REAL MEN WILL - The final book in the Donovan Brothers Brewery series!
...Eric strode through the silence of the tank room and emerged into the chaos of the...well, it was a kitchen now, though it never had been before. In fact, two men were currently wrestling a gigantic pizza oven into place against the far wall.
Months of prep work had led to this very event, and Eric wished he felt more than just happiness for Jamie. He wished he felt excited instead of nervous. But Jamie was grinning as he turned away from the stove and headed toward the doors to the front room, Henry hot on his heels.
“Henry,” Eric called before the boy could disappear. “Are you working clean up tonight?”
Henry jerked to a stop, his hand already on one of the doors. His freckles stood out against his pale skin, as if Eric had frightened him. “I am, but... Jamie has me filling in at the bar so he can supervise the installation.”
“Great. But when you’re done I need you in the bottling room. Dump all the beer and put the bottles into recycling, then mop the floor.”
Henry disappeared and Eric retreated to his office. He wanted to spend time helping Jamie, but he had his own work to do, boring as it was. His muscles tightened to stone as he shut the door and called the mechanic.
He felt a little better after yelling at the guy and demanding that he get his ass to the brewery 9 AM tomorrow, Saturday or not. Eric hung up with a little less tension in his shoulders. Still, there was no silencing the sound of laughter from the other room. The sound reminded him of his brother, and of how different they were.
Eric tried to make himself smile at the sound of it. He wanted Jamie to be happy. Without a doubt. But Eric couldn’t help the feeling that his own happiness was slipping away. Melodramatic, maybe, but still true.
This place was his whole life. This brewery. This office. This role he had here.
Eric dug his fingers into the back of his neck and took a deep breath. There was no point sitting around brooding. He had work to do.
A minute later, someone knocked on the door. Eric looked up, expecting to see Jamie, but it was Henry. “Hey, did you get to the bottling room yet?”
“No. Um...Some woman is pissed at Jamie and he asked me to come get you.”
“If she’s pissed at Jamie, then it’s Jamie’s problem, not mine.”
Henry’s face creased with embarrassment, but he just stood there with his fingers wrapped around the door.
“Fine,” Eric sighed. “I’ll be there in a second.” What the hell was this? A year ago, Eric wouldn’t have been surprised by anything involving Jamie and a woman, but now...Jamie had a girlfriend. A really nice girlfriend. If he was screwing around on her, Eric didn’t want to know about. It would put a whole lot of strain into their newly easy relationship.
Still, he felt a little surge of satisfaction. This was like the old days, when Jamie had needed him. In fact, if Jamie’s girlfriend hadn’t been a consideration, Eric would’ve smiled as he stood up and headed for the barroom, off to make sense of Jamie’s screw up again.
The workmen stood in the doorway, holding the doors slightly open as they peered out. Their eyes widened when they saw Eric coming, but he ignored that and tipped his head in the direction of the oven. They shifted toward it as if they were only pretending to go back to work, but Eric held his tongue. He didn’t want to step on Jamie’s toes.
He pushed through the doors. “Jamie,” he said when he spotted his brother standing at the end of the bar with his arms crossed. “What’s the problem?”
And then Jamie shifted to the side, and Eric’s world split apart as if an earthquake had just torn through the ground beneath his feet.
For a long moment, Eric could only look at her. Her. He should have anticipated this, after last night. But his relief had made him stupid. And now here she was, standing next to Jamie.
Reality hit him then, with all the subtlety of a 2x4 across the face. Eric’s eyes shifted to Jamie who was also staring at him, though his eyebrows were raised in incredulity. “Eric,” he said, and Eric caught the way Beth blinked in shock.
Oh, shit. This was bad. Worse than bad.
Jamie cocked his head. “Eric, this is Beth Cantrell. There seems to be some confusion about something that happened at the business expo earlier this year.”
Something that happened. Okay. Maybe he could still salvage some part of this. If Beth hadn’t said anything to Jamie yet... “Beth--“ he started, but she stalked toward him like a vengeful goddess.
“Eric?” she sneered. “Eric?”
His eyes darted to Jamie. “I can explain.”
One of her elegant fingers poked him in the chest. “You can explain? Explain why you told me your name was Jamie?”
“I didn’t actually--“
“Explain that you lied to me?”
“Beth, if you’ll just--“
“Explain--“ she yelled, her finger digging a hole in his sternum. “--that you let me think you were someone else when you had sex with me?”
“What?” Jamie yelled.
That was it. This was an official disaster. The solemn silence that had fallen over the barroom seemed to confirm the horror of the situation.
“I can explain,” Eric said again, weakly. He thought the low growl was coming from Beth, but he couldn’t be sure because at that moment, Jamie surged forward and wrapped his hand into Eric’s shirt.
“Henry!” Jamie shouted, as if Henry wasn’t standing right there, wide-eyed. “Cover the bar. You...” His green eyes burned into Eric. “Into the back. Right. Now.”
Oh, this was a new experience, being the one who’d done something wrong. Something hot and scalding slid into his veins. Shame. Eric didn’t like it one bit....
Watch for Real Men Will in November 2011 from HQN Books!