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Unformatted text preview: MLR PRess AuthoRs Featuring a roll call of some of the best writers of gay erotica and mysteries today! M. Jules Aedin Maura Anderson Victor J. Banis Jeanne Barrack Laura Baumbach Alex Beecroft Sarah Black Ally Blue J.P. Bowie Michael Breyette P..A. Brown Brenda Bryce Jade Buchanan James Buchanan Charlie Cochrane Kirby Crow Dick D. Ethan Day Jason Edding Angela Fiddler Dakota Flint S.J. Frost Kimberly Gardner Roland Graeme Storm Grant Amber Green LB Gregg Drewey Wayne Gunn David Juhren Samantha Kane Kiernan Kelly J.L. Langley Josh Lanyon Clare London William Maltese Gary Martine Z.A. Maxfield Patric Michael AKM Miles Jet Mykles Willa Okati L. Picaro Neil Plakcy Jordan Castillo Price Luisa Prieto Rick R. Reed A.M. Riley George Seaton Jardonn Smith Caro Soles JoAnne Soper-Cook Richard Stevenson Clare Thompson Lex Valentine Stevie Woods Check out titles, both available and forthcoming, at Keys to Love s.J. FRost mlrpress This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright 2010 by S.J. Frost All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Published by ManLove Romance Press, LLC 3052 Gaines Waterport Rd. Albion, NY 14411 Visit MLR Press, LLC on the Internet: Cover Art by Deana Jamroz Editing by Kris Jacen ISBN# 978-1-60820-159-4 Issued 2010 To Kris, this one’s for you. ChAPteR one Sitting at an ebony Steinway grand piano, Julian laughed softly as he watched his lead singer, Jesse Alexander, dance across the stage. Conquest’s number one single, “Twisted Destiny,” rocked the empty arena from the sound system, the drums and Jesse’s tenor voice echoing through the space. The No Fear World Tour would be larger, longer, and even more of an event than their previous one, which they had headlined only stateside. Even though Conquest traveled internationally when opening for Evan Arden, this time, they were the ones people were truly coming to see. Julian never knew one band could have such an enormous crew of people to tend their concerts. There were roadies for setting up the stage and managing the equipment. A host of cameramen to film them and project their images through a live feed onto a large screen at the back of the stage. The security staff alone was the size of a small army. Sound engineers, a special team to handle the pyrotechnics, another for the light show. Professional dancers would perform in perfect choreography for some songs, a small orchestra would provide accompaniment in others. And still the list went on and on. All in all, Julian felt the tour would be one of the most unforgettable spectacles to ever travel the world, but it was also fitting with how popular Conquest was now. Julian looked across the stage to the other band members. Kenny Cooper stood with his black and white Fender Stratocaster hanging from a black leather strap across his shoulder. The guitarist was Jesse’s faithful companion, even if teasing Kenny was one of Jesse’s favorite pastimes. A grin rose to Julian’s lips. It was a pastime he’d picked up also. But the boy made it so easy. Julian looked up to the raised platform where Brad Delfini laughed behind the drum set. The man was a vision. Stunning smile, glossy black hair, dark brown eyes, lovely olive-tinted skin, a body like a Roman god, and to top it all off, a bright personality. 2 S.J. Frost It was his bad luck Brad was straight, but it didn’t hold back on them becoming great friends. Of everyone in the band, he hung out with Brad the most one-on-one. It wasn’t that he didn’t like hanging out with the others, and he had gone shopping with Jesse many times, but he related best to Brad, maybe because with them both being twenty-six, they had about three years maturity on the other two. Julian moved his gaze from Brad and looked over the rows of vacant seats. He was well accustomed to performing in large venues even before joining Conquest. His career as a classical pianist had taken him around the world and featured him as a guest with numerous orchestras. But none of those experiences came close to equaling the monumental success he’d gained with Conquest. Not that making the transition had been easy. Many disagreed with him jumping from classical to rock, his mother among them. She used every opportunity to mention how woeful it was that he was wasting his years of Julliard training to play “simpler music,” as she called it. Though, she was supportive of him in other aspects, so he could tolerate the occasional snide comment regarding his choice of career. Julian saw Jesse dancing across the length of the stage, his moves free and not part of the rehearsed choreography, but it was clear his front-man was no longer focused on a serious rehearsal. The chief choreographer, Darius, who was a beautiful piece of man-flesh himself, laughed at Jesse. The African-American dancer had a body built of solid muscle. Sadly for Julian, when he attempted flirting with