Copyright © 2017 by J. Rocci
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
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I’m partial to dapper gentlemen myself, so this story was a joy to write. It’s light, it’s soft, it’s loving. This story was originally published by Torquere Press in 2012 as part of the Charity Sip Blitz 2012, with previous proceeds going to NOH8. I’m making it available for free now, so please wrap yourself in a mental fluffy blanket and enjoy.
“It’s autumn in New York,” Delaney Bixby crooned along with Billie Holiday, executing an abbreviated box step around the antique barber’s chair at his station while he swept the floor. “It’s good to live again…”
Foot traffic was starting to pick up on the sidewalk outside the shop, the legs of passersby just visible at the top of the concrete stairs leading down to the shop’s main door. The front windows were open, letting a cool September breeze waft in the scent of leaves and Italian spices, and Delaney didn’t care if he was overheard singing his lungs out. He was in too good a mood.
Tucked away in the basement of a Manhattan row house close to New York City’s financial district, The Dapper Gentleman was a call to the early 1900s. Delaney had decorated the interior of the barber shop himself, from the elegant wood-paneled walls and floor tiles checkered in black and white, to the antique walnut bureaus that served as each of the five stations, and the brass wall sconces. It was narrow and small, but it was his and more than ample to cater to his select clientele. He was exclusive and in high demand and madly in love. Life was good.
The sun was setting and the shop was glowing from the warm lights overhead. In the far corner, a restored gramophone played Ms. Holiday’s record just loud enough to drown out the sounds of the restaurant kitchens readying for their evening hours. As the Italian restaurant above him awakened, Delaney was slowly closing down for the day.
Twisting his broom, Delaney twirled around in place and used the handle as a microphone. His wingtip shoes squeaked on the tiles, and he had to laugh when he caught a glimpse of himself acting like a fool in the work station mirror. He pulled a funny face, then laughed again when he realized that he just did a pivot step through his neatly swept pile. He went for his dust pan and finished without further dancing.
He’d dismissed his employees for the day, ignoring both knowing smirks and affectionate ribbing, and now all he had to do was wait for his final appointment. A smile graced his lips as he set aside the broom and dust bin, and started selecting the glass bottles of oils he wanted at his work station in anticipation.
His fingers lingered over the brand new strop hanging at waist height from the bureau. He took a moment to enjoy the suppleness of the leather, amazingly soft even though it was straight from the production shop. It was a high-end strop he’d been eyeing for a few months now, and it had been waiting for him on the kitchen counter that morning when he’d emerged for the day.
A horn honked outside, startlingly loud even for the city, and he abandoned the station to turn down his record before going to close the windows. Even though it was September, the heat of the summer wasn’t far behind them, and winter wasn’t on the horizon just yet. The windows were single pane in wooden frames and screeched as he pulled them shut, reminding himself to work building maintenance into his schedule on Sunday, the only day he was closed.
The last window pane was stuck in place and he huffed, giving it a careful tug. He’d discarded his old-fashioned white uniform smock and changed into a tailored pinstripe waistcoat that matched his pants, sliding sleeve garters up his arms to keep his white cuffs clean, but he didn’t want to risk soiling his clothes with window grime. He had plans after work, and they didn’t include running home through rush hour on the subway to change.
Expensive Italian loafers came into his view as the owner walked down the concrete stairs from street-level. Halfway down, the man stopped and a broad hand pushed the window closed from the outside.
“Thanks!” Delaney stepped back with a grin, reaching over to unlock the door as his last appointment appeared on his doorstep.
“You should talk to your landlord about replacing those,” Richard said absently, tugging at his silk tie like he hadn’t loosened it as soon as he left his office. His deep voice was always a shock for Delaney to hear, even after all these years, but it matched the grave demeanor Richard presented to the public.
Dressed in a bespoke gray suit, Richard was the epitome of a high-rolling Wall Street investment banker. He fairly vibrated with repressed energy, and his gaze was piercing, dissecting. His clothes were finely tailored, his thick black hair was carefully styled, and his hands were routinely manicured. He was obviously particular about his appearance and only wanted the finest service. He also seemed like a man in need of a relaxing time after a long day.
