Just before Eli’s lover died, he made Eli promise he’d find love again. Five years have passed, but Eli’s no closer to fulfilling that promise. He doesn’t think he’ll ever find love and that kind of happiness again. If only he didn’t have to face a part-time employee and full-time pain the ass by the name of Asa at work…
Asa knows what he wants when he sees it. And what he wants is to banish the ghosts lurking in Eli’s haunted gaze and drag his sinfully handsome boss back to life. This young cowboy has the persistence and the mouth to get his man. Eli’s grumpy, prickly defenses don’t stand a chance.
Each book in The Bar Next Door series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed in any order.
Book #1: Malachi’s Word
Book #2: Eli’s Promise
About the Author
Coffee drinker extraordinaire, author Lissa Matthews lives and writes in North Carolina with her family and their six cats. Yes, you read that correctly. When not at the keyboard, she can be found in her backyard on the swing, in the kitchen trying a new recipe she found on Pinterest, watching sports, or perfecting her nap ninja skills.
If you’d like to learn more about Lissa and her books, please visit her website lissamatthews.com, follow her on social media, and/or sign up for her newsletter.
Read an Excerpt
"You're changing the schedule again?"
The voice startled Eli and he struggled to keep hold of his pencil. He hadn't expected Asa for another half hour or so. The younger man was light on his feet. That he could sneak up on Eli was testament to just how deep in his own mind Eli often was. And what pissed him off most? His thoughts weren't of Thad and all he'd lost. No, his thoughts were of Asa. His thoughts and his fantasies centered around Asa. Cocky and quiet. Contradictions from head to toe. It drove Eli nuts.
"I am," Eli confirmed. "We're going to be short-handed tomorrow night. We need you."
"So you automatically assume I can work the late shift and close? Again?"
Eli gritted his teeth. He forgot smart-aleck in his rundown on the little pain in his ass. "Yeah. I automatically assume everything." He felt belligerent, sounded belligerent, but when it came to Asa, Eli couldn't seem to control his reactions to the man. "You've been closing for the past couple of weeks. Now you've got a problem with it?"
The tension in the small room jumped a few degrees but leveled off again just as quickly.
"Nope. I'm good. I don't have plans and don't have class until noon the next day."
Asa was standing so close — right up against the back of Eli's chair. He was leaning over Eli's shoulder and his breath fanned Eli's neck with each exhale. Tension coiled in Eli's shoulders until he bolted up and out the office door. The late afternoon bar crowd was small. Things wouldn't pick up for another few hours and he huffed out a frustrated breath. What he wouldn't give for wall-to-wall cowboys, ranch hands, business men and college students. At least then he'd have a hell of a lot more to do that didn't include having to escape Asa's all too interested blue-eyed stare.
"Why do you avoid me?" Asa asked, close on Eli's heels.
"I do nothing of the sort."
"Bullshit," Eli growled. He slipped behind the bar as fast as his booted feet would carry him, but damn if the punk wasn't hot on his ass.
"See, you're doin' it now." Asa's tone was a little too cheerful for Eli's taste. He was tired of clenching his jaw. He was tired of fighting the two things he wanted most: Asa ... and Thad.
Only Thad was dead and Asa wasn't. Only Thad had made Eli promise to keep living, to fall in love again.
And only Asa had stirred any kind of feelings in Eli since. Only Asa made him want to start doing more than simply getting up in the morning and going to sleep at night.
"I think it's 'cause you like me," Asa teased.
"I think you should get to work."
"I think you want me."
Inwardly, Eli nodded at Asa's jab. The waiter had no idea just how much Eli wanted him. "I think you need to shut up or find another job."
"I think you just need to know I want you too."
Eli whipped around. "I'm warning you." His heard the low, dangerous tone of his voice. He hadn't gotten so worked up since ... He shook his head. He wasn't going to think about that night. "Get to work. That's all I want. You." He pointed at Asa. "Work." He jerked his thumb toward the bar.
