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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2319399
In which several familial and potentially romantic connections are made.
Only one other stool is occupied, which means Kai can distract himself by talking to Pepper as long as he wants. Except Pepper is in conversation with someone else. He’s about Kai’s age, maybe a little older. The light from the LED panels behind the bar catch on the turquoise streaks in his hair, turning them almost neon.
He's currently making puppy eyes in Pepper’s direction. “You’re alone tonight.”
Pepper rolls her eyes. “Are you offering to fix that?”
“All you have to do is tell me what you need.” His offer makes Pepper swat him. “Just remember, Bel doesn’t do things without the proper incentive.”
“I know.” Pepper also leans forward, and her smile takes on a slightly mocking quality. “So what ‘incentive’ does Bel want?”
The man who has been identified as Bel winks at her. “Sex on the Beach.”
Pepper rolls her eyes. “Don’t you get enough of that off the clock?”
“I do,” Bel leans against the bar as Pepper turns her back to him. “But you’re the only one who does it the way I like it.”
The familiarity between the two of them sets Kai’s teeth on edge. Before he can throw any ill advised punches, Pepper turns back to the bar, and the tang of peaches and oranges tickles Kai’s nostrils.
“You should teach your boyfriend how to make your favorite cocktail then.” Pepper’s grin is mischievous as she slides Bel’s drink of choice to him across the bar.
“Cocktail. Right.” Kai isn’t sure he’s said it out loud until Bel turns to him, eyebrows raised, turning Kai’s face the same color as the contents of the glass.
“What did you think I meant?” Bel turns his gaze back to his glass before Kai can answer, then looks back up at Pepper. “You forgot my cherry.”
“I would never. ” Pepper drops the little red fruit used for garnish into the glass, and glances at Kai. “I thought you were a VIP tonight.”
“Actually,” Kai makes an effort to sound casual. “My brother’s company is celebrating their new sponsorship so I came as a plus one. I thought I’d come say hi to you while I was here.”
Pepper raises her eyebrows. “‘Hi’? That’s all I get?”
Kai avoids her gaze. “You were busy.”
“We don’t mind being interrupted if it’s for a good reason. Your brother works for Manirat Nexus?” Bel sounds genuinely curious.
“Yeah, Jet’s the COO of ManiratInifiniteDrift.” Kai reminds himself that he is an adult, and adults do not pour Thaijito’s all over some smiling jackass’ lap just to get them to leave. “Maybe you should go ask him if they have any openings.”
“I doubt it,”Bel is laughing now. “I have my hands full with this place.”
“Oh,” is all Kai can think of to say.
Actually, Bel looks exactly the way Kai imagines a nightclub owner should look, and his He’s just—a little too young, maybe?
“You were going to say I don’t look old enough to own a nightclub, right?” Bel smiles at him. “If it makes you feel better, you’ll be the first person who hasn’t said it out loud.”
“Thanks, I guess.” Kai slides the glass across the bar to Pepper. “I need more ice.”
“Are you trying to make this last all night?” Pepper smiles as she picks up Kai’s glass.
Kai’s eyebrows shoot up. “Newsflash, broke uni students can’t splurge on cocktails.”
“Broke uni students can’t,” Bel agrees. “But you can. Anyone connected to Manirat Nexus is family, and that includes you. Family doesn’t pay for anything here, ever.”
“I’d take that seriously if I were you, Kai. The Manirats don’t just adopt anybody.” Pepper winks at him as she hands him the freshly chilled Thaijito, then turns back to Bel. “Now that I’ve got you your drink, I need you to your job and tell your boyfriend to tell your other bartender to stop flirting in corners and come do his job.”
“You don’t trust me to convince my employee to go back to work?” Bel raises his eyebrows.
Pepper shrugs. “Kam’s scarier than you.”
“Ouch,” Bel’s eyebrows drop back to their normal level and he casts a look of mock hurt in Pepper's direction.
Pepper doesn’t look the least bit sympathetic. “Truth hurts.”
“Pepper, are you hurting my boyfriend’s feelings?” Someone else slides onto the stool on the other side of Bel, slinging an arm around him. He has an ouroboros tattoo too—Kai can see it clearly on the wrist of the arm draped around Bel. The only difference is this guy’s tat is on his right wrist while Bel’s is on the left one.
Bel glares at the newcomer. “Stop treating me like a kid, Kam.”