Delaney was more than happy to oblige on all accounts.
“So, what would you like first: shampoo and a trim, or a shave?” he asked as he motioned Richard in, accepting the man’s briefcase as Richard shrugged out of his suit jacket. Their fingers touched as Richard handed that over as well, and Delaney felt his cheeks heat when Richard’s gaze turned knowing.
The jacket went on a padded hangar in the coat wardrobe, but Delaney took a moment to assess a scuff on the obviously new briefcase. The case was heavy, covered in shiny black leather with gold-plated locks and the monogram “RJB” on each. Delaney hefted it gently, setting it on an open barber chair. “This looks like it’s held up well enough.”
Richard’s normally serious face relaxed marginally and he unknotted his tie completely, pulling it free from his collar. “It’s not like I drag it about on the subway. But imagine my surprise when I found it waiting by the door this morning.”
“Hmm.” Delaney waved a hand at the empty chair. “Have a seat, please.”
Settling in, Richard leaned back in the chair and rested his shoes stiffly on the heavy metal footplate, looking for all the world like a man who’d had a difficult day but was trying not to show it. Delaney would have to fix that.
“I should have time for a shave, I think,” Richard mused as Delaney tied a barber cutting cape around his neck, carefully tucking it over his collar with a soft cloth.
“Is there somewhere you need to be later?” Delaney asked, surprised. He met Richard’s gaze in the mirror before he reclined the chair.
Richard lifted one broad shoulder elegantly, cape rustling, a smile lurking at the corner of his full lips. “I have a very important date.”
Delaney arched a curious eyebrow, suppressing a grin. “Then I’ll definitely forgo the hair-styling and focus on that wicked stubble you’re cultivating.”
“I thought it made me look rugged?” Richard asked with an innocent expression.
Pursing his lips thoughtfully, Delaney stepped over to his counter. “I don’t think you can use the term ‘rugged’ when you’re wearing a suit that was hand-sewn by a little Italian man especially for you.”
Barking out a laugh, Richard conceded, “I appreciate those who are masters of their craft.”
The angle of the chair should have made Richard’s smoldering gaze look ridiculous, but the man could pull anything off with aplomb and Delaney licked suddenly dry lips. But he refused to let himself be distracted by an inviting look.
Instead, he turned on the tap in the small porcelain sink mounted on the wall next to his station. He let the water warm while he opened a tub of shaving cream. The smell of sandalwood filled the air, light and inoffensive.
Wetting his hands, he worked the cream into a thick lather before stepping up to Richard, who lifted his chin to the proper angle without having to be told. Delaney spread the lather along Richard’s jaw line and frowned at the tension he could feel under his fingertips. He slowed his movements, massaging the lather in as Richard’s eyes dropped shut.
This close, Delaney could admire the aquiline profile of Richard’s nose and the thickness of his eyelashes, his broad forehead and the widow’s peak of his hair. But Richard was still lying stiffly in the chair when Delaney leaned lightly against his forearm on the armrest. This close, Delaney could feel the heat of his body, even through the barber’s cape.
Knowing a trick that usually worked, Delaney focused on the planes of Richard’s cheeks and slowed his own breathing down to a nice, even pace. Without apparent conscious effort, Richard synched his breaths to match.
Delaney hid a smile and quietly went to get a fresh towel wrap. The towel steamer was on constantly during the day, looking like a small microwave and hidden discreetly in a cabinet with a curtained front. The glass door opened silently, and the soft strains of his record played in the background as Delaney returned to gently wrap the heated towel around Richard’s lathered face, leaving an opening for his nose and mouth.
While he left Richard to relax and the first coat of lather to soften the bristles, Delaney retrieved his antique straight razor from a drawer of his bureau. Health codes required the business use a feather straight razor, which looked like a traditional straight razor but allowed a new disposable blade to be inserted for each customer, only this was after hours. A quality razor could last over a hundred years if properly honed and cared for, and this one had been in Delaney’s family for generations, passed down from father to son. He wouldn’t use anything else on Richard.
