Keith Ryzor had intended to meet Madeline for their third date, but at the last second, she cancels. Already at the restaurant, he decides to head in and eat at the bar. He spots a man alone with a beer and a plate of hot wings. Noticing the bit of hot sauce reddening the black man’s closely-cropped goatee, Keith sits down next to him and tells him about it. While he knows it’s not the most standard way to strike up a conversation, the guy doesn’t seem to mind. Keith finds himself sharing a surprisingly enjoyable meal with a man named Oliver Kostroma. Even though Keith normally dates women, he’s been with men, too, so he decides to ask him out. To his disappointment, Oliver turns him down.
Over the next week, Keith can’t get the sexy electrician out of his mind. When Keith spots Oliver again in an unlikely place—at a barbeque of a co-worker’s friend’s house—he takes it as a sign. It’s his second chance. Being a smart man, Keith learns from his mistakes. He doesn’t ask Oliver out. Instead, he goes the friends route, which quickly adds in benefits. Knowing he’s falling fast for Oliver, Keith enlists the aid of friends. Even as Keith works hard to win not only Oliver’s trust, but his heart, there are also those working against him. Can Keith prove to the skittish man that he’s worth the risk?
“I have a headache. I’m not going to make it. Sorry.”
Tipping his head back, Keith rolled his eyes before frowning at the roof of his BMW. He sat in his vehicle, already at the restaurant. While he knew he was almost ten minutes early—he hated being late—his date could have called him an hour before to cancel, or even thirty minutes ago. Canceling ten minutes before a date was just damn rude. Plus, considering the woman lived in a high-rise in another part of town, she would have needed to leave home almost twenty minutes before to arrive on time.
This would have been Keith’s third date with Madeline Lieman, and he’d thought they’d had a good connection.
And it doesn’t help that she doesn’t sound sorry.
Instead of sharing any of his thoughts, Keith forced a smile to his lips and kept his tone even. “I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling poorly, Madeline. I hope you feel better soon.”
“Thank you,” Madeline replied, sounding a bit absent. “Perhaps we can try again Thursday evening?”
Narrowing his eyes, Keith evasively replied, “I’ll need to check my schedule and call you back.”
Before Madeline questioned him further, Keith continued, “I’ll talk to you soon. Get some rest.” Then he disconnected the call.
Keith made a mental note to have a late meeting on Thursday evening. Hating being stood up ranked right up there with being late. Regardless of Madeline’s call, he still considered himself to be stood up.
His stomach growled.
“Well, I’m already here,” Keith muttered, sliding his phone into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. “Let’s get some chow.”
Keith opened his door and stepped out of his BMW, closing the door after him. After buttoning his suit jacket, he locked his vehicle, tucked his keys into his pocket, and started toward the restaurant. Keith headed inside and stopped at the hostess stand.
“Good evening, sir,” the young blond male greeted with a smile. “Do you have a reservation this evening?” He glanced beyond Keith and added, “Is it just you tonight, or are you waiting for the rest of your party?”
“I do have a reservation for this evening, for two, but I won’t be needing it,” Keith told the man. “It’s under Keith Ryzor. Give another my table.” Pointing toward the left, he added, “I’m just gonna sit at the bar.”
The more Keith had spoken, the more the blond’s eyes had widened. He glanced down at the stand, probably checking the reservation list. His cheeks even colored just a smidge, maybe because he’d noticed that when Keith had specified the reservation, he’d pre-ordered a bottle of their finest white to share with Madeline, having learned that it was her favorite.
“O-Of course, sir,” the man stuttered. Then his brows furrowed as he asked, “Should I have the wine brought to the bar for you?”
With a shrug, Keith replied, “Why not.”
Maybe he would call for an Uber after drinking it.
“Right away, sir,” the host told him before turning away.
Keith grabbed a menu off the stand, then headed to the bar area. As he strolled inside, he took in the occupants. There was a dark-haired guy toward one end in a deep blue suit. The cut didn’t fit the guy quite right, and he saw the way the guy glanced around, as if he were casing the joint.
At the other end sat a black man in a pair of faded jeans, work boots, and a light-blue button-down. His long sleeves had been rolled up to above his elbows. He was focusing on the pile of hot wings before him while sparing the occasional glance at the TV mounted to the left of the bar.
Keith also couldn’t help but notice the handsome man’s lean features and the way his closely-cropped goatee framed his full lips. Full lips that opened so he could take a big bite of a chicken wing. When the handsome black man put down the wing bones and picked up his napkin, he rubbed over his lips.
The dab of hot sauce that Keith spotted when the guy lowered the napkin back to the bar drew a smile to Keith’s lips. He started in the stranger’s direction. He’d always been forward, and he found he couldn’t help himself.
Settling on a stool, two to the right of the man, Keith placed the menu in front of him. He noticed the guy side-eye him ever-so-discreetly, but he didn’t say anything to him. Keith did it for him.
Keith reached over the bar and grabbed a couple of cocktail napkins from the stack behind it. Holding one out to the man, he used the second one to point toward the dab of sauce still on the left side of his upper lip. Smiling just a smidge, Keith stated, “Missed a spot.”
The guy slowly panned his attention to Keith. His focus flipped from him to the napkin and back again. Arching one thin black brow, he set down his chicken wing.
Then the man smirked and took the napkin. “Thanks,” he murmured in a pleasantly mellow tenor. After he wiped over where Keith had indicated, surprisingly, he asked, “Did I get it?”
Keith grinned and nodded. “Yeah. You did.” Holding out his hand, he offered, “I’m Keith. Keith Ryzor.” When the man didn’t immediately take his hand, Keith added, “My date stood me up, and you look like you’re here alone. Interested in sharing the bottle of white wine I ordered for her?”
After a few seconds, the man responded, “Oliver Kostroma.” He slid his firm, warm hand into Keith’s, his callouses sliding over Keith’s own palm. “I’ll keep you company because you seem to be bored, but I’m not interested in white wine.” Curving the left side of his lips into a half-smile, he pointed at his nearly empty bottle and added, “But you could buy me another beer.”