As a whole, the Off Beat series has been a bit of a departure for me. It was the first series I developed with an editor's input, and it was a nerve-wracking foray into something I'm not terribly familiar: rock stars. But once we'd brainstormed the concept, Body Rocks came alive in my mind very quickly. Dominic and Trey's romance was a lot of fun to write, and yes, it comes with my trademark #evilauthor angst.
The other departure was in the cover art. The bare-chested, abs-for-days cover models aren't what my readers are used to seeing on my book covers, but it seemed to fit for what we were doing. Or did it?
The cover for Steady Stroke came out a few months ago, with a similar feel to it, and after listening to feedback from myself, and from readers, Swerve decided to go with another approach. To soften the covers and make them better a part of my author brand. So the old Steady Stroke cover has been replaced with something I love a whole lot more. The models really portray Lincoln and Emmett as I see them in my head.
And finally, the cover for Hot Licks, my promised menage romance. The model is abs-for-days, but there is a confidence there that very much reminds me of Van Holt, one of the heroes of this novel. I just need to make sure I write that leather jacket into the story....
What do you think?
Monday, August 22, 2016
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
“Damn, Linc, you’re worse than my mom when she’s expecting guests.” Roxy Bounds leaned against the now-sparkling kitchen counter and crossed her arms. “It’s not the president, dude, chill.”
Lincoln West kept scrubbing the sink with Comet, determined to get the thing to shine before he gave up. “Unless you want to grab a rag and help, go away.”
“I told you when we moved in that I dust and vacuum. I don’t do kitchens or bathrooms.”
“Like I could forget.” He worked another small spot of rust out of the metal basin. “You also don’t kill spiders.”
“That thing wasn’t a spider. It was an evil minion from hell come to haunt the bathtub.”
Lincoln chuckled at the high pitch Roxy’s voice took on at the memory of finding a camel cricket in the bathtub last night. The thing was ugly as fuck and as big as a poker chip, and having spent half her life in a nice house in the Philadelphia suburbs, Roxy was no longer used to finding big bugs in the bathroom.
After spending the last six years living in cheap-ass apartments in inner-city Philly, Lincoln was used to finding all kinds of creepy-crawlies around him.
They were spending the summer at the shore, using the apartment that his best friend’s boyfriend kept as a home base for when they weren’t traveling the country performing. Lincoln and Roxy had the run of a three-bedroom apartment that took up the bottom floor of a three-story, renovated house only a few blocks from the ocean. They’d been there for a week, and while Roxy had been successful at finding a job as a waitress in a local seafood restaurant, Lincoln kept striking out.
No one wants to hire someone with your issues.
He cleaned so he didn’t have to think about it. Besides, having Dominic home for a while would make him feel less like a complete and utter failure.
Roxy’s big brother Dominic Bounds and his boyfriend Trey Cooper had been hot shit for almost a year now, after performing together at a national music competition in New York City. Their act, called Off Beat after the quirky bar where they first met, was a big hit, because they combined Dominic’s stunning talent on the violin with Trey’s singing voice and keyboard skills to create some pretty fucking awesome music.
They were also disgustingly in love, which played well to more liberal audiences. Twice Dominic reported that they’d had to cancel in the South for safety concerns.
Lincoln adored the fact that Dominic was happy and doing what he loved, even if it made Lincoln feel like a car on cinder blocks—stuck, unable to move forward, thanks to some asswipe who ran his car off the road and sent him headfirst into a telephone pole last summer.
“Don’t you have to work?” he asked.
“Not for, like, another hour, so I’m free to torment you a while longer.”
The last bit of stain came off the steel basin. Lincoln rinsed it with warm water, then surveyed his work. Perfect.
“Seriously, Dom isn’t going to care if the sink is spit-polished,” Roxy said.
“No, but I do.”
Despite the shit-tacular way his relationship with his parents had ended, Lincoln had grown up in a very well kept house. Not a speck of dust or spot of grime on anything, ever. Partly to do with his sister Mercedes’s severe mold and dust mite allergies, and partly because his parents were all about appearances, some habits died hard. Lincoln had taken care of every bad apartment he’d ever lived in with the same tenacity he was showing Trey’s kitchen.
Plus it wasn’t his place, and he didn’t want the actual tenants to think he was taking advantage of their very generous offer to live here for the summer rent- and utility-free. The only things Lincoln had to pay for were food and fun; hence the need for a job. He wasn’t going to freeload off of Dominic’s parents forever.
He was twenty-five years old, damn it. He’d been taking care of himself since he was seventeen.
A slim brown hand covered his too-pale forearm and squeezed. “Just don’t clean yourself into a migraine, okay?” Roxy said. “Then Dom will get mad at me for letting you work too hard.”
He winked, then tucked the Comet container back under the sink. “Heard and understood.”
“Dom loves you, Linc. That’s not going to go away because he’s out there performing with Trey ten months out of the year.”
“I know.” In his head, he knew it. His heart was having trouble getting on board with the idea. He and Dominic had been best friends for eight years, and they knew all of each other’s worst secrets. Almost all of them, anyway. What went unsaid sometimes left Lincoln feeling so isolated he ached from it.
Roxy pinched his biceps. “Maybe one day you’ll say it and I’ll actually believe you.”
He swatted at her, but she darted out of range.
Sink done, he turned his attention to the stove top, keeping his thoughts firmly on the task at hand. A while later Roxy shouted good-bye and the front door slammed shut. He was running a Swiffer mop over the kitchen floor when the first tiny pricks of a headache flashed behind his eyes. He put the mop away, then washed a pill down with water, hoping to stop the migraine before it started.
Fucking pain in my ass.
Around four his cell blared out with Dom’s ring tone, Off Beat’s violin cover of “My Immortal” because the song was fucking beautiful. “Hey, man, you guys still waiting to board your flight?”
“Hey, babe.” Dominic’s voice wasn’t right, even without the background noise of what had to be a crazy, crowded airport. A lot of people traveled on Memorial Day weekend, and he and Trey were supposed to be boarding a connecting flight to BWI at ATL any moment.
Supposed to be.
Lincoln’s heart plummeted. “Don’t say it.”
“I’m so sorry, Linc, but they changed our plans.”
“Just now. They got us a last-minute gig in Memphis, three shows over the weekend starting tomorrow, plus a daytime show on Memorial Day.”
Tomorrow being Friday. Lincoln swallowed back a bunch of curses, because making Dominic feel bad about the schedule change wasn’t going to help. He didn’t want Dominic to know how much he’d been looking forward to this. How much he’d needed a weekend with his brother.
“And then you start that stint in Austin all next week,” Lincoln said, proud of his even tone of voice when he was shaking inside.
“Yeah. I’m not sure when we’ll be able to get back to visit.”
“Are you sure?”
Not even a little bit. “Of course. You gotta do what you love, man.”
“I promise we’ll be down to the shore sometime this summer.”
“Shit, they called our section to board. Love you, man.”
Lincoln hung up, then gently put his phone on the couch so he didn’t fling it across the room in a fit of rage. He stared at the far wall, hands clenched, arms shaking, while he tried to keep it together. The intensity of how much he missed Dom and needed to see him, to talk to him in person instead of over Skype, hit him so hard he almost fell over.
Once the small fit passed, he texted Roxy about the change of plans, then shut off his phone. He didn’t need to see her reply text asking if he was okay. She mothered him just enough that it wasn’t smothering, but he didn’t want it. Not tonight.
With no more need to clean, he ordered a pizza, grabbed a beer from the fresh six-pack he’d forbidden Roxy from touching, and hunkered down with Netflix and his own shredded emotions.
After an entire day spent filling out applications and doing on-the-spot interviews, Lincoln was done. He was hot, sweaty, and pretty sure he’d never work again. It wasn’t even his medical issues, it seemed, as much as the fact that finding a job at the beach at the end of May was next to impossible unless you were a pretty girl or a decent line cook. Everyone started hiring help early in the spring.
Shit out of luck, as usual.
He was also riled up and kind of horny, so he took a shower, and then did something he hadn’t done all week—he went out. Specifically, he found himself staring at the fake barbershop exterior of Off Beat, a hidden gem of a club known mostly to locals because it didn’t look like a club at all. Even once you entered the strip-mall doors, the top floor was all funky couches, piped-in music, and a giant chalkboard for folks to write on with buckets of sidewalk chalk.
