The Playground, despite its name, was a very prestigious and renowned nightclub and lounge. A place where the heirs and privileged children between twenty and thirty would come to unwind and act the fools their lawful parents knew they were. Alcohol overflowed the bars no matter the age, after all who would tell when it cost two hundred just to get in the door? It all smelled of expensive cigars, cigarettes, foreign cologne, and arousal. Though despite this upper-class debauchery this was often a place where those very same youngsters in the corporate world would hold casual meetings in the VIP room and seal deals with a club escort in their lap to sweeten it. The VIP rooms were on the second floor and sealed off from the hedonism below, while at the same time it could be observed. Each room had a private bar with its own bartender to attend to its patrons. Normally, they would choose an attractive young woman who would “accidentally” bow a bit too low or flick her hair distractingly. The idea was that even though business was being talked, your time was not free, and you would pump the patrons for every penny you felt you were worth. Even if it meant being part of a very boring conversation. That being said, Dante Milan was not a woman and he certainly wasn’t about making a spectacle of himself.
Dante looked away from the current patron he’d been adamantly chatting with. He passed his customer an apologetic smile before following his manager. His hair was pulled out of his face with a messy tie while the rest hung freely around his shoulder blades. His clear, slate-colored eyes were aglow in the neon lighting behind the dancefloor bar and his olive skin appeared paler beneath it than it truly was. Once they were in the staff area, he towered over his manager at about 5’11 and crossed his arms for effect as she came to stand before him.
KT was all business in her pressed silk shirt and designer pencil skirt, her dark honied skin and ebony hair accented by the lighting. She wrote on her clipboard – the object that held their very livelihood – and gave him a pointed look.
“Nichelle got booted from number 11. The guy apparently was offended by her or some shit and you were specifically requested.”
“What? By who? Nichelle’s never offended anyone; she’s a good tender!”
“Yeah, but she also throws herself at the wrong patrons when they’re handsome,” KT said irritably. “The one who booked the room was Dorian Tennyson.”
Dante’s face fell. “The TC Corp brat…”
“I didn’t know you bothered to get to know patrons like that,” KT noted with a raised brow.
“Usually can’t be asked. He’s more of a well-paying nuisance than a patron, honestly,” Dante said with a sour face.
“Well, he’s in there with some new, beasty-looking guy. He seems a bit old for this crowd, all things considered. He’s the one who wanted Nichelle out, talking ‘bout “when I said your best, I didn’t mean your best floozy!” His words verbatim.”
“And you want me to deal with this asshole?”
“Dorian wants you in there now.” She remarked with a finality in her tone.
Dante wasn’t having it. “I don’t wanna. “
“Turning down tips now, Dante?”
“Dorian is a pervert who just tips me because I’m pretty and he doesn’t know how to keep his hands to himself.”
“You’re going up there and fix this mess, Dante!” KT snapped. “You’re going to smile, give ‘em a bit of that tongue ring and you’re going to serve and make your money. I run a business here no matter what the sign says. Now go!”
Dante threw a fake tantrum making her smack him over the head with the clipboard before she walked off. He sighed and looked up at the glass windows of the VIP rooms. He wasn’t really dressed for that type of tending tonight. He’d gone casual for the main bar. His plain black muscle shirt and black jeans were hardly business attire and probably wouldn’t salvage the situation. He’d even worn his sneakers so he could move about the dance floor easily.
Dante stepped into the glass elevator that brought him to the second floor and stepped into the hall. These rooms were very much like hotel rooms – cut off from the chaos below and built around a single hallway. They made him nervous most of the time even though most patrons treated him as though he weren’t there. It was slightly claustrophobic being closed up with them and he was shy about standing in the background and looking pretty until he was needed. He’d been doing this for three years now and it still bugged him. Ah well, duty called.
Dante clocked in as a private tender for the night on the panel near the elevator. He walked unhurriedly down to room 11 and politely knocked. The door was quickly opened by a laughing blond man. Dante’s face immediately formed a professional smile.
