Crossing the Line (MM)

Jake's Bar

Painted Hearts Publishing

Heat Rating: Sizzling
Word Count: 81,194
0 Ratings (0.0)

Broken Trust doesn’t give Second Chances…

Holden Wright had it all—and lost it. Five months ago, he was on top: a decorated detective with a bright future. Then his father’s gambling destroyed everything. Left with nothing, Holden works nights at Jake’s Bar with no idea how to get his broken life back on track.

Brent Northwood has it all—except the man he loves. Brent made a deal with the devil to become a well-respected lawyer, but success doesn’t turn out to be all he ever wanted. His love for Holden started with a wild, crazy hookup in the rain, but it all came to an abrupt end when Brent lied—with best intention—but a lie is a lie and Holden can’t forgive.

Holden needs the successful lawyer back in his life about as badly as he needs the bullet hole his father put in his shoulder. But with secrets from Holden’s past threatening his future, Brent is the only one who can protect him. The two men forge a volatile truce to stay one step ahead of danger, but is it enough to mend the broken trust between them? Can they risk a second chance for love knowing what’s at stake?

But none of that matters if they can’t find out who is trying to take Holden down…

Series: Crossing the Line, Book 2 in the award-winning Jake’s Bar series, is a steamy, M/M romantic suspense featuring a rainbow-colored bar full of quirky characters, and all the romance you can handle. So, download today, and get ready to fall in love with Jake’s Bar.

Crossing the Line (MM)
0 Ratings (0.0)

Crossing the Line (MM)

Jake's Bar

Painted Hearts Publishing

Heat Rating: Sizzling
Word Count: 81,194
0 Ratings (0.0)
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The first heavy raindrops hit Holden and soaked the thin material of his white dress shirt. He’d lingered and was now paying the price. Instead of walking back to the main building of the country club with all the other party guests as thunderous clouds had moved in, he’d stayed behind to have a few minutes alone with tall, dark, and hot-as-fuck. Holden knew Con had only invited him to his father's birthday party at the fancy country club to piss off his parents. At first, he’d felt slightly uncomfortable sitting at a table with some of Boston’s rich and famous. Until he realized that people instantly pegged him as a nobody and ignored him. A vice detective at Boston PD didn’t belong, even if he was wearing a designer suit like everybody else. Holden didn’t care. Eating fancy food and drinking champagne wasn’t exactly a hardship.

He’d fully intended to duck out early, but then his gaze had crossed with the Conway family lawyer. As their eyes locked, the roomful of pretense had disappeared. And now, they stood on the edge of the carefully manicured lake on the golf course, watching the clouds swallow up the last rays of sunlight with alarming speed. They hadn’t said more than a handful of words to each other since everyone else had left. The first drops had been a relief from the humid August heat, but within minutes, the rain was coming down hard, drenching them both to the bone. Still, neither one of them rushed back to the safety of the covered balcony and the air-conditioned dining room.

The devil was riding Holden. Knowing full well that the other man was watching him, he tilted his head back. Arms stretched out to the side, he closed his eyes and let the rain pound his skin. A low curse was an instant reward for his blatant provocation.

“If I’m reading this wrong, tell me now before I do something we both regret.” The deep voice was a ragged growl against his exposed neck, sending an uncontrolled shiver through his body. Instead of an answer—and without opening his eyes—Holden leaned closer. Warm, wet lips crushed his mouth and devoured him. There was nothing tentative about Brent Northwood’s kiss…


Holden pulled out of his thoughts as he topped off the beer and slammed it on the counter in front of Grey. The grungy mechanic tore his eyes away from a green-haired twink across the room. “What crawled up your ass tonight?”

JD’s was a gay bar and prime hookup spot, so there were a few dozen suitable answers, but Holden wasn’t feeling any of them. His mind was fucking with him—flashing lust-filled images from a past he’d buried deep in a box labeled “mistake.” For the past hour, while he was serving drinks and cashing out people as it got late, he’d tried hard to ignore the man in a dark suit sitting at one of the high tables away from the crowds. It had been a good night until Brent Northwood showed up at JD’s Bar.

Grey took a sip and licked the foam off his lips with an exaggerated swirl of his tongue. On the other side of the bar green-hair rolled his eyes and turned away to follow his friends back to a booth. Grey had tried to get the guy’s attention a few times now and had consistently been shot down.

“You’re not Kyle’s type,” Holden said helpfully as he wiped down the beer taps.

Grey pulled a face. “It’s a shit night. The place was hopping for a while, but lately it’s been slow. I think Jake is in trouble. He hit gold when that blogger made a big deal out of JD’s, but there was just no way that was gonna last. JD’s doesn’t offer enough. In the end, it’s just a dingy corner bar.”

