RENE CONETTE dropped a twenty on the wood as the bartender placed his whiskey, neat, in front of him. He took a sip, enjoying the burn as it moved down his throat. This was why he always paid for the top-shelf. Well, the fact was that he could, and that would have been enough. That it tasted so much better was a bonus.
He stood from his stool and wandered over to a booth near the stage and settled into it, pleased for the dark lighting in the tiny little club. If only the hangers-on could see him now. They’d never believe he’d chosen to come here, to be alone and anonymous and listen to some live music performed not by some hot, hip, or well-established band, but by someone local, possibly someone just starting out. Honoré had given him a tip that Sunday night’s performer was worth making a special trip for.
He’d always enjoyed the atmosphere at the Painted Dog. Small and dark, it was never crowded but often full. From the outside it looked like a dingy little bar, but it was clean, it never smelled musty, and their poutine was Ottawa’s best kept secret—utterly divine. When they threw in a musician worth coming for all on his own, that was perfect.
Rene took a sip of his whiskey, enjoying the way it heated him from the top of his throat all the way to his belly. He leaned against the back of the bench and closed his eyes for a moment, simply enjoying being on his own, with only the quiet murmurs of voices in the background and the occasional clink of glasses hitting wood. This was why he came here—it was relaxing, and he didn’t have to talk to a single person once he’d ordered his drink. He opened his eyes after a few minutes and took another sip of his whiskey.
The bar went quiet as a lean man walked onto the postage-stamp-sized stage wearing nothing but a pair of leather pants and tattoos, the dark tribal ink covering the guy’s arms, back, and chest. He grabbed an old acoustic guitar, sat on a stool, and began to play, one bare foot propped on a rung. How odd—no introduction, no applause. Just this dark-haired man and his guitar. How… intriguing.
Rene straightened in his seat, his plan of closing his eyes and leaning back to enjoy the music put to bed. This man deserved to be watched.
There was no question that the guy was in his own world, not even remotely paying attention to the audience, instead completely absorbed in his guitar.
Rene was utterly fascinated, the music intense, full of feeling. He couldn’t put his finger on the style, on the inspiration, but the music seemed to be drenched in sex and need, in raw passion. This wasn’t soothing music. This was sheer arousal, pouring from the guitar player’s fingers to his audience. To Rene.
The bar remained utterly silent, barring the music. Rene spared a moment to glance around, and all eyes were on the player, everyone swaying slowly, as drawn in as he was.
This was utter magic. The musician played the crowd like a master despite the fact that he seemed utterly oblivious to his surroundings. The music grew in intensity, tightening around them all like a spring. Like a burgeoning orgasm. Rene was hard as a rock, every hair on his body standing on end. He wasn’t simply sitting anymore either. He leaned forward, all of him straining to hear more, have more.
When the music climaxed, he swore there were people in the crowd who came too. The music floated, drawing them down, and then stopped, the man walking off stage without a word. Stunned, Rene spent a long moment simply sitting there, staring at the empty stage. It remained quiet in the bar too, as if everyone else felt the same way.
Rene shook himself and stood. Then, without hesitation, he headed to the door on the other side of the stage that led into the back, determined to find this musical magician.
A huge bouncer stood at the door, surprising the hell out of him. The bar not only wasn’t big enough for a bouncer, it had never had one before in all the time he’d been coming here.
He gave the man a cursory nod and continued forward, aiming to go around the extremely large man.
“No one is allowed in the back, sir.” The words were quietly spoken but quite firm.
“I’d like to meet the musician.” It was more than that, though—it seemed to Rene they were meant to meet. The guy had been playing right to him, twisting them together with every note. How could this not end in an encounter?
“No one is allowed in the back, sir,” the man repeated. “I’m sorry.” The guy really was huge, his arms crossed over his chest making him appear immovable.
This wouldn’t do at all. Rene wanted to meet the man who put his soul so entirely into his music. And want was such a pale word for how he felt. “Let me through,” he insisted.
The bouncer’s eyebrows drew together, a slight frown appearing on the implacable face. “Look, man.”
“Dev, what’s going on?” The voice from beyond the doorway was low, husky. Raw.
Rene answered as if the question had been asked of him. “This guy won’t let me through.”
“That’s his job, to keep you out.” That voice did nothing to assuage Rene’s need to meet the man behind it.
“But you’re the one who invited me,” Rene insisted.
“I had to follow the music. To meet the man who made me hard through the notes of his guitar.” The man had rendered him absolutely poetic.
“Are you a lyricist?”
“Not at all.” He was frustrated, talking to the shadows around the bulk of the security guard. He wasn’t used to having barriers put in his way like this.
“I’m sorry. I have to go. Dev? Is the car ready?”
And then the shadow was gone, the bouncer following. They disappeared down the dark hall.
Rene growled a little, actual sound coming from him. He was not a man who didn’t get his way. In fact, most people went out of their way to be with him, to give him what he desired.
He wasn’t stymied for long, though. With a smile on his lips and a hard-on that still hadn’t quit, he made his way back to the bar to begin his inquiries. He would find out who this magical musician was, and he would meet the man.
GAVIN WRAPPED himself in a huge sweater, an even bigger trench coat, and a knit cap. He wanted a cup of coffee and a BeaverTail, and that meant leaving the house.
“Silas? Are you ready?”
Dev’s twin grinned at him, the jolly brother his constant companion during the day. “I am. I heard last night went well.”