“Well, here I thought you’d refuse the minute you heard my name,” Dorian said, toying with a strange of Dante’s hair. “You’re out of uniform.”
Dante brushed the hand away, though he kept the pleasant smile. “Sorry, money speaks louder to KT than sexual harassment. May I ask you to keep our interactions professional, Mr. Tennyson?”
“Yeah…yeah,” Dorian said hesitantly. “We’re both working so I can’t play with you like I want to, tonight.”
“You don’t play with me at all,” Dante said firmly. “May I come in now?”
Dorian stepped to the side allowing Dante to come inside the room. Dante tried not to shudder at the feeling of Dorian’s lusting blues on his backside. Instead, he focused his attention briefly on the second occupant in the room. His back was to Dante and it made the bartender nervous that he couldn’t see his face yet. He didn’t quite understand it but there was a distinct chill in the room and he was certain it was because of that man. Dante took a deep breath and strode past him calmly as KT had taught him. He did his best not to spare the man much of a glance until Dorian shut the door and decided to open his mouth.
“This is the one I told you about. Dante, let me introduce you?”
Dante inwardly cringed and stopped. He’d almost made it to the bar, too. He turned around as Dorian grabbed his arm and led him to the seated man. The man was…certainly older than the usual crowd like KT had said. He looked to be well into his late thirties but still very well kept. His dark hair was slicked back perfectly, not a single hair out of place, and it shined with good health. His strong jaw was lined with a groomed goatee that was neither too bushy nor too thin. His brows were thick but arched well, shadowing dark sherry-tinted eyes that gazed at him with an almost offensive indifference. He reached out a hand in greeting, showing well-manicured nails, making Dante hesitant to reach out with his own work-calloused hands.
“Dante, this is Vincent De Pazzi, my father’s advisor, and financial guru. Vincent, this is Dante Milan, the best barkeep at the Playground. Don’t know much about him other than his martini skills are pitch-perfect and he has a sweet ass.”
“It’s a pleasure, Mr. De Pazzi.” Dante shook his hand firmly, finding them surprisingly calloused like his own. He was used to smooth hands from these corporate mogul types.
“The pleasure is all mine, I’m sure.” His voice was deep, flowing against Dante’s ear like honeyed whiskey. It almost dried his throat. “Can I trust you to serve us without batting your eyelashes and flipping your hair at us?”
Dante smirked. “I’m sure I can resist the urge, sir.”
Vincent’s brow arched. “You’re a bit young to be serving alcohol, aren’t you? How old are you?”
“You’re a bit too old to be on this playground, sir. We don’t share personal information, but I assure you I’m well past the drinking age.”
“Oh, you bite,” Vincent chuckled. “I like that. Get me a glass of bourbon, no ice.”
“Hey, make me a rum and coke,” Dorian added as he took a seat across from Vincent.
Dante nodded and made his way to the bar. As he did, he rolled his eyes at the simplicity of their orders. They didn’t exactly need “the best” if this was the type of drink they would be nursing all night. He filled their orders, served them, and went back behind the bar to stand with his hands behind his back. The bar top was already spotless and the glasses gleamed in the dim lighting, so there was nothing really for him to occupy his time with. This was the posture that they were trained to take when they weren’t engaged or needed. Dorian and Vincent spoke on matters he didn’t quite understand, but it sounded like Dorian was in some trouble and Vincent was trying to advise him on how to get out of it without involving his father. Dante wasn’t one to judge and he didn’t really care about the issues of a rich kid. He simply kept their glasses full and answered small meaningless questions from Dorian before Vincent would push him back on track. Once business concluded, they seemed to relax.
“Hey, Dante. Bring us some cigars and that bourbon. Night’s almost over,” Dorian slurred a bit.