Then what the fuck are you doing here every night? Holden swallowed his acrid reply. Grey was a bit of an ass, however Holden was pretty sure that nothing but an empty apartment waited for the guy at the end of the day. Five months ago, he would have been quick to judge and discard JD's regular, but these days, they had too much in common.

Grey wasn’t the only one, who came to JD’s Bar, instead of drinking a lonely beer in front of the TV. Sprinkled in among a young crowd drawn by the hype of local influencers sat a few of JD’s old regulars, looking for a nice cold drink before they shuffled off to whatever private hell, they had turned their lives into.

Before he could stop himself, Holden threw a glance across the room to the lanky man sitting motionless in the dim light. As always, Brent looked like he’d just stepped out of a courtroom. Impeccably dressed in an Armani suit. A face with square angles and full lips with a cupid’s bow. The dark five o’clock shadow was the only imperfection, but it enhanced his classic charms. Holden had always known he was bi. He’d experimented with both men and women. Brent Northwood, almost ten years older, serious to the point of severe, wasn’t his usual type. Still, nobody had ever been as irresistible to him.

Elbows resting on the table, the lawyer nursed a whiskey in his hands. He seemed lost in his thoughts. Even though he’d been there for over half an hour, he’d made no attempt to talk to anyone save for ordering a drink from Jazz, who had worked the bar with Holden earlier.

Luckily, Grey picked up their conversation again before Holden was caught staring. “Somebody must have bought the rundown movie theater next door. They’re renovating. The dumpster takes up half the parking spots on this side.”

“Yeah, Jake’s been talking about them hammering all day long. He’s pissed about the noise,” Holden replied. That was an understatement. Jake Devlin, his boss, didn’t like change, and the fact that somebody had the audacity to mess with his street had him raging.

“If that’s turned into a bar, Jake can bag it,” Grey said with gloomy delight. “I’m telling you, this is only the beginning.” He waved around the mostly empty place.

“Bullshit. It’s Tuesday. Tuesdays are slow.”

It was almost midnight, and the place was emptying out. Holden started his cleanup by adding a few more glasses to the small dishwasher under the counter. Sharp pain shot into his shoulder as he reached down. He had full range of motion back, but there was still the occasional ache from the gunshot wound. On dark days, Holden wondered if he’d ever be back to normal.

“That’s why you’re stuck with Tuesdays. Jazz is a smart cookie. I was surprised they were here tonight at all. They usually only work shifts closer to the weekend.” Grey wasn’t done stirring shit up. “Has to grind a little that such a young kid has seniority over you and gets the better days. Maybe you should talk to Jake. You must be hurting for money after losing your cushy detective job—”

A hand came down on Holden’s back. “Grey, shut your mouth,” Jake growled at the mechanic. “Nobody needs your poison. Told you that before. If you can’t be civil, get the fuck out of my bar.”

It wasn’t an empty threat. Jake had zero tolerance for hate or stupidity, and he was fiercely protective of his staff. The warmth of Jake’s touch seeped through Holden’s shirt, and for a moment, he leaned in. Damn, he really was off his game tonight.

“Done with paying bills?” he asked and got only a grunt in return. Jake was always in a bad mood after wrestling with his outdated accounting system, which he’d done for the last few hours, hiding in his office in the back. Holden had offered to take over the financials a few times, or at least upgrade the ancient software, but his boss had never taken him up on it.

Jake grabbed a few empty bottles and tossed them into a crate under the bar. “Where is Jazz?”

“It was slow, so I sent them home a few minutes ago. They’ve got an exam tomorrow. Talked about it all night. I’ve got it covered and thought they could use a few extra hours of sleep,” Holden replied.

“Makes sense to take advantage of a nice, peaceful night,” Jake said with a happy sigh and started to wipe down a few trays stacked at the corner of the bar. Grey had been right. Business had been slower lately, but Jake was almost cheerful about it. He was the only bar owner Holden knew who got into a pissy mood when his place was packed with people. Jake loved peace and quiet, and most nights, JD’s Bar was anything but.

Jake stopped abruptly and squinted into the dimly lit taproom. “What’s the damn fixer doing here?”

“The damn fixer?” Holden smirked. Of course, he knew who Jake was talking about. The man never missed anything going on in his bar, even if Brent was hiding in the dark.

“Don’t mess with me, Wright. You know who I mean. The guy in the fancy suit lurking in the corner over there,” Jake said with a scowl on his face.

“Northwood?” It was petty, but Holden took perverse pleasure in the fact that Jake didn’t like Brent.

“Yeah, Brent fucking Northwood. What’s he doing at my bar? I swear, if he’s here to mess with Con again, I’m gonna kick his uptight ass.”