“But you’re so cute when you act like one,” Kam plants a kiss on top of his boyfriend’s head before turning his gaze back to Pepper. “What did you do to him?”
If he’s expecting an apology, Pepper doesn’t give it to him. “I told him the truth. You’re scary and Bel isn’t.”
“I think Bel could be scary if he wanted to.” Kai looks back down into his drink as all three heads turn in his direction. “Sorry.”
But Bel is grinning at him. “I like you. Kam, this is Jet’s little brother, Kai. “Kai, this is Kam, my boyfriend. The other owner of Nightshade.”
“I own half of Nightshade,” Kam corrects him. “And only for financial purposes.
“Jet’s little brother,” Kam gives Kai the once over, but it’s friendly rather than critical. “That means he doesn’t pay for drinks either?”
“Is it my fault I didn’t realize you said that as a joke?” Bel squalls.
“No,” Kam deadpans. “But it is your fault that Zone overheard you taking it literally and now it’s A Thing. Adorable kid.”
“Annoying jackass.” Bel sticks his tongue out at him, then winces as Kam playfully taps the back of his head. “Ouch,why are you hitting?”
“That was deserved.” But Kam rubs the head that’s been smacked affectionately. “Welcome to the Manirat extended family, Kai. You’ll be part of it until you die, and possibly even after that.”
“Thanks. You’re the one who owns that classic car you won’t let anyone drive.” Kai grins. “Zone told me about that.”
Kam’s answering smile is dry, but not condescending. “Posing with that made him very popular on IG.”
“It’s also the reason ManiratInfinateDrift was able to do that sponsorship.” Bel points out. “So don’t sulk, you look like a naked mole-rat when you do that.”
“There are worse animals to look like,” Kam winks at his boyfriend. “Naked mole-rats are kind of cute.”
“We are not getting a naked mole-rat.” The look on Bel’s face makes it clear the two of them have had this conversation before. “They’re creepy.”
“ManiratInfinateDrift’s sponsorship would explain why there’s so many people here tonight,” Pepper puts in, guiding the conversation back to where it should be before Kam can launch into an explanation of the merits of naked mole-rats. “Which is why I need Luca over here behind the bar and not seeking out his next nightly conquest.”
“Is that what you were asking Bel to do?” Kam asks. “Yell at Luca to get back to work?”
“Actually,” Kai corrects him. “Pepper was going to ask you to do it.”
He’s not sure why he doesn’t feel left out of the conversation but sitting here listening to the other three banter makes him feel better than anything else tonight.
“See, that makes more sense,” Kam looks extremely satisfied by Kai’s revelation. “Bel couldn’t yell at anyone if his life depended on it. Ow, why did you hit me?”
“You’re lucky that was your arm, not your mouth.” Bel’s expression walks a fine line between apology and mockery as he picks up his drink. “And I didn't really hit you all that hard.”
Kam gives Pepper an apologetic look. “I wish I could help you out, Pepper, but I can’t. It’s Luca’s night off. He’s here as a patron, not an employee.”
“We could call Em,” Bel offers, already pulling out his phone.
“Who’s Em?” Kai asks.
“Friend of mine. She used to work here.” Bel informs him, then turns his head so that Kam is included in the rest of his sentence. “She works full time at the hospital now so she’s probably not available. But if she is, she could be here in about fifteen minutes. Provided the traffic’s good. ”
“I can help until she comes,” Kai offers. “I mean, I can't mix cocktails, but I can do other stuff. You don't have to pay me, and I don't have anywhere else to be tonight.”
“Thank you,” Pepper blows him a kiss. “I’ll take whatever help I can get.”
“Why would Em suddenly become available?” Kam asks as Kai moves to the employee side of the bar.
“If it’s her day off,” Bel ticks the reason off on his fingers. “Or Talay’s still at the gym, then she’s free.”
“Talay Nathas?” Kai is feeling more and more comfortable inserting himself into the conversation. Both Kam and Bel give him identical looks of surprise, so he elaborates. “He’s my Muay Thai trainer. Is that the right word to use?”
Bel nods, but Kai’s pretty sure it’s not just in answer to his question. “His sister Iris is dating Zone, so that makes him an adoptive Manirat too.”
“Adoptive for now,” Kam adds. “She could be an official sister-in-law soon, if she and Zone both get their way.”
“So she gets free drinks too?” The size of the Manirat extended family is making Kai’s head spin. He knows it’s not the Thaijito because it’s alcohol free. “What about Luca?”