Darius, he only got a polite smile in return. Darius gave Jesse a light slap on the arm. “You got more rhythm than any white boy I’ve ever seen!” “Of course I do,” Jesse said. “Don’t you know the only white boys with rhythm are gay boys?” Julian joined in with the roaring laughter filling the arena. Never a dull moment when Jesse was around. Of all the laughing voices, Julian caught a baritone more melodic than the others and Keys to Love 3 turned to see superstar singer, Conquest’s manager, and Jesse’s husband, Evan Arden, walking across the stage. Evan made a slashing motion in front of his throat and the recorded music stopped. He stepped behind Jesse and embraced him around the waist. “Alright, Darius, I think he’s had enough for today. I don’t want him worn out.” Jesse turned in Evan’s arms, wrapping his own around Evan’s neck. “And what do you have planned for me that you want me full of energy?” Evan answered him with a kiss. Julian lowered his gaze. He tapped a couple somber notes on the piano. They had the most beautiful relationship he’d ever seen. He at once loved watching their affection for each other and felt a touch of jealousy. It wasn’t that he wanted either of them, but he wanted a relationship like they had, with a man of his own. Not long ago, Jesse and Evan got married, then came out publicly as a couple after hiding their love from all but those closest to them for two years. When Jesse announced his sexuality, Julian did also, though he didn’t get quite the attention Jesse did. People offered sympathy to Jesse and Evan for all the tribulations they went through, but few realized that just as they had kept their sexuality secret, so had he. How could he come out as an openly gay rock performer when his singer was forced to remain closeted for the success of the band? He couldn’t. The stress it put on him was tremendous, even if he did hide it so no one realized just how affected he was. Constant traveling on tour made it impossible to form a relationship that lasted beyond a day. Each intimate encounter was edged with tension as he wondered if he could trust the other man. Worry and stress would linger for days afterward at the fear his one-night stand would out him. It wasn’t as bad when he was a classical performer. That wasn’t to say it was any more or less accepted, or there weren’t paparazzi on that scene, but the payout for a scandal on many classical 4 S.J. Frost artists didn’t compare to what it was for the popular ones. Which surprised him. He knew more than a few sordid stories when the tuxes hit the floor after a concert, one or two involving himself. But the popular artists were the paparazzi moneymakers more than the classical ones. “Jules!” Julian blinked and looked up, snapped from his thoughts. He met Jesse’s indigo-colored gaze. “I take it you want something, Jesse dear?” Lightly swinging Evan’s hand in his, Jesse smiled at him. “Well first I wanted your attention. You really spaced out there, I called your name three times. Is everything okay?” Julian nodded. “Yeah, I was just lost in my thoughts.” “I’m glad you found your way home. I wanted to let you know I’m heading out for the day. We’ve got two weeks to rehearse before hitting the road, so cutting out early one day won’t hurt us.” Jesse bumped his shoulder playfully into Evan’s shoulder. “And since my vertical dancing pleased him so much, we’re going home to do a little horizontal dancing.” Evan rolled his eyes. “If I would’ve said something like that, you’d be ranting about my horrible sense of humor.” Jesse winked at him. “It’s all in the delivery, sweetheart.” Grinning, Evan leaned close to Jesse and whispered, though Julian still caught the gist of his joke about delivering something else to Jesse once they got home. Laughing softly, Jesse walked away, leading Evan by one hand and waving at Julian with the other. “Later.” Evan glanced back at him. “And don’t forget I’ve got that interview and photo shoot set up for you with Keyboard Magazine this Friday.” Julian gave him a thumbs up. “I’ve already got it programmed into my calendar. You boys have an enjoyable afternoon.” “We will,” Jesse called as he disappeared from the stage. Keys to Love 5 Julian watched as the team of dancers also filed past, Darius trailing behind them. Darius stopped beside the piano and smiled down at him. “I hope you know I’m going to get you out there before this show goes live. I’ll work you into one of the routines.” Julian chuckled. “I don’t think there’s any reason to be so cruel to all the people who’ve spent their hard earned money to come see us.” “Nah, you heard what Jesse said.” “Well, I’m afraid that’s one of the rare instances of Jesse being wrong. This gay boy has no rhythm. Though, I suppose I could improve with private lessons from a dedicated instructor.” Darius laughed and turned to leave. “Yeah, I’m sure you could. Catch ya later, man.” Julian stared at Darius’s departing back. Nothing like all out