Authors: Laura Baumbach
Tags: #Gay, #Fiction, #Erotica
Incredulous, Bram squeezed James' hand. "Are you actually jealous?"
James blushed and tried not to duck his head. He half-heartedly tried to pull his hand away, but Bram refused to let go.
"That's such a compliment, Jamie." Leaning in closer, Bram lower his voice to just above a whisper. "I'll be sure to take the time to thank you properly later tonight. I may have to thank you several times."
Now James did squirm, his dress pants suddenly too tight and too warm for comfort.
Bram winked at him and sat back as the waiter returned with the wine. Bram tasted it and nodded his approval before handing James a glass.
James took a sip and let the mellow tang of the grapes ease the dryness in his sore throat.
Some of his unease melted away it. "It's nice here. Comfortable."
"Yeah, I think so." Bram leaned back, but kept hold of James' hand, bringing it with him as he settled more comfortably into the curve of the booth. He sipped at his wine and winked at another waitress as she greeted him.
He knew it was next to impossible for a man of Bram's size to go unnoticed, but James was amazed at how many people went out of their way to say hello. Bram was very well-known and liked here. James' comfort level with the physically intimidating and powerful man went up a few more notches.
James glanced down at their intertwined fingers and noticed a couple of Bram's knuckles had fresh abrasions on them. James brought their hands up from beneath the table and run his thumb just under one of the raw knuckles. "I've been so whacked out over the whole thing in the hall, I didn't even notice you were hurt. Christ!"
Guilt and shame over the incident with Williams came rushing down on him and bile rose to the back of his throat. "I'm sorry you had to get involved in that."
"I'm not." Bram frowned and took a deep breath before admitting, "I'm glad."
"What?" James' voice cracked on the word.
"I'm glad I was there. Glad I got the chance to stop that asshole from hurting you. Glad I was the one there for you afterwards." Bram smiled his lopsided grin and looked sheepish. "And yeah, I'll admit it. I wasn't lying when I told that creep I was possessive and protective of you." Bram's tanned face darkened a shade. "Maybe it's kind of early to say this, but I like how you make me feel when I'm with you."
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Swallowing past the residual burn in his throat from earlier, James decided to plunge ahead and go through the emotional door Bram had left open. "How
you feel when you're with me?"
Leaning an elbow on the table, the big man hunched forward slightly and studied the wine in his glass. He swirled the liquid around and then took a sip, setting the glass back down on the table before answering.
James began to think he had misread the situation then Bram raised his head and smiled.
"Needed. You make me feel needed. Appreciated. You let me have control, but you aren't dependent on me." Bram took another sip of wine then stared James in the eye, his voice suddenly very serious. "I don't want to be consumed by someone who wants me to orchestrate his entire life for him."
James let out the breath he had been holding and released his bottom lip from the tight hold his teeth had on it. "I don't like being told what to do outside of the bedroom. I can run my own life just fine."
"Then we're good, because I don't want to be your 'daddy'." The big man gripped James'
hand tighter. "But honestly, it does give me a rush to see you all flustered and unsettled.
Like in the alley last night, when you weren't sure what was happening. And earlier tonight, at your apartment, when you needed someone to anchor you down. I'm glad I was there."
"I'm glad, too, Bram. I don't want to think about what would have happened if you hadn't shown up." James stared off into the distance. He felt a cold knot of anxiety ball up in his stomach at the idea of Williams being allowed to finish what he had implied he wanted to do.
"The apartment building is up for sale. I might have to move soon, anyway." James was suddenly very glad he had meet Bram. Pushing the incident aside, he smiled at Bram. "I don't think I thanked you for earlier."
The lopsided grin on Bram's lips turned into a gentle leer. "Oh, I don't know. You felt pretty grateful to me on the couch. My leg thought you were grateful, too."
A strangled snort of laughter escaped James and Bram joined him. James laughed until tears blurred his eyes. He had to wipe them away to see his food as their waiter placed a large tray of appetizers on the table and disappeared again.
"Okay, I guess we're even. We're both glad to be with each other." James brushed away the last of the moisture from his eyes and looked over the food tray, trying to decide what to sample first.