“You know Con can take care of himself, right?” Holden said. Jake’s boyfriend, Miguel Conway, was the youngest son of the influential Santiago-Conway family. Con’s mother was a state senator, and the entire clan was rich as fuck, hence the fancy birthday party Holden was trying to forget about.

“What’s going on now?” Grey twisted on his barstool. “Who is here to mess with Con?”

Brent must have noticed they were talking about him. He downed his drink and walked over to the counter. “Holden” He nodded before shifting his gaze to Jake. “Devlin. It’s good to see you again.”

“Con isn’t here.” Jake growled.

“I’m actually here for Holden.”

“Yeah, no, I don’t think so,” Holden scoffed.

Brent’s lips twisted ever so slightly. “I need to talk to you. And I think it’d be preferable if we could go somewhere private.”

“Again. Not interested.”

“I’m interested.” Kyle, the green-haired kid from earlier, came out of nowhere and pressed himself against Brent, who jerked backward at the unexpected touch. “I’m very interested. Especially in going somewhere more private.”

“Stay the fuck out of it.” The words were out of Holden’s mouth before he could think. Brent blinked, then locked eyes with Holden across the bar. Damn. “Actually, you know, go right ahead.”

Kyle raised an eyebrow. “Like I need your blessing.” He turned to Brent again and said, “My name is Kyle, by the way, and seriously, you’re wasting your time with that one.” He pointed his chin toward Holden. “Says he’s bi, but I’ve been watching him. Turns everybody down. He’s got a bit of an ice-queen rep. Eye candy but without any fire.”

“Excuse me.” Holden was two seconds from jumping over the counter.

“Maybe his dick is broken,” Grey chipped in, which earned him a glare from Jake. He’d been standing next to Holden with his arms crossed but now took a few steps in Grey’s direction.

Kyle replied, “I’m not judging—”

“You better not,” Jake interrupted. “I won’t have any of this dumb talk in my bar.”

“I know. That’s why this place is cool. And as I said, seriously, not my concern, but—” Kyle started rubbing shamelessly against Brent’s hip while throwing a triumphant glance at Holden. “My dick ain’t broken. Actually, right now—”

“Your offer is very flattering.” Brent carefully extracted himself from the grabby hands. “But…ehm…it’s not a good night. I’m not looking for…”

A flicker of warmth rushed through Holden. Brent Northwood could charm twelve jurors to swallow every word from his lips, but in a situation like this—a bar, a come-on—he was awkward. Always a little too formal. Too serious.

Kyle smiled sweetly. Maybe he had the same thought as Holden because he pressed a finger against Brent’s lips, went on his tiptoes, and whispered something into his ear. Brent froze, but then he chuckled and quietly said something back. Holden’s hands balled into fists. What the fuck?

Kyle’s head fell back, and he let out a low groan. “Seriously?”

Brent nodded. “Yes, seriously.”

“Oh fuck. That sucks.” Kyle stepped back. “Well, then all that’s left to do is to wish you good luck with the frozen one.” He gave Brent a two-finger salute and went back to his friends. The minute he sat down and whispered a few words, a collective moan went through the group.

Brent straightened his jacket and turned back toward the bar, but before he could say anything, Grey pointed his finger. “Well, that was damn stupid. Who turns down a sure thing?”

“Holden.” Brent ignored Grey. “There have been some recent developments, and I really need to talk to you. And this interruption reinforced my request that we should speak somewhere private.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve left Boston PD, and I’m a bartender now. Unless there’s a shortage of beer or liquor, I don’t think there’re any developments that would faze me.” To make his point, Holden picked up one of the trays and slid under the flap door to clear a few abandoned tables.

Brent stepped in his way and grabbed his arm. “Give me a few minutes and then—”

“I gave you more than a few minutes,”—Holden jerked out of the hold—“and all that came out of your mouth were fucking lies.”

“I never lied.”

“Bullshit. I came to you for help, and you fucked me over—” Heat rushed to Holden’s face as he realized what he’d just said. “I mean…Half-truths. White lies. Whatever you call them. You weren’t honest. You played your manipulative-lawyer mind games with me.” Holden was losing it, but he didn’t care. He’d carried this frustration around for a long time, and maybe it was time he had his say. “I don’t need that in my life. Never again. We’re done.”

Brent flinched as if Holden had delivered a physical blow. All the color drained from his face. Holden could hear him suck in a ragged breath. The bar had gone quiet. Not that there were still a lot of people around, but they clearly had everybody’s attention.

Brent brushed his fingers through his hair and lowered his voice. “I know…I know all of that. I made a mistake, and I respect your decision to cut all ties, but something has come up, and we need to talk—”

“Fuck, Brent. I work here. This job is the only thing I’ve got going right in my life. Stay out of it. Just fucking leave.”