It always reminded Lincoln of a dormitory common room on an acid trip.
The Atlantic Bell telephone booth in the rear housed another door. This one led down a set of cement stairs to the actual club. Lincoln didn’t care that he looked like a diva wearing wraparound sunglasses in a dark bar; he needed the protection from the flashing lights or he’d be in pain within five minutes.
The small room had a U-shaped bar to the right and a sea of tables and chairs—some pub height, some shorter, all mismatched and different. The bar itself had a cheesy surfboard theme that worked for the quirky place.
The crew was setting up the stage for the eight o’clock performance, whoever that was. He hadn’t bothered to check on his way in. The owner, Beatrice Westmore, played three gigs a night at eight, ten, and midnight. Thursday was always an open-mike night, something Lincoln kind of wanted to come out for.
Maybe next week.
He’d played here once, just about a year ago, with his former band XYZ. It was the first time that he met Trey Cooper and the rest of Fading Daze—another band still out there, making music with Lincoln’s former lead singer Benji Moore. XYZ’s drummer, Tyson Reed, had kind of faded off the radar, occasionally poking his head onto social media to say hi, but that was it.
The place wasn’t too crowded yet, so Lincoln snagged a spot at the bar. He vaguely recognized both the male and female bartenders from last year. It didn’t take long before the guy, a hot number with spiky black hair and very sharp cheekbones, asked what he was drinking.
“What local on tap would you recommend?” Lincoln replied.
The bartender winked, then grabbed an empty glass. He returned a moment later with a pale ale with a light head. “Tab?”
He didn’t plan on getting wasted, but it was easier than sliding his debit card over and over. Not that he had an endless amount of money in there, either. He hated knowing every penny in his account was a gift from Dominic’s parents and tried to use as little as possible. Tonight he needed to fucking unwind.
“You look familiar, man,” the bartender said while he mixed another drink order. Just Lincoln’s luck he sat near the man’s workstation. “Been here before?”
“About a year ago.”
“Thanks.” Lincoln sipped his beer. Perfectly chilled, malty with a nice, crisp finish. Not bad. “What is this?”
“Dogfish Head,” the guy replied without looking up from his garnishes. “Firefly Ale.”
“Weird name.” But a good beer.
Hot Bartender handed off his two drinks, then took cash to the register. On his way back, he said, “Named it after a local music festival.”
Ah-ha, that made sense. Lincoln had been to the Firefly Music Festival two years ago as part of the general audience, and it had been amazing. It had also been a dream of his to see XYZ perform there, and that wasn’t happening ever.
He hummed a few verses of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” while he sipped his beer and crowd-watched. Groups of women at the tables, a scattering of guys. Eight was pretty early for the typical bar crowd, and he had no idea if the place attracted a lot of queer patrons. Lincoln was just as interested in the music as in a physical talent search.
His phone buzzed with a text alert. Photo from Dominic. Cute selfie of him and Trey outside of some Memphis bar advertising Bar-B-Q in bright neon.
Hope you guys have a redneck set for that crowd.
He sent a thumbs-up emoji as reply.
Movement right in front of him made Lincoln jump and nearly elbow his drink. The male bartender was grinning at him while wiping a glass with a towel. “Thought I recognized you, man.”
Lincoln raised an eyebrow.
“You were in that band XYZ,” the bartender went on. His smile faded away. “Shit. You were in that accident, right?”
“Yeah, I was in that accident.” Lincoln held his temper, waiting for the pity or the sad looks, questions about his general health.
The guy surprised him by offering his hand. “Van Holt.”
Lincoln shook. “Lincoln West.”
“Look, next one’s on me, okay?” Van pointed at his half-empty glass.
“I appreciate it, thanks.”
Van went about his work, smoothly dancing around the back of the bar with a short female. He had a seriousness about him that gave his angular face an almost angry look, but he smiled and flirted with his customers, lining his pockets with tip money. Lincoln no longer trusted his gaydar after getting it blown to pieces by Trey coming out last summer, so he shelved Van under Undetermined.
The eight o’clock act ended up being a girl with a guitar doing folksy renditions of pop hits. She wasn’t awful, but Lincoln wasn’t sure that anything other than local stages were in her future. He spent most of her set picking apart her arrangements and redoing them in his head on a guitar he could no longer play.
Not that he’d forgotten how or had lost control over his hands from the concussion. Traumatic brain injuries were crazy tricky, and for some reason that his neurologist could not explain, the vibrations of the guitar strings made him dizzy. It sucked ass, because he loved guitar. It had been his focus instrument since he was ten years old, and now his sat in its case in a closet at the Bounds house. Doing nothing.
Should’ve pawned the damned thing.
A slinky female number in a tight blue dress eased onto the empty stool next to his, angled toward him. “What are you doing out all alone on a Friday night?” she asked.
Lincoln leaned his elbow against the bar, too bored to shut her down right away. “Nothing much. Listening to some music. Enjoying a local brew. You?”
“Same. Except I don’t seem to have a drink to enjoy.”
Oh yeah, she was hustling him for a drink. But Lincoln didn’t swing that way, and he wasn’t wasting good money on something he had no hopes of banging later tonight. “You might want to get on that, then.”
She pulled out her very best pout. “Someone’s not feeling generous tonight.”
“Someone’s not fishing for your brand of talent tonight.”
“And what brand is that?”
“Seriously?” She dropped the pout and just looked . . . tired. “You’re gay?”
“Why can I never flirt with the right people? Why?”
Lincoln laughed. “I don’t know you well enough to make a guess about that one, sorry.”
“Don’t be.” His companion flagged down Van and ordered a vodka sour. “Melody.”
“My name. Melody Thompson.”
“Lincoln West.” His second introduction in less than an hour. Maybe he wasn’t so bad at this socializing thing.
Van returned with Melody’s drink. She immediately ate the cherry garnish. “So, how come someone as hot as you doesn’t have a boyfriend?”
Lincoln blinked. Despite Roxy’s blunt nature, he wasn’t used to hanging around chicks who said whatever was on their mind. It was kind of refreshing, given the way most people in his life treated him—like they wanted to wrap him in bubble wrap so he didn’t fall over and break. “You’re not so bad-looking yourself,” he replied. “How come someone as hot as you doesn’t have a boyfriend?”
“I’m too picky, I guess. Plus, you know, this tendency I have of sniffing the wrong tree.”
He wasn’t sure that was the right metaphor, but whatever. “Ever try online dating?”
“I’m not that desperate yet.”
She sipped her drink, and Lincoln took the pause in conversation to study her. Melody had a pleasantly round face, no sharp angles, and plump lips perfectly shaped with lipstick. Just enough makeup to accent her eyes and cheekbones without being over-the-top. Curly dark hair that barely brushed her shoulders. Slim body with not a lot of curves, small tits she made the most of with that tight dress. Someone tonight would definitely want to hit that.
Just not him.
“Want to man-watch together?” Melody asked.
“Sure, why not?” Dominic would be so proud of him for making a friend. Even if only for a few hours of bar conversation. “You have a type?”
She winked. “Blond.”
He ran a hand through his unkempt blond hair that was probably a month past needing a decent trim. “Shocking.”
The words “tall, dark, and biracial” lingered on the tip of Lincoln’s tongue, but he kept them to himself. Despite the fact that Dominic was madly in love with Trey, and that Lincoln hadn’t had a sexual relationship with Dominic since they were teenagers, a part of Lincoln had remained in love with Dominic since he was seventeen. Every guy he dated got compared to Dominic, every prospect falling short of expectations until Lincoln gave up on dating and focused on his music. Casual fucks became the norm, and he kept his long-distance crush to himself.
He and Dominic would always be friends and brothers, but that was it, and Lincoln needed to move on. “I’m not too picky,” Lincoln replied.
They both spun their stools around and spent the next half hour critiquing every guy in the place. Some talent existed, but they were either on the arm of another girl or in a clinch with another dude. As the time wore closer to the ten o’clock act, the bar filled with more people and Lincoln was halfway into his fourth beer. Probably not a great idea, considering he’d taken his depression meds later in the day than usual, but whatever. He was out having fun for a change.