"Yeah." Bram's tone was considering. "We go well together. I knew that last night. That's why I asked you out. I had a feeling about us being right together."
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James popped a marinated shrimp into his mouth and sucked the sauce off it. He looked up to see Bram watching his mouth as he savored the shrimp. Feeling playful, he sucked slowly and ran the fleshy part of the shrimp over his lips once before he ate it.
Bram's breathing increased and his hand was back on James' leg, this time higher up. His large, hot palm slid around to James' inner thigh and his fingers boldly stroked the sensitive skin there, but didn't move any higher.
James tightened his buttocks and fought the urge to push his groin into the man's hand.
He grabbed his wineglass and took a sip, while his brain scrambled for conversation to distract him from the tantalizing pressure under the table.
"Your business card said you work for Eclipse Construction. They're a pretty impressive company. Even the architectural firm I'm at, Dunn & Piper, does a lot of business with
'Eclipse'. What do you do there?"
Bram relaxed into soft leather and tilted his upper body so that their shoulders touched, all the while tapping lightly on James' inner thigh with his fingertips. "Well. . ." Bram sighed.
Thinking Bram's hesitation as a sign he might be reluctant to admit he was a blue-collar worker after James had admitted at the apartment to being an architect, James hastened to let the big man know it didn't bother him.
"Hey, as long as you can support yourself," James smiled, "and can pay for dinner, I don't care what you do for a living." He popped another shrimp in his mouth, enjoying the way Bram's eyes immediately darted to look at his mouth while he chewed. "But I'm thinking they wouldn't be so nice here if you couldn't pay the bill."
James delicately licked a tiny spot of cocktail sauce off one fingertip. He felt a thrill race down his spine when Bram swallowed hard and licked his own dry lips.
His half-lidded gaze never strayed from James' face as Bram said, "I'm thinking of making someone pay right now, but it's not the bill." The long fingers on his leg tightened and James squirmed. Bram murmured seductively into his ear, "Bad boy tonight, is it?
Maybe we need to rethink that punishment idea."
James' heart pounded in his chest and his mouth went dry with excitement, but remained silent. It would be interesting to see what direction Bram took this, whether he had been honest about his expectations from James.
"I think you'll have to owe me a kiss, a real kiss," Bram reached up and ran his thumb over James' lower lip, "for each time you cocktease. You're up to two right now."
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Gaze locked on Bram's face, James dipped forward and captured the man's thumb in his mouth. He gave it the same treatment he had given the shrimp beforehand. He sucked on it, swirled his tongue over the callused pad then slowly pulled it from between his lips, letting his teeth rake over the surface on the way out.
"Would you like more wine, gentlemen? Dinner will be ready in just a few minutes." Not having heard the waiter approach, James jumped and pulled back from Bram.
The waiter glanced at the uneaten tray of appetizers. "Was there something unsatisfactory with the food, Mr. Lord? Would you like something else instead?"
Turning, Bram cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. He grabbed a canapé from the tray and prepared to stuff it into his mouth. "No, no, Angelo. This is fine. We just. . . got caught up in the moment." He put the delicacy into his mouth, chewed and swallowed, but his eyes were on James the whole time. "It's perfect. I've never had better."
His blush deepened and James dropped his gaze to the table. He picked up a breadstick and began tearing it into pieces.
"Ah." Angelo smiled at the blush creeping up James' cheeks and nodded. "Excellent, Mr.
Lord." He poured more wine into their glasses, then left, a knowing smile on his twitching lips.
The two men looked at one another and burst out laughing, the sudden awkwardness dissolving away.
James was surprised the hand on his leg never left. Bram might have been caught flirting with another man, but he didn't appear to be embarrassed by it. The man's self-confidence was rock solid.
"You never answered me. What do you do at 'Eclipse'? I had this fantasy of you in jeans and a work shirt, all sweaty and covered in concrete dust, but now I'm having trouble seeing you that way."
"You're too self-confident, too take-charge, to be a worker bee. I'm guessing management
-- supervisor or project lead."