Using his new strop, he flipped it so the wool strop was on top and gave the razor twenty strokes, before returning to the leather side for another fifty passes. When he was done, enough time had elapsed for Richard with the towel. He paused to study the man in front of him, but Richard said sleepily, “You’re staring.”
Delaney had to smile at the teasing tone. That was better than all buttoned-up and repressed, but they still had a ways to go.
“Hard not to,” he responded blithely.
He unwrapped the cooling towel from Richard’s face and used it to wipe the first lather off. Tossing it in the used towel bin, he retrieved a small bottle of pre-shave oil. This one he’d made himself with avocado and castor oil, plus a hint of bay rum for that traditional barber shop scent he knew Richard preferred.
Richard’s eyes were still closed and he barely twitched when Delaney started rubbing the pre-shave oil in. Delaney took his time, grinning as he could feel the stress draining from Richard’s long frame with each swipe of his fingertips over Richard’s heat-reddened skin.
Delaney might have to stand on his feet for most of his day, but he enjoyed chatting with his clients or letting them rest as needed. He never could understand the competitive drive that made Richard actually enjoy negotiating contracts and accounts all day. Delaney never left work tied up in knots, except during tax season and health inspections.
When Richard was breathing deeply through his nose and was actually embraced by the chair instead of fighting against it, Delaney reapplied the cream lather, making sure the foam was cushiony and slick before he started his first pass with the razor, shaving with the grain.
The drag of the razor across Richard’s skin was Delaney’s main focus. He hadn’t really thought about the trust involved in the act of letting another person shave his face and neck until he’d taken a barber course for his license. His clientele were mostly heavy hitters in Manhattan like Richard, with a few celebrities on the list, and he worked hard to cultivate a relationship with each to put them at ease. Surprisingly, for a man who was constantly on his guard, Richard hadn’t required much work at all on that front, but Richard would always be a special case and that was how Delaney liked it.
When he was finished with the first pass, he repeated the lather, steamed towel, and razor stropping again. Richard was definitely one with the chair by that point, but Delaney gave him two more passes, sideways and against the grain, to ensure the cleanest shave and leave him looking blissed out. Delaney only paused to put on a new record, this one a Fred Astaire compilation that Richard usually denied liking.
Richard didn’t open his eyes until Delaney was preparing the witch hazel on a cotton ball, but that was just to watch Delaney’s hands with his leonine gaze.
“This might sting, dear,” Delaney warned him quietly, like he always did, and Richard barely flinched at the chilly antiseptic. Delaney followed it quickly with a balm and a light aftershave, but still kept his touch deft and gentle. Where other barbers may have skipped a few steps, he prided himself on his shop’s superior quality of service, and no attention to detail was spared, especially for his most important client.
The bracing cold of the aftercare had roused Richard from his torpor, but he remained draped in the chair. After his skin had dried and Delaney went to apply a talcum powder coating to finish, Richard nudged his leg playfully with a polished shoe tip and smirked at Delaney fondly.
Delaney gave him an amused smile as he used his fingers to apply the shave powder, saying softly, “There you are.”
Richard shrugged with his eyebrows, trying not to move his mouth too much when he replied simply, “Long day.”
“So it seems.”
Slowly, Delaney withdrew and started to quietly clear his station. He glanced at Richard in the mirror as he wiped down his razor and stowed it back in his drawer, but the other man had his eyes closed again with a look of complete relaxation on his face.
Once the oils and creams had been restored to their rightful places, Delaney hovered a moment. Richard looked like ten years had melted off in the last half hour.
“Can you believe it’s been nine years since I first sat here?” Richard asked quietly, eyes slitting open to focus on Delaney. With the burning attraction such a simple look could stoke in Delaney, it might as well have been days instead of years.
“Only nine?” Delaney asked coyly as he returned the chair to its normal position and unsnapped the barber’s cape from Richard’s neck. “It feels like so much longer…”
“Not long enough, if it’s only been one year with these.” Capturing Delaney’s hand before he could step away, Richard pressed a delicate kiss to his knuckles, lips warm and soft next to the metal of Delaney’s wedding band that matched the one on Richard’s own hand.