His lips also felt a little numb from all the alcohol, so he tapped a finger against them.
Both still there.
He also found himself stupidly curious about his drinking companion. “So are you local or on vacation?” Lincoln asked.
“New transplant.” Melody had only just ordered her second vodka sour, and she stirred it with the tiny straw. At least Dom would have been matching him beer for beer. “I moved to the area about a month ago.”
“Onley, Virginia. Tiny town on the lower shore. You?”
“Here for the summer.”
“Where do you live when it’s not summer?”
“I’ve never been.”
“What?” Lincoln stared at her in genuine horror. Philly was the best city within a three-hour driving radius. “Now that’s a damned shame. I’ll have to show you around sometime.”
“I guess you will now that you’ve offered.” She tapped at her phone, then turned it around. “Give me your digits.” He did, and she immediately shot him a text. “There, now I can bug you until you do take me.”
He laughed, then finished off his beer. The alcohol gave the world a nice, fuzzy edge. All of his problems were far away, no longer haunting his every step. He liked the fuzzy.
He liked the fuzzy so much he almost missed the appearance of a new face behind the bar. Younger than Van, with a slim, almost twinkish frame and thick, dark hair. Adorable face with a serious expression. He dumped a container of lime wedges into the bin at Van’s station, head ducked in a way that said “Don’t notice me.”
Lincoln couldn’t stop noticing him. He stared so hard the guy must have felt it, because he looked up. Pale eyes met his, and something inside of Lincoln sat up and took notice. Except the object of his attention looked away fast and practically bolted from behind the bar.
Fucking sunglasses. Probably couldn’t tell I was totally cruising him.
His issue all night, he was sure of it. He couldn’t hold eye contact when guys couldn’t fucking see his eyes.
He sensed the warm body near his before the hand gently brushed his hip. Lincoln swiveled away from Melody, toward tall, blond, and stacked. The new guy leaned against the bar on his elbow, his free hand drifting to Lincoln’s knee. The bar back’s pale eyes lingered in his memory, but this guy wasn’t running like a startled deer.
“Hey,” Lincoln said.
“Hey, yourself.” That hand inched a bit higher. “Don’t think I’ve seen you here before.”
“First time in a while.” His dick started paying attention to the pressure on his leg. “Didn’t feel like staying in tonight.”
Lincoln leaned in, angling his head, hoping to make his intentions clear. “I’m not opposed to calling it an early night if I have someone to take home with me.”
“You taking them home for anything in particular?”
His lips were inches from the guy’s ear when Lincoln said, “So we can fuck.”
Tonight’s talent shivered, then said, “Sounds good to me. Let’s get out of here.”
(c) A.M. Arthur 2016
Tuesday, June 7, 2016
With the release of BODY ROCKS only three weeks away, here's a sneak peek at Dominic and Trey. These two guys were so hot for each other from the moment they met that they couldn't wait past chapter two to go at it. So consider this post NSFW.
In the very best way.
“Coop, I will pay you twenty dollars if you go out and get laid already,” Danielle said.
Trey Cooper nearly dropped the glass baking dish he was trying to slide into the dishwasher among too many other dirty dishes. The overload was thanks to Danielle’s bright idea to cook for nine people tonight. His best friend and roommate was blunt, probably to a fault and sometimes to her social detriment, but once in a while she managed to outblunt herself.
And his initial shock gave way to faint horror. He glanced at the archway that led into the living room where their other roommate, Bobby, was hanging with their dinner guests.
Okay--neighbors. For whatever reason, Danielle had decided she needed to cook for the other six people who lived on the other two floors of the rental house they all shared. On a whim. On a Thursday.
“Could you say that louder, please?” Trey snapped, his voice way quieter than hers, because the whole house didn’t need to know his business.
She ran a saucepan under the faucet. “What? It’s not like I said get laid for your first time.”
He rolled his eyes and shoved the baking dish into the rack. “Again, say it a little louder.”
“Maybe it will help you calm down. You’ve been bouncing around the house like a tweaking squirrel, and it’s not helping anyone’s nerves. Bobby’s working on it.”
“Oh, great. No problem. Bobby’s working on it.” Sarcasm, check. He took the saucepan and wedged it in next to the baking dish. “I don’t see how going hookup hunting is going to calm me down. We only have three weeks to find a new drummer and get them familiar with the music.”
“I know!” She smacked him in the chest with a wet hand. “And stop sounding so negative about the whole thing. Positive energy only, or you’re going to jinx us.”
“I don’t do positive energy, I do—”
“Realistic expectations, yes, I know. Loser.”
He grinned. This was the Danielle he knew and loved. He grabbed a detergent pod from beneath the sink and set the washer. Busywork only distracted him for so long, and then the fear and doubts crept back in. Fear of not finding another percussionist for Fading Daze in time for the regional Unbound competition in three weeks, and doubt over this hypothetical person being able to learn the set they’d perfected two months ago when they sent in their audition for initial online entry into the festival.
And after two months of watching their ranking online and praying the secret jury of judges liked them, Fading Daze got their invitation to the Midatlantic region’s festival three days ago. They’d placed in the top ten in indie rock—the max number of winners from each of the eight categories.
After they all went out and got crazy drunk celebrating, Trey freaked the fuck out for about three hours, because their entire set was his music. His original songs.
Everything was riding on Unbound. A $100,000 recording contract was what Trey had dreamed of since he was fifteen years old, and for their band to win would be the biggest, best fuck-you to his father that he could imagine.
Except yesterday Tyson, their percussionist for the entire two years Fading Daze had existed, walked away. No explanation. Nothing. Gone. Asshole even blocked them all on Twitter and Instagram.
Trey pushed the angry, ugly thoughts away so they didn’t totally ruin his mood tonight. He’d put up with extra people at dinner and answered the questions asked, but if the need for speaking didn’t have something to do with promoting the band, he’d rather be in his room, alone with a blank songbook. Bobby was the social butterfly of the group; Trey redefined the word “introvert.”
Danielle dried her hands, then flung the damp dish towel into the sink. Trey grabbed it and hung it on the ring haphazardly nailed to the wall above the sink. The old beach house was falling apart in some places, and the owners didn’t care if they did minor self-repairs.
“Look, if you don’t want to go out hunting, just go out,” she said. “Hang out at Off Beat, listen to some music. Eat crab dip until you explode.”
He didn’t immediately shoot that idea down. Off Beat was one of the few bars in the bustling beach resort area that catered mostly to locals, with only a handful of tourists finding their way inside. For one thing, the place looked like an old-fashioned barbershop on the outside. It was also two blocks off the main strip, tucked into a building that also housed a nail salon and an Asian market.
Trey had discovered Off Beat through a friend, and he’d fallen in love. The upstairs was a kitschy entertainment room, with the bar and stage downstairs in a finished basement. They hosted all sorts of local entertainment, from bands to poetry slams to fiction readings. And their crab dip was the best on the shore.
He bar-backed there on weekends to help supplement his part-time job clerking at a bike-rental shop on the boardwalk. Fading Daze even had a standing gig to play live shows one Saturday night a month, where they debuted any new songs that he wrote.
“You know what’s going on tonight?” Trey asked. One night he’d wandered in on a whim, only to be assaulted by a woman reading an erotic sex poem about a man and woman, and he’d fled the premises. Maybe if she’d been reading about two dudes getting it on, he’d have stayed, but dripping pussies were not his thing.
“Nope.” She sprayed down the kitchen table with cleaner. “Isn’t Thursday usually an open-mike thing?”
“So go. Maybe you’ll hear something that will inspire you.”
“Or make me run away weeping.”
She laughed while she scrubbed at some leftover mess on the old table’s scarred wood surface. Danielle was anal about keeping the kitchen spotless. No other area of the house, except the kitchen. Bobby said it had to do with them having a lot of ant infestations in the kitchen when they were kids.
Trey stopped teasing her about it after she showed him YouTube videos of real homes infested by ants, because yeah. Gross.
“Okay, maybe going out is a good idea.” Trey glanced at his clothes. Red sleeveless tee and board shorts. Basic uniform for summer. He liked blending in with the tourists. Made people less likely to stop him and ask for directions. He wasn’t the goddamn visitors’ center.