"Close." Bram smiled. "Owner."
"Owner?" James nearly choked on the piece of salmon he had just swallowed. "Of
'Eclipse'?" He looked at Bram's self-depreciating smile. "Wow. I'm impressed."
Finishing off the last bit of wine in his glass, Bram shrugged. "Majority stockholder." He set the empty glass down and fingered with the edge of his napkin. "I have people who
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run the day-to-day nuts and bolts of it, but I stay involved in all the major contracts and have final say on what projects we take on. I work a site now and then, too."
"'Eclipse' does a fair amount of charity work. Is that your doing?" James was impressed.
Bram's company was a leader in promoting fair housing standards.
"We do some low-bid contracts for public housing and a lot of high priced bids to help pay for them." Bram shrugged off the compliment again. "I try to keep a balance between what's good for public interest and what's good for the company."
"A man used to being in charge, but knows how to compromise. I like that." James bit at his lower lip, then soothed it with a lick. "It's . . . sexy." The hand on his leg inched higher, then stopped. James flexed his thigh muscles in an unspoken acknowledgement of the thrill the movement produced.
Bram refilled his wineglass and took a large sip. "It was my father's company and he liked a hands-on approach. He loved to create beautiful buildings. For him it was more art than construction. I took over when he passed away four years ago, right after my mom. I've tried to follow in his footsteps with the company."
A melancholy tone had settled into Bram's voice and James felt a need to erase the small frown from the big man's furrowed brow. "Well, he did a good job of creating beautiful art with you. He must have been a good man." James let every ounce of attraction growing inside of him for this man show in his voice. Bram responded with a shy, appreciative smile that James cherished.
"Thank you, Jamie. And he was a good man." Bram took a steadying breath and stopped playing with his napkin. "I miss him." He sat up straighter and turned his full attention on James. "But the real guiding force in his life was my mom. She was petite, just a little thing really, quiet and intense. Kind of like you."
Bram reached over and brushed a strand of dark curl back from James' forehead, softly caressing the smooth skin with his thumb as he talked. "Same sapphire eyes, too. They both would have liked you. I'm sorry they aren't here to meet you."
James swallowed down the lump forming in his throat. The big man's sadness was almost palpable, making James' chest ache with the desire to share it and make it less of a burden for him to carry alone. "I would have liked to have met them. They sound great. They wouldn't have minded? That I'm a guy, I mean?"
"They wouldn't have chosen this lifestyle for me, if there had been a choice to be made, but they accepted it as something that just was. It was never an issue between us. Sure, they worried about me when I was younger, but as soon as I filled out, they figured I could handle any problems that cropped up."
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Bram dropped his hand and lightly touched the red mark still visible on James' throat.
"There haven't been any Williams in my life, I'm relieved to say. Not that there haven't been the odd coy remark or cutting comment when my back was turned, but not very many people come at me head-on."
"I can understand that. I thought twice about just talking to you."
Bram snorted and stretched his long legs under the table, hitting the bench seat on the other side, a good four feet away. "It's one of the detractions of being so big. I even had to find a hundred year old house with nine foot ceilings and seven foot doorways to live in so I didn't have to duck every time I went from room to room."
James' eyes lit up and he turned in the seat, careful not to dislodge the warm hand working its way up his lap. "I love old houses. They have some of the most outstanding architectural designs ever made."
His hands moved in the air in front of him, emphasizing and expressing his feelings better than his words could. "The Brant Hill District on the north side of town is wonderful. It's not as swank as the Talbot Oaks area, but there's one block of homes, from Cypress to Evergreen, that's amazing. I'd love to live in one of those homes."
James realized Bram had been staring at him as he talked nonstop, a delighted grin on his face. "Sorry, I get a little over-enthusiastic sometimes." He picked up his glass and took several sips from it, hoping to blame the heat in his face on the wine.
"No apology necessary. I like seeing some of that passion you keep bottled up inside come out." Bram slid his hand into James' crotch and lightly caressed the growing bulge he found. "I want to know what makes you passionate. What turns you on, pushes your buttons."