“Very. Yes. Thanks.”
“Dev mentioned an admirer?”
“Some guy. Pretty, but….” But he didn’t interact with fans. Or people. Just Dev and Silas. “You know.”
Silas stepped up and wrapped him in a warm hug. “I know.”
Five years since the brothers had rescued him. Five years since he’d hired them from the police department to be his own private security. Now they were his friends, his family, his defenders. Nobody got close anymore. Not one single person.
It hadn’t been a concern in ages anyway. Nobody knew who he was anymore. No one bothered him here at the house or the few times he ventured out. That someone had wanted closer access last night made him squirm.
“Take me out to get coffee?” He was being brave going to get his java on his own instead of making do with the fancy machine in his kitchen.
“You got it, honey.” Silas was always armed, always ready, just like Dev. They were one of the few reasons he ever felt safe. The main reason, really.
Gavin kissed Silas’s cheek, and they headed to the unremarkable black SUV in the garage. This was his life now, hiding in the shadows, never being alone. It was the only way he felt safe, but he had to admit that sometimes he was lonely, despite the twins being there. Sometimes he yearned for more, for someone else in his life.
Of course, whenever he stepped out alone, he panicked, so… it was a shitty catch-22.
His phone rang, and the call display told him it was Rick, owner of the Painted Dog, where he’d played last night.
Gavin answered with a smile. Okay, so he had a few acquaintances he knew well enough to speak to on the phone now and then. Hell, he’d learned that the Painted Dog had a stage by being a very occasional patron there. The place wasn’t busy on weekday nights near closing time. “Hey, man. How goes?”
“Hi, Gav. Good, good. You wowed them last night, as usual.”
“Thanks. I try. Seriously, thanks for giving me a place to play.” He used to play arena shows, now he hid behind his ink in a tiny bar. He needed to play, though, and this gave him an outlet.
“Hey, you make the place legit.” Rick cleared his throat. “One of last night’s patrons really wanted to meet you. I told him I’d let you know, so now I have.”
“Thanks.” He didn’t meet people. “Do you know him?”
“He’s a regular, and I did a bit of research this morning. He’s got a reputation as a playboy, but I can’t find much to actually substantiate that.”
“Ah. Well, that’s nice.” Playboy? No way. At all. He didn’t need that kind of energy in his life.
Rick chuckled. “I told him you wouldn’t be interested. Then he said something weird. ‘Tell him I know that the safeword is sacred.’ Or something like that.”
“I have to go.” He ended the call, his entire body flushed with sweat all of a sudden. Did this guy know him? He didn’t understand. How could this guy know? He didn’t look like Fallon Davies anymore. He’d gone back to his real name, his real hair color. He stayed out of the public eye. Hell, he stayed out of the public for the most part.
“What’s the matter?” Silas asked immediately, suddenly on high alert.
“I want to go through the drive-through. I want to go home.” He was too exposed here, despite the dark tint on the bulletproof windows.
Silas growled. “Who do I need to kill?”
“The man from last night. He mentioned a safeword to Rick.” He met Silas’s eyes. “Dev ran him off yesterday.”
“A safeword? How did he know you’re a sub? Who the hell would know that?” Silas pulled into the drive-through of the Timmies because it was closer than Second Cup or Starbucks.
“I don’t know….” He curled away from the light when the window opened.
Silas placed their order, then pulled up to pay. “Breathe, Gav. You’re safe.”
“I know.” He was. He lived with two of the biggest, baddest sons of bitches on earth, who loved him like a brother and took care of him. He didn’t have to lie to them or hide from them. Hell, they encouraged full disclosure so that they could protect him more fully.
Silas paid for their coffees, then passed his over to him. “I got you the biggest one. Figured you need it.”
“Thank you. I do.” He could smell hazelnut and cream, and it soothed him.
“You still want something to eat while we’re out? Or you want to just get home?”
“I want to go home.” He wouldn’t feel safe until he was back in his own space with its fences and dense foliage and locked doors.
“Whatever you want, boss.” Silas gave him a sad look that said Silas wished things were different for him.
“I want a BeaverTail. That’s all I wanted, you know?” He was whining. Was he whining? He was pretty sure he was whining.
“So let’s go get you a BeaverTail.” Silas said it like it was so easy.
“I’ve got you. I swear.” Silas pulled up to the road. “Come on, fried dough, cinnamon, lemon….”
“Uhn. It’s been so long.” He could almost taste it, though. In fact, he was salivating.
“With my life.” And that was the truth.
“Then let’s get you that BeaverTail.” Silas put on the indicator, then turned the SUV left, heading toward the market.
“Okay. Thank you.” He reached out and touched Silas’s arm. Silas and his twin continued to save him every day—often, like just now, from himself.
“Hey, you know I’ve got your back.”
“I do. I know. I just…. I hate this,” he admitted. He’d been doing pretty well lately too, and he hated that all it took was one little thing to twist him up again and make him nervy.
“I’m going to call Rick and get this guy’s name. We’ll investigate him thoroughly.” And that right there was why Silas and Dev made him feel safe.
“Thank you. Please. Make him leave me alone.” Was that really too much to ask?
“You got it, boss. I’m on it.”
The words relaxed him, eased him. “Thanks, Silas. I’m sure he’s a very nice man, but….”
But he wasn’t ready for anyone, nice or not. It was possible he never would be.