“Put some liner on,” Danielle said.
“No.” He saved that for performances, and only because she demanded it. He had green eyes and really thick, girly eyelashes, and Danielle swore the liner made him even sexier, especially to his female fans.
What he really wanted to know was how sexy it made him to his male fans, because that was his target audience.
“Spoilsport,” she said.
He found his phone under a pile of old music magazines. Plenty of charge to get him through to the end of the evening. He slipped into a pair of red flip-flops, then tucked his earbuds in and cued up Katy Perry’s latest. Always music when he was walking. Outside, the humid June air settled around him like a hot, icky blanket. Only a week into the month, and it felt like August already.
The tang of salt from the nearby ocean tickled his nose. He loved that scent. He’d loved it from the first family vacation here when he was six years old, and he’d loved it even more when he left home two years ago and moved in with Danielle and Bobby.
Alexandria could suck it.
Their house was six blocks from Off Beat. Not a bad walk now that the sun was setting, casting a lot of towering hotel shadows on the very packed, very busy sidewalks. He moved to the music in his ear, darting around idling cars and skipping over curbs, existing in the two songs that carried him to his destination.
An actual red-and-white-striped pole rotated next a small, hard-to-read sign that simply said “Off Beat” in blocky text. Nothing fancy, nothing to draw attention, except for the constant open and shut of the door, the stream of male and female patrons, and the squad of twenty-somethings loitering outside smoking thanks to Maryland law.
He returned greetings from several chicks he knew by face, but not by name. Fading Daze had a very loyal fan base in the area, and the females always seemed to be divided into two groups: the girls who shipped him and Danielle in some fantasy romance they weren’t having, and the girls who hated Danielle because of this fantasy romance they weren’t having.
Poor Dani, because damn, chicks could be vicious.
The main floor was an actual, converted barbershop. All of the chairs and mirrors remained in place, but instead of wheeled equipment carts and racks of products, the faded tile floor hosted mismatched couches and armchairs that patrons moved around at will. The rear wall was all chalkboard paint, with tubs of sidewalk chalk available to use. The owner’s only rule was “No Fucking Cussing,” which was painted at the top of the board. Jazzy music was piped out over half a dozen speakers.
He threaded his way through the packed upstairs to the repurposed Atlantic Bell phone booth at the back of the room. The back of the phone booth was another door, like an entrance to an old-time speakeasy, and led to the cement steps down to the basement. The moment Trey opened that door, male a cappella voices drifted up, doing a barely passable arrangement of “We Are Young.”
Two girls in bikini tops and short-shorts were ascending the stairs. He leaned into the wall to give them room to pass, then continued down.
The bar was as eclectic as the upstairs. No single set of tables and chairs was the same. Some regular table height, some counter or bar height, most of them painted bright colors. The small U-shaped bar was made out of old surfboards, with fake potted palm trees on each end. The stage in the rear was painted to resemble an open clamshell that reminded him of that famous painting of Venus.
For all the tourist-trap features, nothing about Off Beat felt faked or overdone. It was comfortable.
“Trey! You picking up an extra shift?” Dina bumped his hip with hers, all while balancing a tray full of food meant for one of her tables.
“Nah, here for the open mike.”
“I think we’re full up on tables, but there’s probably a spot at the bar for you.”
She sashayed off to the deliver the food. Dina, like most of the staff, had been there since Off Beat opened twelve years ago, which meant she knew everyone.
He found a seat at the bar facing the stage. Sasha was creating something in a metal shaker. She nodded in his direction, acknowledging his arrival like the pro she was. He admired Sasha because she was an out and proud lesbian, while he still hid behind untrue gossip about himself and Danielle in order to maintain their band’s growing image.
Sasha usually worked the weekends with him, so she mixed him up a virgin strawberry daiquiri without him asking. He was only twenty for a few more weeks. She plunked the drink down with two extra strawberry garnishes.
“Anything from the kitchen?” she asked.
As much as he worshipped their crab dip with soft pretzels, he was stuffed from dinner. “Maybe later, thanks.”
“Anything you need, Coop.”
She chased down another drink order. He sipped his daiquiri, and the sharp flavor of rum made him do a double take.
Classic Sasha, sneaking a little in for him.
The a cappella group wound down. Beatrice Westmore, the manager of the place and the woman who’d helped give Fading Daze their first real platform, stepped up to the microphone. “How about another round of applause for the boys of Pipe Dreams?”
Trey groaned at the awful name, but dutifully clapped for the departing quintet.
“Okay, folks,” Beatrice continued once the scattered applause ended. Open mike could be a tough crowd. One of the tech crew moved behind her, setting up a Yamaha keyboard. “We have someone new to Off Beat tonight. He’s got a little something different, and I think you’re going to like it. How about a warm Beat welcome for Dominic B?”
The gentle applause rose in tempo as a lean, copper-skinned figure walked onstage with a violin case in one hand. Trey paid attention, his breath catching at the sight of the Latin god standing behind the Yamaha. Dark eyes, black hair tousled up with product, a hint of scruff on his chin. Fit body poured into tight black jeans and a skintight white sleeveless tee that showed hints of tattoos on that coppery skin. Somewhere in Trey’s age bracket, for sure, and goddamn but he was pretty.
“Careful, Coop, you’re drooling,” Sasha said as she reached near him for a lime wedge.
He snapped his mouth shut but couldn’t stop staring, totally uncaring of the comment because Sasha wasn’t a gossip.
Dominic didn’t go up to the mike. He produced a shiny violin from the case. Trey wasn’t familiar with violin makers but it looked expensive. And the Yamaha did not belong to the bar. Dominic fiddled with the strings, then set the violin to rest on his shoulder. He touched a button on the Yamaha, and an onboard rock beat began to play.
He took a step to the side, into a more open area of the stage, touched bow to strings, and began to play. The bow danced over the strings, creating a beautiful melody that Trey had trouble placing at first. Then it hit him. Dominic was re-creating “Single Ladies” in a unique way that had musical notes dancing in front of Trey’s eyes, mapping the arrangement Dominic had chosen to stand out from the basic percussion beat from the keyboard.
Dominic seduced his audience with a violin, of all fucking instruments. Trey knew his way around a piano and various kinds of guitars, no problem. He had little use for other strings, including something as tiny as a violin. He associated them with classical music or bluegrass. Not songs like “Single Ladies,” which was melting into something else. . . .
Trey closed his eyes and allowed the music to flow through him.
“Shake It Off.”
He snapped his eyes open, hand jerking hard enough to slosh his drink. Taylor’s lyrics popped into his head along with the melody Dominic expertly created with an instrument that Trey was slowly starting to adore. Whoever Dominic B was, and wherever he was from, the boy possessed an incredible gift. He played that violin like they were one being, urging out chords that made Trey want to weep for their perfection.
Why the hell was a guy this good playing open-mike nights in southern Maryland?
Trey was transfixed, not only by the amazing music but by the performer himself. He played with eyes closed, both hands a blur as they expertly created the music. The violin sang the lyrics to the audience. Dominic smiled throughout, so into the music that the crowd might as well not be there.
Taylor merged into “Just the Way You Are” so perfectly that Trey didn’t notice until he was humming along with Bruno’s lyrics. A table of girls nearby actually started singing out loud, and Trey nearly told them to shut up. Dominic didn’t need any backup.
Dominic finished the song with a flourish, then turned off the Yamaha. Trey leapt to his feet, applauding so hard his palms ached. The noise was thunderous, everyone standing. The bashful smile Dominic gave the audience made Trey’s heart flip.
Beatrice appeared onstage next to him, clapping, cheeks stained red. Trey knew that look—the look that said “We’ve got something special here.” She’d had that look the first time Fading Daze played for her.
“Now that was something special, wasn’t it?” she said into the mike. “Dominic B, ladies and gentlemen.”
More applause was joined by various shouts of “Encore!” “Play more!” “Don’t stop!”
“I think they like you, honey,” Beatrice said.
Dominic leaned forward, his expression so adorkably awkward. “I, ah, only practiced those three with that baseline. I haven’t done this in a long time.” His voice was smooth and deep, rolling over Trey like a gentle tide.
Her face went hawkish. “What if I found you an accompanist? Care to do a little freestyling?”
