FADING INTO the shadows and hiding was second nature to Zack Davis. People didn’t notice him. His older brother was a drummer in a wildly popular rock band, and his younger brother was a talented, outgoing artist. Zack was easily overlooked between the two of them.
Probably a good thing since he was nothing but a twisted fuck. Invisibility had been his shield of choice, his only way of masking how much he didn’t belong… anywhere.
Now, at least, he had a job that utilized his skills of stealth. He was a roadie for his brother’s rock band, the Dark Angels, a job whose main objective was to get things done while drawing no attention.
His boss told him his duties during this afternoon’s sound check were to be ready for anything the band needed and to stay out of sight. Zack stood behind the curtain, comfortably hidden while the band checked their equipment. He focused on his assignment of waiting around and staring at the stage, or at least he tried.
Who is that?
Need slashed through Zack. He attempted for the millionth time not to stare at the man in leather who paced back and forth, speaking in hushed tones into a cell phone. That wasn’t a unique scenario backstage. But the way the leather clung held Zack’s attention hostage.
He’d always found the sight and smell of leather a turn-on. Images from the latest BDSM website he’d joined danced through his head. Not even being kicked out of his mother’s home for his “perversity” drove him to control his need to explore his dark desires.
Damn, why wouldn’t Sex-in-Leather turn around? The way he faced the opposite direction made it too easy for Zack to drool over how the black leather cupped the guy’s ass to perfection. Wow, his jacket must have been tailored to fit the expanse of his broad shoulders and narrow hips.
Zack memorized the enticing image for use at a more appropriate time.
Getting hard at work might violate his contract, so he redirected his attention to the sound check. It appeared to be going well, but what the hell did he know? This was his first concert working as a roadie.
Dusty finished his solo on the drums. His voice echoed a bit through the sound system as he said, “Your turn, Josh and Dare.”
The bass and lead guitar players tested their equipment by plucking their strings in a duel between the instruments. Josh switched out his bass halfway through the song to check his guitar. Damn, they should do that during a concert. The crowd would love it.
“Charlie, I just don’t understand….” The leather man’s exasperation carried across the backstage area.
Zack turned and caught sight of the man’s chiseled movie-star profile, which was marred by a frown.
The guy ran his fingers through his dark brown hair and asked into the cell, “What do you mean you’re not going to make it?”
Zack shouldn’t be listening, so he pulled out his own phone. He’d gotten one text from his little brother, Jordon, stating, Late, signed with a little artist emoji.
Zack quickly texted back, Why? Justin still with you?
Zack released the breath he’d been holding. OK, he typed back. His kid brother might very well be the death of him.
His phone buzzed with another text. Stop worrying. Fine.
He shouldn’t worry. His older brother’s boyfriend, Justin, was good with Jordon, but some habits didn’t die.
Another text followed. B there in 20.
He slipped his phone into his pocket as the makeup artist darted past him and then rushed over to him. “Zack, honey, did you see Augusto?”
“Um, who?” He tried to remember her name. Carla? Cindy? Celia? Casey? It was something with a C.
She sighed with a touch of “I’m going to strangle you” and said, “Oh right, you’re new. He’s the hairdresser. The bastard’s late again.”
How would that impact the show? “Oh, Augusto. No, I haven’t seen him. Sorry.”
“If you see the fucker, tell him to get his ass to the dressing room pronto,” she called over her shoulder as she jogged off in the opposite direction.
Should Zack look for him? He glanced down the hallway she’d run. No, the stage manager told him to be here and help with the sound check. That’s what he’d do. Besides, Zack wouldn’t know the hairdresser in question if he walked right past him.
Zack glanced back in the direction of the sexy man milling around with his phone to his ear. His tone tense, Sex-in-Leather asked, “You’re going to whose party? But I thought—I’m not forcing you to do anything…. Okay, I’ll s—” He pulled the cell away from his ear and stared down at the device. Shaking his head, he said, “See you later.”
With liquid movements, Sex-in-Leather pushed his cell back into his jacket pocket. How was such a simple action so alluring? What would he be like in the dark? Or better yet, the light, so Zack could see Sex-in-Leather’s excitement twist into satisfaction.
