Chapter 1

 

 

THIS is the story of how my greatest screwup turned into something wonderful.

I, Zane Roscoe, was sitting at the very end of the bar, my back pressed against the wall, as I studied the men circling me. They passed by, cruising, giving me their suggestive smiles and wicked winks and wordless promises of a casual night of pleasure.

I’d had a rotten day at my evil day job—said job courtesy of my older brother Zak, who insisted I needed to learn about responsibility—working as an assistant manager at a local musical-instrument store. My boss, Carl Jenkins, was the definition of a jerk. He didn’t have an artistic or musical bone in his robust body, which looked more like it belonged in a chop shop or a junkyard than a store selling musical instruments and supplies. And yes, being an assistant manager to an asshole was as exciting as it sounded.

Minding one’s own business was pointless in a gay nightclub, especially after a day that sucked ass the wrong way. My goal was getting laid. I had brought this misery on myself, this foolish state of mind of wanting… I knew not what. I could have gone home after work and drunk myself into a stupor all by my lonesome. But here I was, in the Pump and Circumstance, a pretty decent club close to the brand-new loft apartment I shared with two roommates, both of them as young and crazy as me.

Anyway, I wasn’t looking for a meaningful connection.

I came here to fuck or be fucked. Mostly the former, considering my boss did an awesome job fucking me on a daily basis. No, not like that. Yuck. Just… being a jerk, counting every penny, worrying over every bohemian or rocker dude who entered the store as if they were out to get him, and generally being a prick about every goddamn thing, from the fleck of dust on a guitar to the muddy footprint on the floor by the door. And getting a raise from the fastidious dick was less likely than winning the jackpot in the lottery three times in a row.

All right, enough whining.

Like I said, I was looking to hook up with a hot, gorgeous guy for a night of senseless fucking. Sure, it would improve my mood only until I got up in the morning, feeling as shitty as ever. But that was tomorrow.

Tonight I wanted to get laid.

And Lady Luck seemed to be on my side as the barman came up to me. I assumed he did it to ask if I wanted a refill of my Pornstar—a drink made of vodka, blue curaçao, grenadine, and Sprite—which I had been nursing most of the night. Instead, he leaned in close, planted a fresh drink in front of me, and whispered in my ear, “From the cute blond over there.” With his thumb he pointed vaguely behind himself, toward the other end of the bar. Yep, there was a cute blond sitting there with two other guys, huddled together as if enjoying a good fire, and said cute blond was smiling in my direction.

Not a bad prospect, I thought to myself, examining the dude from afar. But I needed a closer look. So I waded through the thumping, jumping crowd of sweaty, feverishly hot bodies of men who all wanted the same thing until I got to him and his friends. “Hi.”

The guy quirked a curious eyebrow, and then his gaze raked all over me. The familiar flush of heat spread through me as he did so. Up close, I could see that his blondness was a dye job, and those pearly whites flashing at me from behind that salacious smile were caps, but the green eyes were real enough. And as long as he tasted okay, gave good head, and was willing to bottom, I couldn’t have cared less if he turned into a pumpkin in the morning. One of us would be gone by then anyway. My money was on him.

“Hi.” His voice was smooth and laden with sultry promises, and I wanted to take him up on those offers of delight.

“Here, you can take this seat.” A mousy kid who had been sitting next to the blond guy got up a little shakily, perhaps drunk, and gave me his seat. His voice had been so soft, I almost hadn’t heard it, and he looked scared. I flashed a grateful, winning smile at him and took the offered seat.

The blond guy leaned away from his friends and in my direction, and I engaged in idle, mindless chatter that functioned as a mere prelude to doing the nasty. I was about to ask him if he had a place nearby—easier to get out of his place than push him out of mine—when the barman set another drink in front of me. He whispered in my ear softly, with a slightly scolding tone that sent an unfamiliar embarrassment burning through me from head to toe, “Not this guy. The guy who bought you the drink was the guy who gave you his seat.”

For a second I was torn between believing the barman was pulling my leg—but really, what would have been his motive?—and wanting him to be lying so I hadn’t inadvertently made a complete ass of myself and hurt the feelings of my secret admirer, whom I had apparently rejected before I’d even realized who he was.

I turned to the blond in front of me who was oblivious to anything that didn’t have to do with sexual innuendo. “Did you buy me this drink?”

The guy blinked as if I were speaking a foreign language, then glanced at my drink and suddenly grinned. “You bet. Did you like it?”