He glanced out into the audience, but likely couldn’t see many faces thanks to the lights. “Um, maybe.”
She shielded her eyes with her hand and scanned the crowd. “Earlier I spied with my little eyes a house favorite in the audience. Coop? Get your perky little ass up onstage.”
On the rare occasions when Beatrice called for one of her regular musicians to come up and help someone out, and when it was Trey he usually grumbled his way to the stage. Tonight he bolted, stomach twisting into nervous knots.
“There he is,” she said. “Mr. Trey Cooper.”
Trey strolled to the center of the ten-foot stage, waving at the audience. Someone even shouted out, “Go Coop!”
“Coop here is an excellent pianist,” Beatrice said. “And we all know Dominic is wicked with that violin. I think they’ll make some beautiful music, don’t you all?”
Cheers erupted. Trey soaked them in, taking the energy they gave him and amping himself up for an impromptu performance. He shook Dominic’s offered hand. The first brush of skin on skin was electric, buzzing up his arm like static. Dominic’s eyebrows arched. He met Trey’s eyes, and oh yeah, this was going to be fun.
Beatrice exited stage left.
“So what do you know?” Dominic asked, his voice caught by the mike even though he wasn’t speaking directly into it.
Trey grinned. “What do you know?” A better idea struck him, and he leaned toward the mike. “What do you guys want to hear?”
Everything from Beyoncé to Bon Jovi barraged them.
“Man crush!” Dominic said suddenly. “Who said Adam Lambert? You’re my hero.”
“Heroine!” someone in the audience shouted.
“My girl.” He looked at Trey. “‘Whataya Want from Me’?”
Trey grinned. “Oh yeah. You gonna start?”
This was going to be fun. Trey got behind the keyboard. Piaggero series. He was familiar enough with those to bring up the guitar voice. That would sound way cooler with Dominic’s violin than basic piano. He warmed up with a few chords from one of his own songs, “Familiar at Last,” and that got a wolf whistle from a fan.
“You ready, Coop?” Dominic asked.
Trey glanced up into playful brown eyes, so dark they were almost black. “Ready. You lead.”
Dominic shouldered his violin, pulled a few notes, then paused. He closed his eyes and drew the bow across the strings, ripping out the opening chords. Trey matched his tempo and joined in, fingers dancing across the keys, hitting all of the right notes. They didn’t blend perfectly—no one did their first time performing together cold—but it was pretty damned great.
Instead of Dominic keeping his eyes closed like he had when playing solo, his attention was firmly on Trey whenever Trey glanced up from the keys. The intense focus stirred something deep inside of Trey. Whatever it was he liked it, and he put it into his performance. He even found himself singing along. He’d performed this a number of times with Fading Daze, doing both vocals and acoustic guitar.
He liked this better.
And he didn’t notice when exactly the mike appeared in front of him, or when his voice joined the jam for real, but the audience went kind of nuts. They kept going nuts for a few minutes after the song actually ended.
Dominic gave a little half bow that was all kinds of adorable, that shy smile back now that he wasn’t lost in the music.
Trey didn’t want it to end. “You up for one more?” he asked into the mike.
“Whatcha got in mind?” The shy smile went all kinds of devilish once it turned on Trey. “You know All-American Rejects?”
His brain spun through the dozen or so songs of theirs he knew somewhat well. Working the violin in would be the challenge. “‘Mona Lisa’?”
Dominic winked. “Sounds good. Never done it on the strings but I can figure it out.”
And figure it out he did. Trey kept the guitar voice on the keyboard, because that really was a guitar kind of song and he could make it work. He made it through the first verse and into the chorus before Dominic joined in, pulling smooth notes from his strings and bow and fingering.
More than the music this time, the words echoed in Trey’s mind.
He wouldn’t mind having Dominic with him for a while longer, and he was absolutely stealing his attention once they were done performing. He needed to know where this musical genius had been hiding all of his life.
At the end of that song, Trey came out from behind the keyboard to match Dominic’s half bow. Beatrice came up and gave them both big hugs before stealing the mike. Trey shook himself all over, his adrenaline up, not ready for this to be over.
“Well, that was certainly a memorable duet,” Beatrice said. “And as much as I hate to break up this brand-new partnership, we still have some folks waiting to get their chance in the spotlight. So how about another hand for Coop and Dominic B?”
Dominic waved one more time, then started packing his violin away in its case. Tech guy Danny came up and took down the keyboard. Trey hung off to the side so he could snatch the keyboard case from Danny. He needed a way to start a conversation, because that was so not his strong suit. Dominic joined him at the bottom of the stage steps, violin case tucked close to his chest.
“That was a lot of fun,” Dominic said.
“Yeah it was.” Trey searched hard for a compliment that wouldn’t make him sound like a dork. “You’re really good onstage. You know how to play to a crowd.”
“I would hope so. I’ve been performing since I was six.”
“Wow, really?” A tiny bit of jealousy prickled over his skin. “It shows.”
“Thanks.” That cute shyness stole over Dominic again. “You were pretty amazing yourself. I don’t do a lot of improv performance, especially with guys I don’t know.”
“So get to know me.” Trey silently prayed he was reading the guy right.
“Yeah?” Dominic’s dark eyes roamed up and down, taking stock, and yes, Trey had read him right. “You don’t have any place to be?”
“Only place I have to be is wherever you’re going.”
That sharp, feral grin from onstage returned. “I need to take my instruments back to the hotel first.”
Dominic laughed, a deep, velvet sound that rippled over Trey. “Don’t get any ideas. I’m sharing it with three other guys who may or may not be there.”
“Bummer. I’d invite you to my place, but I live with, like, eight other people. Technically my apartment is with two, but the whole rental is like a frat house, and there’s no real privacy.”
Something flickered in Dominic’s eyes. “Then let’s drop off my stuff, and we’ll go from there. It’s not like the city’s shutting down anytime soon. I’m sure we can get into some kind of trouble.”
“Count on it.”
As they made their way through the club, Trey made a mental note to thank Danielle for insisting he go out. He had a good feeling that this impromptu visit to Off Beat was going to have a very, very happy ending.
Dom silently cursed two things on the short walk to Lincoln’s car. First, that one or all of his three bandmates could be back at the hotel room and give him a hard time about picking up a guy at an open mike. Second, that tonight was his last night on the shore. XYZ had played the three different gigs that had brought them to town, and they’d budgeted out one more night just to hang at the boardwalk before returning home to Philadelphia tomorrow morning.
He’d known Coop for all of thirty minutes, but he already liked the guy. He knew his way around a keyboard, and he had a beautiful voice. Like Bruno Mars and James Blunt got together and had a love child. That was Coop’s voice.
It also didn’t hurt that Coop looked like a younger, less goth version of Adam Lambert. Thick brown hair, big green eyes, gorgeously high cheekbones. His skin was so smooth he looked airbrushed, and he’d radiated with a boyish kind of joy while singing. Everything about him appealed to Dom, and he couldn’t wait to see that toned body naked.
Maybe his bandmates wouldn’t be at the hotel. It was still earlyish, and if they were boozing it up on the boardwalk, they probably wouldn’t tumble back into the room until late. Still, Dom was crazy private about his sex life, and even though all three of his bandmates were also gay, he didn’t want anyone stumbling over him and Coop getting it on.
Lincoln’s beat-up Dodge was parked in the far corner of the shadowy parking lot. Dom shoved the key into the trunk and snapped it open. “You can put the keyboard in there,” he said.
Coop obliged without a remark about the piece of shit Dom had borrowed. His hotel was only ten blocks up, and while the Yamaha wasn’t super heavy, he’d called dibs on the car because the ocean air was bad for his violin. The other guys got to use Shore Transit. Snagging the car while avoiding telling them why exactly he needed it had been a fun song and dance.
Dom tucked his violin case onto the rear driver’s-side floor. Lincoln always gave him a hard time about how much he babied that thing, but it was over a hundred years old and cost more than they’d made since founding XYZ nearly four years ago. Dom’s parents would kill him dead if it got broken or damaged.
“So which hotel are you at?” Coop asked.
“Sand Dune, seaside.” Dom unlocked the passenger door with the key, passing close enough to Coop to smell his cologne. Spicy and warm.