Lost in fascinated lust, he stared for a second too long.
Shit! The guy caught him midgawk.
Zack spun toward the progress on stage. He edged deeper into the curtains, hoping to camo himself into invisibility.
On stage, Angel Luv, the lead singer of the Dark Angels, was testing his microphone by singing nursery rhymes. Zack had never thought of The Three Little Pigs as a ménage story, but with a few word changes, the plot was right there.
A deep, rich laugh rang out and warmed Zack’s insides.
Curiosity made him glance over his shoulder. Leather’s mesmerizing blue eyes stared at him from only a few feet away.
All blood, sense, and reason left Zack’s head.
Kneel. Serve. His.
“Um… hi.” Zack’s voice picked a shitty time to crack.
Lame. Lame. Lame.
The most exquisite man he’d ever seen, and all Zack came up with was “um hi.” He should have gone to college; he’d have made a stunning communications major.
“I’m Andrew Nikeman.”
Kneel. Serve. Wait!
“Nikeman?” He repeated the word as if it tasted funny in his mouth. Nikeman. Well, that was shitastic! He’d filled his spank bank with images of—“Justin’s brother?”
“Yeah. Oh wait, are you one of Dusty’s brothers?”
“Zack Davis. Um, our brothers are dating, er, well, now I guess they’re living together.”
Fuckety fuck fuck.
“Indeed.” Andrew gave him a million-dollar smile that made Zack want to drop to his knees.
Managing to stay on his feet but with a dry mouth, sweaty hands, and the beginning of an erection, Zack prayed for something not completely stupid to come out of his mouth.
Andrew’s brilliant blue T-shirt matched his eyes, but that wasn’t really a conversation starter. Clearly, the deity in charge of lust had better things to do other than throw him a bone.
Why did their brothers have to be dating? Zack could… do nothing. This guy was way out of his league. Fantasies and dreams were the only option left, but even those bordered on wrong.
A voice from the stage broke the spell. “Zack Davis? Zack Davis. Please report to the stage with a new set of drumsticks. Your dumbass brother managed to break all of his. Ow! Don’t throw your broken sticks at me!” Angel tapped the microphone, making everyone wince. “Is this thing on? Oh Zackery? Zack?”
“Oh, I should….” He gestured toward the stage but didn’t want to go. “I’ll, um, see you soon.”
Proud he’d managed words, Zack smiled, spun on his heel, and slammed right into the wall behind the curtain.
He crashed backward.
Strong arms caught him, preventing his ass from hitting the floor.
Oh God! Mmmm, oh God…. He wanted to stay right there forever in Andrew’s embrace. Damn, the body he reclined against was as hard as it appeared under the leather. The scent of leather and man and….
His rescuer steadied him and stepped back. Maybe it had become clear Zack wasn’t making any attempt to stand on his own two feet.
Dazed, Zack muttered, “Yeah. Thanks.”
He grabbed several spare sets of sticks off the table. Shoving aside the curtain that betrayed him, he used his hand to find the moving wall before he escaped to the stage.
Angel chuckled. “Zack, did you whittle those?”
“No, sorry, I was…” making an idiot out of myself backstage.
Zack handed the drumsticks off to his brother. Then, darting to Angel, he plucked a piece of the broken stick out of the singer’s hair.
Elsewhere on stage, Josh made his guitar sing before swapping the instrument out for the bass.
Dusty busted on the bass player, “You can front all you want, Josh. Just remember, The Doors made it without a bass player so… how relevant are you?”
Josh winked at Zack and hid his grin as he turned toward the drummer. He fluttered his fingers. “You know what this is, Dust?”
Zack bit back his smile as he worked on gathering the rest of the wood shards scattered across the stage.
“You trying to find the strings of your bass?” Dusty stared across the stage with a confused expression.
“No? A flock of these,” Josh said as he flipped him the middle finger times two.
No one would ever guess this bunch of misbehaving adolescents were actually famous rockers. Though the true delinquents were the two that had started the band, his brother and Dusty’s best friend, Angel Luv. Angel shouldn’t ever be without adult supervision, and while Dusty might have raised Zack and their younger brother, Jordon, Angel seemed to bring out Dusty’s immature side.