Yep, there wasn’t anything real about this guy, and I was disgusted both by him for his deception and at myself for being such a jerk and jumping to conclusions—not to mention my apparently horrendous taste in men.

I faced the barman. “Did you see where he went?”

The big bulky man, who might’ve given me a hell of a ride himself had I been so inclined, nodded toward the door. “He left.”

“Fuck.” I didn’t exactly run toward the exit, but I didn’t dawdle either. I don’t know why it suddenly mattered so much that I find the right guy and explain my purposeless idiocy to him.

The roar of the crowd was muffled as soon as the metal door slammed shut behind me. Outside the club, it was cold and windy as winter made its way to us. Any warmth I had carried dissipated in an instant, and I realized my clothes weren’t adequate to ward off the chill. The people standing in line to get in were bitching about the cool air too. Hey, at least it wasn’t snowing, not that it ever did in La La Land.

I looked around in haste, wondering if I had any real chance of catching the guy. He was probably long gone. Besides, I barely remembered what he looked like, only that he was small and inconspicuous. Mousy was the word that had come to mind, although that was an image I wanted to shake off—for my sake as well as his.

On the verge of giving up my quest, I suddenly spotted a hunched figure sitting with his back toward me on the stone retaining wall separating the tiny club parking lot from the pebbly, concrete riverbank. If it hadn’t been for the glow of the security lights at the edge of the lot, I never would have seen him at all. His posture spoke of dejection as he sat looking out at the dark, murky waters of the Los Angeles River. The temperature had been at record lows for the past month, hanging around 30º at night. Considering all the extreme weather patterns around the world, I surmised we’d have ice on the LA River shoreline next. Only a matter of time.

Taking a deep, steadying breath, I made my way to the guy.

I didn’t have to get very close to see his slumped shoulders shuddering and to hear his trembling sobs. Shit. My night was getting better and better.

“Hey.”

He started and his whole upper body whipped in my direction. I saw the streaks of tears lining his lovely face. How come I hadn’t noticed that frail, delicate beauty before? Yeah, I know why. Because I’d seen someone more appropriate for my need for a one-night stand—and let’s face it, this guy wasn’t really my type.

Although… he did have that quiet, unassuming sweetness some young men possess. But if you blinked, you’d miss it. And, fuck, I had so totally blanked out.

To be fair to me—selfish of me, I know—he did look like a lot of other guys. No distinctive features. Silvery blond hair, natural, with long curls draped around his face like the frame of a painting or the halo of a saint, called to mind loads of guys these days when au naturel was back in style. Gray eyes lacking any unusual or striking characteristics stared back at me, wide and practically broadcasting anxiety. Shorter than me by maybe four inches, he was lean, lithe, and small in his slate-toned button-down shirt and khakis so faded they were almost colorless, which further emphasized his mousiness. Damn, the guy could’ve used a little color.

“I didn’t mean to startle you.” Deliberately keeping my voice low and soothing, I proceeded to try to calm him, as if he were a frightened animal. “I’m sorry about what happened back there. I didn’t know it was you. When the barman said a blond bought me that drink, the other dude was looking my way, so I just assumed…. Anyway, I’m sorry.”

The guy brushed his ash-blond bangs out of his eyes as I sat down on the stone wall next to him. “It’s all right,” he finally said, looking down at his feet swinging off the side. I don’t think I’d ever heard a voice like his, so cautious, so unobtrusive—and so dulcet I felt like swooning.

Snapping myself out of it—knowing it was due to the melodious quality of his voice, which the musician in me couldn’t help but appreciate—I shook my head. “No, it’s not all right.”

He gave me a skeptical look. “It is all right. I’m not your type.” Shrugging, he stared at the ground impassively, but I doubted he was as calm as he appeared. Heck, I didn’t feel calm.

“I don’t have an all-purpose type,” I said, and it was true. He cocked his head to the side as if poised to listen, but he still didn’t look at me. “The type I prefer is based on my mood. Oh, here.” I dug in my coat pocket for a clean tissue. It was winter, uncharacteristically freezing, and my pockets were full of the stuff. Better safe than sorry.

“Thanks.” The guy took it with a shy, grateful look on his face that I kind of liked. After he blew his nose, he asked, “What do you mean?”

For a second I wondered if he and I were speaking the same language. But I finally got it. “Well, tonight, for instance, I wanted someone to fuck. Plain and simple, no-nonsense, fuck-your-brains-out kind of deal, you know what I mean?”