Dante obediently pulled the cigar box from the vault beneath the bar and balanced them along with the bourbon bottle and three glasses. He knew Dorian’s routine well by now. The business was over and for Dorian that meant Dante would be a form of personal entertainment for him and whomever he was with. Dante wasn’t to drink unless specifically asked by high tippers like Dorian since it was polite and their pleasure ensured compensation. However, he always poured his own glass and never had more than two drinks. He didn’t enjoy drinking in strange company because he was always too alert to enjoy the buzz. Plus, bourbon tasted disgusting to him.
Dante placed everything on the table and poured each man a bit of bourbon over ice as well as one for himself. He handed the first to Dorian and then the other to Vincent who, to his surprise, was staring at him. Dante tried to ignore it as he passed the glass to the man, but the intensity of it was unnerving. Was the man drunk? No. Dante knew drunk when he saw it and Vincent was very sober despite having drunk quite a bit. The older man took the glass from Dante, one of his perfectly manicured nails scraping Dante’s fingers. Dante tried to hide his flinch, but it showed through a slight twitch in the eye. He saw the corner of Vincent’s mouth quirk, showing that he’d noticed. Dante narrowed his eyes at the man as he picked up his own glass and took a seat. Vincent had yet to turn away.
“Tell me, Mr. Milan, how is it that you came to work here?”
Dante shrugged casually. It was a frequently asked question to make conversation, though Vincent’s interest made him wary. He couldn’t say why. “This is my primary job. KT met me at my day job and she liked the look of my face. She asked if I knew anything about bartending. I didn’t know jack shit, but she claimed she had a feeling about me and brought me on. Once I graduated bartending school, she started me here and I’ve been here ever since.”
“Mm.” Vincent reclined in his chair, taking another sip. “And what is your day job?”
“Warehouse,” he answered vaguely. “KT was there to pick up something and I was the one helping bring it out to her.” Dante didn’t mention where or what the place was. He wasn’t about to dish out personal information, especially when Vincent put him on his guard.
“Sounds like fate, don’t it?” Dorian said with an amused slur. “I met him while he was still green. Didn’t even know he was supposed to take money from me.”
“Are you in school, Mr. Milan?” Vincent asked, ignoring Dorian’s interjection.
“No, sir,” Dante muttered, licking a bit of bourbon from his lips.
“Pity. Why not?”
“I have nothing I want to pursue at the moment.”
“Ah, no use racking up debt with no direction,” Dorian offered good-natured. “Don’t let him fool you though. Dante’s a genius. You give him anything, like anything and he’ll learn it and excel at it.”
Dante rolled his eyes. What the hell was Dorian playing at with all these compliments. “I’m not smart. I just learn what I learn and know what I know.”
“A man like that is worth his weight in money,” Vincent remarked.
“Don’t be shy, Dante.” Dorian looked at Vincent with that weaseling gaze he always seemed to have when money was involved. “He’s a lot smarter than his boyfriend.”
Vincent’s brow arched at Dante who did his best to keep his irritation off his face. Dante instead glared towards the drunken Dorian. Just who the hell did Dorian think he was, spreading his personal business like this. How had he even known anything about Nicky?!
“Boyfriend?” Vincent asked coolly.
“Yes,” Dante replied. “I have a boyfriend.”
“Interesting,” was all Vincent said.
The discussion of his sexuality ended there. Surprisingly, Dorian added nothing else, though he seemed disappointed that Dante was no longer the focus. He seemed antsy, worried even like something wasn’t going the way he’d hoped. Vincent chose to shift topic to more casual things that Dante had no interest in. Gossip about coworkers and other tycoons who were becoming “cash poor” in their ventures against each other. From what Dante could gather, Vincent was some sort of middleman making money by keeping a close eye on his clients’ expenditures. This apparently extended to insuring that while heirs like Dorian spent their money on fun, the old heads would continue to keep their standing. Dante felt this was a shady job all around. It meant Vincent profited off people like Dorian whose bad decisions screwed him over; a go-to man when you were in deep and didn’t want “daddy” to know. He wondered idly how much the sophisticated man pulled in doing this sort of thing.
