Being a rock god in a superstar band had its perks. Things like world travel, gobs of cash, and getting thousands of people totally turned on in a body-throbbing, head-banging, crowd-screaming live-concert orgasm were at the top of the list. But a satisfying love life sure wasn’t one of the fringe benefits. At least that’s how it seemed to Heat as he sat at the booth at the Crow & Wicket pub in New York City, nursing a succession of drinks.
His best friend, former bandmate, and, if Heat could stand to admit it to himself, hot-possibility love interest, Keys Johnson, was gone. Hasta la vista. Finito. Gone, baby, gone.
Keys chose Mia. And the two of them decided a separate career, away from the Grammy award-winning band, Marked Love. And that sucked, plain and simple.
Deep down, Heat had long clung to the notion that Keys would come around and pick him as a partner. That might have saved him the pain and humiliation of having to actually come out as gay.
A shudder shook him as the word “gay” marched through his mind, shaking the foundation of his soul. Keys had been the one to out him in the hallway at La Cozza Arrabbiato’s on East 14th a few months ago. He’d been the guy who had gently said the words “you” and “are” and “gay” in the same sentence. And Heat loved Keys all the more for the gentle nudge. But that sentence should have been followed with I. Want. You. Instead, where’s Keys now, huh? He’s playing to a packed house somewhere with Mia by his side. Mia. Not me. So I sit here all wah, wah, wah, drinking with the fucking roadies—Noah, Elijah, and Sam—night after night. What kind of shit is that?
So his heart was officially smashed. Broken. Obliterated. And he didn’t have any satisfying prospects, sexual or otherwise, on the horizon. The reasons for that were evident. One—he missed Keys. Ever since Keys left, Heat had a hole the size of the universe in his heart. And two—no way could he accept his sexual preference. Not with the upbringing he’d had at Prestige Military Academy, U.K., with his asshole father as the dean. To Dad, gayness equaled some horrifying monstrosity like being a rapist or a serial murderer.
Heat picked up his shot glass of whiskey and tossed it back. Fuck PMAUK. And fuck my dad.
Growing up in PMAUK meant a life of disciplined hell. Everything in his life was scheduled down to the nanosecond. And his dad always breathed down his neck to do more, be a better man, try harder, excel, excel, ex-fucking-cel. Even now, he couldn’t think about his education without his back rigidifying like a goddamned telephone pole. And, as his back became a steel rod, the chant, “P.M.A…U.K.” rolled through his mind in a repetitive, leg marching rhythm. But hey, I can carry a beat like no one’s business. Maybe that’s why I’m such a kick-ass bass player. Military school breeds wicked pervert bass guitarist, Trevor ‘Heat’ West, also a closeted gay. Heat laughed at the absurdity of the statement.
Noah emerged from the crowd, stumbling back to the booth, carrying a bottle of whiskey. “Sorry it took me so long,” he said, falling onto the black leather seat. “Fucking slammed at the bar. So, I asked for a bottle, so we don’t have to waste anyone’s time, including our own.” He frowned at Heat’s moment of hilarity. “What did I miss?”
“Nothing. Not one damn thing.” Heat thrust out his glass. “Pour, my good man.”
Noah poured the amber liquid into Heat’s glass and then filled his own. He set the bottle down and picked up his shot glass. “What are we drinking at this time? Getting laid?”
“Getting laid,” Heat enthused, his mind pouncing on memories of Keys and the endless sea of babes they’d fucked in threesomes and foursomes over the last year and a half. Heat didn’t care who they fucked as long as he could do it with Keys.
Noah clinked his glass to Heat’s and threw back the whiskey.
Heat did the same.
“Speaking of getting laid, let’s go pick up some girls; what do you say?” Noah said, his eyes all glassy from the drink and the joint they’d smoked in the back alley.
“Yeah, no, not feeling it,” Heat said, his cheeks heating to the ignition point.