When he pushed past the stunned and no-longer-smiling man, he hoped he wouldn't have to get into this again. His fantasies and dreams of Asa needed to stay private. They were keeping him sane, as strange as that was for him to understand. But he didn't need anyone knowing about them, especially Asa. It was bad enough he felt he was cheating on Thad, even though finding someone else was Thad's deathbed wish. Damn dead man. Eli would love to wrap his hands around Thad's shoulders and shake him. He'd love to beg him to explain why he wanted Eli to keep on living. There wasn't a day that had gone by since Thad's death that Eli hadn't wanted to die too.
He shut himself back in the office and picked up his pencil. He sent it flying across the room and watched it bounce off the wall and clatter on the wooden floor.
Asa could never know how Eli felt about him.
Eli had no interest or intention of fulfilling his promise to Thad, no matter the tug Asa had on Eli.
"Asa, will you grab the last of the tumblers off that back table?"
Those were the only words Eli had spoken to him all night since he'd stormed off to the office. Anytime Asa needed anything from Eli, he asked and the deed was done without a sound, gesture, or grimace. Nothing. What he wouldn't give to take back whatever he'd done or said to send Eli over the edge. He didn't care much for the chasm that grew between them as the night wore on. That hadn't been his intention at all with his teasing. He'd only hoped to get Eli to smile or laugh, something that would crack the stony facade he always seemed to put up.
"Sure, boss," he said lightly.
"Make sure to wipe it down too. Those yahoos were back there for several hours tonight."
"Got it." Did the man not think Asa knew how to do the job? And what the hell was up with scheduling them together the last few nights? Asa didn't have an issue closing the bar with Eli — he just wasn't sure why he was suddenly the chosen one. A small smile stretched his lips. It wasn't the first and it wouldn't be the last time he'd wonder if Eli returned his feelings. He didn't know what was up with Eli and why he held everyone — especially Asa — at arm's length, but Asa wasn't planning on giving up either. He wanted Eli, even if he was grumpy most of the time. There was something riding him, something keeping him from getting close to anyone other than Malachi, the other bar owner, and Asa wished he knew what it was.
He grabbed the glasses from the table and made sure to wipe down the surface. Twice. The second time in a big show of effort so Eli wouldn't have reason to question whether or not he'd done what he was told. The floor around the chairs was sticky and Asa didn't want to know why, shuddering at the possibilities. Anything from sodas to spunk. All kinds of things took place in the back of a bar where no one could see unless they were right up on you.
"Everything all right?" Eli asked when Asa set the glasses on the bar top.
"Sure. Why wouldn't it be?"
Asa shrugged. "Okay." He headed for the back and returned with the mop bucket. Eli didn't say anything else, but Asa knew if he turned his head, he'd find Eli staring a hole in his back. The soapy water in the bucket was clean to start with, but as the mopping concluded some minutes later, it was nothing but a dingy gray. This and the bathrooms were the parts of closing he could do without. He'd rather be in the kitchen washing a mountain of dishes than cleaning a bar bathroom.
"You 'bout done?"
Asa turned. Eli was half sitting, half leaning against one of the stools with his arms crossed over his chest, one booted foot hanging by the heel on a low rung. Eli's hat sat low on his forehead and Asa nearly came in his jeans. Eli was the hottest man he'd ever wanted, and he'd wanted many men. He could admit to having been a slut — though a very safe slut when he first came out a few years ago — wanting to taste and touch and lick every gay cowboy he could get his greedy hands on. He could top or bottom, but what he really loved was a man's arms tight around him, a rough whispered Southern drawl, a bit of facial scruff and a gruff voice. Give him all that and he was putty. Eli fit the bill perfectly.
"Yeah. Just gotta dump the water and I'll be ready."
"I gave you tomorrow night off."
Asa whipped his head around. "What? Why? I don't need it." Eli was pulling even further away. Shit. The boss man was going to drive him completely insane.
Eli shrugged and tipped his hat back. "We don't need you."
"We? Or you?"
"Boy, I'm telling you now, you don't want to go there."
