BLAZE patted his pocket, feeling for his lucky guitar pick as he walked through the halls of the venue. He sighed in relief as he felt the triangular outline of the piece of green plastic through the thick denim material. He went through his mental checklist, hoping he’d remembered everything, because this was a huge day for him.
He had been offered the chance of a lifetime, a tryout with a major record label to fill a space in the band for one of the hottest pop stars in the world, Cassie. He had been dreaming of this moment ever since he had picked up a guitar. Well, not this moment in particular—he stood in front of the door to where he would audition, his palms sweating—this part sucked.
He wiped his palm on his pants as he tried to tamp down his nervousness. Then he opened the door and went inside. There was no one in the tour manager’s office yet, but the security guard at the gate had informed him that someone would be along in a few minutes. As he’d walked away from the entrance after getting a visitor’s badge, the man had called over his radio for someone to meet him at the office.
He set his guitar case down by the music stand and chair. He picked up the music sheets that lay against the stand, reviewing them quickly. It was the same selection he’d been given in his e-mail to play today at his audition.
He heard a noise and looked up from the sheet music to see a woman not much older than he was standing in the doorway. She was rather pretty, with blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail and expressive green eyes. “I’m here for my tryout,” he said, trying to explain his presence.
She nodded. “I’m Jennifer Davis, Mr. Stockton’s assistant.”
“Blaze Shinozuka,” he said, holding out his hand, grinning. “Call me Blaze.”
“Nice to meet you, Blaze. Mr. Stockton should be down any second.” She shook his hand, her eyes never leaving his face.
He dropped her hand, feeling uneasy under her gaze. He’d always felt uncomfortable when girls looked at him like that, like they were picking apart his appearance, looking for something to be disappointed about.
Her words sank into his consciousness. Jason Stockton, one of the biggest managers in the business, would be conducting his audition. He’d thought maybe Cassie’s tour director would be interviewing him, but if he had a chance to impress Mr. Stockton, even if he didn’t make it onto Cassie’s tour, then he could have a chance at something else in the business down the road. He tried to keep his cool as he asked, “Should I tune up my guitar?”
She seemed flustered as she looked down at her clipboard. “Yes, of course, and your sheet music—”
He held it up with a wry smile. “Right here.”
She flushed. “Great! Well, good luck,” she said, tapping her clipboard with her pen.
“Ah, Blaze, right on time I see.”
He whipped his head around as a tall man walked into the office. If he had to hazard a guess, the manager was at least six-foot-three, though those thick dark curls may have added an extra inch. Blaze couldn’t tear his eyes from the man because he was jaw-dropping handsome, with a clean cut, all-American look about him, not to mention his dazzling movie star smile.
Mr. Stockton walked across the office and grabbed a sheet of paper from the desk. The manager’s pants tightened across his hips, clearly accentuating the man’s firm ass, and Blaze caught himself staring at how the fabric clung to it. Cassie’s manager was simply gorgeous, hands down.
Blaze was fairly certain Mr. Stockton was probably straight and therefore quite uninterested in Blaze’s perusal of his assets. He stood up a little taller and lifted his chin proudly, his mind on the task at hand. Blaze wanted to make a good first impression on this man because even if he didn’t get this job, Jason Stockton knew everyone in the music business. Blaze felt everything in his future hinging on this moment.
Jason looked back at him, his demeanor casual and relaxed, which was the exact opposite of what Blaze felt. Adrenaline surged through Blaze’s veins as he squatted down next to his case, fumbling with the clasps like it was his first time opening it. With all the fear he felt, it was a wonder he was getting hard, but his cock had a mind of its own as it swelled.
As Blaze finally pulled out his guitar and readied his instrument, Jennifer was shooed from the room by Mr. Stockton and he was left there all alone with Cassie’s manager. He didn’t really mind—if he screwed up, at least he would have one less person as an audience.
He sat down in the metal folding chair near the desk and started tuning his guitar. “I’m terribly sorry I’m not ready, sir.”
Jason smiled as he shook his head. “No formalities here. Just call me Jason.”
Blaze nodded and strummed his fingers down the strings, listening for the keys. “Did you receive my resume?”
Jason nodded and leaned against the desk. “I saw you graduated with honors at Berklee with a bachelor’s in professional music. While you don’t have any touring experience, you did come highly recommended from the head of Cassie’s record company. He saw you in your performance at the college when he went to see his family for the holidays a couple years ago.”
