Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday's Safe Word Shelf: Life Under New Management by Jane Davitt

Working for a perfectionist like strict, sexy-as-hell Ethan isn’t easy. Falling in love with him? No problem at all.

Taking a bar job in an exclusive hotel is a stopgap for Andy. He’s an actor and his big break is coming soon—he knows it. His hot new boss Ethan is strict, demanding and totally off-limits but Andy can’t stop thinking about him.

When Andy learns of Ethan’s need to be in control of his partner—in bed and out of it—he’s stunned by the intensity of his reaction. He wants Ethan guiding him, bringing order to his chaotic life. And he sees that Ethan needs him too, though they can’t be open about their feelings.

Ethan deals out deliciously perverse consequences for misbehaving, but when it comes to incentives, he knows just what to offer to have Andy on his knees begging for more.

But some secrets can’t stay that way for long. And when difficult choices arise, for once Andy can’t turn to Ethan for guidance. This time, he’s on his own.

And if he chance to speak, be ready straight,
And with a low submissive reverence
Say, ‘What is it your honour will command?’
—The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare

“Tell me why you think I should hire you, Mr. Naylor.”

Andy directed another winning smile at the man behind the desk. Ethan Mason hadn’t responded to the last three, but maybe they were chipping away at the ice—ice that had formed when he’d told Ethan to call him Andy then solidified after the confession that most of his experience of bars had been as a customer.

“I’m a hard worker.” If he was doing something interesting. “Reliable.” Up to a point. “Good with people.” True. “I invented a cocktail once.” Then drank so many of them, he’d forgotten the ingredients. Puked up around three in the morning. It had been a nasty mess.

Ethan pushed back his heavy wooden chair—no padding for this guy—and stood. Not an overly tall man, no obvious muscles bulging underneath the dark gray suit, but Andy guessed Ethan could break up a bar fight if needed without ruffling his smooth, dark hair. Cool guy. Ice-cool. And now ‘ice, ice, baby’ was stuck in his head in a retro hip-hop loop-de-loop, and shit, he needed this job. His rent was due. His place was a crappy dump, but this was Vancouver and even shoebox-sized rooms without a view of the water or the mountains—which took some doing—weren’t cheap. He hadn’t heard back about the dog food commercial yet, but something told him he hadn’t gotten the part—the something being his main competition emerging from the final interview with lips barely dry from giving a blow job. No jizz streaking his chin, but that smug, used look was unmistakable. Andy had seen it in a mirror often enough, but he sucked cocks for pleasure, not to get a job. When he got his first major role—and he would, anytime soon—it would be down to his acting talent and nothing else.

His determination was wearing thin after a few years of bit parts that went nowhere, but he patched it when needed.

“Show me,” Ethan said and left his office without looking back.

Andy chewed the inside of his cheek—a bad habit he had to stop—and followed him. They walked along a hallway with doors opening off it—storeroom, break room, cleaning supplies, the paintwork clean, the black and white floor tiles freshly mopped. Even behind the scenes, the Totally Five Star Hotel lived up to its name. The corridor led to a swinging door with a narrow glass panel set in it, allowing safe passage in either direction.

Behind the door was a bar, although not the main one for the hotel. Andy had seen that on the way in, impressed by the muted elegance of the place, all gleaming brass and dark green carpet, the swoop of the counter drawing attention to the glitter of glasses and bottles behind it. This was a smaller lounge—clean, severe lines, a black granite surface shimmering in the overhead lights as if it was liquid instead of solid enough to resist the blade of a knife, the walls painted bronze. Upmarket but still welcoming. At eight-thirty in the morning, it was empty.

Ethan kept going, opening a gate to give him access to the room. He took a seat on a stool with a curved back. Did that make it a chair or did they need four legs? Andy wasn’t about to ask.

Ethan tapped the bar. “Make me your cocktail. And without getting tacky—we don’t twirl bottles here—give me something to look at.”

“Huh?” Andy’s tie made his blue eyes a shade darker, but it had clearly developed a new ability of tightening at crucial moments, throttling the wearer. He couldn’t breathe. He was a performer, for God’s sake. What was wrong with him? He’d always excelled at improv sessions, even when the audience was hostile or unreceptive, and Ethan was neither of those. More like a teacher with a disappointing student, waiting for the correct answer and sure it wouldn’t be forthcoming.

“I’m a customer in a classy cocktail bar. I’m about to pay fifteen dollars for a fancy drink with an improbable name from an attractive young man.” Ethan’s mouth twitched. Not a smile. More of a pained grimace. “Give me my money’s worth, Mr. Naylor. Charm me, so the tip I leave is a generous one.”

Andy eased the knot on the tie and gave Ethan smile number four—or five. He’d lost count. “Sure thing.”

Ethan’s gray eyes hardened and he raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”

“Yes, sir?” Andy hazarded.


If he got the job—and it wasn’t looking likely—he hoped this guy stayed in his office and delegated. Working under that chilled-steel glare was going to rack up the breakages. His hands sweating, he turned to survey the bottles. They weren’t in any order he could see, not at first, and his gaze darted from bottle to shakers, swizzle sticks to frankly scary implements whose purpose he could only guess at. He’d never realized how much stuff there was back here.

“You said on your application you’d worked behind a bar before.”

“Yes, true, I did, I—” For ten minutes. As a favor to his friend, Paula, who’d been called away to sign for a delivery with no one else around to take over. He’d flirted for six of the ten minutes and mixed a vodka and coke that was supposed to be a double but had been a quadruple by the time he’d worked out how to get the upside down bottle to release a full measure.

Ethan stood, hand slashing through the air, a dismissive gesture that stung like an actual blow. “You’re wasting my time.”