“I know it.”
“I figured.” He circled the front of the car to his side. “Beatrice pulled you out of the crowd, so I take it you’re a local.”
“Moved here a few years ago. Before that we spent a lot of family vacations down here.”
They both got into the car. Dom winced at the way the bucket seat squealed. At least the engine roared smoothly to life.
“Your car?” Coop asked.
“My best friend’s car. He’s all super proud of it because he fished it out of a dump and restored it.”
Coop made a show of inspecting the cracked interior seating. “This is restored?”
He laughed. “Well, maybe not the insides so much but the engine is all brand-new. He does street racing with it sometimes. Getting him to let me borrow it tonight was a fight.”
“And him is who?”
Oh, right, Coop didn’t know his friends. “My best friend Lincoln.”
“His name is really Lincoln?”
“Yeah, his dad might have been a little car-crazy. He’s got a little sister named Mercedes, and they aren’t even Latin.”
This time Coop laughed. The sound was high-pitched, but forceful. He wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous, but his smile was boyishly charming and he had bewitching eyes. Like he was always telling a funny story in his head and trying not to giggle.
“So how long are you in town?” Coop asked.
“We go back tomorrow morning.”
“Well shit, that sucks.”
Dom very much agreed. He eased out into the southbound traffic. “Yeah, the vacation can’t last forever.”
“Not unless you live here. Except in winter, of course. Then it’s boring as hell.”
“I bet.” The part of Dom that had been horny ever since Coop joined him onstage wanted to skip the small talk, find a dark alley somewhere, and get to business. Another part of him, the one that had felt an actual fucking spark when they shook hands, was enjoying the “getting to know you” part of their time together. And that was pretty atypical of Dom, who was a no-fuss, get-his-rocks-off kind of guy.
“It’s June, though, so you’re not here for spring break.”
Coop was fishing. Trying to figure out why he was here with a couple of friends in the early days of summer. Dom could explain why, but he didn’t want to tell Coop about the band. Usually he couldn’t wait to advertise and spread the word. Tonight it wasn’t about the band.
His performance hadn’t been about getting their name out there. It had been a much more personal, therapeutic thing for him. For the first time in six years, he’d pulled bow across strings in front of a live, nondigital audience. He’d played the instrument that felt like an extension of his very being for people again, and the response had been overwhelming. For twenty minutes or so, he’d been able to make beautiful music with his violin and nothing about it had made him sick to his stomach. Nothing had reminded him of his last public performance with his violin.
“Dude, red light!”
Dom smashed on the brakes, stopping the car two feet from crashing into the idling SUV in front of him. He hadn’t noticed the red light.
Coop stared at him from the passenger seat, a little saucer-eyed. “You want me to drive?”
“Sorry, I got lost in thought.” Dom stared at the red brake lights in front of him, his face hot, feeling like a total tool.
“Yeah, maybe save that for when you’re not driving, okay? I’d like to make it to my twenty-first birthday, thank you very much.”
Dom filed that tidbit of information away. Coop was only a year or two younger, roughly in the age range he’d guessed. The under-twenty-one made hitting up a bar difficult, but there were other things they could do together.
“Seriously,” Coop said. “I know we’re in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but you should at least be able to see the back wheels of the car in front of you.”
He side-eyed his passenger even as he eased up on the gas. “Have you always been a side-seat driver?”
Coop shrugged and turned his head away. “I was in a bad accident a few years ago. I don’t really like riding in cars. Here I can pretty much walk anywhere I need to go.”
“Sorry, man.” He couldn’t blame Coop for being jumpy. Dom knew all about PTSD reactions to bad shit. “Why don’t you live in DC or New York? They at least have subways.”
Coop turned his head back, grinning. Cute, even with all kinds of random neon lights splashing patterns on his face. “They don’t have the ocean.”
“So this your first time here?”
“Second. I came down for a week with my family a long time ago. I was like five or six, I think. My parents didn’t like to take us to the same place twice for summer vacation. Said we needed variety and to experience different parts of the country.”
“Does ‘we’ include siblings?”
“Yup.” Dom had the weirdest urge to whip out his phone and show off pictures of his mismatched siblings. He never did that with hookups, because it led to larger explanations. Hell, sometimes with his hookups they barely exchanged names before getting down to business. “Three sisters and a brother.”
“Five of you? Damn, your parents were busy.”
He had no reason to tell Coop that each one of them was adopted. But he wanted to. “I was never bored,” he said instead. “You?”
“I’m bored all the time.”
He lightly punched Coop in the shoulder. “Do you have siblings.”
“Only child.” The way his mouth pinched up suggested not a fun topic.
The hotel’s blue and white sign appeared in the distance, about a block away. They didn’t talk the rest of the ride, and Dom was extra careful making a left turn through summer beach traffic, even with a green arrow. Instead of pulling into the garage, he double-parked near the main entrance. “I’ll run everything up and be back in a few,” Dom said.
“Cool.” Coop stuck in a pair of purple earbuds. “I’ll be here.”
The keyboard case was extra heavy with one hand, and he probably could have left that in the trunk, but he didn’t want to risk a six-hundred-dollar piece of equipment getting stolen. So he hefted that and his violin to the elevator. As expected, the room was empty. It reeked of beer and yesterday’s supreme pizza. The windows weren’t the kind that opened, so he jacked up the air-conditioning.
It was barely eleven, and the room was predictably still empty. The bed was tempting, but he had a funny feeling that finding a private place to fuck in this town was going to be an adventure worth experiencing.
He dug into Linc’s bag for a condom and a lube sachet. Dom hadn’t expected to get laid during their stay on the shore, but Lincoln went everywhere prepared. “Never miss an opportunity to enjoy yourself” was his life philosophy. Dom checked himself in the mirror. No unexpected zits. Hair still perfectly gelled. He needed to shave but whatever. Coop probably wouldn’t care. Some guys enjoyed a little beard burn. Dom certainly wasn’t opposed to a little extra heat between his cheeks, and the mental image of Coop rimming him sent blood right to his dick.
Walking through a hotel lobby with a hard-on was never fun, but Dom still made it back to the car in record time. Coop pulled the earbuds out as soon as Dom’s ass hit the fractured leather driver’s seat. “So where to?” Dom asked, resisting the urge to adjust himself. “Since you’re the local, I figure you know the best spots.”
“How do you feel about go-karts?”
His answer was going to get him made fun of, Dom had no doubt. “I have no real feelings about them because I’ve never actually driven one.”
Coop’s exaggerated shock made him look like an outraged kid. “What rock did you grow up under?”
“Hey now. Don’t mock my hometown rock. I drove a stock car on an actual NASCAR track once.”
“Yeah. My dad knew a guy. Me and my two older siblings. We couldn’t go over forty, but whatever.”
For some reason, that left Coop in a kind of giggle-snort fit that was insanely appealing. Everything about Coop was appealing, from his thickly lashed green eyes to the small scar on his chin, and especially the faint hint of dimples when he smiled. “So you want to do go-karts?” Dom asked once Coop got control of himself. “I thought you didn’t like riding in cars.”
“Real cars. Go-karts have rubber bumpers and are almost impossible to crash.”
“Sort of like bumper cars at a fair?”
“Yeah, but with wheels and a longer track. I know a guy who manages one. He can get us in for free.”
Dom grinned. “A cheap date. I like it. Point the way.”
“Go back out to the light and head south. All the way down past First Street.”
With traffic the drive would take about ten minutes. Dom was crazy curious about Coop, but he wasn’t sure how personal the guy wanted to get. Family was definitely off-limits as a topic of conversation.
Coop helped him out by asking, “So how many instruments do you actually play?”
“How many do I play? Or how many do I play well?”
“Seriously? I know you’re a fucking prodigy on the violin, and seem to know your way around a Yamaha.”
“I love strings. Violin is absolutely my first love, but I’m really good with the piano and classical guitar.”
“I’m more of a bass man, myself.”
“Yeah? You play anything else, or just lure guys in with your voice?”
Coop laughed, but didn’t answer. “So what do you play, but not well?”
“Damn. When did you find time to go to school and sleep?”
