Ethan thought his world was perfect until it was shattered. Nursing a broken heart, he meets a mysterious cowboy in a bar. Gabe's sexy lips and broad chest draw Ethan in immediately, but before Ethan can explore his cowboy’s body, he disappears into the night.
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Ethan sat at the bar, staring at the defoaming head of his beer. The dark beverage used to elicit so many feelings in him. Now it was a means to an end. He had been sitting there for hours, tuning out the music in the background. Patrons kept popping quarters into the jukebox. Poppy, modern day rock, blared over the speakers followed by twangy country songs that grated his nerves with each note. Each time the quarter slid into the slot he cringed. No matter how much he tried to block out the tunes, his mind played one thing over and over again. A singular thought taunted him.
What the fuck had happened?
Earlier that night, he had arrived home late from work. He had hoped to find Simon sitting on the couch waiting for him, the way he normally was if he was late. Loosening his tie, he had slipped into his bedroom to get ready for a shower. But what Ethan had walked into stopped his heart.
No, he couldn’t see the image again. It brought too much pain to his already addled brain. He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, trying to clear the image from his mind. Where it had all gone wrong? Why hadn’t he seen the signs? Was it him? Life had been going to crap until he met Simon. His lover had peeled him away from suicide. The few precious moments of happiness he had in his life had just been shattered. Everything was now back to square one. What would happen tomorrow? What was going to happen five years from now? Ten years from now? Nothing else mattered. His heart was broken. His soul was shattered.
Ethan gripped the handle of the beer mug tighter, contemplating drinking the whole thing down in a couple of swallows. The heady smell enticed him. He could already taste the malty liquor on his tongue. It’d be so easy to imbibe the whole drink and then another. And then one after the other until the familiar headache started, the double vision, and then the blackout. He’d then fall into oblivion and wake up on someone’s couch. He’d lost so many nights to imbibing too much. Until Simon. His lover had awakened him from the stupor he’d been in. Ethan had never loved anyone so much to really want something. That was when he put down the booze and got into a program. The last time he’d been in a bar was nine months ago. It would be so easy to throw it all away. Why not drown his sorrows once more, throw caution to the wind, and wake up in some flea bitten motel with a gigolo, or someone he’d meet at the bar after hours of drinking?
He lifted the beer. The glass was no longer frosted. The coaster it had sat on was wet and the grains of salt he’d sprinkled on it glistened from the sweat on the glass. The scent enticed him so much. One sip. Simon would say it was time to call his sponsor or hit a meeting. He didn’t want to fuck up everything he’d worked for over the past nine months. Fuck it. He’s the one who ruined everything. He’s the one who drove me to this.
“You sure you want to do that, cowboy?”
Ethan glanced to his left at the man leaning on the bar. Typical cowboy, chewing on a toothpick. Hat pulled down over his face, showing only the square jaw with the slight, stubble on his chin. A long brown duster brushed the peanut strewn floor. The shells crunched under his weight when he shifted his feet. A small smile curled the corner of his mouth.
“Why is that?” Ethan asked the cowboy.
The other man leaned over the bar and drew a beer out of the ice-filled bin below. The bartender rushed over. The cowboy laid down a five on the mahogany bar. He twisted the top on the bottle, gripped the neck, and then knocked back a few swallows. Ethan eyed him enviously. The patron dragged his hand across his mouth and set the bottle down.
“Because you look like a starving horse ready to gorge himself on three bales of hay. I take it you’re a man who hasn’t had a drink in a while. You sure you want to go down that road again?”
“Why not? My world’s turned to shit. Something has to drown my sorrows. Care to join me? I’ll buy the next round.”
He lifted his hat and stared Ethan directly in the eye. At that moment, something in Ethan melted. Deep green eyes peered into his soul. His hand shook. He set the glass down and tried to catch his breath. The feeling he knew this man overwhelmed him. The man smiled, flashing him a mouthful of even white teeth. Almost too perfect. The need to pick up his mug and take a long swig of beer enveloped him, but he fought it off. Hurt overtook him. A lump of emotion formed in his throat. The cowboy was too intriguing and what he said made sense. Ethan switched his gaze back to the beer.
“You never answered my question from before—you sure you want to do that?”