“I’m not! Look, let me—” Andy snatched up a martini glass. He turned, setting it down, then lifting it again and grabbing a cocktail napkin to go under it, emblazoned with the hotel’s logo. “You look like a man in the mood for something smooth and sophisticated.”

“Is that so?” A flat growl, but Ethan sat again then crossed one leg over the other, the impeccably pressed trousers he wore pulling taut across his thigh.

Cocktail shaker. Take off the lid. Scoop up some ice. God, the metal of the shaker got cold fast. Andy threw a grin over his shoulder, toning down his inner slut before he added a wiggle of his ass. “Trust me, sir. It’s my job to know what my customers need.”

Calling Ethan sir felt wickedly good, as if he was getting away with something, flirting without anyone knowing. Where the fuck had that come from? He was used to examining his motivations when he was playing a role, not so much when it came to himself. Andy shoved the question aside to think about later or better yet, forget. Now what the hell had he put in that drink? Vodka. Yeah. A cheap Polish one had been on sale at the liquor store and he’d bought two bottles for the party.

He picked up a bottle of Grey Goose and sloshed some into the shaker, shielding what he did from Ethan’s view because he was probably supposed to measure it. What else? Cointreau had been involved, the screw top sticky with crystalized sugar, hard to open since no one had used it in months. The bottle behind this bar opened smoothly, the neck clean. He added a slug of the liqueur and a quick shot of club soda from the gun then put the top on the shaker.

Turning back to Ethan, he began a brisk shake, the rattle and swoosh of the ice sounding reassuringly professional. He had the common sense to hold the top. Showering his prospective boss with freezing liquid would leave him without a job and probably barred from the hotel for life. When condensation clouded the outside of the shaker, he removed the top with a flourish, poured the drink into the glass then looked around for a garnish.

“The fruit for the drinks is sliced shortly before opening,” Ethan said, reading his intention but with luck, not his mind. “What would you have used?”

“Orange,” Andy said promptly. “No sense trying to fight the Cointreau.”


Ethan raised the glass to the light, studying it. The clear liquid held a silvery glow. It wasn’t fancy, but something told him Ethan wasn’t a fan of complicated. “What do you call it?”

Since ‘damned if I know’ wasn’t going to cut it, Andy shortened his late grandmother’s favorite saying about necessity being the mother of invention to one word.

“It’s a Necessity.”

Ethan took a sip, then another, before pushing the glass away. “Make it again, this time using lemonade. The real stuff. There’s some in the fridge over there.”

“Yes, sir.” It slipped out naturally this time, drawn from him by the note of authority in Ethan’s voice.

Ethan tasted the new version, rolling the liquid around like mouthwash, though he didn’t spit it out. After swallowing, he pursed his lips. “Okay, it’s basic but it’s not bad.”

“I’ve got the job?”

Ethan snorted. “No. You got a compliment you barely deserved on a drink that’s halfway to being a real cocktail. You never stood a chance with the job, not once the lies on your application outnumbered my thumbs. I would’ve let you get away with shining up your experience, but you can’t polish thin air. You’ve wasted my time. The door’s over there, eh?”

“Wait!” Andy’s hands were cold now, disappointment and nerves shredding his optimism. “I need this job.”

“Were you telling the truth about the acting degree from UBC?”

“Yes!” His indignation made the word echo off the walls. He took out his wallet. “My student card’s in here somewhere.” He needed to clear out his wallet. Along with his single credit card, close to maxed out, were expired vouchers for free coffee, receipts and cinema tickets.

“Don’t bother. I can tell when you’re lying and that sounded true. So you’re a wannabe actor looking for a job until he gets offered a starring role?”

Yes, but admitting it would guarantee he was shown the door. Time to test Ethan’s lie detector skills with a half-truth. “Three years ago, yes. Now I’m a guy who’s been to more auditions than there are bottles in this bar and I know it’s not going to happen. I need to pay my rent and I’m not fussy about how I do it.”

“Even if it’s bar work?” Ethan asked.

Had his eyelid drooped in a wink?

“We both know that a trained monkey can mix drinks, smile and make change, right?”

Andy laughed, relaxing with Ethan as if their moods were magically linked. “I guess.”

Ethan slapped the bar, a flat, uncompromising smack, making Andy jump like a hooked fish. “Wrong. And with an attitude like that, good luck getting any job. Bartending’s not rocket science, but people take courses in it. Get trained. For a place with a reputation to uphold, it’s mandatory. You’re not good enough to work here. Aside from a pretty face, name one skill you have that would interest me.”

Ethan thought he was pretty? Well, he was—no doubt about it—but straight guys didn’t notice shit like that. Not proof Ethan was gay, but a definite pointer. It didn’t matter to Andy, of course. Ethan probably had a sophisticated boyfriend waiting for him when he got home. He was too tightly wound to be Andy’s type anyway. Though de-icing the guy would be a fun challenge. Hmm. What was underneath the stern disapproval? A molten center or a lake of beige?

Time to get on his knees, metaphorically at least.

Author Bio:
When I was eight I decided to write a book. I found a notebook, scribbled a few hundred words about triplets with improbable names, and lost interest. Three decades later I still wanted to write a book, but the dim realization dawned that meant I had to actually, well, write something.

Yes, it surprised me too.

So I did. Not about triplets, but love, angst, hot and spicy smut, and for the most part they're m/m romances.

There's a shelf in my library where I keep the books with my name on them and yeah, there they are. I did it.

That eight-year-old me expected a lot of her future self though. Like being an astronaut. Did not do that.

Sorry, younger me. Here, have a wine gum.

Free reads and my fanfic are here: Jane Davitt at AO3.



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