Jake Devlin knows trouble when he sees it and he wants no part of it. His quiet, peaceful life is a hard-fought dream. And the man who stumbles through the backdoor of Jake’s bar—beaten to hell—he is trouble with a capital T. The last thing Jake needs is to get involved with the sexy and secretive stranger. He definitely shouldn’t offer him a place to stay. But…he does…
Murder and mayhem follow Detective Miguel Conway. One minute he’s working a case, and the next, his cover is blown and he barely escapes with his life. Con didn’t expect Jake to offer help when he needs it most. And he definitely wasn’t prepared to fall for the grumpy ex-Marine. But…he does…
Attraction sparks as the two men are thrown together to figure out who wants to keep Con quiet and why. Well, at least Con is trying to solve his case. Jake is mainly trying to protect the young, impulsive cop. Midnight stakeouts, a celebrity wedding, and passion-filled nights—can Jake and Con find the balance between taking risks and keeping safe? And turn attraction into happily ever after?
But none of that matters if they fail to get the target off Con’s back…
End of the Line, Book 1 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.
Keep moving. Con’s feet pounded on the pavement. Sweat ran down his body. Blood rushed in his ears. Every time he stopped to catch his breath, tires squealed on the wet asphalt, or an engine accelerated in the dark. They were still right on his tail. Despite looping twists and turns through deserted streets, he couldn’t shake them. He’d barely gotten away in the first place and escaped with nothing but the clothes on his back.
He had no idea how long he’d been running, but he was certain they’d catch him the minute he stopped moving. Finally, neon lights blinked ahead of him. Con’s exhausted body sagged with relief. Maybe he could find a bar or a store that was still open. Keep moving. Just a little further. Slowing down to a brisk jog, Con sucked in some much-needed air.
What had just happened? His body was in pain and his mind was still in denial, desperately trying to catch up. He’d been careful. It was supposed to be an easy job. A quick in and out. And nobody knew. Absolutely nobody. There hadn’t really been any time to slip up, and Con knew he hadn’t made any mistakes. So much was dependent on his success. And everything had gone well, until suddenly—bang. Murphy’s goons had dragged him into the basement.
Damn, if…if they’d been tipped off, then Con was in deep shit. Because even when he got his hands on a phone, who would he call? His need for oxygen battled the stabbing pain of his bruised ribs every time he inhaled. Not the first beating in his life, but hell, they had meant business. If he hadn’t managed to squeeze through the small bathroom window, he’d be—
Con shut down that thought. He was rattled, hurting; feeding his panic wouldn’t do any good.
Brakes screeched. They’d found him again. Ignoring his burning muscles, Con backtracked on the empty street. Maybe he should just ring a doorbell, but everything was so dark. He didn’t want to draw any attention, and no way could he wait around for someone to open the door. Keep moving.
The neon lights slipped further away again. An engine revved behind him as headlights swept over the wet asphalt. With a last look at the bright signs at the corner, Con ducked into a pitch-black alley to avoid getting caught in the beam. He only took a few steps, then realized his mistake. A dead end. The alley wasn’t even long enough to hide anywhere in the back. A car. A dumpster. A few doors. No fire escapes. Nothing for Con to work with—just a dead end. He scooted behind the large dumpster, pressing his body against the side, rain soaking through his shirt. The rotten smell made him gag, but he stayed completely still, his eyes on the road. If they missed him, maybe he could sneak back out.
A dark SUV drove by without slowing down. Con took a deep breath and immediately winced in pain. His pursuers hadn’t seen him slip in here. What now? If he could get to the street ahead of him, maybe he could find somebody with a phone. He could call Holden—actually, he should, but Con’s survival instinct discarded the thought. Everything had gone south within an hour, and only Holden had known all the details. Hell, even if he had a phone right now, Con wouldn’t call him, which meant he was all kinds of fucked.
Headlights. Slower this time. The same dark SUV. The red brake lights reflected against the wet wall. The hard metal of the dumpster cut into his back as he flattened himself against it—trying to stay out of sight. His luck had just run out.
“I told you, this place is lit,” Twink One said to Twink Two. Jake was pretty sure he hadn’t seen these two before, but after a while they all looked the same, and all of them were so damn young. Just to make sure, Jake had checked their I.D.s, and despite looking like undersized high schoolers, both were allowed to be here—in his bar—ordering fancy drinks instead of beer on tap like his regulars. Ever since some rainbow-colored blogger had posted about JD’s as the place “to see bears in their natural habitat,” his quiet neighborhood bar had been overrun with horny twinks.
“Don’t look, but over there.” Two stage-whispered, pointing over to Grey, one of Jake’s regulars—his real regulars—not the invasion of jailbait that had turned his place into madness.
