Shane accepted his change from the barman, picked up his pint and turned around. The pub was all but deserted and he had his choice of empty tables. Hardly surprising, given that it was eight o’clock on a Wednesday evening, but that didn’t lessen the small stab of disappointment he felt. The first opportunity he’d had to go out in three weeks, probably the last in the foreseeable future, and not a familiar face in sight.
Not that he necessarily wanted to run into anybody who knew him well. He’d rather not answer questions about why he was never around these days. On the other hand, he desperately needed a distraction, something to take his mind off the situation he found himself in. A vaguely familiar face, somebody he could join and pass an hour or two with without running the risk of the conversation turning heavy or personal would have been perfect—and clearly wasn’t happening tonight. A hook-up was even less likely and he could do with one. It had been months since he’d gotten off through means other than his own hand.
He pushed the thought to the back of his mind as he glanced around again, trying to figure out where to take his drink. The idea of sitting at one of the round tables on his own filled him with a heaviness he didn’t want to explore. Shane pulled a barstool toward himself with his foot and sat. Staring into the mirror behind the bar, he took a long drink from his glass as he remembered the scene he’d left behind at home.
‘Where you’re going, Uncle Shane?’ Five-year-old Danny had sounded close to tears even before Shane answered.
‘Out for a drink, boy.’ Shane had stroked the still-wet blond hair.
‘Are you coming back?’ The big tears welling in Danny’s eyes had almost made him reconsider his idea. He couldn’t blame the child for no longer trusting the adults in his life to come back after they left. He’d knelt and made sure to make eye contact before answering.
‘Of course I’ll come back. We’re in this together, right?’ He’d forced a smile in the hope it would quell the lad’s growing panic. ‘When you wake up tomorrow morning I’ll be making you breakfast. Just as I did today. I promise. Besides, don’t you like it when your granny minds you? Doesn’t she let you stay up late?’
The combination of a triumphant smile and tears on the five year old’s face had almost broken Shane’s resolve. Christ, but I love the nipper.
‘On you go, son.’ His mother’s voice had put an end to the conversation with Danny. ‘Don’t you worry about anything at all. Go and enjoy yourself for a while.’
‘Sure, Ma, thanks. Don’t keep him up too late.’ He’d given Danny a hug and a kiss before getting up and walking out of the door, grateful for his mother’s support. The situation was even harder on her than it was for Shane and not for the first time he wondered how long she’d be able to keep up the pace.
Irritated with himself, Shane picked up his pint again and drank some more. Spending his evening worrying about the situation at home defeated the purpose of the exercise. He was supposed to get a short reprieve from it all. Wallowing in the pain and stress wouldn’t get him anywhere. In fact, if he couldn’t force his thoughts away from pursuing the subject, he might as well go back home. At least there he’d have something to do, which meant his mind was less likely to go over the whole sorry situation in a never-ending loop.
He finished his pint and immediately waved the bartender over to order another one. Too bad he couldn’t allow himself to get drunk. But he’d tried going through the early morning routine with Danny while hungover once, and it wasn’t something he wanted to repeat.
“That’s quite a frown you’ve got on your face, mate.”
Shane glanced up from the spot on the counter he’d apparently switched his attention to at some point and turned to his left, only to discover he needed to tilt his head back in order to look the man who’d addressed him in the face. Fuck, the geezer is big. At a loss about what to say in response to what was clearly a statement of fact, Shane took his time to study the man-mountain smiling down at him. He had to be at least two meters tall, with broad shoulders and a wide chest. Shane didn’t think there was a lot of fat on that body though—just bones and muscle.
“You’re on your own too?” the man asked. “Mind if I join you? Drinking on my own always makes me feel kinda desperate.”
“Sure.” Shane nodded in the direction of the empty barstool next to him. “Help yourself.” He noticed the accent and tried to place it. “Australian, are you?”
“Yeah,” The man’s friendly features stretched into a grin. “Thanks for getting it right, mate. I’m so tired of people asking me if I’m American, I can’t begin to tell you. I’m Chris.”
“Shane,” he responded. “I lived in the States up to five months ago. I knew you weren’t American as soon as you opened your mouth.”
Shit. Why had he said that? He didn’t talk about his time in Florida with anyone—not about going there, not about coming back and not about the reasons why he’d needed to return. There was too much shame and pain in those stories to share them with others.
Shane picked up his pint while sending up a silent prayer Chris wouldn’t ask him about his time on the other side of the Atlantic and thanking his lucky stars when the bartender picked that moment to come and take Chris’ order.
He was nothing like the type of man Shane was normally attracted to. Sure, he liked his men tall and handsome—both of which Chris was—but Chris was too close to a bear. Shane’s preference ran to slimmer builds and he wasn’t a huge fan of facial hair. On the other hand, he couldn’t deny that the short dark brown hair dotted with tiny hints of gray was attractive, as was the goatee which covered Chris’ chin but did nothing to obscure his full lips. Glasses usually didn’t do anything for Shane either but they suited Chris and made his dark gray eyes sparkle.
When Chris raised one eyebrow, Shane averted his gaze and reached for his pint, disgusted to have been caught staring. What was wrong with him? Sure, it had been a long time—too long—since he’d flirted with a man, never mind picked one up. That wasn’t an excuse for looking and acting desperate though.
“Have you been in Ireland long, then?” Shane asked in the hope a conversation would distract both of them from his less than subtle perusal of Chris.
“Almost ten years,” Chris answered. “Came here for a few months to visit family and just never left again.”
“What made you stay?” Much to his own surprise, Shane was really curious to hear the answer to that question. “I can’t imagine it was the weather.”