He’d gone out with a few women over the last couple of weeks with disastrous results. He simply could not, would not get it up, as hard as he tried. And the women had all been understanding with their, “It happens, sweetie,” blah, blah, blah. All except one woman named Jubilee. She’d stared at him, hands on her hips, and said, “If you can’t get it up for the fine woman standing here before you all naked and ready to roll, then you ain’t nothing to me, sugar.” She’d plucked her Gucci handbag off the dresser and sashayed out of the hotel room, sans clothes. And left him lying in a pool of his own shameful regret.
“Aw, come on,” Noah whined. “We just toasted to getting laid.”
“I didn’t realize it came with a time stamp obligation,” Heat said, gesturing for another shot.
Noah picked up the bottle, dribbling more whiskey into their glasses. “You never want to go out and get pussy lately.”
I never want to go out and get pussy, ever, Heat thought with a grimace. And I’m scared to pick up a guy. Which is part of the problem…
“Fine,” Noah groused, craning his neck toward the bar. “I’ll hit up Sam or Elijah. They’re around here somewhere.”
“You do that,” Heat said, plucking a bass guitar rhythm with his fingers on the table. “I’ve got to go hit the head,” he said, scooting free of the booth. As he trekked toward the men’s bathroom, he began marching in cadence, reciting the traditional PMAUK chant in his mind. P.M.A. Step. U.K. P.M.A. Step. U.K. As he rounded the corner, he crashed into none other than the lead dog of Marked Love, Dante Vega.
“Fearless Leader,” Heat said, adding a crisp salute. “How can I serve you, sir?”
“What?” Dante said, his forehead creased into a furrowed line. “What the fuck is with the ‘how can I serve you, sir’?”
Heat’s face broiled. No one except Keys knew about his life at PMAUK. The band all thought he’d gone to an American school and had excelled at American football, a story he’d told them. “Sorry. I’m a bit…” Lonely? Sad? Heartbroken? Weaving where he stood, he dragged his hand through his short, sweaty hair.
“Trashed, that’s what,” Dante said. “Let’s go. I’m taking you home.” He grabbed Heat’s sleeve, yanking him in the direction of the front door.
“Wait!” Heat said, trying in vain to peel Dante’s steel grip from his clothes. “I don’t want to go.”
“It doesn’t matter what you want. We’re going,” Dante said. He nodded to a small group of women who had turned to stare at Heat and Dante.
They lifted their phones and began snapping photos.
Heat wanted to give them the finger. The women were no doubt taunting him for the ways he couldn’t perform. “Are you my commanding officer?” he said to Dante. “Is this an order?”
“What the fuck’s gotten into you tonight? You been having wet dreams about the military? No, I’m not your commanding officer. But, yes, this is an order.”
The wet dreams comment flipped an old memory over in Heat’s mind like a hot pancake on a sizzling grill. When he was sixteen, his dad insisted on stuffing him into the Post-16 Academy. Post-16 was a program designed to “shape him into a career in the armed forces, police, fire service, prison services, or third sector organizations.” Like I wanted to be a frigging cop or prison ward. The only saving grace of that program was meeting Marshall Robinson.
Marshall was two years older than Heat. And he wasn’t ashamed of his gayness. Heat had seen him and other guys emerge from the bathroom with the tails of their secrets sticking out of their mouths before they swallowed their deceit. One day he followed Marshall and another guy into the bathroom, giving them about five minutes of lead time. Once inside, he’d seen their booted feet in the same stall with pants bunched around one of their ankles. And, oh, yes, he’d heard the sounds of passion and release coming from that stall. It had made him harder than he’d ever been before. He’d jammed his hand down his military school-issued pants and tugged and stroked his wood. Only the stall door burst open, and Marshall and the other guy saw him.
The wickedest smile he’d ever seen in his life lit Marshall’s face.
“You like what you hear? You want to be next?” Marshall had said, palming his still-hard erection.
“N-n-n-no,” Heat had stuttered before racing from the bathroom. But the hook of secrets and forbidden desires lodged in Heat’s belly. After that, he made a point to surreptitiously follow Marshall, quietly sneaking into the men’s room after they entered, jacking himself off in the next stall before they finished.
