Title: Lying Eyes
Author: Robert Winter
Publisher: Robert Winter Books (self-published)
Release Date: July 7, 2017
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Romance, Mystery, BDSM
This bartender’s art lies in more than mixing drinks …
Randy Vaughan is a six-foot-three mass of mysteries to his customers and his friends. Why does a former Secret Service agent now own Mata Hari, a successful piano bar? Where did a muscle daddy get his passion for collecting fine art? If he’s as much a loner as his friends believe, why does he crave weekly sessions at an exclusive leather club?
Randy’s carefully private life unravels when Jack Fraser, a handsome art historian from England, walks into his bar, anxious to get his hands on a painting Randy owns. The desperation Randy glimpses in whiskey-colored eyes draws him in, as does the desire to submit that he senses beneath Jack’s elegant, driven exterior.
While wrestling with his attraction to Jack, Randy has to deal with a homeless teenager, a break-in at Mata Hari, and Jack’s relentless pursuit of the painting called Sunrise. It becomes clear someone’s lying to Randy. Unless he can figure out who and why, he may miss his chance at the love he’s dreamed about in the hidden places of his heart.
Note: Lying Eyes is a standalone gay romance novel with consensual bondage and a strong happy ending. It contains potential spoilers for Robert Winter’s prior novel, Every Breath You Take.
Saturday rolled around, and Randy headed to town early to make sure everything was ready for Mata Hari’s busiest evening of the week. Although the bar officially opened at five-thirty, it was rare for anyone to wander in much before seven o’clock. Randy was surprised when the front door opened at six to admit a good-looking man.
The stranger was probably about five foot nine or ten, and wore a three-piece suit that seemed tailored to accentuate a lean build. His dark hair was cut stylishly short on the sides but thick and swept back on the top, and his mustache and full beard were closely trimmed. A brightly colored necktie contrasted with the somber gray of his suit. Randy had trouble assessing the man’s age, but he would go with thirty. European, though—Randy would stake the bar on that guess.
The newcomer contemplated the walls of Mata Hari, passing almost dismissively over the art on display. He studied each piece for no more than a second before moving to the next, but Randy had a distinct impression the man sought something in particular. As he completed his survey, he kept turning and eventually met Randy’s eyes across the bar.
Immediately desire flared in the man’s face as his hungry gaze drifted over Randy’s tight white shirt and up to his face, lingering on his mouth. Shoulders tightened almost imperceptibly as he drew himself to his full height, yet Randy recognized a softening of hard edges. He lazily ran his own eyes to the stranger’s luxurious beard, and he imagined stroking the softness there. He sensed something accommodating. Something potentially submissive, yet more subtle than the wanton displays of obedience and posing he was used to on Mondays at his private club.
Something he would enjoy channeling and rewarding, in the right circumstance.
The man started toward the bar. As he moved, Randy had the odd sense that the suit he wore was ill-fitting, even though it seemed perfectly tailored. A step away from the bar, his face just—closed. That was the only word for it. One instant he was cruising Randy; the next he was stone.
Randy sighed to himself. The guy was probably a closet case on his first night at a gay bar. That usually meant an unsatisfying encounter, even if the newbie didn’t rabbit. In any case, it wasn’t Randy’s thing. He’d had plenty of virgin ass over the years, and preferred his men experienced.
Fine. Nothing for me here. He waited at the bar, vaguely disappointed.
“Sir, good evening.” The man’s accent was English, his words precise and elegant like his hair and his clothes and his beard. Probably from London. Up close, Randy could see his eyes were a deep shade of brown graced with streaks of gold around the pupils that caught the lights over the bar. “I’m looking for a Mr. Randall Vaughan.”
Despite forswearing his immediate attraction to the stranger, that honeyed voice caused Randy to smile slowly and show his teeth. He registered the slight widening of the eyes behind the stranger’s mask as he focused on Randy’s mouth.
“I’m Randy Vaughan. And you are…?”
The man blinked in surprise. “Oh. The Mr. Vaughan I was seeking is an art collector.”
Shit. Just another jerkwad, making assumptions right away. Randy was a big man so he couldn’t possibly be knowledgeable about art, could he? Well, fuck that noise. One more chance.
“I wouldn’t use the term collector, but…” Randy gestured at the walls.
“Quite so,” the man said distantly, and turned to sweep his gaze over the works on the nearest wall. “Neither would I.”
Randy’s back stiffened immediately. The stranger—no, the asshole—turned his attention back to Randy and held out a hand. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he’d just royally pissed Randy off. “My name is Jack Fraser. I’m from the Kensington Museum in London.” Fraser paused as if waiting for Randy to be impressed. “I sent you a letter recently.”
Randy willed himself not to think further about Fraser’s whiskey-colored eyes or the luxuriousness of his beard, and he didn’t take the offered hand. Instead, he wiped a small spill on the counter before him. “You did,” he agreed in a bored tone.