"Why not? Afraid of me?"
"Turn that question around."
Asa scoffed. "You don't scare me, Eli, and the all business all the time boss routine isn't going to work."
"I should scare you."
"You scare yourself and you're scared of me."
"You're a kid and my decision is based on nothing more than we are fully staffed tomorrow night."
"You weren't earlier." Asa called Eli's bluff.
"We are now." Eli was nothing, if not stubborn.
"You can try to get rid of me all you want, but I'm not going anywhere."
"I can fire you."
"True. But you can't keep me from coming back as a customer."
Eli's cheek twitched. Irritation. Asa had become inordinately good at pushing Eli's buttons. It hadn't been on purpose at first, but for weeks now, Eli had made it way too easy. Now Asa didn't even have to try to worm his way under Eli's skin.
"Just take the night off. Go out with friends. Have a good time. We'll see you on your next shift."
"What's with all the 'we' and 'we'll' crap? Don't you mean you? You will see me on my next shift?"
"I'll see you, but others will be here as well. Don't take everything quite so personal. Nothing is meant by anything."
"You're kidding yourself, Eli. You know it and I know it. Every bit of it is personal. This attraction between us is very personal."
"Make me." His words were childish, but so was all the bantering. They wanted each other. Naked. In bed. Sweaty and fucking like a couple of rabbits. He was tired of the cat and mouse games. He'd push and Eli would retreat or become defensive. Eli never pushed him though, except away, and it was time that shit stopped. "Fine," Asa bit out and turned his back on a now slack-jawed Eli. He stomped across the wooden floor and shoved out the door into the mild late-night air. He looked at his watch. Okay, mild early-morning air.
He sighed and turned around, ready to go back inside and get toe-to-toe with Eli again. He didn't want to leave things the way they were for two days, but when he glanced at the door, Eli was leaning against the frame. There was no smile on Eli's face. No warmth. Only a watchful gaze.
It was enough for the moment. Asa waved, knowing he wouldn't get a wave back.
"I think we need to cut the table in the corner off."
"Givin' you problems?" Eli was on instant alert.
"Nah. They've just had way too much to drink." Asa leaned on the bar, putting all his weight on his forearms as he waited for an order of beers he'd asked for. "One can't keep from grabbing himself and one of the other ones can't seem to keep from grabbing everyone else."
"Including you?" Eli's eyes darkened and the words were low, tight, possessive. Asa smiled.
"Yep," he confirmed. "Including me."
"You probably love it. Maybe you could take one home with you later to scratch that itch you've been parading around."
"Jealous?" Asa rolled his eyes backward and shook his head. Eli was the itch Asa needed to scratch and everyone knew it. "With all due respect, boss man, screw you." It was said with a hint, and only a hint of teasing, but the real meaning behind the words wasn't hard to miss. Asa was still a little pissed over his hours being taken away last night. To soften his words though, he coated them with sweet, innocent sugar. Malachi, a foot or so down from Eli, chuckled and shook his head when Asa winked at him.
"Both of you need to stop it," Eli ordered. "Customers harassing the workers isn't funny."
"Oh please, Eli. Get off it. It's all in good fun and they're drunk. I can take care of myself if it gets out of hand."
"Right. Just tell them to keep their hands to themselves."
Eli turned and left for the office, and Asa stuck his tongue out at Eli's retreating back.
"You're playing with fire," Mal murmured.
"Yes, but I like the way it feels when it touches my skin," he flirted, blew a kiss to anyone behind the bar willing to catch it, then sauntered off with his tray of beers.
It was quiet enough in the front of the room he caught fairly clear snippets of conversation from behind the bar. Eli had returned.
"You better watch out for that one, E," Malachi teased. "I think he's got your number."
Asa would definitely agree with that. He did have Eli's number. He just had to figure out which combination would open him up.
"Just leave it alone, man." That was a typical Eli answer.
"Why? It's fun."
Asa agreed with that one too. It was fun pushing Eli's buttons. He wasn't as detached as he wanted Asa, and now Malachi, to believe.