Blaze froze. Jason seemed to know a lot about him, while he knew nothing about the older man. He knew the public persona of the manager because his reputation in the music business preceded him. But the idea of being here in the moment, of having a real life audition with Jason Stockton, was sending off sparks through his body, and not just because he was sinfully hot.
He had really thought the winter performance hadn’t mattered, since his family hadn’t even bothered to come to see him. It had been a simple performance the seniors had put together, almost like a class project. He’d had the great honor of performing a solo in guitar in the show, but his parents couldn’t have cared less. Now, as he dragged his guitar pick across the strings, he tried to put the feeling of inadequacy from his head as he finished tuning his guitar. “I’m ready,” he said quietly.
Jason indicated for him to start, and Blaze plucked at the strings as he easily followed the music on the sheets. He’d received a copy of the selection through his e-mail a few days ago, so he already knew it by heart. He had also picked up the tempo as he’d listened to the recorded song. When he played it now, he felt the magic flow over his fingers.
He strummed the last note and cast a glance up at the other man. The expression on Jason’s face made Blaze’s breath hitch. Was he just imagining it, or did the manager find him attractive also? He doubted it. Why would someone like Jason want him?
Jason cleared his throat, the look gone from his face. “Jerry said you’re from Japan originally?”
Blaze nodded. “I was born there, but I was a dual citizen of both countries until a couple years ago. My brother, Yosuke, was older when we moved here, so he was a bit more attached to life there. My mother was born in Hawaii and missed life in the islands, so we moved back when I was three.” Blaze wanted to kick himself as he rambled, wondering desperately why he was continuing to babble on like an idiot.
Jason smiled. “Just idle curiosity. So your family now lives in LA? I see you flew in from there.”
Blaze shook his head. “They live in Hawaii, but I’ve lived in LA since I graduated. I share an apartment with five other guys right now so….” Blaze trailed off as he stroked the smooth surface of his guitar’s body with his thumb. He did it when he was nervous, and generally it would calm him, but an uneasy mood hung in the air, as if one of them was waiting for the other to say something.
Jason stared at the floor, still leaning against the desk, before he swung his gaze up to meet Blaze’s. Blaze was lost as he looked into the manager’s eyes. They were a rich, earthy brown with a ring of gold around his pupils. Blaze was jerked back to reality as Jason cleared his throat and said, “How badly do you want this job?”
Blaze really couldn’t believe his ears, and now he knew for sure. His mind raced ahead of him, his heart pounding as he thought about all of those old-fashioned rumors he had heard about Hollywood casting couches. As he glanced up at the manager, he felt a zing of desire run through him. He could feel an aura of power radiating off the taller man, even though he was leaning against the desk in a relaxed manner.
Blaze felt his cock stir even as uncertainty rocked him. Did Jason want him, or was this only his overactive imagination playing a cruel trick on him? He wanted Jason to want him, even though so much was riding on this interview. It scared him how willing he was to throw it away for a chance to show Jason how much he wanted him.
Blaze looked away as he put his guitar down inside the case. In his peripheral vision, he saw Jason leaning down to pick up a sheet of his music as it fell to the floor. The guitarist just couldn’t help the hiss of breath he took in. It was nerves, plain and simple.
The intake of air brought Jason’s gaze to meet his. Those brown eyes were no longer distant and cool but had now gone dark with passionate fire. Blaze just couldn’t help himself as he let out a soft sigh. If this was what it took to get this job, it wouldn’t be bad at all. He could admit to himself the older man was sexy, even if he couldn’t say it aloud. He figured he should answer, lest Jason think Blaze was an idiot. He cast his eyes downward as he was unable to meet older man’s eyes when he said, “I want it. I want it more than anything.”
Jason sucked in a breath, and Blaze met those dark eyes as the manager looked down at him. Blaze knew Jason understood the ball was in his court now. All the manager would have to do was give some indication he felt an attraction so he knew this wasn’t just in his head.
Jason stood there, not saying a word, and Blaze felt his gut tightening. What was he thinking? Was Blaze too forward for his liking?
Jason’s expression shut down, his look cool and unreadable. He stood up straight and said, “The job is yours.”
Blaze stood up as well when Jason turned and walked from the room. He let out the breath he had unconsciously been holding. “Fuck,” Blaze swore softly as the door shut behind the manager. Jason had turned him down. At least he had the job.