Those curiously glazed eyes, silvery, like mirrors, shone my way, studying me. “And that blond guy by the bar was what you were looking for?”

I snorted with disgust. “No. I mean, yeah, at first I thought so, but he was a liar and a phony. Not worth my time.” I winked at him. “You, on the other hand….” An almost imperceptible blush colored his cheeks, and I found it extremely adorable. But then he suddenly frowned, and his shadow of a smile faded into nothingness. I wondered what I’d said wrong.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

A flicker of a smile returned to grace those luscious pink lips of his. I appreciate the sensuous curve of an upper lip and the rich plumpness of a lower lip, and he had both. I wanted to kiss him.

“Joshua,” he answered. Now there was a name that rolled off the tongue, like hot caramel fudge on an ice-cream sundae, and I got a ridiculous urge to lick the guy all over to taste for myself if his flavor was as sweet as his name. “What’s yours?”

“Zane Roscoe. My brother Zak, the aspiring rocker, sings at the club back there.”

His face remained impassive, as though that particular detail didn’t mean a thing to him. And to be fair, why would it? “Oh.” It was all he said, and he fell silent again, looking away. It was getting a little irritating because I couldn’t tell if my advances were welcome or not. He was difficult to read.

Except he was checking me out—out of the corner of his eye, granted, but still. I hoped he thought I was attractive, with my very short blond hair, metallic-gray eyes, and street-twink outfit of low-hanging jeans, threadbare white T-shirt that spelled the dictionary definition of the word twink in red, ratty leather jacket, and battered old army boots with red shoelaces half-untied. In certain respects, he and I had a lot in common. He was blond like me, just a different shade. We both had gray eyes, and we were both on the thin side of lithe, rather than sinewy.

But where I had the street-smart appearance, he looked like the preppie boy next door, unassuming and easy to dismiss. I mean, he was wearing khakis, for fuck’s sake! Despite the general air of dreariness surrounding him, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. “So, if I’m forgiven, how about we go back inside, and I can get you a drink for a change?” I added a smile to that, going for a sultry, seductive look.

Joshua, however, frowned at that. “I don’t drink.”

I stopped short. “Okay…,” I said slowly. “Um, we could go back and dance, then.”

He shook his head, barely enough for me to catch the gesture. “I don’t dance.”

Well, fuck. If he didn’t go to bars to drink or to clubs to dance, then the only reasons I could think of were that he went there either to get jerk-off material for his fantasies—which was ridiculous, since he wasn’t a total dog, and I’m sure he could have gotten laid if he wanted to—or to find a one-night fuck buddy. I was hoping for the latter, since that would simplify things a lot.

“Okay, so you go to clubs to hook up?” My voice may have risen at the end, but it was more of a statement than a question. I assumed I was right about him in this regard.

“No.” Joshua shook his head again, but this time he lifted his chin defiantly, clearly to challenge my preconceptions about him. “For the ambience.” Several moments must have passed with me simply staring at him, dumbfounded, my jaw hanging open, since he suddenly frowned and said, “My reason is no less valid than yours.”

I blinked, trying to get back on track, but inwardly I was still shocked. Who did that?

“I didn’t say it wasn’t,” I replied defensively, and he winced at my tone. I moderated my voice and tried to sound conciliatory. “Look. We’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. Maybe we should start again. Hi, my name’s Zane.” I extended my hand in a formal greeting, but he just looked at it, as if he didn’t know what to do. Shit. Things were going downhill fast, and I really didn’t have the patience for this. “Okay, hey, no problem. Another time, yeah?”

I got up to leave, and his face sort of broke again, as though I had slapped him, and his shoulders hunched. Still, he nodded in resignation. “Right. It was nice to meet you.” That melodious voice of his had the effect of curling my toes and causing butterflies to dance in my stomach.

“Listen, you wanna maybe get outta here? I don’t live far, and I’m told by reliable sources I can be quite uplifting when the situation calls for it.” Yeah, it was sexual innuendo, and I prayed he would understand and accept this last-ditch attempt.

His gray gaze locked with mine, and once again I was overtaken by the feeling I was actually looking into the surface of a mirror. Suddenly, there was a flicker of a smile on those full and kissable lips, with a delectable Cupid’s bow on top and a natural pout below, perfect for nibbling. “How far?”

I grinned.