I risked another glance at my watch. More than fifteen minutes had passed since I last looked. I followed my pathetic pattern of checking the time with dialling his number, which went straight to voicemail. Again. I tried not to let the fear and mortification simmer, but it rose like bile in my throat

I was stood up. I was pretty sure a full hour late meant he wasn’t coming, but now I was just left with what to do with that new realization. I shut my eyes, hoping the answer might come. The sting of rejection brought heat to the back of my lids, but I wouldn’t cry. 

Not here.

Not tonight. 

I opened my eyes to see Renault’s gaze pinned to me, his brows pulled together in the middle of his forehead, his arms crossed over his broad chest as he leaned against the door to the kitchen. He’d worked the bar every time I’d visited Chez Michels, even lately, when I’d begun frequenting it more, most of the time without James. Or rather, James would tell me he’d meet me after work and never show, some lame excuse on his breath, like the hint of Merlot on mine. 

Worse yet, I’d never missed the different perfumes wafting off of James when I’d come home at the end of another dinner alone. But I’d been too chicken shit to ask, and he’d never offered up any pathetic excuses. It was the one shred of dignity I had left—that I didn’t know the truth for certain as I lay beside him at night, wishing for an escape, any way out of this relationship that didn’t end with me crawling back to my parents, who’d issued more than one warning about me moving in with James. More than one of those nights ended with me, fetal position on the bathroom floor, praying to a God I was sure didn’t exist. 

I needed out, and tonight was a harsh reminder of why. 

There wasn’t anything to do but finish my wine, celebrate the end of five years with James alone. I said a silent cheers to the end of a relationship, then pulled the glass to my lips, took a healthy gulp of the liquid, feeling it warm me from the inside out. When I set the goblet down, Renault was in front of me, one leg perched on the chair opposite mine.

“A good wine like that should have company. It’s a crime to enjoy it alone.” His words were thick like the liquid warming my throat. As it was each time I heard him speak, my breasts felt heavy, my sex damp. He had the power of turning ordinary words into phone sex banter just because of that damned voice. The accent didn’t hurt, either.

“It seems like that’s my only option tonight.”

Renault sighed, and I didn’t miss the way his chest rose and fell, the strength of it peeking up from the unbuttoned white dress shirt. Nor did I have to do more than glance down to see his rolled sleeves over taut, thick, muscular arms. I’d often fantasied about those arms wrapped around my nude torso, usually when I was half a bottle in. This was the closest I’d been to them, to him, and I inhaled the scent of cinnamon laced with lime. It was intoxicating. 

“You deserve more, Irina.”

I’d introduced myself over a year ago, but had no idea he remembered my name. Or how it would feel rolling off his tongue, his thick French accent making it sound like a lullaby. A sex-laced lullaby.

“This wine will do for tonight, but thanks, Renault. Just kick me out when you’re ready to close.”

His mouth parted, showing bone-white teeth. I was certain he was about to add something, but he only nodded, walked back behind the bar

I wasn’t in the mood to think, to weigh his words, wonder why he might care enough to utter them. Instead, I watched him work, the way the muscles in his arms contracted as he shook the Boston shaker for one of his last remaining guests. The way his jaw was set as if in steel. I kicked off my heels under the table and stretched my feet, feeling liquid pool in my panties when his eyes met mine, when I registered longing in them. 

When had that started? He’d always just paid me gentle regard when I came in, no more indifference than any of his other guests. Now, though, I felt like he saw right through my pencil skirt to the lace bra and panties beneath them. His eyes were liquid heat and they melted any resolve I had to go home, make peace with James. 

When Renault passed the last customer his change, I refilled my glass with the last of my wine, bummed to have to leave, but resigned to the night ahead of me. He had to close up and like it or not, I had to head home

home. The word no longer held the pull it once did. 

Cinnamon and lime filled my nostrils. I glanced up to see Renault behind me, his head above mine. He placed a hand on my shoulder and fire spread from that spot through my chest, then south, adding to the pool building under my skirt. I spread my legs as far as the fabric would allow, letting air in between them. I tilted my head back, felt it rest on his stomach, another rock-solid muscle. Did this man have any fat to him? Any give?

His gaze rested on mine as he leaned over me and I saw the heat was still there. I also knew I matched it with a blaze of my own. Where the compulsion came from, I had no idea, but I nodded when his other hand rested on my free shoulder. It felt strangely natural, touching this man and having his hands on me. A cursory glance around the place said the clientele were gone, but my eyes darted to the door leading to the kitchen. 

“They’re long gone,” he whispered, his breath hot on my skin.

I shivered at the knowledge that this beautiful stranger and I were alone, that his hands were on me, rubbing my tense shoulders. By all accounts, it was an innocent enough moment, but my mind and pussy told another story. They ached, throbbed, for this man whose thumb caressed under the collar of my shirt along my neck

A moan escaped my lips and the tension increased in his fingers, thick and long. It was pleasure unlike I’d ever known, and it was vanilla enough to happen in public. But James had never shown my body such ardent attention, such care, not even in the privacy of our bedroom. 