Of course someone as hot as Jason wouldn’t want him. The guy was probably straight as an arrow and Blaze had just misread what he had seen in Jason’s eyes. He had never seen anyone look at him with such open desire, nor had he ever had such a deep, stirring answering reaction as he had felt towards the older man.
He didn’t have much of a chance to ponder his rejection, since the door opened again as Blaze was closing his guitar case. He looked up to see Jennifer bouncing in. “Congrats on your new job, Blaze. If you’ll come with me, we first need to take a picture for your badge. I’ll be calling ahead for a room at the hotel for you, and just so you know, since your car isn’t here, we have a shuttle service to and from the hotel four times daily if you need to sleep while the crew is putting together the stage.”
“Wow. Did you take a breath?”
Jenny smiled ruefully. “I’m used to running alongside Mr. Stockton, trying to get a word in between phone calls, so I talk fast and yes, I’ve learned to talk without taking a breath.”
Just hearing his name caused Blaze’s heart to jump. He had to get a hold of this desire for the manager, hopefully long before he saw him again. Blaze grimaced as they rounded the corner, running into a couple of people from the crew.
“Jenny, I need those final measurements from the venues we’ll be attending.”
“Check your phone. I sent them to you via e-mail.”
“Okay… hey! Is this the new guitarist?” one of them asked.
“Yeah. He should be starting this afternoon. I’ll be announcing his arrival along with the pyrotechnic staff later this afternoon. Make sure you’re around at about three.”
“Are we ever anywhere else?” he asked jovially. The other one chuckled as they turned the corner, leaving from their sight.
Jennifer turned her attention back to him. “As you can see, we’re sort of like a family here. While we were sorry to see the last guitarist leave, we understand and wish him the very best in his career path. I had a chance to read your resume and I saw you went to Berklee.”
“I did. I majored in professional music. You sure do jump from subject to subject a lot.”
“I had too much coffee this morning, which you can pick up at the commissary. It’s free, as is soda, tea, and bottled water. We also have lunch and dinner provided behind the stage area, along with snacks and cereals and the like available twenty-four hours. If you need something in particular, please ask me and I’ll try to procure it. I’ll be here until we break in three weeks for our pre-tour vacation. Mr. Stockton does have to travel a lot, so if you need to contact him, just give me the message and I’ll send it along to him. Any questions?”
Blaze was silent. He couldn’t exactly give the message to Jennifer that he wanted to give to Jason right now. For the moment, he decided to just go with the flow and hang loose. “No, no questions,” he said, shooting a smile at Jenny.
Jenny appeared to be speechless for a second before smiling shyly back at him. “Great. Right in here,” she said, pointing to a door to their right. He pushed open a door labeled “Security” and found a massive man sitting at a desk piled with papers. “This is Terry, our head of security. He works for the record label, not Stockton Entertainment and Music Enterprises. He’s already processed your background checks, and he just needs to take your picture for your tour badge. Don’t forget it when you come in or you won’t be admitted past security. If something happens to it, make sure you call me.”
“First tour, kid?” Terry asked. Blaze nodded, and the head of security chuckled. “Well, don’t let it get to you. By your first week of the tour, you’ll be an old hat at this. Just don’t take life too seriously, and you should get by just fine.”
Blaze tried to smile, but his nerves were so shot by this time that it came out wobbly. Luckily, the other man was concentrating on typing something on his computer as he adjusted the camera. “Do they call you Blaze for those red streaks in your hair?”
He reached up and tugged the dyed strands absently. “No, I’ve had the nickname for a while. Can you put my nickname on the badge as well, sir?”
“No formalities around here, sonny. Call me Terry.”
“Like Jason, huh?” Blaze asked.
Terry’s eyes widened. “Uhm, the boss-man? Everyone either calls him Boss or Mr. Stockton.”
“Oh? He told me to call him Jason.”
He looked at his computer as he directed his camera at Blaze. “Really? Wow. He must have taken a shine to you. Not a bad thing considering all of his connections in the music business. Smile for the camera.”
Blaze gave a closed lip smile as the camera clicked, and Terry continued on. “Yeah, the boss-man is quite the celebrity. His brother is a famous actor and his parents… well, they’re both silver-screen legends. He decided to stay busy behind the scenes, but it doesn’t stop the women from throwing themselves at him.”
