Abi looked up when she heard the distinctive London accent, and watched as the couple entered the bar, immediately laying claim to a pool table.
Her boys had been doing the same thing for the last three years, at least once a week, usually twice. Not that they were really hers, or boys, for that matter, but she'd been watching them now for three years and she felt rather proprietary towards them.
With a fond smile she remembered the first time she had seen them come into the Bronze together.
They had stalked through the door, hip to hip, spitting and snarling insults at each other almost without pausing for breath, and Abi had taken one look and decided they were perfect together.
It had taken a while longer for them to figure it out for themselves, and she had enjoyed every minute of watching their relationship grow and change, blooming into the rock solid bond that was now so obvious.
The pale, blue-eyed blond was the one who caught the eye first. A few inches shorter than his sable-haired mate, his attitude screamed 'look at me and WANT'. His bleached, almost white, hair was always slicked back and spiked with gel, and his attire was always basically the same: long leather duster draped over blood red silk shirt over black tee, impossibly tight black jeans, and a pair of well-loved classic Doc Martens. The scar bisecting his left eyebrow completed The Look, and Abi had a feeling that the slender blond knew it.
The taller, darker man had matured a lot since they had first started their regular games. Back then he had been trying to hide in plain sight. Loud shirts, baggy pants, and a perpetually embarrassed, self-effacing 'ignore-me' expression on his youthful face. Of course, that hadn't stopped him trading insults with the blond as they played pool and drank their beers, British import for the Londoner, and a cheaper, domestic brand for the local, who always paid.
He'd filled out nicely in the last couple of years, Abi noted absently, and she would put money on him working construction. Her second husband had been in that job, and she knew the look of a body honed by real physical work, as opposed to the perfect abs and pecs sculpted by hours in an air-conditioned gym. Plus, she'd noticed the calluses on his hands when he paid his tab at the end of the night, and the faint crows feet at the corners of his eyes that came from working out in the sun for hours on end without fancy sunglasses.
Pausing to study the oblivious pool player she nodded slowly. Oh yeah. Muscles had become well defined, and slowly the garish wardrobe had altered to show off the physical changes.
Abi had been witness to his first pair of indecently tight jeans and clinging tee-shirt, and grinned in remembrance of how embarrassed and self-conscious he had been, tugging at hems and seams almost constantly for the first hour before he'd finally settled down enough to concentrate on the game. He'd either lost a bet or been badgered into wearing the outfit, and Abi had no doubts as to who had been responsible. Ice-blue eyes had been practically glued to the muscular swell of that firm ass in skin-hugging, stonewashed denim, and more than once she'd seen pale fingers reach out to touch, only to pull back at the last possible second. And then one day those fingers had reached their target: brushed, caressed, cupped, and the total lack of any shocked reaction had told her that her boys had finally *finally!* acted on their mutual attraction.
Oh, they'd still been discreet, and the insults had still flown between them, but these were tempered with affection, and occasional exasperation, and so it had continued for several months, until a misguided group of college boys had seen the subtle interaction between the two and somehow managed to jump to the correct conclusion.
Fueled by alcohol, and a mob mentality, they had started a loud discussion about how 'fags' should stay out of 'regular' bars so decent folk didn't have to see them pawing at each other.
The brunette had spun around, not towards the idiots at the bar, but towards his partner, one hand reaching out as if to clamp over the blond's mouth, and Abi had had barely a second to wonder at the reaction before the reason became obvious to everyone within earshot.
She had never heard anyone curse that fluently, that constantly; as if the blond didn't find it necessary to pause for breath. The verbal assault had the college boys up off their seats in seconds, though Abi would have bet her months tips that they hadn't understood a fraction of the insults being heaped on them. Lord only knew she didn't have a clue about what *language* half the epithets had been snarled in.
Apologetic brown eyes had locked onto hers for a moment before sweeping back over the blond to land on the furiously approaching half dozen frat boys. A pool cue had appeared in one callused hand and was twirled impressively.
Had the troublemakers been slightly less inebriated, the obvious skills displayed in the movement might have made them think twice, but they were tanked up and looking for trouble, and they got it, in spades.
While the blond bounced and snarled and continued to spew taunts and insults, the brunette concentrated on defending them both, managing to keep the howling pack of drunks at bay without actually inflicting any real damage, and Abi realised he was trying to wear them out instead of beating them down. But then one of the students got lucky and managed to slip around the defensive moves to attack what he obviously saw as a weak target, the blond.
What happened next still puzzled Abi. The youth had managed to land two solid blows to that slender torso draped in red silk, but it was only when his own pale fist connected in a single knockout blow to his attacker's jaw that the blond crumpled to the floor in obvious agony, clutching his head and letting out a horrendous keening wail.
His mate froze for a fraction of a second and then exploded in a frenzy of flying limbs. The pool cue was broken over someone's head and tossed aside and in less than two minutes it was over. No-one was dead, but Abi had the feeling that that was just a matter of Lady Luck smiling down on the dumb students.
Everything else was ignored by the victor as he swooped down and carefully lifted the fallen blond into his arms. The wail had faded to a dull moan, broken by growls and incomprehensible mutterings, and, now that he had breath to spare, the darker man joined in with the muttering, adding soothing croons and promises of revenge to the constant rumble of sound.
The bouncers, seeing that the fight was over before they had had time to intervene, moved in to clear away the debris, and would have forcefully ejected the 'winning team' along with the losers if Abi hadn't caught their attention and shaken her head.
Then that distinctive accent drew her attention back to her boys.
"My knight in shining armour. Chivalry's all well and good, Pet, but can you put me down now so's I can find me beer?"
The tone was long-suffering, but Abi noticed the blond had both arms wrapped around his 'knight's neck and was making no effort to dislodge the arms that held him to that broad chest. She grinned at the response she almost had to strain to hear.
"Spike, chivalry is not only dead, it's decomposed. The only reason I'm still holding you is to stop myself from beating you black and blue. Dammit, when are you gonna learn to stop picking fights you can't hope to win?!"
But even as he said it, he was lowering the man in his arms to his feet and then pale hands were clutching at stonewashed denim-clad buttocks, and tan, callused hands were buried knuckle-deep in white blond hair, and two pairs of lips were crushed together in barely restrained passion.
They were back three days later, acting as if nothing had happened. Or almost. Discretion had obviously been cast aside, because now hands lingered, cupped, stroked, and Abi realised that the couple had perfected pool as a form of foreplay. Usually by the end of the evening the shared glances were hot enough to melt steel, and the lingering caresses had become claiming touches, proprietary handholds, and a more than occasional grope.
But it was still early tonight, so Abi diligently worked the bar, poured drinks, handed out snacks, and watched her boys play pool.