Ever since Malachi’s best friend Daniel confessed to being gay, Malachi’s wondered if their friendship could ever cross over into something more. But he’s never been brave enough to take the steps to find out.
Daniel has always been in love with Malachi. But telling his best friend is too risky. Their friendship is the only relationship that’s ever really mattered to him, and he couldn’t handle it if he lost them both.
Courage doesn’t come easy when the stakes are this high, and it’s going to take a leap of faith before these cowboys get their happily ever after.
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
Last call at The Bar Next Door. In about an hour, Malachi could go home. Cleanup would be handled by Eli. Per their deal, Malachi would open the bar in the afternoon and Eli would lock the door at the end of the night.
Much as he loved the bar, he sometimes loved leaving it just as much. Especially tonight. Danny was here again and almost too drunk to sit steady on the barstool, and way the hell too drunk to stand, walk or drive himself home. All grown up and hotter than fire, tempting every man and woman with his crooked smile, his whipcord frame and his bright green eyes. When he was sober, that is. When he was drunk, though, as he seemed to be more often than not lately, he was all grown up and acting like a teenage kid, full of angst and sadness.
"C'mon. Time for you to go." Malachi 'Mal' Rhalston, part owner of The Bar Next Door and Danny's best friend, picked up Danny's half empty glass of whiskey.
"Hey, asshole. I wasn't done with that," Danny said, louder than necessary.
Mal held up the glass and swirled the amber-colored liquid against the sides. "This? You weren't done with this?" Mal looked at it. "It is a bad idea to waste such good whiskey, isn't it?" He downed it himself in one swallow, feeling the burn all the way to his soul. Danny wasn't the only one suffering, but he always liked to think he was. Selfish prick.
Danny squinted and though he was trying for menacing, it just came across comical. Mal had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.
"I was right. You are an asshole," Danny murmured. It was said without heat or rancor, only a weariness that hurt Mal to hear.
Mal smiled his typical bartender smile. It wasn't one he usually gave Danny, being they were the best of friends and all, but right now, it was all he could muster. "Never said I wasn't."
He wiped down the bar in the immediate area of Danny. The man never wore cologne but had a spicy, earthy scent all his own that Mal would be able to pick out anywhere. He didn't know if anyone else could smell it and it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was that he could, that he knew Danny so well ...
He mentally shook himself and focused his attention once again on Danny, on his face. "So, what had you in here tonight, tyin' one on?"
"Same shit, different day."
One thing Mal always admired about Danny was the fact that the man could be stinkin' drunk and still speak without slurs or ripples in his words. Most men in the bar who got that blasted couldn't string the syllables of their own names together, much less carry on an actual conversation. To talk to Danny, one wouldn't know he was fifteen sheets to the wind, aside from the lack of balance and the smell of his breath.
"Which shit would that be? Job shit or man shit?"
Danny was working a place a few miles outside town. It'd been a surprise to Mal when he'd bought it, considering neither of them had ever wanted to run the ranch they'd grown up on.
The Double M Double D was the name of their childhood home. Danny and his father had lived on one side of the ridge that ran through the middle, while Mal and his father lived on the other. They worked it from the moment they could walk. Their fathers knew the boys didn't want the place, so when Mal went off to college and Danny to the military, they sold it. The two older men retired to Wyoming and started a dude ranch with half the sale money and split the other half between Mal and Danny. There'd been more than enough to do and buy nearly anything either of them had wanted.
"Man." Danny spat the word with disgust and Mal wiped the bar again just to be on the safe side. "It's always about a man."
"Things not work out with that pretty thing you carted out of here the other night?" The glare Danny leveled at Mal would have frightened a lesser man. Mal wasn't now nor had he ever been scared of Danny. Their friendship went back too far. They knew everything about one another. Danny, drunk or sober, wouldn't hurt anyone unless it was to protect someone else and he sure as hell would never strike Mal.
"You should know the answer to that one." Mal did know, and secretly, whether it was the right thing or not, he was glad. Danny always did do things the hard way.
"Then why do you bother?"
"Can't have who I really want." The words were miserably spoken, full of sadness and resignation. Mal understood exactly what it meant and felt like to want someone so much and not be able to have them. He'd been dealing with it most his life, having realized he was both gay and in love with his best friend fairly early on, but hearing those words from Danny ... Well, it was the first time the other man had admitted he felt something for someone.
"You mean there is someone? A serious someone?" He desperately wanted to ask who had Danny all fucked in the head and drinking the desire away every night. He wanted to know who had been lucky enough to garner Danny's romantic interest so he could help the guy get his head out of his ass. Danny was special and deserved someone just as ... Mal should know.
Truth be told, he'd always wanted to be the man Danny fell in love with. Unrequited love was a bitch. At the same time, how could he expect anything at all when he'd never come clean about his own feelings?