Blaze flushed with embarrassment. Had he done that exact thing? Had he thrown himself at Jas—Mr. Stockton? He corrected himself mentally, thinking of the proper name to call the manager. He was Blaze’s boss, after all, even though using formalities didn’t change the fact Blaze had nearly begged him for sex. His cheeks flamed as he thought about it. Had it really been the most professional thing to do?
Terry slapped his pass down on the desk, a hard plastic badge with his picture on it. “Don’t lose it, kid,” he said with a cackle.
Jennifer smiled at the head of security before gesturing for him to follow. He had almost forgotten about the personal assistant while he had been talking to the burly man. She seemed to blend in with her surroundings, a special trick for someone who seemed to talk so much. He wanted to ask her how she managed to do it, but she was already talking. “So make yourself at home. The crew will get your guitar and put it on stage for you around five p.m. today so you can practice with the rest of the band. Just realize they have toured with Cassie before and they know their marks on stage better than you. Try to relax and just do your best today.”
He tried to do that as he grabbed a cup of coffee and took a self-guided tour of the San Antonio Alamodome, their home for the next three weeks. A couple of floors of offices with brown doors and white walls got boring quickly, and after a while, he wound up sitting in the stands, watching the crew put the stage together. As he sat there, he tried to digest what had happened earlier in the morning.
He had noticed Terry had said women kept throwing themselves at the manager. Dread settled into Blaze’s stomach as he realized it meant the manager was probably straight. Maybe Mr. Stockton was bisexual. Blaze had always known he was always inclined toward liking both sexes, even though his innate shyness had kept him from doing anything about it.
He hadn’t seen the manager since his audition, not even walking across the stage or around the venue. He wondered if he could get up the balls to tell Mr. Stockton about his attraction the next time he saw the older man. Would he look into Mr. Stockton’s eyes and see desire there again? Blaze had never experienced such an intense sexual attraction to another man. Did the other man feel a zing of desire or perhaps the dull ache as it settled in his groin, like Blaze did?
Shame flooded him. At the ripe old age of twenty-three, he was supposed to have some knowledge in the romance department. Being a guy and a virgin wasn’t attractive. Girls expected him to have some kind of experience, even if was just a hand job. Guys figured you were only experimenting and not serious about being bisexual. Even most bisexual guys had been with a girl by his age.
Blaze ran his hand through his hair and pursed his lips. Confusion set in as he stared off into space, his thoughts racing from subject to subject. How could he not be totally thrown for a loop? He had just been attracted to his boss, an amazingly hot guy with the sexiest ass he had ever seen. What could possibly go wrong, except for everything?
JASON tapped his fingers on the desk as he waited impatiently on hold. He wasn’t used to waiting for anything, least of all for information on when Cassie’s private plane would be touching down. He’d planned on meeting her at the executive airport to discuss the media blitz occurring after the three weeks of practice were over, but now he could barely concentrate on the elevator music that was humming in his ear.
Blaze had thrown him for a loop, to say the least. When he’d walked into the room, all he could see were those eyes, an incredible shade of aquamarine that had stolen his breath away. Jason had felt hypnotized, like he could fall into those ocean colored eyes. He barely took notice of his thick, glossy hair with the obviously dyed red streaks throughout or those full lips moistened by the tongue that had just passed over them. To regain his sanity, he had turned away, hoping he could stabilize some before starting the audition.
He’d never felt so off-kilter. Jason felt like someone had punched him in the gut as he tried to hide his interest, taking in the guitarist’s striking features. Blaze Shinozuka had to know how sexy he was. With a thick, muscular body that Jason was nearly drooling over and gorgeous, exotic features, the guy probably had women throwing himself at his feet all day long. What guy wouldn’t like that, unless he was gay?
He tried to stay focused on the task at hand, keeping to open-ended questions so he could listen to Blaze’s rich baritone. He’d been impressed with Blaze’s qualifications and his schooling. Berklee was a top school for musicians, and he knew quite a few people in the industry who had degrees from there. Blaze was qualified for the job, and he had a talent for playing the guitar like Jason had never seen before. So why had Blaze so obviously flirted with him?
Was he trying to use sex to get the job? The label probably hadn’t told Blaze just how desperately they were in need of a guitarist after the little idiot, better known as the famous pop star Cassie, had thrown her ex-fiancé, the previous guitarist, off the tour?