Dark memories from high school tried slithering into the front of Dom’s mind from the far recesses to which they’d been banished. This was why he didn’t get friendly with hookups. His thoughts inevitably turned back to the worst seven months of his life. He hummed a few notes from k. d. lang’s “Calling All Angels” to chase away the blackness. That was his song.
Coop was giving him a funny look, but whatever.
“I love music,” Dom said, once everything was back on an even keel. His wood was gone, too, and that was okay. He had no doubt he’d get it back later. “I was lucky because my parents encouraged me to try different instruments and see what I loved most.”
“You were lucky. Mine were okay with music as a hobby, but not as a profession.”
“It is what it is. I’m doing what I love anyway, so fuck them.”
Dom winced at the bitter words. He adored his parents, and his siblings, and they’d only ever loved him back. A small part of him wanted to make this better for Coop, but he didn’t know how. Or understand why. After tonight, he’d most likely never see the guy again, so no sense in getting attached.
Except he kind of wanted to get attached, which was a problem since Dom lived two-plus hours away.
“So you play bass and keyboard, and you have an amazing voice,” Dom said. “Anything else I don’t know about?”
“I have a pretty cute ass, too.”
The flirty remark made Dom’s dick twitch with interest. “Is that your personal opinion, or is this coming from a secondary source?”
“Both.” Coop’s lazy smile, combined with his very open appraisal of Dom’s body, kind of made Dom want to skip the go-karts and find a private place so he could nail Coop’s cute ass. “You want to find out for yourself?”
“Oh, I am definitely finding out for myself.”
Coop’s gentle laughter sent excited shivers down Dom’s spine.
The go-kart track was on the west side of town, tucked in behind a bunch of chain stores. Bright lights all around the perimeter and in various places inside of the fenced-in area made it practically daylight. Half a dozen karts were racing around the far side of the track. The humid air had lost the scent of the ocean, replaced by burnt rubber and gasoline.
Coop took the lead, man-hugging a guy their age that he introduced as Gray. Gray set them both up with helmets and karts, then showed Dom how to run the thing. Seemed simple enough. He got it going and followed Coop out onto the main track. It seemed pretty crashproof, with bumpers on both the kart and the edges of the track. Wide enough for three karts at a time.
“Ready, set, go!” Coop said, then hit the gas.
He shot off. Dom jammed his own gas. The kart surprised him with the power of the initial lurch, and he belted out a sound that was half fear and half laughter. Once he figured out how to apply pressure, he started to enjoy himself. Coop slowed down so Dom could catch up, and they began a high-speed dance around each other. Dom would lead, then Coop would take over. Every time he caught a glimpse of Coop’s face, Coop was grinning like a fool.
Dom was having a blast, too. They were probably supposed to have a time limit, but they raced around the track for what felt like hours. Dom lost himself in the chase, until Coop signaled that they should pull over. Coop’s eyes were bright, his cheeks flushed, and Dom had never seen someone so completely alive from something as simple as go-kart racing.
Dom pulled off his helmet, grateful to get the heavy thing off and some air on his face.
“So what did you think?” Coop asked. He bounced on his feet like an excited puppy.
“It’s killer, man, I loved it.”
“Sad you waited so long to try it?”
“Nah. Then you wouldn’t have been able to pop my cherry.”
Coop’s eyes widened briefly, then he laughed. “Happy to help.”
On their way back to the car, Dom asked, “Anything else you want to do?”
Coop leered at him. “Anything you want to do?”
Blood started going south, and Dom was glad they’d reached the car, because he didn’t want to be walking through a parking lot with a boner. “Dude, your ass better be ready to cash the check your mouth is writing.”
“Oh, it’s more than ready.”
Dom unlocked his side, climbed in, then reached across to unlock the other door. “You know a place we can go?”
Coop glanced at Dom’s lap, then licked his lips. “Up the highway there’s an old, overgrown drive-in. Great place for parking.”
“Yeah? Been there a few times?”
“No, but one of my roommates has. She told me about it.”
Dom kind of wanted to call bullshit, but Coop had no reason to lie to him. And who cared if Coop was a total slut or pickier than a vegan in a steakhouse. Dom was getting fucking laid tonight, and he was very, very eager to judge Coop’s cute ass for himself.
He would have totally overshot the entrance to the drive-in if Coop hadn’t pointed out the rusty old sign half covered by bushes and wisteria vines. There wasn’t really a road anymore, mostly narrow tracks through thick underbrush, as if someone had taken a Hummer and plowed through it all to make a path. Dom kept as much of his attention on the non-road as he could, but Coop decided to distract him by rubbing himself through his shorts. That simple image got Dom’s own dick straining against his already tight jeans. He cranked up the air-conditioning, because things were about to get steamy.
The forest finally gave way to a moderately open space that had been mostly overtaken by nature. The remains of a small shack were off to the right, and the remnants of a movie screen were straight ahead, full of holes where it had fallen apart over time. The place had a slasher-movie vibe to it that was at once creepy and exciting.
Dom shifted into park, but left the car idling for the air. The last thing he wanted to do was open the windows and end up with mosquito bites all over his ass.
Coop wasted no time curling strong fingers around the back of his neck and hauling him into a kiss. Dom’s surprise fled the instant their mouths clashed. Something electric surged between them, so strong he actually gasped. Coop licked at his parted lips, then slipped his tongue into Dom’s mouth. He tasted like lime and spice and everything nice, and goddamn he knew how to kiss. Dom cupped both sides of Coop’s neck, as much to keep him there as for balance, because kissing Coop was a little like falling.
He could have sat there and kissed Coop all night.
Coop pulled away first, his cheeks red and eyes glistening. “Backseat.”
Dom was tall and the space between the seats wasn’t huge, so climbing over it had both of them laughing by the time they collapsed on the backseat. Coop tugged his shirt off, revealing a slightly tanned torso, a nice little happy trail, and a tattoo of a Gerbera daisy on his left pec. Defined abs, but not super cut, which appealed to Dom a lot. Meant Coop wasn’t a gym rat. And he loved that Coop had ink.
Coop tugged at Dom’s shirt, and he let Coop pull it off. Coop’s bright smile was worth the reveal. Dom was crazy proud of the tattoo that spanned his abdomen. Coop traced a finger over it, and the touch sent goose bumps across Dom’s shoulders. “What’s it represent?” Coop asked.
“An artist friend created it for me. It’s a combination of the national emblem of Italy and the Philippine eagle. My birth mother was from the Philippines, my birth father from Italy.”
Dom nearly slapped himself. “I’m adopted. All of my siblings were adopted by our parents.”
“Oh wow. Have you ever met your birth parents?”
“Nope. No desire to, either. I know and embrace my heritage, yeah, but I also know who my parents are, and they’re the people who raised me.” Dom touched the daisy tattoo on Coop’s chest. “How about this? Special meaning?”
Coop’s smile dimmed. “Someone I loved who died too young.”
“It was years ago.” He surprised Dom by swinging his leg over and straddling his lap.
A hard cock ground into his. Dom tugged Coop into another kiss, his body aware and sparking everywhere they touched—mouths, hands, legs, groins. So good. Dom shoved both hands into Coop’s shorts, past the elastic of his briefs, to clasp warm skin. Coop gasped into his mouth. Dom squeezed and kneaded, urging Coop to rock into him. Coop pulled off to lick and nibble his neck.
“Shit,” Dom said when Coop found a sensitive spot. “Can’t wait to fuck you.”
Coop straightened, his green eyes intense in the near-dark. “Tell me you brought stuff.”
“I brought stuff.”
Coop climbed off him. Dom missed the contact until Coop shimmied out of his board shorts and briefs, showing off a very pretty uncut cock that begged to be sucked on immediately. He leaned over and took Coop’s dick in his mouth, savoring the musky taste that exploded on his tongue. Coop was big enough for him to feel it, but not so big he couldn’t work him all the way in. The head bumped the back of Dom’s throat. Coop made a hissing sound and grabbed Dom’s hair.
Dom started to protest but Coop didn’t pull or tug. He just held on so that was okay. Dom pulled Coop’s foreskin toward the head so he could nibble on the edges the way he liked done to him.
“Oh fuck, that feels good,” Coop said.
He glanced up. “Yeah?”
“Fuck yeah. Harder.”
