Authors: S. J. Frost
Tags: #Fiction, #Erotica, #Romance, #Contemporary
M. Jules Aedin Maura Anderson Victor J. Banis Jeanne Barrack Laura Baumbach Alex Beecroft Sarah Black
Michael Breyette P.A. Brown
Jade Buchanan James Buchanan Charlie Cochrane Gary Cramer
Angela Fiddler Dakota Flint
Kimberly Gardner Storm Grant
Jordan Castillo Price Luisa Prieto
Rick R. Reed
JoAnne Soper-Cook Richard Stevenson Clare Thompson Lex Valentine
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.
MLR Press, LLC
3052 Gaines Waterport Rd. Albion, NY 14411
Cover Art by Deana C. Jamroz
Editing by Kris Jacen
Printed in the United States of America.
“Jesse, sweetheart, it’s mom again. I wish you would call me back. I’ve been worried sick about you since last night. Your father, I know he feels horrible about what happened, and I know saying this is just going to get you angrier, but you can’t blame everything that happened on him. You know how his temper is, and you still provoked him by yelling at him and shoving him. If only you wouldn’t push him so hard to accept that you’re…you’re—”
Jesse snapped his cell phone closed to silence his mother’s stammering message before the roiling disgust in his stomach rose to his throat and choked him. He lifted his left hand, gingerly touching his fingertips to the light purple bruise on the left side of his jaw. His father felt horrible? Yeah, right. If there was one thing his father felt horrible about in regards to his two sons, it was that in his father’s opinion, they had fallen so short of being the men he wanted them to be.
Jesse fell over backward on the twin-sized bed that barely fit in his apartment bedroom. A growing headache caused his brain to feel like it was swelling to the limits of his skull. As if it hadn’t been embarrassing enough setting foot in a house he had vowed never to enter again, to do it in order to borrow money to get his piece of crap truck fixed—money his mother had sneaked away from his father—and getting caught by his father arriving home early, had been absolute humiliation. Maybe he deserved what he got for going where he knew he was forbidden to return. Maybe, for once, his father’s rage had been justified. Maybe he should have accepted being told, yet again, that he was ungrateful, that he had thrown everything away in pursuit of a pointless dream, that no little faggot was any son of his father’s.
With a mental fist, Jesse punched the thoughts away. No. He didn’t deserve any of that, and he held no regrets about retaliating against his father, even if it had earned him a right hook to the jaw. It was better than letting his father feel victory over him. Never would he allow himself to be defeated, not by his father, not by anyone or anything; and by staying true to himself, he knew he delivered a more devastating blow to his father than any physical hit. Though it had felt really good to shove him and feel his father’s body give way under the force.
From the small stereo on the nightstand beside the bed came the smooth baritone of his favorite singer, Evan Arden. Like a soothing tonic, Evan’s rich voice cooled his heated temper and mended his frayed nerves. He listened to the ballad “One More Time” and softly raised his tenor to join Evan.
Despite all the tears I’ve cried, And all the pain they’ve brought, I’d shed them all one more time, To see you smile again.
If seeing me hurt pleases you,
Then I’ll cherish this pain forever…”
Jesse sighed and let Evan take over. The song finished, and he raised his left wrist above his head to look at his watch. Seven o’clock. He needed to get ready to meet his brother. He pushed himself upright and hopped off the bed, snatching the clothes he had laid out on his way to the door.
He opened his bedroom door and paused. It seemed so dark and gloomy in his apartment, but then he thought maybe it was just his mood. He glanced at the cracked and scratched hardwood floor, the stained countertop separating the kitchen from the living room, the secondhand furniture, the single window overlooking the dingy alley below, and decided his apartment was a gloomy shit-hole no matter what his mood.
An acoustic guitar and a battered black Gibson Les Paul sat in one corner. The Les Paul had seen better days externally, but still carried a sweet, perfect pitch when the six strings were played. Two mini amps, four microphone stands with mics, and two keyboards were close to his desk where sheets of music with his scrawling handwriting were stacked in neat piles. His bass guitar and sunburst Fender Stratocaster sat on the other side of his desk.
His eyes fell on Kenny, his oldest friend, guitarist, and roommate, on the raggedy multi-colored couch. His dark blond hair fell into honey-brown eyes that were focused on the black and white Fender Stratocaster on his lap. Jesse watched the tender way Kenny rubbed a soft white cloth over the body of the instrument, polishing it to a lustrous shine.
“Hey,” Jesse said. “It sucks enough when I walk in on you and Carrie messing around, and I know you love your guitar, but you’re kinda freakin’ me out the way you’re stroking it.”
Kenny rolled his eyes up to Jesse in a look of exasperation. He repositioned the guitar on his lap to play. “I want you to hear this new riff I thought up. It’s really cool.”
Jesse walked across the miniscule living room and sat beside him. Kenny streaked his hand down the neck of the guitar, his long, agile fingers glided through smooth chord changes. Even without the guitar plugged in, Jesse heard the riff as if it were, high and fast, strong and catchy.
Kenny put his fingers to the frets, playing the same chord combos five times, knowing that’s all Jesse needed to memorize the harmony.
