The lights go down and stage lights up. The Dark Angels have arrived. With his come-hither voice and body made for sin, lead singer Angel Luv draws lovers like a magnet. And when he caresses and taunts shy guitarist Darius Stone on stage, well…it’s an act, right? But every touch lights a fire, and every flirtatious glance chips away at Dare’s certainty that he’s straight. No one else has so captured his imagination.
Temptation beckons. It’s hard not to notice the want in Dare’s eyes, the way he stares when he thinks Angel’s not watching. One wrong move might scare him away, but a work trip to exotic Bali might be the perfect place to let Dare explore his sexuality, with none to be the wiser. But their “friends with benefits” pact has an expiration date, that just might sour their friendship.
The drunks in the hole-in-the wall bar were there to get laid, not to listen to Darius Stone play guitar with a glorified cover band. Fuck it, he didn’t care. He pretended his twist on another band’s musical hits was the reason a major fight hadn’t broken out in over a week and the police hadn’t intervened in over a month. It didn’t matter that the bar owner tried to cheat the band out of their take of the door. He was playing in New York City, and that helped block out the negative dialogue still powerful enough to slip around his wall of defense.
His father’s words nagged, questioning Dare’s sanity and his moral compass for following his rock and roll dreams. He’d heard the slurs and skewed stereotypes a thousand times, but each insult still stung. Musicians are nothing but a bunch of druggies and sex-depraved homos. If you’re going to play at being a musician, at least play a respectable instrument like the piano. You’re going to wind up in some alley OD’ed.
Not even the abusive words Darius carried in his heart could dissuade him from his love for the guitar. While his buddies had saved up to buy cars, he’d put his pennies away to buy a Fender American Standard Stratocaster electric guitar in ebony burst black. Every performance convinced Darius he’d made the right decision. The guitar was his first and only love.
When his eyes adjusted to the stage lights, he raised his head and was jolted by an instant connection. The guy from last night was back. Dressed in all black, he sat in the same seat, his amber eyes seeming to Dare’s fingers as they played each note. Guitar wails bridged the gap, joining them. He’d never felt so drawn to a fan, and remained captivated by the stranger throughout the entire set.
He closed his eyes and bent his fingers over the guitar’s strings, stroking out one last vibrato. Fuck, he was on fire tonight. The music injected a burst of love, mixed with lust, and the most incredible satisfaction imaginable, with an adrenalin chaser into his blood. All made better by the unique link he’d forged with the amber-eyed stranger. The connection nourished something in his soul. Nothing else came close to this kind of ecstasy—not even sex.
Fucking A, that was awesome. He opened his eyes, but now, with the music done, he avoided the stranger’s gaze and jumped off the tiny stage. It was weird to have been so deeply connected with a member of the audience. He hoped the guy didn’t get the wrong idea about him.
His gaze skated over to the guy in black, still there. He never socialized, and waved off anyone who approached. The guy’s focus remained on Darius, quite a feat since the outlandish lead singer, Paul Martin, usually demanded everyone’s attention. The shirt Paul had torn from his body, now in tatters littering the stage, was evidence that he’d do anything to get the audience’s love.
Darius hated most of the members of this lazy-assed band he’d fallen in with as a temporary replacement three years ago. On a daily basis he questioned why he’d agreed to play with a bunch of losers who thought the name “Doesn’t Matter” ironic.
But holy hell, he flew tonight. Until he found another band, he couldn’t walk away from this feeling. When it was good, there was no better high. He’d read somewhere that intermittent reinforcement was the strongest form—he’d have to agree.
He tipped his head so a lock of hair would hide his eyes while on stage fell forward. The same move worked offstage as well, allowing him to stare back at the man who appeared to be eye-fucking him.
The guy’s cool confidence could be experienced across the room. His black-polished nails ran through his hair, and he licked his full lips as if savoring something delicious. An odd sensation spread through Darius, but he refused to name it. If he were interested in guys, yeah, this would be the one for him. But Darius was straight.
As if on cue, Paige Rimsky, college student, fan, and his current fuck buddy, bounced over, reinforcing the simple fact of his heterosexuality. The celebration in her voice almost erased his unease. “I told you sitting in on the master’s class would up your game. Your phrasing was flawless tonight. I…”
She followed his line of sight. “Oh, were you showing off for tall, dark, and yummy?”
“What? No!” Maybe a little, no, the connection was just so… Why was the guy here again?
Paige put her hands up and laughed, drawing his attention. “Don’t get defensive, Dare. I’m just asking. Hell, I’d do him.”
Dare pushed his hair out of his eyes and focused on his maybe friend.
Her teasing smile turned into a dirty giggle. “I’d do you both.”
Fuck, rolling around in the sheets with the man in black and Paige wasn’t the image he needed in his head. He let his hair fall back to hide his eyes and fumbled with releasing his guitar strap. Since he’d forgotten to unplug the instrument before jumping off the stage, the wire tangled with his strap.
His sometimes bed partner snorted inelegantly, standing by waiting for him to de-wire himself. “So, who is Mr. Hotness Intensified? You think he’s as emo and sensitive as he appears?”
“No clue.” Best not to dwell on the answer to her questions, and he didn’t want to analyze why he’d love to know the guy. Untangled from the lead he’d failed to unplug earlier, he reached back to put his guitar on its stand.
“Well, he’s gorgeous. I’d fuck him.” Her voice was probably louder than she intended, and carried to their least favorite person.
Ace Starr, the asshole drummer of the band, came up and groped her. “You’d fuck anyone.”
“Anyone but you. Now take your goddamned hand off my ass or I’m going to put my fist in your fucking face.” She leaned into him and he winced.
Ouch! Damn, crunching the asshole’s foot with her heel must have hurt like hell. Paige had grown up in the foster care system and could take care of herself, but Dare was sorry she had to be on guard. If he jumped to her defense, though, she’d eviscerate him. All he could do was keep an eye out to make sure Ace and all the other assholes that crossed her path, in a bad way, were put in their places.
Ace released her ass and attempted an apologetic look. “Sorry, baby cakes. Hey, why don’t you come home with a real man tonight and not some demented elf?”
“Fuck off.” She wrapped an arm around Darius and continued to glare at numb nuts.
“Oh, honey, I would fuck you till the sun came up.” Ace used what he probably considered a sexy purr on her.
“Eww… Why would I want to do that?” Her beautiful face scrunched up, like screwing Ace was the worst possible fate.
Darius couldn’t hold in his laughter. Paige could be a real bitch when the situation called for it. Damn, he was just glad she liked him.
His gaze traveled back to the man in black. The stranger sipped a liquid with a crooked smile on his face. His expression sparkled with a little too much glee, making Darius wonder if the guy heard more than Paige’s outburst. Fuck. He didn’t need this right now.
Ace slunk away to search for a bed partner with lower standards than Paige’s. She nudged Darius. “So, my demented elf, you wanna get laid?”
Dare returned to the stage to buy time. When he twisted back around, the guy in black was gone, vanished. Fuck! Why did regret replace the nervous butterflies dancing in Dare’s belly? So what if he never got the chance to speak to the stranger?
Paige cleared her throat. She’d never had to ask twice. “So?”
No. Yes. No. “Not tonight.” He hated himself for putting a frown on her face.
“Got a headache?” She mocked him until she glanced over at the empty table. “Ah, say what you want, but I think you’re crushing on him.”
“I’m straight,” Dare protested.
“Whatever. Everyone is fluid. Some people just acknowledge it easier than others.” Spoken like a true pansexual, she was convinced everyone would be happier being gender blind and following attraction wherever it led. Paige taunted him, “Darius has a boy crush.