The label had pretty much hired the guitarist before he’d even set foot inside the arena. Jason hadn’t really had a say in the matter, except to confirm Blaze was of a high enough caliber to play on tour. The fact was that Blaze was much better than the sugary pop sounds Cassie cranked out on a regular basis.
The secretary at the airport came back on the line and confirmed Cassie’s plane would be arriving on time. Jason thanked her absently and hung up, all the while thinking of the guitarist.
If he was anyone else, Jason would have made a move, fucked him, and gotten over it. But they would be working together, and that could make for a sticky situation, not to mention it went against every rule Jason had. Blaze had nothing to worry about, but Jason had everything to lose. He’d worked too hard over the past eight years building his music management business to risk it all for a quick affair. He was essentially something akin to Blaze’s boss, even if he didn’t make the direct decisions about what happened in day-to-day tour operations. Jason just couldn’t get past his unwritten code not to dabble at work, but then Blaze might be someone he was willing to break all the rules for.
The true test of his willpower had come when Blaze had looked at him, his intentions clear on his face as he said he wanted it more than anything. Jason’s mind knew the guitarist meant the job, but his dick had other ideas. It had taken every ounce of his self-control not to bend him over the desk and fuck him silly.
In a flash, he saw himself at Blaze’s feet, looking up at the guitarist as he begged to suck the younger man’s cock. He saw a confident smile on those full lips, those aqua eyes full of lust as Blaze unbuttoned his own jeans, shimmying out them slowly, seductively.
Jason shook his head to clear it. He needed to concentrate on getting some work done before picking up the singer at the airport. He welcomed the distraction from his errant thoughts of the hot, studly guitarist who would no doubt be intruding on his thoughts from now on.
BLAZE stood on the stage next to Jennifer as she introduced him. “This is Blaze Shinozuka, and he’ll be our new lead guitarist. I hope you’ll welcome him. And now for our pyrotechnic staff….” She kept talking, but after his introduction, he tuned her out as he looked around the staff gathered. He realized who he was looking for and tried to stop.
As Jennifer finished announcing the new additions to the tour staff, Mr. Stockton came in from the back of the stadium. “Look who I found,” he called out as he led a tiny slip of a girl through the crowd. She was shaking hands as she went, a very bright smile plastered on her face. She was rather pretty, but she looked different in person than in the magazine pictures where she was all dolled up.
She came to stand in front of him, her dark green eyes peering up at him. “Jerry told me I’d have a new guitarist when I came back. I hear you’re good,” she said, her eyes narrowing.
Blaze froze. “I promise to do my best,” he stammered, not used to taking compliments.
She smirked. “You should. I—” Her sentence was cut off as she looked over his right shoulder. She was staring so intensely that he just had to look over it himself, and he found Mr. Stockton standing there, an unreadable expression on his face. She cleared her throat. “Well, good luck.”
He felt perplexed, but she turned on her heel and walked away before he could ask. He turned to the manager and asked, “What just went on there?”
Mr. Stockton glanced at his phone briefly before looking Blaze in the eye. “How are you settling in?” The older man answered Blaze’s question with his own, leaving the guitarist pondering the mystery.
Blaze tried to play it cool when in reality, his heart was pounding. “Doing great,” he said as stuffed his hands in his pockets, trying to relax.
Mr. Stockton nodded. “That’s good. Listen, if you need anything, just ask Jennifer and she’ll get it for you,” he said as he turned to walk away.
Blaze opened his mouth. Ask him anything, just don’t act like a fucking idiot again. “I’ll see you around?” he asked, willing cool composure into his voice but worried he was failing miserably. He hoped the other man understood the deeper meaning in his question.
The manager shot him a dazzling smile that sent blood rushing from Blaze’s brain directly to his cock. “Definitely.”
JASON tried to play it cool as he walked away. Inside, he felt anything but calm. Jealousy had risen within him, unbidden and certainly unwanted, when he’d seen Cassie with that gleam in her eye as she looked at Blaze. She’d always had a thing for guitarists, and he had watched her go through them one after another before finally settling down with Craig. Jason felt like he should have known the union was doomed from the get-go.
As he watched her honing in on Blaze, he’d felt the razor-sharp teeth of a green-eyed monster inside him, but also a well of protectiveness towards the younger man he’d found confusing. He didn’t want to explore either emotion right now, knowing just how risky dating someone from work was, especially someone of the same sex.
He was thankful for the distraction when his phone rang. As he answered, he started to put his attention toward business matters and not the sexy guitarist.