“What about me?” Luca joins them at the bar, raising his eyebrows when he sees Kai behind it. “And did I hear something about free drinks?”
Rather than the shirt, vest and slacks that Kai usually sees him in, the clothes Luca is wearing shimmer like silk. Actually, they probably are silk. His hair is styled differently too, loosely framing his face instead of combed back. There’s even a single silver hoop in each ear that—to the best of Kai’s knowledge—Luca has never worn when tending bar. Studs, yes, but not hoops. They suit him.
“Free only to members of the Manirat family,” Kam corrects him. “Which you do not belong to.”
“Fair enough,” Luca shrugs. “I came over to talk to Kai anyway.”
Kai gives him a wary look. “Why?”
“I have a question for you. Who,” Luca jerks his head toward one of the darker corners of the room. “Is that?”
Kai glances over his shoulder. Jet has also left the VIP section and is now leaning against the wall in the corner opposite the bar. “My older brother.”
“The ‘asshole’?” Luca looks far too interested. “Or are you going to call him by his proper name now? What is it by the way?”
“Jet,” If Kai notices the expression on Luca’s face, he doesn’t comment. “He still thinks he needs to look after me.”
“I’d be happy to look after him. Is he single?” Luca’s lips curve up like he already knows the answer.
Pepper cocks her head. “Are you?”
“I won’t be by the end of the night.” Luca winks at her. “Besides, I want to see how much of an ‘asshole’ this brother of Kai’s actually is.”
Luca saunters over to the corner of the room, his smoldering gaze fixed on Jet. There is no reaction, not even a change of color on the older man’s cheeks. Jet stays where he is, against the wall, glass in hand, waiting for Luca to come to him.
Luca has always liked a challenge. “Nightclubs aren’t usually places to be antisocial.”
Jet turns his gaze onto Luca, the deliberately slow movement of his head making it clear how he feels about the interruption. “That depends.”
“On the nightclub?” Luca presses.
“On your definition of ‘antisocial’.” Jet’s tone is a signal that he wants to be left alone.
“Well, Luca’s here to redefine it for you,” Luca says by way of introduction, having no intention of leaving. He leans closer. “And I’d say it’s the best decision I’ve made all night.”
“I’m assuming this ‘Luca’ that you’re referring to is you.” Jet raises an eyebrow. “So what’s your plan for ‘redefinition’?”
“For starters,” Luca is so close their noses are almost touching. “Tell me, what secrets are hidden behind those guarded eyes?”
The air crackles with tension as Luca waits for Jet's response. Now it’s Jet’s hand that moves, but instead of pushing Luca away, Jet pulls him closer.
“You don’t have to tell me all of your secrets,” Luca murmurs. “One will do for now.”
“You really want to know one of my secrets?” Jet smiles, allowing Luca’s anticipation to build.
Jet’s touch becomes more deliberate, the tips of his fingers making a sensuous path along the lines of Luca’s face. Luca’s breath hitches in spite of himself. Clearly, both of them know how this game works.
Jet's lips graze his earlobe. “I prefer genuine conversations over cheesy lines.”
Luca blinks.
Jet salutes him with his glass and turns away. Luca’s hand shoots out, wrapping around Jet’s wrist. He can feel the uptick in Jet’s pulse through his fingertips, and doesn’t bother to suppress his grin.
Pulses never lie.
“You think you can get away from me that easily?” Luca teases.
Apparently, he can. One flick of Jet’s wrist and Luca’s fingers are grasping empty air. But that’s not the impressive part. The impressive part is that Jet’s glass is still full. Not one drop spilled. Is that Jet’s first glass? Or his second?
The movement sends the aroma of freshly brewed coffee into Luca’s nostrils, and he glances down at the dark liquid in Jet’s glass. “Black Russian, not Sex on the Beach?”
“Why do you ask?” The look on Jet’s face as he lowers himself into one of the plush chairs makes it clear Luca’s second attempt at flirtation has also fallen flat on its ass.
Luca is still smiling. “I’m just glad I know your cocktail of choice. Now I just need to know your coffee order, favorite breakfast, maybe your LINE ID—”
“Look,” Jet looks up into Luca’s face. “If you really want to converse, then take a seat. Otherwise, go away.”
Luca sits down, his black eyes gleaming as they meet Jet’s. “Where else am I going to go?”

"18. Insight

Read from beginning "1. Ignored
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