"Jesus, Mal. Where the hell have you been? Of course there's a serious someone. You think I like fucking a different ass every other week? I thought you of all people would ... Shit. I'm outta here."
"I've been trying to get your ass outta here for ten minutes." Mal laughed at Danny's confused look and hoped he'd pulled it off as nothing more than friendly. "Last call, remember?"
Mal didn't comment, though he wanted to ask if Danny's words were an offer because he'd sure like to accept. Instead, he went around the side of the bar and helped his friend to stand. "Who is he?"
"Someone," Danny said softly. The one word sounded so dejected that Mal's heart ached, and he longed to tell him how he felt, but fear kept the words clogged inside. He knew Danny well enough that if he took the chance now to tell him that there was someone he wanted too, Danny would just think it was to make him feel better and not feel so alone. That would be part of it, but not the ultimate reason. Mal was tired of carrying it around.
"Does he know?" Mal asked, walking Danny toward the door. He looked over his shoulder at Eli to find the other man staring after them. Eli nodded and Mal returned the gesture in silent acknowledgement.
"The boy toy? Yes. I called him the other guy's name during a blow job."
Mal winced. "Not good. But I meant the serious man. Does he know how you feel about him?"
"No. Not good to call a twink or anyone else some other guy's name," Danny agreed. "They can get vicious. I still have the scratch marks to prove it. And no, Mr. Serious doesn't know."
The cab driver had the door open at the curb and Mal helped Danny get settled inside. "How'd you get here tonight?"
"Okay." Mal knelt on the sidewalk and looked at his friend, doing his best to school his own features into a mask of support. He didn't know if he was relieved or disappointed that he wouldn't need to take Danny's truck out to the ranch. "Maybe you should tell him. At least get it out in the open, Danny." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he wanted to bite his tongue. It wasn't the first time he wondered if he should take his own advice and tell Danny the truth.
Danny slowly shook his head. "I'd lose him if he knew," he said, dropping his head backward and closing his eyes. "Can't lose him. Can't lose ... "
Other than Mal himself, who could Danny know so well and whose friendship meant so much to him that a confession would tear their friendship apart? Maybe someone from when he was in the Army? Again, Mal wanted to ask but didn't. He wasn't sure he wanted the answer if his own name didn't pass through Danny's lips.
"How can you lose him if he doesn't even know how you feel?" Mal stood after a few seconds when Danny had no response.
Malachi closed the door and spoke to the cab driver, paying him in advance and giving him directions out to Danny's place. He paid a little extra for the driver to make sure Danny got inside safely.
He turned away without watching the taillights disappear. Danny would sober up and everything would be fine. It always was after a binge like this. His friend would be back tomorrow night, all smiles and ready to pick up the next little toy to warm his bed.
The dust flying behind the pickup coming down the long drive drew Danny's attention. What was Malachi doing driving out here? He'd need to be at the bar in a couple of hours and normally didn't make the trek out of the city on work days.
Since he couldn't find out any answers until Mal actually got out of the truck, Danny continued with the cleaning of the barn loft. He'd saved this job for last because he wasn't sure what the hell he might find up here in the corners and he'd known it was going to be extra hard work. He needed hard work, especially today. The nights of drinking, trying to drown his heartache in Jack and Bud and whatever else he could get his hands on at any given time, were taking their toll on him. The only thing keeping him sane was the piece of land he now called home and all that needed to be done to turn it back into a working ranch, and yet even that wasn't working in his favor anymore.
He was former military and given his training to keep his mind on his job, he figured he should have a much better handle on this shit than he did at the present time. Of course, what one thing had to do with the other, he didn't know. It just seemed he should be more disciplined than he had been since getting out of the service. He was on a reckless tear and he knew it, though he was unsure how to stop, short of spilling his secret desires. Keeping everything bottled up was slowly driving him nuts and he was closer to the edge now than before he'd bought the ranch.
When he'd enlisted, his recruiter asked him if he had anything specific he wanted to do in the service. He didn't. His skills were looked at as they went through the recruiting process and after Basic, he fell into an open position in Arms Repair, which actually suited him just fine. He'd been handling guns since he was a kid. He was good with his hands, good with the details. He'd spent some time working mechanics and repairing vehicles too. He liked the physical work and he learned that it was exactly what he wanted to do when he got out.
The service also taught him how much being without Malachi sucked. Nothing had prepared him for the years they spent apart and he'd known almost immediately that he wanted and needed to get back to him as soon as he could.
Now he was back, trying to make something of himself and ease the pain of loving the man currently pulling to a stop in front of the open barn doors. He looked happy, well-rested, everything that had been escaping Danny for a while. That just pissed him off.
Danny leaned against the side of the loft's window opening, pitchfork in hand. "What are you doing here?"