rejection to sober one’s mood. His gaze dropped to Darius’s ass in the light blue, nylon workout pants. And yet he was half-hard regardless. He looked down to the piano keys. If he kept staring at him, he wouldn’t be able to get up from the piano for an hour without pointing at everyone using something other than his fingers. “‘ey, Jules!” Julian smiled at Brad’s cute Brooklyn accent. He never grew tired of hearing it. He looked over his shoulder at Brad and Kenny approaching, though he didn’t notice Kenny as much as Brad, who in all his glory, was wearing a black tank top and sinfully tight jeans. Now that was a sign it’d been far too long since he’d gotten laid; the body of his dear friend finished sending his cock up. Of course, with how long it’d been, just about any warm male body would do the same for him. “Hey, Brad.” Brad propped a hand on the piano and pointed at Kenny with his thumb. “Since it looks like we’re done for the day, we’re going to grab some beers and wings. You wanna come?” 6 S.J. Frost So very badly, Julian thought, then shook his head in response. “No, I think I’m going to play for a little while more. It’s not often I get an entire arena to myself.” “Man, we’ll be living in arenas for the next eight months,” Kenny said. Julian met Kenny’s honey-brown eyes. “We’ll also be living off restaurant food, so I think I’d like to do a home-cooked dinner. And sucking on a grisly chicken bone for a scraggly little strip of meat isn’t my idea of a good meal. Why don’t you both come over to my place instead? I’m making spaghetti.” Brad turned to Kenny. “That sounds like a better plan.” “Will there be waitresses dressed in shorts so tight and small you know they don’t have anything on underneath?” Kenny asked. “No, but I could make a few phone calls and get a couple waiters dressed in a similar fashion if that’d help.” “Uh, no. It wouldn’t.” Kenny turned to Brad. “C’mon. You said you’d go with me.” Brad looked at Julian and shrugged. “Guess I have to. Maybe I can stop over tomorrow and we’ll hang out.” “Sounds like a plan.” Kenny shoved Brad on the back. “Now let’s go before all the hot waitresses are taken.” “Man, wherever we go, the hot chicks follow.” Brad looked at Julian again. “You sure you don’t want to join us?” Julian nodded once. “I’m sure, but thanks.” “Alright, later.” As Brad walked away with Kenny, Julian opted to deny himself the pleasure, or torture, of looking at Brad’s ass, and focused on the piano keys. He took a deep breath and sounded the first notes of Beethoven’s Fur Elise, hoping the gentle melody would distract his emotions from the desire to have someone to share his evenings with as more than friendship. ChAPteR two “Okay, so there’s really no point is showing you around the arena. We’ll be at a different one every night. What’s important for you to know is stage setup, so get it down. Learn fast or get out of the way, that’s how things go here.” Morgan turned his head away from his new boss since he couldn’t restrain himself any longer from rolling his eyes. He’d known Kurt Holt for less than five minutes and already wanted to punch him. How the hell was he going to make it through an eight month concert tour with this clown as his boss? “So listen here, Matt—” “Morgan” Kurt’s head snapped toward him. “What?” “My name is Morgan.” “Right, Morgan. Morgan Conner.” “Morgan Chandler.” “Yeah, yeah, whatever. Listen, I got about a hundred names I need to remember, you can’t expect me to keep track of everybody, and you’re new, so it’s going to take a while. Now like I was saying, you don’t have concert experience, right?” “No, I don’t, but—” Kurt interrupted with a snort. “Don’t know how the hell you got this gig. You wouldn’t have if I had interviewed you. I don’t have time to deal with rookies. This is a big tour, the biggest of the year with the biggest band of the decade. I need experts, not hands to hold.” Morgan ground his teeth, then forced cordiality into his voice. “I might not have roadie experience, but I have plenty of experience with music and instruments. My father owned a music store, and—” “This is what I get for not doing the interviews myself.” Kurt 8 S.J. Frost shook his head. “Lesson learned. You better learn quick, because I don’t need getting my ass chewed out by Mr. Alexander, or worse, Mr. Arden, for bad setups. You know, I was the staff manager for Conquest on their last tour before they joined up with Mr. Arden’s tour. He already had a staff manager in place, otherwise I would’ve had that job, too.” “Yeah, I bet,” Morgan mumbled, his soft tone hiding his sarcasm. “Now, I don’t know how you feel about the whole gay thing, but unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past three months, you know Mr. Alexander and Mr. Arden are in a relationship.” “Actually, I’m—” “If you’re for it, great. If you’re not, keep your mouth shut.” Kurt’s voice dipped low. “To be honest, I always knew about those two, but that’s beside the