“I want,” One said with a full body shudder. Grey, still in his oil-stained jeans and a T-shirt sporting his garage’s logo, quickly picked up on the fact that the two were drooling over him and gave them an exaggerated wink. Jake rolled his eyes. At first, he’d been worried that his usual crowd would be appalled by the influx of students and young professionals dressed like Disney Princesses and stay away, but instead they came more and hung around longer. JD’s had gone from a quiet corner bar to a prime hook-up place, bringing people together who usually wouldn’t give each other the time of day. Not that it was any of his business. As long as it was consensual, Jake didn’t care who went home with whom, but he fucking hated what notoriety had done to his place.
At the beginning, he’d been in denial, but after a few crazy weekend nights he’d stocked up on green Chartreuse and raspberry syrup and hired new—younger—staff. Like Jazz, who was at the other end of the bar, flirting madly for tips and mixing up cocktails faster than Jake could pull a cold one. It had taken Jake a few days to brush up on his pronoun etiquette, but he liked their sassy attitude. Personally, he’d long ago stopped worrying about what anyone thought about him, so he got a kick out of Jazz getting into people’s faces all night long.
Jazz would chew him out if they could read his judgmental thoughts just now, but Jake was in a shit mood. They were understaffed again tonight, which meant he had to stay out front and couldn’t escape to his office for parts of the night.
Jazz came over to fill some glasses with ice. “Where is Sheldon?” they asked.
“I don’t know. He’s your friend, not mine.”
“Nuh uh, you’re not pinning this one on me. You hired him. I warned you.”
Jazz was right. Jake had hired Sheldon…big mistake. Not only did the kid keep the online buzz going with an endless stream of posts all over social media, but Sheldon also was the kind of guy who believed in love at first sight and regularly disappeared for a few days when he’d had found the one…again.
“He sent a text and said he couldn’t make it, but Con will pick up his shift,” Jake said.
Jazz stopped everything they were doing and looked at him for a second. “And you believe that, old man?”
“Connor didn’t show up the last two times, so I have my doubts.” Actually, Jake was convinced that Connor—or Con, as Sheldon called him—was a figment of an overactive imagination and a convenient excuse to blame somebody else for leaving Jake in a bind. Jazz shook their head and mumbled something crass under their breath while pouring a pink mix into two tumblers. To Jake it looked like antifreeze, but it’d been ten weeks since the invasion, so not much shocked him anymore. Still, Jazz picked up on it. “El Guapo. It’s so 2017, but hey, what do I care.”
“In 2017, you were in grade school,” Jake mumbled as he checked the time on the register. “It’s almost eleven. Con should’ve been here an hour ago. I’ll check the back one more time, but I think it’ll be just us and Maggie tonight.”
He was pretty sure Connor wouldn’t be waiting at the backdoor, but Jake held out hope, because otherwise he’d be stuck in the front all night, watching Twink One and Twink Two drool over Grey, and damn, he was so over that.
“I’ll be right back,” he hollered over to Jazz.
“Bring Triple Sec. I’m out,” they yelled back.
Jake nodded and shuffled to the backdoor. There was a tiny parking lot in the alley, which was only for employees, and everybody who worked at the bar preferred to come through the back. Jake passed by his office and the stairway that led to his small apartment upstairs. Disarming the alarm, he pushed the door open. He nearly dropped his shit when he was face to face with a man standing right behind the entrance. The guy wasn’t doing any better, because not only did he let out a little yelp, he also jumped into a defensive fighting stance.
“Easy. Didn’t mean to scare you,” Jake said. “Are you Con?”
In the semi-dark of the hallway light, Jake saw the other guy’s eyes widen, but he immediately answered, “Yes, but—”
“Really? You’re Con.” Still looking a little shell-shocked, Con threw a nervous look over his shoulder but nodded again. Jake pushed the door open further. “Okay, then, why don’t you come in?”
Another haunted glance down the street, but then Con quickly stepped into the building, and Jake let the door fall shut with a loud bang.
“I admit, man, I wasn’t sure you’d show up tonight. Sheldon promised you’d come by to take over a shift for him a few times before.”
“Huh?” Con looked stunned.
So, okay, maybe that had come out a little rude. Sheldon was a flake, so Jake should give Con the benefit of the doubt. “Have you worked in a bar before?”
Con bit his lower lip. “I—it’s been a while,” he said hesitantly. “I might be a little rusty.”
“That’s okay. You can deal with glasses and make sure the bar is always stocked. It’s Friday, and the place is hopping. Jazz and I can handle the front if you manage the back. Let me give you the two-minute tour.” Jake flipped on a light switch in the storage room. “We’ve got ice at the bar, but if we run low, there’s more over there. The larger dishwasher is also back here. Take a quick look around the shelves. Most hard liquor—what the fuck happened to your face?” Without thinking Jake stretched out his hand to pull up Con’s face, but the guy jerked away. However, not fast enough for Jake to miss the fresh bruises and cuts. “Holy shit. That looks bad. What happened to you?”