Dom happily obliged, licking Coop’s cock and playing with his foreskin until Coop was a shivering, gasping mess. He slicked one finger with spit and rubbed it against Coop’s hole just to watch Coop’s eyes go wide. He massaged the tight muscle, revving Coop up for the main event—which couldn’t wait much longer. Dom’s cock was painfully hard, still confined, and he needed to get inside Coop before he came in his jeans.
He reluctantly released Coop’s cock and sat up so he could get of his own pants and boxer briefs. Coop reached for his dick, but Dom knocked his hand away. “Want to fuck you.”
Coop glanced around the car, a little dazed. “How?”
“Kneel on the seat. Face the back window.”
Dom had a few inches on Coop, but not enough to make this position too awkward. Coop turned around, giving Dom a fantastic view. Nature had awarded him a perfect bubble butt. Dom gloved up fast, because hot damn, he needed to get inside that ass. He slicked his cock, then two fingers. Pressed those fingers between Coop’s cheeks, down to his hole.
Coop gasped, then chuckled. “Chilly.”
“Not for long. Open up for me, babe.”
The sound Coop made when his finger breached those tight muscles sent lightning down Dom’s spine. Coop pressed his forehead against his arm, panting hard while Dom continued to play with a single finger, working it in deeper. Trying to find—there.
“Fuck!” Coop bounced his head off the top of the car. “Ow, shit, oh my God.”
Dom kissed the top of his spine but didn’t relent, massaging that sweet spot while Coop thrashed and moaned. He relaxed enough for Dom to work in a second finger. Fucking tight, and Coop was going to feel so good around his cock in a minute.
“Ready?” Dom asked.
“Fuck yes. Fuck me.”
He notched his cock to Coop’s entrance, his belly rippling with anticipation. Coop clutched the headrest, his back glistening with perspiration. Dom didn’t have a huge dick. Bigger than two fingers, sure, but Coop’s resistance surprised him. He worked his way in a little at a time, until the head finally popped into a tight heat so perfect he knew he wouldn’t last long.
Coop shoved back so hard and unexpectedly that Dom nearly fell backward. He grabbed Coop’s hips to steady himself, which only drove him deeper.
“Fuck!” Coop’s entire body shuddered.
Dom held him still, sparklers lighting behind his eyes. Hot damn but Coop felt amazing around him. “Jesus Christ. Eager much?”
“Sorry.” Coop sounded anything but contrite, even muffled behind his arm. “Fuck me, Dom, please.”
Dom fucked him with long, slow strokes, savoring the intense heat and tightness that surrounded him on every push inside. The delectable slide back that pulled his foreskin just a little bit forward. He kept that pace until Coop relaxed more. Until Coop was fucking against him, urging him.
Coop reached back and grabbed his hip. Dom draped his chest over Coop’s back, splayed one hand over his belly, and really went to town, snapping his hips hard enough to earn soft grunts and gasps from Coop. Skin slapped against skin. Sweat slicked the way everywhere they touched. The car filled with the heady scents of sex, and Dom lost himself to it.
His orgasm snuck up on him, tightening his balls and simmering in his belly. He grabbed Coop’s cock. His hips stuttered when he found a half-hard dick, instead of a fully erect one. Dom slowed his strokes so he could get Coop back in the game, kissing along his spine and working his dick.
“You don’t have to,” Coop said. His voice was hoarse and strained.
“Yeah, I do.” Dom had no idea why it was so important to him that Coop get off first. As much as he wanted to come in Coop’s ass, he wanted to see Coop fall apart more. He eased out, then gave Coop’s left cheek a swat. “Sit down against the door and spread ’em.”
Coop did was he was told, which Dom liked more than he probably should have. Dom didn’t miss the brief flinch Coop gave the moment his ass hit the cracked leather. He knelt between Coop’s legs and took him back into his mouth. His nose and taste buds were filled with Coop, the earthy scent and flavor branding itself to him. He licked and sucked and nibbled Coop back to a full erection, then went to work on Coop’s balls. Coop hollered something when he managed to get both in his mouth at once.
Dom loved this—getting a guy to fall apart, all because he was playing the right notes on his body. Urging beautiful music in every cry and gasp and pant. He rubbed Coop’s taint as he sucked his cock back in, hard suction meant to take him over the edge. Coop’s hands gripped his shoulders, hips pushing up, trying to fuck into Dom’s mouth.
He nudged his finger farther back. Coop raised up without direction, and Dom pushed his index finger inside. He found that spot, and Coop keened.
Dom didn’t relent until Coop was shooting down his throat. He lost a lot of the taste, but that was okay because Coop was fucking gorgeous when he came. His chest was flushed, his eyes wide and a little bit glassy. His thighs trembled, and his belly flexed a little, probably aftershocks from the orgasm. Dom grabbed his own cock and pumped, blasting into the condom with just a few strokes.
He collapsed into the other seat, legs spread, an unexpected sense of joy buzzing in his chest. He’d had his fair share of sex, but holy damn that had been incredible.
Coop was staring at him, still catching his breath, his expression hard to read.
“You okay over there?” Dom asked.
“Huh?” He blinked hard a few times, and that odd blankness gave away to a bright grin. “I’m fantastic. That was awesome.”
“First prostate massage?”
“Yeah. I’ve never come that hard in my life.”
Pride made Dom sit up a little straighter. “Happy to help. Your ass is amazing.”
Coop laughed. “Thanks.” He started to sit up and flinched again.
Now that he was coming down off his sex high, Dom paid closer attention. “You sore?”
“A little, but that’s to be expected, right?”
The slightly rhetorical question sent a tremor down Dom’s spine. “Coop, that wasn’t your first time getting fucked, was it?” Damn, he hadn’t meant for his voice to go so high.
Coop opened and shut his mouth. His eyebrows dipped together. “No.”
“Okay.” Relief gusted through him. Dom hated to think he’d been so rough for someone’s first time. He liked hard sex, yeah, but he never wanted to hurt a guy. Especially not a virgin.
“It’s too bad you’re leaving tomorrow.” Coop scooped his underwear off the floor. “I would totally do this again with you. The music and the sex.”
Dom’s heart flipped at the idea of another round with Coop. “Maybe we can. I live outside of Philly, which is only two and a half hours, give or take traffic.”
“You want to see me again?”
“Sure.” Dom never wanted to see his hookups a second time. He liked anonymous. Repeats could get clingy and want more. But being with Coop had been more than just sex. They’d started something onstage at Off Beat, and it was still going strong in the backseat of that old car. He did want to see Coop again, maybe play some music with him. They’d lit the stage on fire tonight.
Dom wanted that again.
“Yes,” Dom said, more firmly this time. “So if we’re going to be friends, I guess I should introduce myself. Dominic Castrogiovanni Bounds.”
Coop’s grin made him ache for another kiss. “That’s a mouthful.”
“You can thank my birth parents for Castrogiovanni.”
“Bounds are your adoptive parents?”
“Yeah.” Zelda and Robert Bounds had been the very best parents Dom could have asked for.
“Trey Cooper. Nice to meet you.”
Getting dressed should have been awkward, especially given how cramped the backseat was. Dom frequently touched Coop/Trey, but he didn’t mind. He liked touching Trey. A lot. And he was excited that they weren’t going to say good-bye and go their separate ways. They exchanged cell numbers before Dom got them back on the road. He resisted checking his voice mail from Lincoln. It could wait.
Trey directed him to a street six blocks farther north than Off Beat’s location and said to pull up at the curb. Interesting that he didn’t want Dom to know which house.
“I’m really glad I decided to check out Off Beat tonight,” Trey said. His charming smile went adorably shy. “You really are gifted with the violin, Dom. I’m not just blowing smoke.”
“Thank you.” Playing tonight had been as nerve-racking as it had been therapeutic—and he wouldn’t change meeting Trey for anything.
“Don’t let a month go by before you text me.”
Trey climbed out with a small wave. Dom really wanted to kiss him good-bye but Trey didn’t lean in for a kiss, and he was skipping down the sidewalk too fast for Dom to call him back. He palmed his cell phone and sent a thumbs-up emoji.
A few seconds later, Trey sent the same one back.
The simple little computer creation made Dom’s heart flip. He held on tight to those happy feelings as he listened to Lincoln's voice mail.