point. What I’m saying is if you want to live to old age, you better not look at Mr. Alexander in any way other than friendly professionalism, because Mr. Arden won’t just throw you off the tour. He’ll throw you in front of a semi-truck if you look at Mr. Alexander as anything less or more.” Morgan glanced at him. “Isn’t it kind of formal to constantly be calling them mister? I mean, they’re rock stars, not the President.” Kurt stopped and jabbed his index finger in the air toward Morgan’s face. “These men are our bread and butter, and I won’t have them treated with anything but top respect. Got it?” Morgan clenched and unclenched one hand, wanting to grab Kurt’s finger and shove it into the man’s own face. “Yeah, I got it.” Kurt continued his march toward the arena interior, mumbling to himself, though his voice was loud enough for Morgan to hear, “I knew I should’ve handled all the interviews.” Morgan glared at the back of Kurt’s buzz-cut blond head and filled his lungs with a long, deep breath as he followed after him. He still wondered how his life had taken this turn. He knew the Keys to Love 9 realities of it well enough. He looked at them constantly in the stack of bills from the music store. If only he’d known when his father was alive the financial trouble he was in. Maybe he could’ve helped him before things reached such a desperate point. Not that he could’ve lent much aid. His job for the past eight years teaching music at a local Chicago high school didn’t exactly pay a prince’s salary, but what it lacked in monetary compensation it made up for in emotional satisfaction. Nothing compared to seeing a young person’s face glow as the music clicked with them for the first time. He loved his job. He’d always thought if he could do it every day for the rest of his life, he’d be content. If only the school system felt the same way. Budget cuts made them slash a number of the arts programs from many schools, and his job was completely eliminated. He was allowed to finish out the school year, and all summer he searched for another school, but the ones with the funds to support a music program already had instructors. Now it was September and classes were in session. At best he could do substituting. Between his shrinking savings and the debts of his father’s music store becoming his own, he was forced to work full-time waiting tables at a small café, along with part-time at a boarding kennel. Really, cleaning the kennels didn’t bother him. He enjoyed being around the dogs, and he found it less disgusting than the messes people would leave in the café. But when he saw the band Conquest was looking for tour staff, he jumped on it. Even though they weren’t his type of music, as far as rock bands went they were certainly the best around. And there was one other reason he wanted the job, one that was the real motivator. Kurt’s voice broke his thoughts. “Keep up! You want to keep this job, you need to move faster! It’s all about time here!” Morgan quickened his pace, though more because annoyance spurred him rather than having a desire to obey Kurt. “I was taking things in.” 10 S.J. Frost “Like I told you, don’t worry about the arena.” Kurt held open a large door. Morgan stepped inside the inner arena. A sea of empty seats stretched before him. Down at the end of the open floor was the stage. Kurt’s voice pitched higher with excitement. “There he is!” Morgan followed his gaze to the stage holding the members of Conquest along with a few other people. Recorded music blasted through the arena and at the sight of the lead singer, Jesse, dancing, Morgan realized they were working out choreography. He gave Kurt a quick look, taking in the man’s rapt expression. For someone who warned him not to drool over Jesse, the guy was certainly doing a good job of forming a puddle at their feet. Morgan looked back to the stage. Undoubtedly, Jesse was a beautiful man with his delicate features, black hair, and dark blue eyes. He wouldn’t, and couldn’t, deny Jesse was also an amazingly gifted musician. But his type? Not at all. He saw enough of him in interviews to know Jesse was too hyper for him. Plus, Jesse had Evan Arden, who he saw standing off to the side of the stage. With Evan’s dark chestnut hair streaked in highlights of gold and copper, his brilliant blue eyes, it was hard to tell which of them was more attractive, but they certainly made for a good looking couple. No, it was fine by him if the whole world lusted after Jesse. It left the one he found most attractive more available, not that the beautiful pianist would want him. Morgan focused his eyes on Julian Forrester, seated at the black grand. A sudden weakness struck his legs. He felt warm, like he couldn’t get enough air to steady his pounding heart. He knew when he got this job he would see Julian in person, even meet him since it would be his duty to tend to Julian’s instruments, b...
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