Zack bit back his chuckle and scurried off the stage, which now roared with the band’s laughter. He envied the band, not their rock-star status, but their camaraderie. One of the drawbacks of being invisible was that he didn’t have many friends.
Andrew leaned against the back wall like a model at a photo shoot. Phone in hand, he glanced up and smiled at Zack. “Crisis averted?”
“Yeah.” Someone must have rolled in the rack of costumes for the show, and Zack busied himself with adjusting the hangers. He shifted the rod to a diagonal position, which allowed him to watch Andrew without being obvious.
Andrew peered at him. “Being the drummer’s brother, you’ve probably been backstage a lot.”
“Yeah, some.” Not this past year, though. His mother had decided the Dark Angels’ concerts were sinful, so he and Jordon hadn’t been allowed to go. In her divine wisdom, she tried to stop them from seeing Dusty altogether a few months ago. But that had the opposite effect, because now they were both living with Dusty… well, were on tour with him.
The makeup artist came rushing back through. “No Augusto, right?”
“Nope, sorry.” Zack stopped fussing with the clothing.
“Son of a bitch! That little prick!” rang through the backstage a moment before Megan, the group’s manager, stomped in, waving her cell. “Fucking cocksucker!” She looked up and realized she wasn’t alone. “Oh, sorry. No offense. I love sucking cock too.”
Was she referring to Zack? If so, damn way to out him. Wait! Was she referring to both him and Andrew? Was Andrew gay?
He dared a peek at Andrew and got caught up in his dreamy gaze.
Andrew gave Zack a small nod.
Was that a nod of confirmation? An indication of solidarity from a member of the cocksuckers union he’d yet to join? What did the nod mean? Did he want his cock sucked? Did he want to suck cock? ’Cause Zack would be up for any of that! He nodded at Megan.
Megan handed her phone to the makeup artist. “Here, Cindy. Read this.”
She looked down, handed the phone back, and flapped her hands. “So now what?”
Megan put her hands up. “I’ve got to make calls. Have faith.”
Zack whispered to Cindy, “What happened?”
“Augusto was arrested for DUI and possession… again. I hope he goes to jail this time.” She shook her head and frowned. “The band put him in rehab twice.”
The members of the band flooded backstage.
Dusty and Josh danced past the curtain, bobbing and darting around. They both tried to avoid being whacked themselves while attempting to smack the other in the head.
Darius and Robin were speaking in whispers.
Angel meandered in last as he sipped from a mug.
Dusty put Josh in a headlock. Josh did a quick spin, and somehow the move ended with Dusty’s arms being secured behind his back.
Damn! Good move! Josh needed to teach Zack how to execute that.
Dusty reminded him, “Drumming tonight.”
Josh released him but smacked him in the head and ducked to miss Dusty’s retaliation swat.
Angel stopped drinking. He glanced around, cocked his head, and squinted at Cindy.
She ran down the hall, telling him, “Ask Megan.”
Instead of asking Megan, the singer’s attention fell onto Zack. “Spill.”
It wasn’t his place to say anything, but Megan appeared to be busy swearing into the phone. “Um, well, I think Augusto… he won’t make it tonight.”
“My hair!” Robin, the blue-and-green-haired keyboard player, wailed, looking as if the plague had broken out.
Josh told him, “You look fine.”
“It’s flat!” Robin was trying to fluff out his lion’s mane of hair. He had terrible stage fright and was only able to perform when hidden behind his impressive hairstyle, Robin’s own brand of duck and cover while under the spotlight. “I don’t even have a hat!”
The other roadies filtered back in from the smoking area and the tour buses. The news of Augusto’s arrest spread like wildfire. They guessed at the details and filled the gaps where necessary.
There were so many people backstage Zack couldn’t see Andrew. Not that he looked. The guy probably thought Zack was a complete tool.
A roadie, whose name Zack didn’t want to remember because he was a dick, asked, “Are they still going out there without their hair all prettied up? Will the music even sound as good?”
Dusty got into the guy’s face. “Problem?”