But then Marshall was discovered, by Heat’s dad no less, and expelled from school.
On the day of Marshall’s exit from PMAUK, he had sauntered down the dorm hallway, appearing oblivious to the jeers and taunts of his fellow students.
Heat had huddled in his dorm doorway, not participating in the shame slamming.
As Marshall approached him, that same wicked smile danced across his face. When he passed Heat, he whispered, “You know I’ve sucked the dicks of most of the guys who are shouting their words of reproach, don’t you?”
Heat said nothing as embarrassment pooled around his ankles.
Marshall’s grin turned into a leer. “I know it was you in the next stall over. I would have done you, too, you know.”
Heat’s face had turned fifty shades of red as he stuttered in response. “It wasn’t m-m-me. I don’t know what you’re t-t-talking about.”
“Kid, don’t deny it,” Marshall said. “You’ve got a notch torn in the cuff of your boot. Even polish can’t erase a notch.”
Heat’s gaze flew to his boots. Sure enough, a small triangle-shaped tear glared back at him from the right boot. The flames in his cheeks and neck threatened to burn him to a blackened crisp where he stood.
A curious look of…compassion?—or was that pity?—flashed in Marshall’s eyes as he regarded him.
The jeers in the hallway grew louder.
“You bloody fag.”
“Get the hell away from us, you pervy flamer.”
A knot of fear jammed itself inside of Heat’s throat. Everyone will think I’m gay if Marshall is talking to me. “You’re nothing but a pervert, Robinson. I’m glad my father outed you,” he said in a too-loud voice.
The pity in Marshall’s eyes shifted to wounded betrayal. “Yeah?” Marshall said, grabbing Heat’s collar. “Your father is a motherfucking cunt who raised a twat of a son. You’re nothing but a beaver’s bastard.”
Heat’s tongue had tied itself into a tidy knot, and he couldn’t think of a thing to say. He let the other boys fill in the blanks with their insults, shouted up and down the hall.
Then Marshall leaned in close and said, “I feel sorry for you, boy. I’d rather be outed for who I am than hiding in the shadows pretending to be something I’m not.” He’d shoved Heat into his room and disappeared, calling, “Ta-ta, children. I’ll see you all in hell.”
Fingers snapped in front of his eyes. “Heat. Don’t check out on me,” Dante said.
Heat pushed Dante’s fingers away. The memory of Marshall Robinson seemed to brand him, searing his clothes, his skin, and his soul. “I’m going,” he shouted. He raced toward the exit, with Dante’s footsteps hot on his heels. Forcing open the door, he stumbled out into the midnight air. A chill wrapped itself around him, but he ignored it. Instead, he blindly staggered toward somewhere, anywhere but his fucked-up reality. He had to get away from himself and his goddamned memories.
A group of bikers stood between him and his escape to the other side of the street. He hustled past them, shoving and clawing his way through their beefy bodies.
“What the fuck, little man?” a monster of a guy said to him, nearly a foot taller than Heat’s six-foot physique. He snagged the back of Heat’s shirt.
“Get your fucking hands off of me,” Heat said, whirling to face him.
“Or what?” the monster guy said, a kerchief with skulls and crossbones wrapped around his head, trapping his long mane of hair. His shoulders must have been a mile wide. With both hands, he grabbed two bunches of the front of Heat’s shirt, pinching the skin and pulling chest hair in the process.
“Ow. Shit,” Heat cried.
One of his pals said, “Easy, Slay. Don’t you recognize him? He’s Heat from Marked Love.”
“I don’t care who he is,” Slay said, lifting Heat up on his toes and staring into his eyes. “He’s a rude little prick who needs a few lessons in manners.”
“Hey,” Dante called. “He’s drunk. He didn’t mean it.” He inserted himself in the group of bikers. “Free tickets for all to our next New York concert if you let him go.”