“Cool.” Kenny leaned back against the couch, cradling the guitar to his chest. “Mike called me. He needs directions to our gig tomorrow night, but I couldn’t remember the name of the bar, so I told him you’d call him back.”
Jesse let out an irritated huff. “I’ll write them down and you can call him. I’m too pissed at him after he ditched rehearsal last night. He thinks he’s the god of thunder, but he can’t keep a good rhythm to save his life.”
Kenny shot Jesse a scolding glare. “He’s not as good a drummer as Justin was, I’ll give you that, but since your cocky ass attitude drove him away like Andy before him, now we’re stuck with Mike until he gets sick of you.”
Jesse flipped his hand in a dismissive gesture. “They weren’t professional quality, anyway.”
“Just try not to fight with Mike tomorrow night,” Kenny pleaded. “We’ll never get picked up by a label if we keep changing members.”
Jesse squinted at him and poked him on the chest with an accusing finger. “You should know by now to never lose faith in me. It doesn’t matter how many band members we go through. You and I are the heart of Conquest.” His words came faster with his mounting excitement. “Maybe we play shitty bars now, but soon it’ll be the hottest clubs! Then soldout arenas!” He leaped to his feet, his indigo eyes shining like a warrior’s about to enter a battle where he knew his victory was the only possible outcome. He threw a triumphant fist high into the air. “It’s only a matter of time before all of Chicago is coming to hear us play! How can they not with me, the golden god of music, singing? I
conquer the world!”
“Here we go again,” Kenny muttered to himself, then said louder to Jesse, “shouldn’t you be getting ready to meet Brandon? Carrie’s going to be here soon, and I don’t need you putting her in a bad mood and blowing my chances at gettin’ some.”
Jesse cringed with a fake shiver at the mention of Kenny’s girlfriend. “Don’t worry, I’ll be long gone. I try to make sure I’m not within a mile radius of anywhere that thing’s getting naked.”
Jesse turned for the bathroom. “I’ll be nice when she speaks in a pitch that doesn’t hurt my ears.” He paused in the doorway. “Hey, did you get the mail today?”
“And don’t you think if there was anything in it other than junk and rejection letters saying how our demo isn’t what every record label in the world is looking for, I would’ve told you by now?”
He leaned back against the door. Despite his confident declaration, doubt twisted his heart. Week after week he faced the rejections for their demo, from agents and labels. He wondered just how many more times he could take being knocked down before his spirit became too weak to pull him back up to try again.
He drew in a quick breath and shook his head to clear it of the depressing thoughts. He got the water running in the shower and stripped while he waited for it to get up to temperature. He stepped under the flow, and as he did, the temperature faded back down to lukewarm, then cooled to a chilly stream trickling from the showerhead before a surge of hot water blasted out with skin reddening force. Jesse scowled up at the showerhead, sending a silent curse through it to the antiquated plumbing. He turned to washing and did his best to ignore the inconsistent temperature and pressure as it repeated the pattern several more times.
When he got out, he wiped the condensation off the mirror and looked at his reflection. At five foot seven, he was lithe and fit, his biceps firm with sinewy strength, his abdomen lined in muscle, his smooth chest well-defined. He ran the backs of his index and middle fingers along his slender jaw, then lathered his face and took his razor carefully over his flawless skin. His black hair toweled and styled to accentuate the sharp, jagged angles around his face, with enough length in back to fall just to the top of his neck. Long enough to get a messy look, but able to style neatly when he wanted.
Dressed in jeans faded on the thighs and a black V-neck shirt that clung to his lean frame, he slid three small silver hoop earrings into his left earlobe and a fourth up in the cartilage, then two more in his right earlobe. Around his neck, he fastened a choker of two thin black leather cords with a gold pendant of a sixteen-rayed sun that rested in the hollow of his throat.
He stepped out of the bathroom to the living room, and after putting on his shoes, he sprang up and spoke to Kenny as he walked toward the door. “I might spend the night at Brandon’s, so don’t worry if I don’t come home.”
With the elevator broken in the rundown apartment building, Jesse jogged down three flights of stairs to the ground floor and pushed through a front door roughly the thickness of a sheet of plywood. He turned in the direction of his brother’s apartment a few blocks away. His heavy thoughts invaded his mind again and pressed down so hard they were reflected in the way he walked, dragging his feet, scuffing his already tattered Nikes on the sidewalk.
Jesse snapped his head up and spun toward the sound. His older brother waved to him, idling a few feet away on his Suzuki motorcycle.
Brandon laughed. “Who’d you think it was? Prince Charming come to whisk you away on his gallant white and blue crotch rocket?” He pulled up next to the curb and stopped. His eyes locked on the bruise on Jesse’s jaw. He caught Jesse gently by the chin and turned his head to the right, peering intently at the purple blemish. “When we talked last night, I thought you said he only clipped you.”
Jesse stayed still while his brother inspected the injury. “He did. I twisted away and dodged the full impact. Mom’s been calling me, but she’s warped back into her classic stand-by-your man mode. What sucks most is I was so pissed after everything happened, I refused to take the money she got for me, so now I’m going to have to dip into the funds I’ve been saving for a new keyboard, but I guess it’s better than taking anything that’s attached to him.”