People seemed to forget Dusty was tall and had major arm power from drumming for hours at a time. Dust was a placid kind of a guy, but you didn’t fuck with Justin, Dusty’s brothers, or the band, especially this close to showtime, unless you had a death wish.
“Um… no.” The guy backed down.
Angel clapped and got everyone’s attention. “Okay, Pretties. Let’s get to our battle stations and get ready for the show.”
Zack glanced over at his supervisor for direction, but he got an index finger telling him to wait.
Angel danced to Megan as if there wasn’t an issue. “So, Megan, solutions?”
She ended her call with a loud “Fuck you!” and plastered on a big smile. “How are you guys at doing your own hair?” The lilt in her voice suggested they should be excited about the opportunity.
Robin groaned like he’d been shot.
Dusty shrugged. He ran fingers through his long hair and said, “Done.”
Angel moved his hands toward his head. He stopped and dropped his hands to his sides. “Why mess with the perfection that is Angel Luv?”
Andrew stepped forward and cleared his throat. “I’d be happy to offer my services.”
Angel took a step back and shook his head. “Thanks. You’re handsome and all that, but I’m taken. Darius is my one and only fluffer.”
Darius whacked him.
“Careful you don’t hurt anything you’ll want later.”
Darius gave him the evil eye.
Everyone laughed except for Angel.
Andrew put his hands out and clarified, “Um, no. I have a hair salon, and I’m happy to assist you with your emergency styling needs.”
Dusty stepped up and said, “Andrew, I didn’t even see you there. Let me introduce my band of idiots. This is Angel Luv. He thinks everyone wants to blow him.”
Angel shrugged. “They do!”
Ignoring the singer, Dusty continued, “This is Darius or Dare Stone. No one knows how or why he puts up with Angel. And this is Josh and Robin Strider…. This is Justin’s brother, Andrew Nikeman.”
Andrew nodded to the band. “Nice to meet all of you. I enjoy your music. Dusty, it’s good to see you again, man.”
“Good to see you,” Dusty said as he gave him a shoulder-clap-man-hug that Zack was not jealous of at all. “Oh, hey, have you met Zack?”
Zack’s invisibility skill failed to melt him into the floor.
Andrew’s gaze seemed glued on him. There was no hiding from this guy. Andrew saw Zack.
“Yeah, I’ve met your kid brother,” Andrew admitted with a smile.
“Emphasis on kid,” Dusty growled.
“I’m eighteen,” Zack snarled. He hated being referred to as a kid. Eighteen meant being of legal age. Okay, he couldn’t drink, but he was legal for all the things that mattered to him at that moment in time.
Andrew held up his hand. “Sorry, I got your ages mixed up with… um, with Jordon, your little brother.”
Mollified slightly, Zack still needed him to be clear. “Jordon’s only sixteen. I’m eighteen.”
“Sorry, man.” Andrew appeared sincere, but probably still thought of him as a kid. After all, the guy owned a salon and was in his midtwenties. What had Zack done? His big accomplishment was to graduate from high school this past month and land his first job.
Andrew cleared his throat and turned toward the band members. “If I can help with your hair, I’d be happy to.”
Dusty waved him off. “You don’t have to do that. I’m sure we can manage.”
Robin rushed forward, knocking both Dusty and Angel aside. “Oh, sorry, guys. But no, I certainly can’t. Andrew, please! Look at me. I can’t go out there looking like this.”
Andrew grabbed his bag from a shelf. “I have a new wax that you’ll love.”
Robin squealed and dragged him off toward the dressing room.
Josh tripped after his lover, and the rest of the band followed.
Zack looked over to the stage manager, hoping for an assignment.
The asshole roadie grabbed his arm and sneered, “I don’t care who your fucking brother is, you won’t make it as a roadie.”
Fuck that! Zack tugged his arm back. “I wouldn’t put bets on that.”
The stage manager turned and pretended he hadn’t heard the threat.
Zack marched over to his unsupportive supervisor and asked, “What can I do?”
“Just stay out of our way.” The incompetent man waved him away.
He could do that, but he refused to be treated differently. “Joe, I’m one of you. Tell me what needs to be done.”