It wasn’t until around two in the morning when Dorian had to call it quits. He had a meeting with his father which he verbally implored Vincent to have mended by morning. Vincent simply waved him off like a child.
“If I approve of my compensation, then there will be no problems.”
Dorian swayed, a braying laugh echoing from his throat. “See, that’s why I like you, Vince. It doesn’t matter what it is; as long as the money’s clean, you never break fly.”
Dante watched with pity as Dorian meandered out of the room and down the hall. He’d make a good boyfriend to somebody if he ever grew up… or maybe lost all his money. Dante hoped KT had a driver for him so that he would make it home. He decided to get up and began to pick up the glasses and near-empty bottle. When he put his hand on Vincent’s glass, his wrist was grabbed firmly, but not abrasively. It allowed him to feel the power in that grip and know the control it took for it to not snap his wrist. Dante, however, met the man’s gaze and for a moment they said nothing.
Vincent didn’t seem drunk, but Dante wondered if this was going to get rough and end with security. He wasn’t above punching Vincent in his smug face if he decided to get rowdy.
“I’m not ready to call it a night just yet. As you heard, I have work to do. I’ll tip you well if you just leave the bottle and glass where they are.”
Dante made a soft “oh” and released the glass. After a second, Vincent released his wrist. Dante stood with the empty glasses and took the bottle anyway. “I’ll get you a fresh bottle. Though, I don’t think you should drink much more if you plan on doing anything constructive.”
Vincent put a brief on the table. “Your concern is endearing, but I hold my alcohol much better than your patrons do.”
Dante arched his brow. “And how old are you, Mr. De Pazzi?”
“I don’t share personal information, but I assure you I’m well past drinking age.”
“Oh…” Dante smiled at that as he surveyed the wine stash. “I’m going to assume you’re younger than you talk. You don’t seem to have that much age on you.” He grabbed a bottle and stood up. “You shouldn’t have any more bourbon. Wine is better for money work. Bourbon is celebratory.”
Vincent lifted his eyes from his computer to Dante who held a top-shelf bottle of chilled wine. He hummed in amusement and returned to his screen. “I will bow to your expertise in that regard, Mr. Milan.”
Dante didn’t respond though his eyes did narrow at the man. He went through the routine of smelling the wine and taste-testing it for freshness. He hated red wines. He tried not to appear as nervous as he felt when he noticed the man watching him work. What was up with this guy?
Dante poured a crystal glass halfway full and placed it near Vincent’s right hand. Vincent frowned.
Dante’s heart skipped. “What?”
“You’ve been placing the glasses on the wrong side all night. I drink with my left.”
“Oh…” How had he missed that? He swore Vincent had been drinking with his right most of the night. He picked up the wine glass and placed it carefully at the left side. “I’m sorry. Don’t know why I didn’t notice before.”
“When conducting business, I favor my right. Wealthy men are quite superstitious. You can’t trust a left-handed man.”
“That’s silly, why?”
“Because being right-handed is an honest man, while being left-handed… My saving grace is that I am a bit ambidextrous.”
Dante chuckled. “Is there anything else you need from me, Mr. De Pazzi?”
“Not at the moment,” Vincent murmured distractedly.
“Then I’ll leave you alone,” Dante said, placing the bottle on the table.
Dante felt his heart skip a beat. The hell? “W-what?”
“I don’t pour my own wine if I don’t have to. Stand right here, near my chair.” Vincent gestured to the left side.
Dante bit his lip as he stared at Vincent with a befuddled expression. After a moment of pressured silence, Dante did as he was told. He was used to being on his feet for eight hours or more, but he was usually moving about during those times. Standing in one spot like this was murder on his feet, even in comfortable shoes. Vincent made no move to speak or acknowledge him; he merely worked. The only time Dante was able to stretch his legs minutely was when Vincent’s glass would empty. Dante was able to distract himself for moments at a time by focusing on small things about the room. Eventually, his focus came to rest on Vincent, observing the man. Vincent was, if he were honest with himself, a good-looking man despite his suspicious air. He was nicely broad-shouldered, and his clothing fit him very well, tailor-cut he guessed. Vincent was long-legged, definitely taller than Dante. His skin held a lovely olive undertone beneath a sunbaked russet and appeared flawless save for a tiny dot on his cheek that seemed more blemish than mole. His nose was very distinguished, large but not obnoxiously so, and pointed. It fit his squared face perfectly and gave him a regal appearance. His lips were slightly chapped as well. Dante noted he seemed to lick his lips consistently when he concentrated. It wasn’t unusual; Dante was an avid lip biter.
