Authors: Darien Cox
Tags: #Mystery, #GFY, #Suspense, #M/M Romance, #Crime
Criminal Pleasures Copyright © Darien Cox 2013
Cover art by Skyla Dawn Cameron
All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this or any copyrighted work is illegal. Authors are paid on a
. Any use of this file beyond the rights stated above constitutes theft of the author’s earnings. File sharing is an international crime, prosecuted by the United States Department of Justice Division of Cyber Crimes, in partnership with Interpol. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is punishable by seizure of computers, up to five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000 per reported instance. Please purchase only authorized electronic or print editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted material.
Brendan lingered inside the front lobby of the restaurant while the hostess went to prepare their table. When the door opened behind him with a gust of cool September air, he turned and smiled at the two young women who stepped in with a flurry of laughter. “There you guys are,” he said. “I thought you stood me up.”
“Hell no, you’re paying! Hey, this place is sweet.” Terry Ann looked appreciatively around at the décor.
Romantic and cozy, Bibeta’s Garden was dimly lit, with shiny black tables accented with blood red tiles. Muted amber lamps and bucolic paintings hung along Tuscan brick walls. Down a few steps to their left was a long bar with high-back stools, the same polished black as the tables. A pair of well-dressed couples and a cluster of older Italian men sat at the bar sipping drinks, deep in conversation. Opera music played softly in the background, and Brendan sighed contentedly. He needed this after the work week he’d had.
His stomach growled at the enticing, garlicky smells that clouded the air. He’d never been to Bibeta’s Garden, but Jeremy, his paralegal and the only local in the office, had praised it. Jeremy declined to join them however due to a prior engagement. Brendan suspected he deemed himself too cool to hang out with the boss on a Friday night, free meal or not.
. It would be a while before he got used to the title.
“I’m starving,” Willa said, stepping up and peering past them into the dining room. “Must have been all that slave labor today.”
Brendan gave her a pointed smirk, which elicited more giggles. Both girls were in their early twenties, not long out of college, and both were very small. When they first arrived at the new office last week, he’d felt like a giant, his six foot frame towering over their petite bodies. But they were a pair of tiny dynamos, tirelessly helping him do everything from setting up computer systems to putting together cabinets. “Slave drivers don’t take their slaves out to dinner,” he said.
slave driver,” Terry Ann said, giving him the enormous, dimpled grin she wore most of the time. Brendan was a happy guy, but he didn’t smile as easily or as often as Willa and Terry Ann, which he attributed to their age. While he wasn’t a huge stretch older, the younger girls’ easy happiness made him think of days past. He supposed everyone’s smile wilted a bit as the years went by and life’s stress cut through the gossamer, carefree hopefulness of youth.
He also suspected that Terry Ann had a crush on him, though it seemed harmless enough and didn’t affect her professionalism. He’d noticed her staring at him often while they were busy setting up the offices, her fair cheeks flushing when he caught her eye. Brendan wasn’t vain, though some misinterpreted his wiseass personality as overconfidence. It was mostly an act, and anyone with a sense of humor understood that. He wasn’t full of himself or in love with himself, but he
used to women developing crushes on him. He was smart enough to realize it was mostly about his looks, and didn’t take it to heart that he was anything special. Though Terry Ann was his first
to get a crush on him, he felt he could handle it with the right balance of caution and humor.
Terry Ann had short black hair and beautiful Asian features, but with her pale skin and green eyes he couldn’t determine her precise racial origins, and sure as hell wasn’t going to ask.
Willa was auburn-haired and freckled with a cute round face that made her look even younger than she was. Having grown up in the shadow of his father, Brendan wasn’t used to being
the old guy
of a group, but while only twenty-nine, he knew that on some level the girls must see him that way. Perhaps they didn’t view him as old, but he was a step removed from their social stratosphere, and though they teased and flirted with him, he was still an authority figure to them. Off limits.
The girls were to be clerks in his new law office, though he hadn’t actually been the one to hire them. His father had sent them down from the Boston office, an unexpected and initially irritating detail. He’d thought he’d be choosing all of his own staff, go figure. Though his father claimed Brendan would be running the Providence branch of Burke and Associates, he could still feel the old man’s puppeting hand up his ass. But he was trying hard not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Most of his fellow law grads were clinging to the low rung on some other practice’s ladder, and Brendan wasn’t oblivious to his good fortune.
The hostess returned and led them to a cozy table at the center of the dining room. Brendan thought of his mother, who’d always insist on being moved to a better table if sat in the middle of the room, like it was a personal insult to her. He grinned with the knowledge that despite running an offshoot of his father’s law office, he was out from under his parents’ thumb now. A new city, a new life, and he’d get to live it his way for a change.
A pretty olive-skinned waitress with flowing black hair brought menus and they ordered drinks, a beer for Brendan and chocolate martinis for the girls. When the martinis arrived in enormous glasses, each with a sidecar, Brendan raised his eyebrows at his giggling employees. “Which one of you is driving?”
“Relax, boss man,” Willa said, taking a sip of the creamy brown drink. “My boyfriend is picking us up later, and we plan to take full advantage of your hospitality until then.”