“For our biker babes and us,” Slay said, still glaring into Heat’s eyes.
“Done,” Dante said.
Heat felt like a little boy in the big hairy dude’s grip. It may as well have been his father holding him tight, yelling at him about what he did or didn’t do, and how Heat would pay for it twelve times over. He clawed at Slay’s knuckles, trying to pry them from his shirt.
Slay released his right hand and squeezed Heat’s neck just enough to restrict his next breath. “That better?” he said. His solid fingers bore down on Heat’s flesh. His sour breath filled Heat’s nostrils, stirring his stomach.
Heat gasped and tried to breathe as little stars filled his vision.
“Slay,” another guy said. “Let him go. We got tickets to Marked Love.”
“That’s not enough. This motherfucker needs to apologize to me. He laid his filthy hands all over my pretty leather jacket.” Spittle flew from Slay’s mouth, spraying Heat’s cheeks and mouth. He loosened his grip on Heat’s neck.
“I’m sorry,” Heat wheezed, trying to gulp a lungful of air.
“What’s that? I’m a little hard of hearing,” Slay bellowed.
“I’m sorry,” Heat said, his voice a little more audible.
Slay lifted his shoulder to his ear, canted his head toward his shoulder, then made a tsking sound. “Can’t clean out my ears since my fingers are otherwise occupied. What did you say?”
Heat’s body felt dipped in an acid bath of humiliation. “I’m fucking sorry, okay? I’m sorry I got my slimy little hands on your precious jacket.”
“That’s better.” Slay lowered Heat to the ground. Then he hauled back his fist and struck Heat near the eye, as quick as a viper.
Heat stumbled backward into Dante’s clutches. “Fuck! What the fuck, dude?” He brought his palm to his eye, wincing at the pain.
“There. Now we’re even.” Slay shook out his hand and grinned.
“Whose name should I put on the call list? And how many tickets are we looking at?” Dante asked Slay.
Slay made a blatant show of counting every biker. “We’ve got twenty bikers here. There are fifty-five in our club, which is called the Devil’s Angels. Including all the wives and girlfriends and sidepieces that makes one hundred twenty-five.”
Dante hissed in Heat’s ear. “This is coming out of your paycheck.” Then he turned to Slay and flashed his megawatt Hollywood smile. “It’s a deal, Slay. We’re sorry for any inconvenience we may have caused you.”
Slay crossed his arms over his barrel-shaped chest. “Oh, you didn’t cause us any distress. Your boy here needs some manners.” He lifted his chin toward Heat.
“We’re working on it. He’s going through a rough patch is all,” Dante said, throwing his arm around Heat’s shoulders.
“Rough patch or no rough patch, you’ve still got to mind your manners.” Slay’s gaze slid right through Heat, stirring the shame which threatened to swallow him whole.
“Yes, sir,” Heat said automatically. “Point taken, sir.” This mountain of a man knew nothing about the kind of manners drilled into him as a child and a teen.
Slay’s eyebrows arched. “So you do have some manners. Make sure you use them.” He turned away from Heat and Dante, effectively dismissing them both.
Dante guided Heat in the opposite direction. “My car’s this way. You’re not driving. And you’re not getting out of this easy. There will be consequences, got it?”
“Understood,” Heat said, feeling all of two inches tall. He allowed himself to be ushered along the sidewalk. His gaze snagged on a beat-up-looking wreck of a van parked near an alley across the street.
Standing next to the van stood a very tall guy, wearing a long, well-used trench coat from another era. And, damn, if he weren’t the prettiest man Heat had ever seen in his life. He almost looked otherworldly. Am I seeing an angel?
For the beat of a nanosecond, Heat forgot about his woes, forgot about the fight he’d just gotten into, even forgot about Keys Johnson. But then Dante blipped open the lock on his Porsche, opened the passenger door, and shoved Heat into the car. And the entire night, wrapped in all the heartbreak he carried, came rushing back into his body. His life was officially fucked. There was no other way to look at it.