“My thanks for such excellent care,” Richard murmured. His heavy gaze kept Delaney rooted to the spot.
He swallowed hard and managed, “I believe you mentioned an important date, sir?”
Richard chuckled, absently stroking where his fingers still wrapped around Delaney’s. “My husband is a fan of classical jazz. I managed to secure reservations at this exclusive new club he’s been dying to visit since it opened.”
Delaney’s breath hitched and he could barely keep himself from pulling away in his excitement. “Then you’d best not keep him waiting, Mr. Bixby.”
Laughing at the prim tone, Richard stood and reeled Delaney in closer, sliding a hand around his waist under his vest to effectively still him.
“Hmm,” Richard rumbled, his voice like a contented cat’s purr, “I’m sure he’d understand if I said I was perfectly happy where I currently am, Mr. Bixby.”
Delaney melted. Smiling softly, he curled his free hand over Richard’s broad shoulder. “I think he’d understand completely.”
Richard grinned and started to slowly sway with the music, gently leading Delaney to the open floor of the shop. They both leaned in until they were cheek to cheek. Delaney grinned and inhaled the fresh scent of aftershave, loving the unique undertones that were inherently Richard and that Delaney would never be able to replicate.
When a new song started, Richard began to tense again and Delaney made a displeased noise, pressing a kiss to his cheek.
“We have reservations for eight,” Richard said with a sigh, making like he’d pull away.
“We have time if we go straight there,” Delaney hushed him and kept him in place. “Don’t undo all my hard work.”
“Hmm,” Richard rumbled again, sounding happier. The hand on Delaney’s waist moved to massage his lower back, pressing him closer to Richard, and it felt heavenly. He couldn’t hold back the moan as his head slumped completely on Richard’s shoulder.
“Don’t you dare stop,” he mumbled, and Richard laughed, shifting to take most of his weight.
“I had to field so many questions today about my stupid grin,” Richard murmured against his temple. “Every time I saw that briefcase, I remembered that my amazing husband had tucked away a travel itinerary for Bermuda in the main pocket. That he had, apparently, spent weeks conspiring with my assistant to arrange a two-week vacation during the forsaken frozen tundra that is New York in winter…”
Delaney snorted inelegantly into the amazingly smooth fabric of Richard’s shirt. “First, Manhattan is hardly a frozen tundra. Second, we owe Nick something very nice for Christmas this year, because I thought the poor boy was going to have a fainting fit every time you growled at him over your schedule.”
“He hid it fairly well the first week,” Richard said with grudging respect.
Delaney pulled away to scowl at him. “The first week? Exactly how long have you known?”
Rubbing his back harder, Richard just smirked and Delaney lowered his head with a happy groan. “Never mind. I don’t care. Just keep doing that.”
They danced in a lazy shuffle, Richard’s lips pressed to Delaney’s temple and carefully avoiding the slick styling pomade in his hair. Delaney squeezed his hand in appreciation, and Richard raised their joined hands to kiss his knuckles again.
“Nine years, and all I got you was a new strop.”
Delaney frowned at his rueful tone. “Nine years, and you make me deliriously happy every day. I told you I wanted a new strop and I love the one you picked.”
Richard sighed. “I’m a workaholic whom you spoil rotten every day and in no way deserve such a wonderful, caring man to dote on and adore me.”
Delaney lifted his head long enough to roll his eyes. “If I spoil you rotten, it’s because you make it easy for me to love you. And it’s not like it isn’t mutual. Now stop fishing for compliments and keep rubbing my back before we have to go.”
Chuckling, Richard held him even closer. Richard nuzzled at his neck, lips against Delaney’s jaw as he said, “Happy anniversary, my dear.”
Since 2006, J. Rocci has published LGBT romance stories, ranging from contemporary to steampunk to fantasy. Rocci currently lives near Washington D.C. with the love of her life and their furry children, and loves giving her characters happy endings. You can find Rocci on the web at:
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