuck him if he so much as lifted his little finger.
And a man like that would not have to ask twice.
Envy and irritation flashed through Gabe at that thought, shattering the spell he found himself under. He broke eye contact, shocked by the feelings suddenly flooding him, and glared at his half-empty glass. It seemed to mock him, as if it were a reflection of his own life. A half-empty, broken shell. Incapable of touching someone or to be touched.
Gabe lifted the glass and downed the rest of the drink with an angry flick of his wrist. Fire singed his throat. He welcomed the burning sensation, hoping it would calm the pounding in his chest and the tightness in his belly and groin that told him his body had reacted to the stranger.
A full glass of scotch appeared next to his empty tumbler.
Gabe looked up at Ethan, puzzled.
A remorseful grimace flashed across the bartender’s face. “Looks like we’re no longer the two hottest bastards in this joint. Here, compliments of the King.”
Gabe stared at the drink before slowly looking over his shoulder, his pulse picking up speed.
Gray Eyes raised his glass in a toast. A teasing smile played on his sculptured lips before he knocked back his drink.
You’re kidding me.
Gabe tried to block out the heated tingle running across his skin at the stranger’s cocky smirk and the way his powerful throat muscles worked
“That’s his actual name?”
Ethan grunted. “Well, no. But the asshole sure acts like one.”
There was movement in the mirror opposite Gabe.