Ethan studied the half of his reflection that showed in the mirror. Disheveled brown hair adorned his head. Blue eyes with dark circles underneath them stared back at him. Stubble dotted his cheeks. The collar was open on his red shirt. His black tie was shoved into the pocket of his pants, dangling from the barstool. Ethan glanced back at the cowboy. Those amazing green eyes captured him. “So what’s your question?”
“You look like someone who could use a good cup of coffee instead of a stiff drink. Why don’t we get out of here? Then we can figure out where to go from there.”
Ethan chuckled and shook his head. He’d heard that line before. He’d used it on Simon and other men in the past to bed them. “I’d rather have the beer than the coffee. Thanks for the offer though.”
“But you do need someone to talk to.”
“And you’re that person for me?” Ethan asked.
The other man took off his hat and set it on the bar. He ran a hand through his chestnut hair. “I can lend an ear. I’ve always been good at listening. At least that’s what my mother always said.”
He smirked. “Well it sounds like you’re just a standup kinda guy. Willing to help anybody.”
The cowboy’s eyes narrowed. “Not anybody. Just those that need a hand and I sensed that you need one right now. Why don’t you just call me your guardian angel?”
Ethan couldn’t take anymore of the goody-two-shoes act from the other man.“Guardian angel, huh?”
“I don’t think so.”
He slapped his money down on the bar, pushed his mug away, and decided it was better to have that cup of coffee. Drinking his troubles away wasn’t the best thing in the world. Ethan grabbed his jacket from the back of the stool and slung it on. It was no use straightening it out because it was rumpled from him sitting on it. The cowboy grabbed his arm.
“Hey, man, leave me alone,” Ethan growled. He tried to pull away, but the other man’s grip was too tight.
The hard expression on the cowboy’s face melted. “I’m not here to pick you up. I’m here offering assistance. It seems like you’ve had a pretty bad day and you need someone to talk to. Why not take me up on my offer? I’ll buy. I won’t say anything. I’ll just listen.”
Ethan saw the sincere expression. A deep attraction wound around him and flushed his skin. Something about the man seemed so familiar, like he’d known him before. He gazed around the bar. No one else paid them any mind. They were in a world of their own. The music on the jukebox, another twangy song, grated on his nerves. A couple leaned over the music maker, perusing the song selection. He could already here the cha-chink of the quarters sliding down the jukebox’s slot setting up the next four songs. The aroma of stale cigarettes lingered in the air. The peanut shells cracked under his feet. It was just a matter of time. If he stayed in the bar, he would eventually pick up that drink. Ethan glanced over the people playing pool, laughing and joking, to the couple nestled in the corner sipping two glasses of wine. Other patrons were knocking back shots of tequila. A small group of frat boys were partying in another corner. Yeah. It was best that he stayed sober even though his heart was shredded and his soul was stomped on. He sighed and shook his head. If he went into work with another hangover, after his last warning, he’d be fired on the spot.
The cowboy released his arm. Ethan studied him. He saw the muddy boots and the dirt clinging to the bottom of his duster. It seemed he’d had a hard road. He was grimy and looked like he needed a shower, shave and a place to stay. It appeared he was in need of more comfort than Ethan did.
“Okay. I’ll take that cup of coffee. But it’s only coffee.”
The cowboy smiled. The corners of his eyes crunched up and a small dimple appeared in his left cheek. It reminded Ethan of a freckle it was so dark. Underneath all the muck, he appeared handsome. Anyone would have him. And yet no one was coming up to him. He wondered why that was. Maybe it was as the cowboy said—he was his guardian angel. Whatever the reason, Ethan wanted to reach out and touch his flesh, but he resisted the urge.
“Good choice. Know any good coffee shops around here?”
Ethan nodded. “Yeah. There’s one right around the corner. I guess it works out that way. They set up shop around a bar because they know when the bars close and the drunks are going to need someplace to go sober up.”
“Yeah. That sounds about right.”
The cowboy held the door for Ethan, who strolled out into the night. When the cool breeze hit him, it lifted his soul. He glanced at stars and instead of the dim lights he’d seen earlier, they were bright shining jewels that sparked a feeling of hope deep inside of him.