After a few long seconds, Brent nodded and stepped back. “Okay. If you change your mind, please call me.”

“I won’t.”

Brent turned and left without another word. Holden took a deep breath and walked to the corner booth to pick up empty bottles and glasses. His hands shook, but he ignored it. Slow and methodical, he cleaned the table and then did the same to the next one, forcing any thought of Brent Northwood out of his mind.

“Last call,” Jake yelled from the bar. “Or better yet, go home. It’s a fucking Tuesday.”

As the bar emptied, Jake putzed around behind the counter, drying glasses and putting them back onto shelves. Once everybody was gone, Holden started to stack chairs.

“Can I ask you something?” Jake asked into the silence. “You can tell me to fuck off, but I don’t quite get it.”

Holden braced himself. Jake rarely ever initiated personal conversations. In the two months he’d worked at JD’s, they’d never once talked about the night Holden’s father had threatened to kill Jake and Con to cover up that he was on the take. While Con occasionally tried to poke around in his head, Jake had let him be. And Holden had been grateful because even months later, his seething fury over his father’s betrayal hadn’t diminished. Law enforcement was written into the Wright’s family DNA, and his father had pissed it all away.

Holden finished with his last chair and made his way back to the bar. “I really don’t want to talk about Brent fucking Northwood.” He deliberately copied Jake’s words from earlier, and the flicker of a grin told him that his boss hadn’t missed the subtle dig.

“Believe me, I get being pissed at somebody.” Jake paused but didn’t elaborate. “Con and Northwood both left you in the dark. Whether they outright lied or omitted a few key facts, it’s all the same. They messed with you. Con was your partner. Northwood was the guy you asked for help. You have a right to tell them to stay the fuck out of your life.”

 “If they’d been honest with me…damn, we could have put the pieces together earlier. Maybe I wouldn’t have ended up drawing a gun on my dad to stop him from putting a bullet through your head.” A shiver ran through Holden, remembering that night.

“Or gotten shot.” Jake, thankfully, didn’t add by your father. Even five months later, thinking about his father pulling the trigger still sent chills through Holden.

Jake dropped his towel and continued, “In hindsight, I agree with you. The whole situation wouldn’t have escalated if they’d just talked to you and filled you in on all the facts. But I was there. I watched Con struggle with the decision about what to do. And I admit I wasn’t in favor of bringing you in.”

“I don’t blame you or Con. I fucked up. It was me opening my big mouth, talking about an ongoing investigation with my dad and it blew everything up. Con getting beaten up by Murphy’s goons is on me too, and in the end, I almost got him killed.”

“Enough self-flagellation.” Jake grunted. “You don’t get to take the blame for your father sending his criminal cronies after Con or for holding us at gunpoint. That’s all on him. You made mistakes. Con made mistakes. But your father chose to hurt others to protect his secrets.”

You have no idea. Holden sank onto a barstool, propped his elbows onto the counter, and rested his head in his hands.

“You’re the one who ended up with a bullet hole in your shoulder, not Con or me, so I think you paid up.” There was a clink of glass. A shot was pushed his way. It was the first time Jake had offered him alcohol since Holden had started working three months back. “As I said earlier, I know what it’s like to get screwed over, but I also know that life gets better when you let go of the past and allow yourself to move forward.”

Holden let out a dark chuckle. “Was there a question? ’Cause I missed it.”

“You know, Con said you’re an acquired taste on your best days.” Jake snorted. “And I never thought I’d say this, but I think I like you, Holden Wright.”

He mock toasted to his boss and downed the shot.

Jake leaned back against the counter. “Smartass, here is the question: Why have you forgiven Con, who in essence lied to protect himself, but you can’t forgive Brent Northwood, who only lied to protect you?”

“I think technically that’s two questions.” Holden’s voice was rough from the alcohol burning down his throat. Still, he reached out for the bottle and refilled his glass. Maybe, just maybe, he had to say it out loud once. “Yes, I was pissed at Con, but I got hurt by Brent, and I won’t ever let it happen again. Does that answer your question?”

“It does. Answers a lot of them.”

They sat in the silence of the dimly lit bar sipping their drinks, and Holden rolled his neck, trying to relieve the tension.

“He’ll be back,” Jake added as he rinsed out his glass and then dried it off.

Holden looked up. “Why do you think that?”

“Because guys like Northwood haven’t gotten where they are by accepting defeat.”

“Well, it won’t matter. He fucked up. I’ve drawn a line, and I won’t cross it.”

“Uh-huh,” Jake mumbled as he picked up Holden’s empty glass and put it into the sink. “It’s late. Let’s get out of here.”

Holden took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders to brace himself for the cold, wet November night, trying not to think about how he’d rather stay at work than go home.

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