“You’re staring,” Vincent said suddenly
Dante jumped to attention. “What?”
“You’re staring,” he reiterated, though he never looked away from the screen. “I’ve been speaking to you for about two minutes now and you haven’t heard a word.”
Dante didn’t know how to respond, his lips gaping a bit.
“I take no offense to your preferences and am slightly flattered by your attentions, but it would still be unnerving even if you were a woman.”
Dante’s face flushed, but a reply was sharp on his tongue. “You’re quite boring, Mr. De Pazzi.” There was a bite to his tone and he didn’t particularly know why. “You have me standing here with nothing to do except watch you work.”
“That would be a viable retort if it was my working you were watching,” Vincent said looking him in the eye. “But you’re watching me instead, aren’t you?”
Dante felt himself shrink under Vincent’s gaze, but he didn’t back down. “Your point?”
Vincent smiled. “I don’t have one. My work is finished, anyway.”
Dante blinked. “Huh?”
Vincent closed the laptop and held out his empty wine glass – in his left hand no less. “One more for the night, Mr. Milan?”
Dante narrowed his eyes about to pour, but he took a quick glance at his watch. “It’s three-thirty in the morning. Did you drive here?”
“Yes I did,” he replied as though the question was trivial. “And I have a meeting at eight a.m. Don’t concern yourself; just pour the glass please.”
“Your funeral,” Dante poured, against his better judgment, though he touched Vincent’s arm before the glass could be brought to his lips. “Where do you live? I could drive you home in one of the Playground cars.”
“And leave my own in the care of KT’s hoodlums? I think not.”
“I’m one of those hoodlums, you know.”
“All the more reason to drive my own car,” Vincent teased, sipping the wine. “I am not plastered, nor is my judgment impaired. I have consumed more alcohol in a day than your patrons piss out in a weekend.”
“That’s called an alcoholic,” Dante said flatly.
Vincent looked directly at Dante as he finished his wine and placed the empty glass on the table. He then stood to his full height, straightening out his tie and suit. “I assure you, I’m fine. No need to trouble yourself over a drunken patron.”
Dante felt a bit guilty, but he was defeated. He approached the table, attempting not to be intimidated by Vincent’s height – had to at least be six-three or something close to it. He reached for the empty glass and like before his wrist was grasped. Dante’s heart skipped on principle, expecting the sharp accusing “wrong” to grace his ears. Instead, he was pulled back up to stand and a very thick wad of cash was placed in his palm. Dante stared incredulously at Vincent. Looking the man in the face felt far too personal and he wanted to focus somewhere else. Vincent had an amused quirk to his lips that aligned perfectly with his arrogant expression.
“No need to clean up. I’m certain someone else will. Go count your tip and find my card inside. I’m hosting a small get-together for some of my clients next weekend. I’d like your services if you’re interested.” Dante’s hand was forced shut over the money. “Do not hesitate to call me at any time before the week is out.”
“…how much?” Dante wasn’t sure why he asked. He never took freelance jobs and KT would murder him even if he did.
“You wouldn’t be able to wrap your hand around it, I assure you,” he replied.
Dante didn’t know what to say and before he could think of anything, Vincent released him.
“Goodnight, Mr. Milan. I hope after deliberation I will hear from you. Your company has been most enjoyable.”
Vincent De Pazzi exited the room without a single sway or stumble. He left Dante standing there slightly dumbfounded and holding God knows how much money. The hell had just happened?
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