Average Gray

an excerpt



Prologue

Bobby and Keith's Bachelor Party

August



"Who's that guy in the corner?" Enzo Del Monte asked Mike Green. "I didn't notice him when I came into the club tonight."

"No one special...Grayson Grey." Mike shook his head.

"He's cute. I think I'll go over and say hello."

"Don't. He's engaged and his fiance is very jealous. He won't thank you for it."

"Why is he alone if he's engaged?" Enzo turned his head, looking for the absent fiance. If he were Gray's fiance, he wouldn't let him go to a party alone. Especially a guy as beautiful as Gray. His rare smile was spectacular.

"The fiance got sick at the last minute, and Gray had to be here. Keith's his boss." Mike shrugged. "Don't you have something to do with Electronic Design Associates?" Mike leaned forward, moving into Enzo's personal space. His expression and body language showed apparent interest.

Enzo, having a great deal of experience with men who wanted his money, knew better than to say he owned the company. "Yeah, I'm an engineer."

"That's a great job, better than a bar manager." Mike took a sip of the drink in his hand.

"Don't put yourself down..." Enzo glanced over at Gray again.

Mike gazed into Enzo's eyes. Enzo shrugged, appreciating the attention, and the other man was taken, so he pivoted his chair back to face Mike who wasn't so bad himself. He glanced one more time at Gray from under his eyelashes. Too bad he's taken. He's adorable when he smiles.

* * *

Mike put on a sad face.

"What's wrong?" Enzo put his beer down on the bar.

"Oh, it's nothing. My mom's sick. I worry about her." Mike regarded Enzo with downcast eyes. He's buying it.

"That's rough. I lost my father when I was young. I can't even think about what losing my mother would be like."

Mike's voice lowered an octave. "I deal, that's all you can do."

"If there's something I can do to help, let me know."

Got him.

Enzo's eyes went to Gray one more time then he shook his head.

Mike watched Enzo --Stare all you want, but you're not going near him. If anyone's going to get a chance at the brass ring, it's me.





Chapter One

One Week before Halloween

October twenty-fourth, Early Monday Morning



At one forty-five, Bobby Michaels pulled into the parking lot of The Sunset. He parked his Outback at the front of the club rather than the rear because he decided to have a beer. Entering the front door, Bobby waved to the bartenders, and sat in Reggie's old seat at the end of the main bar. Gray was working that station tonight.

"Hi, Bobby, you come to get Keith?" Gray went to the tap and drew Bobby a Heineken.

Mike, who managed the bar for Keith and Zach, was chatting up the only other customer left in the club, Enzo Del Monte.

"Yep, we have a breakfast date." Bobby smiled softly. Keith was his husband of two months. He pivoted his head to take in the whole bar. The renovation for which he did the architectural drawings earlier that year was finished. Sunset appeared modern, sleek, and upscale, with wood floors and golden paneling. The new light oak bar with the mirrored back wall wasn't too shabby, either. Bobby patted himself on the back. On Sunday nights, the DJ left at eleven, and the waiters were picking up the empties and wiping the tables down before the cleaning service showed up at six.

Gray put Bobby's Heineken in front of him and shot a dark glare at Mike down the end of the bar. Bobby raised an eyebrow. Gray grunted in disgust. "All Mike wants is his money. He's a poser." Gray finished polishing the highball glass and held it up to the light to check for fingerprints. He placed the glass next to the others on the mirrored shelf. "He's been trying to tap into Enzo's wallet since he met him."

"Why would you say that?" Bobby's leg twitched. It always did that when he was upset. Up in everyone's business as always, he was interested in why Gray disliked Mike.

"Because he's straight. He's the only bartender in the place who is, and Keith and Zach don't know."

"Jason worked with the guy, he vouched for him." Bobby's temper always resulted in a leg twitch. This time Bobby's leg twitched so hard he had to hold it down. Since his friend Jack married Carlo, Carlo's extended family had bonded with Jack's adopted family. Bobby didn't like the fact that Mike was playing games, not only with one of his husband's customers, but with Enzo, Carlo's cousin, who Bobby considered to be one of his own.

"When Jason told Mike that a job was available at the Sunset, he jumped at the chance. He knew how much money he could make here. Besides, Keith couldn't have refused him the job just because he's straight. But even though he had to know that, he lied to Keith's face." Gray washed another glass. "Mike would have pretended to be a Martian if that would have gotten him the job. He knew if he said was gay, he'd get better tips."

"How do you know all this, if Jason doesn't?" Bobby's voice switched to a lower, gruffer register and he tightened his grip on his glass.

"I've seen him around town with his girlfriend. When he introduced me, he said her name was Cathy, that was it, no point of reference. I saw them at the mall. I needed to pick something up for Mom. Cathy left us to go to a store when he dragged me aside and told me she was his sister. Why wouldn't he plain introduce her as his sister? Why would he draw me aside?" Gray put the last glass on the rack with a little more force than necessary.

"Maybe his sister doesn't know he's gay." Bobby's brows drew together. At this point, his leg was banging against the rungs of the bar stool.