Chris threw back his head and laughed, the sound deep and clearly genuine.
“The Irish climate is nothing to write home about, that’s for sure,” Chris agreed. “Mind you, the heat in Australia didn’t agree with me either. If I had to choose I’d take the mild but wet weather over the oppressive heat.” He winked. “I guess that’s exactly what I did when I decided to stay.”
The both picked up their glasses and drank in silence for a few moments.
“I like your ink,” Chris said while studying Shane’s arm.
Shane followed his gaze and stared at the Celtic design covering most of his right arm. “Thank you.” He couldn’t keep the pride out of his voice. “I designed the pattern myself.”
“You did?” Surprise flashed across Chris’ face before being replaced by a look of delight. “You’re a tattoo artist too?”
“I am,” Shane confirmed. “And since you said too, I guess the same is true for you?”
Chris nodded. “Yes, have been for almost fifteen years now. It’s the only real job I’ve ever had.”
Shane lowered his gaze and studied Chris’ forearms, only to find no sign of a tattoo anywhere. “But you’ve no tattoos yourself?” Shane couldn’t imagine a tattooist without art on his own body but he guessed there was a probably a first time for everything.
Chris studied his own arms for a moment before answering. “None where people can see them. My mother had issues with tattoos, among other things.”
“Oh?” Shane left it hanging there in the hope Chris would say more.
“You’ll need to get to know me a lot better before you find out where exactly I do have art.” Chris smirked before tracing a finger along the lines of the Celtic cross on Shane’s biceps.
He couldn’t suppress a shudder. It had been so long—too long—since anybody had touched him in a meaningful way. “Want another pint?” Shane hated the tremble in his voice when he asked the question.
“Not right now.” Chris lifted his gaze while he continued to stroke Shane’s arm with his finger. He glanced over Shane’s shoulder in the direction of the hallway leading to the toilets and beer garden, before quirking an eyebrow at Shane.
Shane swallowed hard before nodding and getting off his barstool. He’d no idea why he was nervous. This used to be standard fare in the past. Rushed encounters in dark corners and quick fucks in the rooms of men he’d forget as soon as he left had been his normal until recently. Why the fuck did it suddenly feel like a big deal?
He forced himself to walk slowly, all too aware of the presence behind him. When he slowed down as they neared the toilets a soft push against his lower back made him continue through the backdoor and into the balmy August evening air. When he came to a standstill, Chris leaned into him and whispered in his ear. “Just around the corner there.”
Glancing to the right, he saw the small path and followed it until they’d rounded the corner and found themselves in a side garden. He opened his mouth to ask where to go next and forgot the question when Chris grabbed his shoulder, pulled him around and shoved him up against the wall. Shane’s heart skipped a beat as he realized he was all alone with a man big enough to squash him if he felt like it. He forced himself to meet Chris’ gaze and got caught in the hungry, heated stare from his eyes.
Chris lowered his head and captured Shane’s lips with his. Since he’d no idea what he would have said if he’d been allowed to finish his sentence, Shane didn’t even pretend to object and allowed himself to respond with equal urgency. It had been too long. It felt too good. He’d hardly ever kissed the men he’d picked up in the past—the short-lived encounters he preferred had never warranted that level of intimacy. Right now, he couldn’t for the life of him remember why that had ever made sense.
He closed his eyes and lost himself in the play of their lips, relishing the way Chris’ goatee scratched and tickled his clean-shaven chin. The small sounds escaping his mouth and betraying his need should have embarrassed him but only spurred him on. Given that Chris’ hand was suddenly on his crotch, unzipping his fly, he imagined the feeling was mutual.
Shane’s mind switched off. He’d always been the one to take charge and control of proceedings in the past. Tonight he was more than happy to relinquish control to the big Australian—delighted to just take whatever happened to be on offer. Warm air brushed across the skin of his hard and now released cock and he shuddered. The sound of a second zip opening took him by surprise, but he resisted the temptation to open his eyes. When a large hand surrounded his dick and pressed it against an equally rigid cock, he opened his mouth wider and released a groan which felt as though it came from his toes, grateful that Chris’ mouth, still crushing his, captured most of the sound.
Shane was dimly aware that Chris’ hand was big enough to fully encircle both their cocks. The first few strokes, the way their dicks rubbed off each other and the slight squeezes and twists Chris applied drove Shane mad. He could already feel his balls drawing up and knew he wouldn’t last long. The thought shot through his head that he should ask Chris to slow down but he couldn’t make himself pull back from their never-ending kiss. His orgasm roared through his body, satisfying him in ways a solitary hand job had never been able to do. Chris didn’t stop his movements and stroked Shane through his orgasm and beyond until Shane’s knees didn’t feel strong enough to hold him up anymore.
“Fuck yeah.” Chris mumbled the heartfelt words against Shane’s lips as he too erupted.
The kiss ended as soon as Chris’ orgasm had passed. For a moment he pulled Shane close, holding both of them up as they regained their breath and Shane managed to find a semblance of his equilibrium again. When Chris released him, pushing his softening dick back into his pants and zipping up, Shane did the same. He’d no idea why he felt both fully satisfied and deeply disappointed and ignored the question. This encounter had been more and much better than anything he could have hoped for. He’d be a fool to question it.
When Chris turned and walked back in the direction of the entrance to the pub, Shane followed.
“Thirsty work,” Chris said without turning around.
Shane tried to swallow and found his throat was uncomfortably dry. “Yes, thirsty work indeed. I guess that means you’re ready for that pint now?”