Fraser dropped his hand. “Ah, yes.” A pause. “My secretary didn’t hear from you to set up an appointment.”
“Which was my answer to your request,” Randy said, letting some snarl appear as he met Fraser’s eyes. They were still guarded and closed off, but Randy could see embers burning deep inside. In the right setting, and with proper motivation, he could imagine making those embers flare and ignite in the slender man before him. For the moment, though, the eyes just narrowed in calculation.
Before Fraser could say anything, Randy turned away. “If you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”
“May I buy a pint?” Fraser asked, desperation shading his smooth accent.
Randy considered calling Malcolm over to deal with it, but stopped in front of the beer taps. He was annoyed at his lingering attraction, and he decided to push back on this prick a bit. “Fine. What’s your pleasure?”
“Guinness. If you have it.”
“Of course you’d drink Guinness.” A little scorn curled Randy’s lip. “Well, the closest beer I have is a stout from Flying Dog.” He let his sneer turn feral. “It’s called Pearl Necklace.” He dropped his eyes to Fraser’s necktie, as if he could picture that very thing replacing the colorful silk.
Fraser blinked nervously. Probably he could picture it too. Maybe he even imagined Randy’s hot jizz splattering his chest and neck as his reward. Well, he shouldn’t have been a condescending shit out of the gate then. Randy waited, one hand on the tap, the other idly scratching his ear to make his bicep flex under his white shirt. Fraser focused on his arm and swallowed audibly.
“That’ll be fine,” he said. “A, uh, Flying Dog then.” Randy drew the pint to set before Fraser on a coaster. He didn’t wait for the man to take a sip or comment, but headed to the other end of the bar to check inventory.
He stayed busy but somehow noticed that Fraser lingered at the bar for several minutes, apparently hoping Randy would come back and let him ask again about the piece Randy had purchased from the Gates Gallery. When Randy deliberately kept his distance, Fraser took his beer (which, Randy was pleased to note, was more than half gone) and wandered around the room to examine more carefully each painting displayed. Sometimes he moved on quickly to the next piece of art. Other times, he gave a slight shake of his head.
Randy’s ears burned, and he considered throwing the guy out. Since he’d opened Mata Hari no one had given him grief about his collection. To be honest, no one had studied it the way Fraser did, but still. Each piece had been acquired because Randy connected to something in it. To have this handsome English stuffed shirt look down his nose offended Randy in a way he couldn’t even articulate. He seethed inside the longer Fraser spent on his dismissive tour of the room.
When Fraser reached a landscape that was hung over a small settee, he gave a distinct snort. He set his empty beer glass on a nearby table and Randy swooped over to pick it up, ostentatiously swiping the wood as if it had left a ring. “Another Pearl Necklace?” he snarled.
“Ah, no. Thank you.” Fraser seemed surprised to find Randy standing so close, though his eyes remained closed off and stony. “But it was a quite nice stout after all. Thank you for the recommendation.”
Randy gestured at the landscape with his chin. “Is that painting offensive to you for some reason? You’re practically laughing at it.”
“What? Oh no, it’s…fine. Competent. It’s the presentation, the arrangement of the art, that I find amusing.”
Randy ran his gaze over the pieces arranged on that wall of the bar. He’d decided where to hang each and every work over a long stretch of time as he’d readied Mata Hari for opening. He revisited the collection frequently and rotated different pieces in and out of prominent positions. Most of his customers were oblivious but Randy took great satisfaction in presenting something unique in the atmosphere of his bar.
“What’s amusing about it?”
“Well, there’s no story, is there?” Fraser answered him.
“What do you mean?”
“Individually each piece is presentable. A few are even intriguing. But see here,” he gestured at the landscape, “this is a nicely executed pastoral, yet it’s positioned between a Japanese scroll and a watercolor of a monarch butterfly. The pieces say nothing about each other, and have no intrinsic relationship.
“But over there,” he indicated the wall opposite, “is a modern landscape. Change the frames to something complementary, place them side by side, and the two landscapes together suggest a conversation in, oh, quite a lot actually. Painting techniques, the subject and tonal changes in works separated by two artistic traditions. You see?”
Randy did see, but he’d be damned if he’d admit it. “Two landscapes here wouldn’t fit,” he said stubbornly.
“Ah. Art as furniture. Of course,” Fraser said with a smirk, and that did it.
“No charge for the Pearl Necklace,” Randy barked. “Since you made the trip for nothing.”
Robert Winter lives and writes in Provincetown. He is a recovering lawyer who prefers writing about hot men in love much more than drafting a legal brief. He left behind the (allegedly) glamorous world of an international law firm to sit in his home office and dream up ways to torment his characters until they realize they are perfect for each other.
When he isn’t writing, Robert likes to cook Indian food and explore new restaurants. He splits his attention between Andy, his partner of sixteen years, and Ling the Adventure Cat, who likes to fly in airplanes and explore the backyard jungle as long as the temperature and humidity are just right.