“Do you feel better?” he asked. His voice was molasses, the accent magnified by the lust I was certain I wasn’t imagining. 

“Yes.” It was all I could say without giving my absolute desire for this stranger away. 

good.” With that, his hands slipped lower, his fingers brushing my chest along the line of the lace that kept my breasts at bay. He rubbed, caressed my skin, and my head fell back, drunk with lazy pleasure. “You’ll tell me if I should stop.”

It was a command and I obeyed with a nod. I didn’t imagine asking him to stop would come any point soon, but I appreciated the thoughtfulness of his gesture. Only for the briefest of moments did I wonder if he did this often—soothe troubled single women with his expert hands, and it took even less time for me to ignore the fact that I’d put myself into the camp of single women while James was still in the picture. I didn’t care enough to ask Renault, to ruin the moment that built with each passing second.  

When his finger dipped below the lace, found my rigid nipple and flicked the pad of his finger over it, I almost came. My back arched into his hand, pressing my breast into his palm. 

The growl that escaped his chest was feral and should have been a warning of what was to come, but I couldn’t hear much above the thrum of lust beneath my skirt. His hand squeezed my breast, before his other hand pushed me forward so my face was almost even with the table. While he fondled me with one hand, the other slid below the back of my blouse and unhooked my bra, springing both breasts free. He pulled me back against the chair, against his abdomen, but wasted no time with my neck, my shoulders. 

He groped both breasts, full and hard with desire, and when I made a move to rise, to stand so that I could face him, he pushed me back down on the chair. I groaned as my damp, swollen pussy slid back to where it was before. It was jealous of the hardened peaks that held all the attention of this man, this God who was making me feel like I’d deserved this sort of passion all along. 

I felt his lips hot on my neck then, as a whisper reached my ears.

“Stand up.”

Another command I obeyed without thinking twice. He pulled me up by my breasts, the pressure almost too much for me to bear, but before I knew it, those strong arms I’d imagined were wrapped around my midsection, unbuttoning my blouse. My skin felt like it was on fire until the breeze hit my nipples, and the icy air-conditioned air sheathed me. 

“I need to clean up,” Renault told me. “But I don’t want you to leave.” As if I’d go anywhere but onto his cock, which I could see was hard, and filling his jeans. “Stay here so I can watch you while I work. Keep yourself wet for me.”

I nodded, my exposed breasts bouncing with the gesture. He smiled, and I was blown away by the kindness in his eyes. He was doing me the exact favour I’d needed at the exact moment I’d needed it, and I had never been more grateful. The strangeness of the scenario registered as a distant thought, but never bubbled its way to my consciousness.

I stood, hands on the table, arms pressing my breasts together, hips gyrating against the inches thick wood tabletop, a thank you for what he’d done for me. While he cleaned glassware, wiped the bar top, his eyes never left my body. His smile never left his face

When he disappeared behind the counter to refill the liquor, I gathered my plates and bowl from the delicious meal I’d enjoyed alone, feeling my own juices flow from my underwear. I was more than wet for him, and only half-sane with desire.

Chicken marsala and a small house salad to compliment the Merlot he’d suggested when I’d first arrived showed he knew my tastes even then. I walked them to the kitchen, which sparkled, awaiting the day to come. I hated to leave the dirty dishes for the morning shift, so I turned the nozzle on the faucet to hot and waited while it warmed up.

A gasp escaped my lips when chilled hands found my breasts, still unclothed, and squeezed.

They wheeled me around, only the slightest hint of annoyance on the face in front of me.

“You didn’t listen,” he told me. I bit my bottom lip. I didn’t want to disappoint him, not after all he’d given me, including the promise of the remainder of the night, so I reached down, put my hand on his still-hard cock

“I thought cleaning up would be the least I could do after the delicious dinner and wine. Not to mention the dessert.” I winked, and was met with half a grin that belied mischief.

“Why don’t we both clean up, then? You look dirty. I can help with that.”

I nodded, my pussy throbbing hard enough for me to spread my legs around his thigh as he pulled me close. He tore the shirt from around my shoulders and dropped it on the ground, followed by my bra. The water still running, Renault freed the spout from its base and turned down the heat only a fraction. He turned me so that my ass was pressed against his erection and let the spray douse my chest, run down my legs. The water was hot, but not scalding, and I barely noticed as it pooled at our feet before disappearing down the drain. 

“Take this off,” his voice demanded, pushing me from him. He nodded at the skirt that was soaked and bunched around my waist. I reached behind and unzipped it as Renault’s mouth, hot and cavernous, closed around my breast. I arched my back into him as the skirt fell to my feet and I was laid almost bare in front of my bartender, my saviour who’d turned my night around.