"Do you play tonsil hockey with your sister? I was waiting in line to get into the movies last Monday night when I saw them. My neighbor sat with my mom so I could get away for a few hours. I didn't want to talk work, so I avoided him and he didn't see me. I sat on the other side of the theater to the back. They made out throughout the entire show. Somebody has to tell Enzo." Gray's fist clenched around the bar towel.

"Why don't you tell Enzo?" Bobby asked with mistrust.

"You know damn well why." Gray snapped the bar towel. "Enzo doesn't know I exist. I like Enzo, a lot, and I'd love it if he noticed me, but even if I can't have him, I can't let Mike do him dirty. Mike needs money. He's going to ask Enzo for a loan. He's planning on skipping town once he gets the check." Gray wiped at the bar furiously. "He's been playing Enzo since day one."

Bobby leaned over the bar, leg moving up and down like a carnival horse. "And you know this how?"

"No one pays me much attention. I'm average, nondescript, plain faced, medium height --people tend to overlook average. They see handsome, ugly, tall, short, but not average --gray. My name suits me, Grayson Grey. Mike didn't notice I was there when he was on the phone with Cathy. He told her he'd get the money from Enzo and they'd elope to Las Vegas. He said he's been setting Enzo up since the bachelor party and she shouldn't worry. Enzo was chaffing at the bit and would give it to him without a question. From what I could hear, and I admit, I stood there and eavesdropped, she was pissed because he gambled away their savings." Gray sighed and took Bobby's empty glass off the bar. "Enzo doesn't see me either, but I can't let Mike do that to him." Gray swiped at his eyes with the bar towel.

"Why are you telling me?" Bobby asked suspiciously.

"As I said, Enzo doesn't see me. Neither does anyone else. Why would he listen to me? But you can tell Jack and Carlo and they can decide what to do...then, if they tell Enzo and he still lends money to Mike, it's not on my head. I really like Enzo, but he won't believe me because he doesn't even know who I am except when I serve him his beer." The unshed tears in Gray's eyes told Bobby that Gray was literally pleading with Bobby to do something.

"Enzo must mean a lot to you if you're asking me."

"Enzo is kind. He always has a good word for everyone here, even me." Gray determinedly wiped the dust off the liquor bottles.

"I thought we got rid of trouble at the club when Billy shot Jay. Shit. I'll try, but I'm making no guarantees," Bobby decided.

"All I ask is that you try. I don't want to see Enzo hurt. He's beautiful, kind, very smart, but I don't think he's streetwise, and Mike's a bastard. I'd also check the till if I were you. He spends a lot of time in Atlantic City trying to win his money back, playing with money he probably doesn't have."

Bobby slapped a five on the bar and strode to the back office to find Keith.

* * *

A knock rattled the office door. Keith looked up from his computer. "Bobby? I thought you were meeting me out front."

Bobby walked inside. "I was until I talked to Gray." He sat down in the one of the two seats in front of the desk.

"Gray? Gray never has much to say. He quietly does his job well and then goes home." Keith began to shut down his computer.

"Don't do that..."

"What? Shut down the computer?" Keith raised his brows and waited for whatever Bobby was going to say. Bobby would get to the point eventually.

"Have receipts been down recently?" Bobby shifted to look at the screen.

"I just happened to be going through the receipts. We've been busier lately but when I tallied the amount of booze taken out of inventory, with the receipts for drinks, the revenue came up short. How did you know?"

Bobby smiled and answered in one word. "Gray."

Keith leaned back in his chair. Bobby liked to pause for dramatic effect. "So, what did Gray have to say?"

Bobby tented his hands, his leg twitching. "Gray said nobody sees him so they don't watch what they say while he's around."

"What did Gray overhear?" Keith leaned forward.

"You know how Enzo has been chatting Mike up, and Mike's been slowly reeling him in?" Bobby smiled darkly.

"Yeah, so..." Keith waited.

"Mike's not gay. He has a girlfriend and money troubles. Mike told the girl over the phone that he was going to hit Enzo up for money then run off with her to Vegas. Gray has seen him twice with this girl, Cathy something. The second time he saw them, Gray told me they were playing tonsil hockey. If he lied about something like that, what else is he lying about? He could have had the job here without being gay. If you refused him, you'd have been facing a discrimination suit."

"Jason vouched for Mike," Keith countered.

"Jason only knew Mike from the Ocean View. They weren't friends. Jason thought Mike was an okay boss, but Mike wasn't at the Ocean View that long before Jason came here, and everyone knew Zach was watching out for Jason even before Jason did. Jason didn't give Zach a character reference for Mike, and Jake Cohen's office didn't check him out. We were too busy trying to take care of Kitty-cat. Gray said Mike's been taking too many trips to Atlantic City," Bobby said with a sneer.

"I'll call Jake in the morning," Keith reassured his husband. "You know that we won't miss the money?"

"Yeah, so does Mike, but that doesn't mean he should take it. What about Enzo? Mike plans to lighten his wallet, as well as break his heart," Bobby said through his teeth. "Enzo's family."

"I'll call both Carlo and Jake in the morning." Keith leaned back.

Bobby smiled. Mike was going to get what was coming to him.