"Goddamn, Mal. Not you too."
"Not me too what? Teasing you because you want him? It's as plain as day to me, and him, too, it seems."
"Well it's not plain as day or night to me and it's not up for discussion."
"Oh I think somethin's up."
"Shut up, Mal."
"And it's not just your temper."
"Fuck," Eli groaned. "I'm going outside."
Asa's gaze trailed after Eli until Eli disappeared out the door. Asa shook off his irritation and made his way back to the bar where he set about helping Malachi put away dishes and glasses. He did his best not to look out the front window for Eli. For all he knew, the man had walked down the street and wouldn't come back until he was sure Asa was gone.
"Just give him time," Malachi offered from beside him. "His pain has run deep for a long time, and that he feels anything at all for you means he's coming out the other side of it."
"Contempt is a good thing? Is that what you're saying?"
"It's not contempt. On the surface it might seem like it is, but beneath it's nowhere close."
"I guess I don't have your seasoned eye. He's more than a little frustrating to figure out."
"I've known him a lot longer than you. I was there at the funeral. I was there when Eli fell apart. And I was there when he started to put himself — at least the outside — back together again. It's been a long and terrifying process for him. Feeling something for you goes against everything he's believed for the last few years."
Funeral? Eli falling apart? Asa wanted to ask what all that meant, but knew if he did, Malachi would say it was Eli's story to tell. The curiosity was killing him though. "Okay. I'll try to find that piece of patience I stored away somewhere."
"It won't be too much longer."
"I hope not or I'll have to take matters into my own hands."
Malachi laughed. "Man, I'd love to see that."
Asa chuckled in return. "I'm not opposed to voyeurs, but I'm not sure Eli would be open to it."
"In that, you are correct."
The door whooshed open and Eli strode back inside. He glanced briefly at Asa, but then switched over to Malachi. "Go on home. You shouldn't be here this late as it is."
"You sure?" Malachi's tone said he wasn't sure Eli was sure and Asa definitely wasn't sure Eli was sure. But Eli nodded and Malachi shrugged and tossed the rag on the bar. He clapped Asa on the shoulder and left him and Eli staring at one another from across the not-so-crowded room.
"I ..." Asa wasn't sure what to say. He wanted to open his arms to Eli, to ease the pain Malachi had mentioned earlier, but at the same time he wanted to deck him for being so obstinate. He couldn't remember the last time he was at a loss for words and he didn't like it. He didn't like Eli very much right then, either. The bar, while it was open, wasn't the place to have the type of conversation they needed to have. "I've got work to finish."
He didn't wait. The plea in Eli's voice almost had him turning — almost had him going back. Almost. Instead he kept walking until he was on the other side of the kitchen door. The room was deserted at this time of night, thank God, and he leaned against the prep counter with his eyes closed and his breathing a little unsteady. He didn't know what to think or do. He could be aggressive, but he wasn't sure how much he could use that aggression if he decided to go that route. He could flirt and tease his way into someone's bed, but he wanted so much more than that with Eli.
He drummed his fingers on the stainless steel surface as he thought about it, but in the end came up with nothing. He gathered himself together and headed back to the front of the bar, where he heard Eli issue the last-call warning. Eli was doing his best to usher out the table of guys Asa said should be cut off a little while ago. They were being less than cooperative, but he'd known to expect it. He had classes with a couple of them — one was newly out of the closet and another was trying his hand at being bi. Asa didn't mind them so much in class, but drunk they were a few cards short of a full deck.
"Asa, h-he's thowin' us out, man."
Asa bit back a smile and immediately moved to help Eli get the guys out the door. "It was time for y'all to go, anyway."
"An' you cu' us off." Drunk Number Two poked Asa in the chest. "No' goo' frien'." It was when the gentleman tried to shake his head that Asa flat out grinned.
Excerpted from "Eli's Promise"
Copyright © 2013 Lissa Matthews.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Walks up to Lex."hello"