“Okay, okay, fine. Sweep the stage, clean the buses, and empty the trash.”
“Yes, sir.” He took pleasure at how his words gave the stage manager an expression of constipation. His boss needed to dole out much worse if he planned on making Zack give up or give in.
THE OPENING act took the stage. Zack had cleaned the buses, emptied the trash, and swept up the stage and smoking areas.
The supervisor must have run out of the worst type of meaningless jobs he could think of because the man grumbled, “Take your break.”
Zack slipped into the band’s crowded dressing room to check on Jordon.
The band had huddled around their manager on one side of the room.
On the other side, his little brother held court with Dusty’s boyfriend Justin and… Andrew. The kid swung his arms around as he described the exhibition he and Justin had visited at the museum.
Andrew appeared at home chatting about art. Zack had to give him points for being engaged and not condescending like other people were with Jordon.
“Zack!” Jordon called him out of the shadows. He wished he had the kid’s outgoing personality. Jordon asked, “You’ve met Justin’s brother, Andrew, right?”
Without a glance in the man’s direction, Zack nodded.
“Good. So, I was telling Andrew about the exhibition Justin and I went to. Here are the pictures.” Jordon thrust his phone into Zack’s hand. “How’s your first day going?”
“Fine.” Zack kept his head down and lasered in on the pictures and not the man in leather. He scrolled past the modern art quicker than Jordon probably wanted him to and slowed down on the Impressionists. “I like this one.”
Jordon nodded eagerly. “Aw, yeah. The light was wicked in that. Remember this one, Justin?” His little brother nabbed his phone back and shoved it in Justin’s face.
Justin stared at it for a moment. “Yeah, one of my favorites. I love Renoir.”
Jordon shoulder-bumped Zack and asked, “So what’s it like being a roadie?”
“Living the dream.” Zack got the reaction he hoped for when Jordon busted out laughing. When Andrew’s deep chuckle joined in the melody, Zack said, “I should, um… go.”
“What? You just got here,” Jordon complained.
“I’m working.” Zack didn’t know how long he could manage to stay this close to Andrew and not say or do something idiotic.
“Just five more minutes. I miss you,” his little brother pleaded, giving him puppy-dog eyes.
Powerless, Zack agreed. For Jordon he’d suffer much worse than the strain of keeping his foot out of his mouth.
Andrew cleared his throat. “Justin said being a roadie is your first job, Zack?”
He nodded. Shit, he did a lot of that, so he threw in a quick word. “Yeah.” But he couldn’t meet Andrew’s gaze, even as it burned through him.
Jordon leaned into the center of the group as if to reveal a secret. “That’s ’cause he was keeping me out of trouble. Apparently, I’m a handful.” His little brother giggled and snorted. “That’s what he said.”
Zack chuckled. “That Office quote never gets old, does it?”
Justin fist-bumped Jordon and spread his fingers in the “blow it up” gesture. He asked Zack, “I convinced Andrew to hang out with us after the show. Can you join us?”
“Not sure how long the breakdown takes.” Zack said it like he wouldn’t love to spend more time with Andrew. He allowed his gaze to meet Andrew’s.
Kneel. Serve. His.
Justin stage-whispered to Andrew, “Is it bad I’m happy Charlie’s not coming?”
“Who’s Charlie?” The question spilled out of Zack’s mouth before he thought about whether he wanted the answer.
Justin rolled his eyes and grimaced.
“My boyfriend,” Andrew said.
Of course! Charlie was his boyfriend. Someone like Andrew wouldn’t be unattached. Did Zack need a neon light flashing “Bad Idea” above Andrew’s head to get the message?
Kneeling, serving, or being his wouldn’t be happening in this lifetime. Even if he could circumvent dating brothers and the whole totally out-of-his-league concept, a boyfriend landmined any hope.
“I’ll see what time it is when I’m done. If not, I’ll catch you guys in the morning before we head out.” Zack hesitated. Sparkling dialogue not within his grasp, he settled for saying, “Nice to meet you, Andrew.”
He was grateful there had been no hidden wall for him to slam into this time as he left.