All that was left was a thin shred of lace between me and the girth that pressed against my stomach. His smile broke free in ardent appreciation of my body, a sight I hadn’t seen on a man’s face in over five years. It was as exciting as the slip of his finger between the fabric and folds of my now liquid pussy. When another finger slipped in beside the first, I moaned. This was too much. I had been dormant for too long, and now, buzzed with wine and lust, I was awake, alive with nerves.

With a swift pull, the lace shredded in his hands, and he wasted no time placing his mouth where his fingers had been. His tongue pulled at my swollen clit, sucking at it until my legs quivered with delight. While his tongue explored me, hot water still raining down over us, he put three fingers inside me, tugging at the sensitive area behind his tongue. Renault let a chuckle free when I cried out. 

“Come,” he breathed into my pussy. Another demand I couldn’t refuse. I nodded, but he didn’t see me, his face buried back in my folds. His hands cupped my ass, bringing me closer to him, and with a final sucking motion, I rolled over the edge with him, my hands fisted in his hair. The faucet still rested on the edge of the sink facing us, and as he pulled himself up the length of my body, peppering my taut stomach and breasts with kisses, he held the spray against my swollen clit with his knee while he unsheathed a condom. 

I screamed with pleasure as it slid inside me from behind. There was nothing not hard on this man, including his shaft which slid inside me to its hilt, filling me. Another first in a long line of disappointments brought forth from James. I refused to think of him, though, as Renault cupped my breast with one free hand, used the water to bring me to climax again with the other, all while thrusting inside me. 

“I want you to come inside me,” I called out, my first command of him. It felt good, empowering, as he evened the playing field and thrust harder into me, faster against the wall inside me. 

“I’m there,” he whispered, a groan of exquisite pleasure following the breath of words. I felt him shudder and tightened around his cock, feeling the waves crash through him, ripple over me. 

We stayed there like that for at least a minute, his chest pressed against my back, the spray of water now hitting me in the leg. Finally, he slid out of me, his hands cupping and squeezing my breasts as a laugh rolled through him. 

good God, I’ve wanted to do that ever since you first walked in here with that prick.”

“Really?” I asked, surprised. I’d noticed him the first time I’d sat at the bar waiting for James, who’d shown up dishevelled and smelling like Chanel No. 5 over an hour late to our first date at Michaels, but I had no idea the hot as fuck bartender had paid me any mention.

“You were in a skirt like this one and your fucktard boyfriend didn’t get to you until I’d already fucked you twice in my mind.”

As if he heard us talking about him, I heard my phone trill with the song I’d chosen for James years ago—some romantic ditty that didn’t remind me of him in the least. Renault laughed again.

“What will he do if you go home smelling like me?” To add insult to injury he ran his tongue along my collarbone. 

I sighed, realising that probably wouldn’t be enough to rouse James from his stupor and pay attention to me. We were DOA and this proved it. 

“Nothing, sadly. I doubt he’d notice to be honest.”

good. Then you’re staying with me.” 

I turned back around to face him, a playful smile tugging at my own lips. It felt good to smile again, yet another rarity these days. 

“Oh, really?” 

“I’d have a hard time sending you home with torn panties and soaked clothes, Irina. I want you beside me tonight so I can wake up and do this again with you.”

I had to admit, it sounded pretty good to me. The idea of his hot, hard body behind me as I slept.

“Where do you live? It seems, either way, I’m leaving in these,” I said, looking down at the dishevelled clothing at my feet. 

“Um, well, this is my place, so I live upstairs.”

I pulled back further from him, eyed him suspiciously. 

“Your place? You’re Michels?”

“I am. Renault Michels, at your service.” He bowed, his nudity doing nothing to erase the regal gesture. 

“But you bar tend.” It came out as an accusation, but his smile didn’t falter.

“All the better to meet attractive, under-appreciated women like yourself,” he said, his chest shaking with laughter.

“Okay, you’ve got me there. I’ll stay. But only if you promise to bring up another bottle of that merlot.”

Renault nodded, then took off, naked and gleaming with moisture, to the bar. I laughed to myself, thinking what a strange night it had been. I’d collect my things from James’ house the next morning, and even if I needed to spend some time at my folks and eat crow about their original assessment of him, it was worth it experiencing what dating could, and should be like. More than worth it.

As I think back to that night, the night I re-met my husband before becoming half owner of the most successful restaurant in Cleveland, I can’t help but appreciate the way things work out. When James came in after Renault and my wedding, a slutty blonde with smeared make-up on his arm, his eyes took me in appreciatively. I knew he must have seen my flushed cheeks, the smile that had been absent all five years we dated, maybe even the swell of my belly that held the evidence of the mind-blowing sex I was having with a man I loved. 

Either way, I barely noticed him, but wished him well under my breath, as I went to see if I could help Renault behind the bar. The quicker I helped him close up, the quicker he would be on top of me, riding me into a new, happier, future.

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