“I’m okay. I just need a bathroom to clean up a little. I’m fine.” There was a nervous edge to his voice, and he tried to twist his face away from Jake’s gaze.
“No, sorry, doesn’t work that way,” Jake said grimly as he took another look at Con. His black hair was cut to his skull on the sides, and dark scuff covered his cheeks. The rough masculine look was a stark contrast to the pleading in his eyes. Didn’t matter to Jake. If the guy had been in a fight, he’d send him on his way. There was no way he’d invite trouble into his bar—more trouble, that was.
“J, what the fuck? Are you taking a nap back there? Where’s my fucking booze?” Jazz’s voice cut clear through the din.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be right there,” Jake yelled back.
“Listen, J—” said Con.
“Jake. Didn’t Sheldon give you my name? It’s my bar…”
Another confused blink. Sheldon wasn’t the smartest tool in the shed, and Connor seemed to be right there with him. Great, just great.
“Okay, Jake. I…knew that, totally knew that. Listen, it’s not what you think, okay? I promise I won’t be any trouble.” Con held up his hands. Jake took a good look at his knuckles. They were dirty just like his jeans, as if he’d been crawling around the dumpster in the back alley on all fours, but no scabs or bruises. Con clearly had gotten bashed, but he hadn’t been fighting back much. “I’m a hard worker. You won’t regret letting me stay.”
“A hard worker, my ass.” Jake grumbled. This was the first time the guy had actually shown up. Damn, did he think Jake was a total idiot?
Jake let his eyes roam over the man in front of him. Con straightened under his gaze and held eye contact. For a moment, they just looked at each other. “Okay,” Jake finally said. “Bathroom is back there. Sheldon’s always leaving his shit lying around. I’m sure there’s a shirt in my office you can borrow. Go wash up. Try not to scare any customers away, will you? I’ll see you up front in five.”
Jake grabbed a bottle of Triple Sec. Jazz was flying across the whole length of the bar filling several glasses at once. They gave him an angry scowl. “If you want to retire, just let me know. But as it is, you’re not paying me enough to run this place alone.”
“Sorry, I’m here now.” Jake turned to the next customer waving his money at him to take an order. For a few minutes, they both were on autopilot as more and more people pushed through the front door. Maggie, his only waitress from the good old days, rattled down another long list of orders. Luckily, one of the larger tables had moved on to shots, so Jake took those and let Jazz deal with the more involved stuff.
“What took you so long?” Jazz asked as they filled several glasses with ice.
“Connor is here. Sheldon’s friend. He’ll be out in a minute to help.”
Jazz’s hand froze halfway. “What? Con exists?”
Jake chuckled. “Yeah, I know.” Damn, he really liked Jazz. When crazy had started to take over his bar, he’d been miserable, feeling like he was a hundred years old. The fact that his next big birthday would be forty wasn’t helping one bit. But after a few weeks of having his life turned up-side-down, he couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t all bad—at least not all of it all the time.
Con came out from the back. He’d cleaned up. His face looking a little less beaten up. Sheldon’s red T-shirt was a few sizes too small and stretched tight over his muscled chest, showing off a nice pair of biceps with some swirling tattoos. He brushed his wet hair out of his face and gave Jake a crooked smile. His shirt pulled up a little more, exposing a strip of golden skin and a dark treasure trail peeking out of his low-slung jeans. A hush fell over the bar.
“How can I help?” Con asked.
Jazz was the first to recover. They waved to a tray stacked full of dirty glasses. “These need to get washed. Did Jake show you where?”
“Yup.” Con picked up the heavy tray with ease and put it on his shoulder. The bar erupted into a collective moan when he walked back through the door. “Ride This” was printed in bold black letters on the back of his tiny shirt.
Jake snapped his jaw shut, he spun around, and glared at the crowd in front of him. “Staff is off limits.” The place was loud now, but at least the front row should have heard his warning. Not that he didn’t get the rush of excitement, because damn, but— “Off limits!” he yelled again.
Jazz came over and echoed the thoughts he was trying to bury. “Oh, wow, so not what I expected. Sheldon was holding out on us. He should have brought Con around a whole lot earlier.” An evil grin spread over their face. “Actually, now that I think about it, I’d suggest you, grumpy old man, go and wash the glasses in the back, and Latin lover-boy stays with me in the front. This is gonna be a good night.”
A bunch of brightly colored, sweet-as-fuck cocktails later, Jake’s brain caught up with Jazz’s words. They were right. Sheldon’s friend with his dark hair and his deep brown eyes didn’t look like any Connor Jake had ever met before.