Mal looked up. He took the camo baseball cap off and ran a hand through his hair. "Wanted to check on you. You were pretty hammered last night." He slapped the cap against his leg a few times before placing it firmly on his head again.
"I remember, but I'm doing fine." He hoped he sounded convincing because he sure didn't feel it. "You can go on back to the bar." The comment was dismissive and the last thing he wanted, but it would be for the best until he could figure out how to spill his guts and ease the knots inside.
"Thought maybe we could talk some, Daniel."
Daniel? Damn. That was never good. "'Bout what?"
"Oh, how about why you keep doing this to yourself every night, for starters?"
"Believe I've told you why. No need to repeat it." Would Mal notice that he couldn't quite make eye contact during these denials? Probably. Mal never missed anything. "Look, I've got work to do and the day ain't getting any longer."
Malachi nodded and toed his boot in the dirt and hay on the ground. Danny knew that wasn't a good sign either. Shit. "Out with it, man," Danny said, impatient.
Malachi looked up and smiled. Danny knew he was about to be offered something he wouldn't be able to refuse. Damn Mal to hell and back. "Brought some of Abe's wings with me. How about some lunch and then I'll go? I know you haven't been eating a whole hell of a lot."
Yep. He knew it. Son of a bitch. Abe's chicken wings were about the best things he'd ever put in his mouth. Mal and Eli had lucked out when they hired Abe to run their kitchen. Add in a beer or a jug of sweet tea and it was one undeniable definition of heaven on Earth. "You play dirty, friend."
"I play however I need to."
"Dirty," Danny repeated, but set the fork against the wall. "C'mon up, then. I've got a place cleared here at the window where we can sit." He didn't really want to share food with Malachi, no matter that they'd been best friends for so many years. Being near the man was becoming harder to take lately. He needed to figure out how to deal with the current situation and until he did ... Well, Malachi being close at hand just complicated matters. Of course, that way of thinking didn't really make much sense considering he kept going to the bar Mal owned every night.
Boots echoed on the wooden steps leading up to the loft. Danny dropped to the floor and leaned his back against the wooden frame. A mild breeze swirled outside and blew at the sweat-soaked hair against his neck.
Malachi was slightly shorter than Danny, whether in bare feet or boots, but he was lean. He was the kind of man who would look as good in a business suit as he did in a pair of faded jeans and a snug-fitting T-shirt. Downstairs, when Mal had taken his cap off, the sun had bounced off the red tones in his brown hair. It'd always been a different kind of color and he could remember the girls back home asking Mal if he dyed it and if so, what color he had used. They'd both gotten a kick out of it.
Malachi handed Danny two large mason jars of Abe's iced tea. It too was the best of its kind and his mouth watered as he imagined the first taste. Malachi effortlessly dropped down next to him and the aroma of Abe's wings coming from the box Mal held made his mouth water even more.
Danny sniffed the air. "Garlic pepper?"
Malachi smiled. "Of course, but there's more."
"More? Okay, okay. Let me concentrate." Danny closed his eyes and inhaled deeply through his nose. "Barbeque?"
Mal tsked, disappointment lacing the sound. "I'm surprised at you."
"Crap. All right. Give me a second. All I've smelled today so far is myself and moldy hay." Danny inhaled deeply again. "Mustard?"
"His new spicy Dijon and honey."
"Damn. Let me at 'em." Malachi laughed and opened the box. Danny dove in. He probably should have taken some time to wash his hands, but all he'd touched since coming to the barn was the handle of the pitchfork. He felt relatively safe in digging into the fragrant, melt-in-your-mouth wings.
"Hungry?" Malachi asked, watching him intently.
"Starving. Drinking does that to me."
"I know. Then you work it all off until you go on another binge."
"Can't be as perfect as you all the time," he muttered around a mouthful.
"We both know I'm far from perfect."
"Yeah, right. Tell that to someone who doesn't know you like I do." Danny sucked wing sauce off his fingers and grabbed for another one. "These mustard and honey ones, God, I think they're my new favorite."
"Abe's recipes are special."
"And you may know me better than anyone else does, but that doesn't mean I'm perfect. I just deal with things different than you do."
"Yeah, like an adult."
"Won't deny that." Malachi unscrewed the lid of his mason jar and took a drink of tea. The jar was sweating in the warm afternoon sun and Danny couldn't take his eyes off the man's throat as his Adam's apple bobbed when he swallowed. What would it feel like to have Malachi swallow around Danny's dick? He'd been wondering about that since he'd figured out for the first time that Malachi held more appeal to him than the entire cheerleading squad in high school.
He finally forced himself to look away, digging for another wing, this time coming up with garlic pepper, his second favorite flavor. Damn things were addictive.
Excerpted from "Malachi's Word"
Copyright © 2012 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.
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