“Well good,” he said. “Make sure to order the most expensive dish on the menu, so you can remember it when you’re cursing my name after the office gets busy.” He took a sip of beer. “At least I
it’ll get busy.”
“It will.” Terry Ann grinned. “Your father talked you up. Says you’re
as good a lawyer as he is.”
Brendan laughed. “No comment.”
They ordered dinner and the conversation turned to things of a personal nature like Willa’s boyfriend, Terry Ann’s cat, and their thoughts on various films and musical groups. He had to admit he was pleased with his father’s choice of clerks, the girls were so amiable and he had a good chemistry with them already. His laughter mingled with theirs as the alcohol hit his blood and everyone began to relax.
But Brendan was suddenly rendered silent when a young man came by with a tray and set a basket of bread and olive oil down on the table. The girls continued to chatter as Brendan stared, his mouth going dry. In soft black slacks and a tight fitting black tee shirt, a white apron tied around his waist, he was the most striking figure Brendan had ever seen. He looked to be around Brendan’s age, but it was hard to determine with that golden olive skin, so smooth and perfect. His body was lean and tight, tanned biceps popping out below the short sleeves.
Terry Ann and Willa didn’t seem to notice the busboy, or Brendan’s silence, as he watched the man walk away, his eyes discreetly following his movements. The gorgeous young man gathered up glasses and leftover dinner plates from the next table, piling them on a tray. Straight, chocolate brown hair streaked with strands of gold fell from a part in the middle to his jawline. His eyes were some shade of hazel, glinting gold when they caught the light, like the highlights in his hair. He could have been a model, Brendan thought, but he lacked the delicate litheness, his body too solid and strong looking. Something about him gave off an aura of coarseness, a strange contrast to his startling beauty. He held his jaw stiff as he worked, and there was a coiled tightness to his shoulders, like he was bracing for a fight.
The man glanced up suddenly, and his pale brown eyes caught Brendan’s. His gaze was intense and alert, like he was tuned in to everything in the room and could feel Brendan watching him. In seconds, the aproned Adonis appeared to size him up, his eyes doing a quick scan of Brendan’s shirt and loosened tie, the beer in his hand, then flicking over to the girls before he turned abruptly and left the dining room.
Shaking himself, Brendan turned his attention back to Willa and Terry Ann, just as their waitress arrived and set enormous, steaming plates in front of them.
Brendan looked down at his meal and inhaled garlic and basil, his mouth watering.
“I need a glass of red wine!” Willa said.
“Good idea.” Brendan smiled and cocked an eyebrow. “How about we order a bottle? We are breaking ground, after all.”
“Yay!” Terry Ann pushed the wine list toward him.
Brendan chose a cabernet from the list and handed it to the waitress, who beamed, clearly pleased with the money they were spending. While they waited for the wine, the girls dug into their meals appreciatively, but despite his hunger, Brendan merely picked at his tortellini, his stomach fluttering with unfamiliar nerves. His reaction to the gorgeous restaurant worker had left him stunned and thoughtful, and while the feeling was not unpleasant, it was unexpected. He’d convinced himself over the past few years that he wasn’t
bisexual, that the few drunken make-out sessions he’d enjoyed with men back in college were a fluke, a youthful curiosity fueled mostly by alcohol. The brief liaisons he’d had in law school and in the years since were always with women. Yet he’d convinced himself that women were his thing. He still looked at men on occasion, but...
But I’m not really bisexual
The internal affirmation came easily and instantly, practiced with repetition.
Brendan flinched and dropped his fork as the magnetic guy returned to their table once again, this time carrying a bottle of wine. The fork ricocheted off the edge of the table and landed on the floor. Brendan frowned down at it. “Great.”
Willa cackled. “Hey butterfingers, can’t handle your liquor?”
Brendan grinned, nodding. “I meant to do that, I swear.”
He tried to avoid looking at the man who set down their wine glasses. He stood right beside Brendan as he uncorked the bottle. Brendan could sense his body heat and caught a slight whiff of spicy cologne.
Warm fingers touched Brendan’s wrist, and he had to struggle not to jump as he looked up at the busboy.
“I’ll bring you another fork,” he said, smiling down at Brendan, his words edged with a soft Italian accent. “Here, you tell me how the wine is.” He poured a dollop of wine into Brendan’s glass, watching him expectantly.
Brendan lifted the glass, pleased that his hand wasn’t shaking, and took a slow sip. The wine was delicious, but he was too nervous to really taste it properly, so he waited a few seconds and nodded, setting his glass down. “Perfect. Thank you.”
He was rewarded with a quick smile before those beautiful tanned arms stretched across the table to fill the women’s glasses. Then he retreated again, and Brendan struggled not to turn and watch his ass as he walked away.
“It’s good,” Terry Ann said, then raised her glass. “To Burke and Associates. Providence branch.”
“May it not crash and burn,” Brendan said before clinking glasses with the girls.
“And to Brendan Burke, the best boss for taking us out tonight,” Terry Ann added. “And feeding us drinks.”
Brendan laughed. “
are the best. I know it’s been a tough week, so enjoy.”