Raine has secrets he’s been keeping from his temperamental man. Although he loves JB with all his heart, he’s worried what JB will do when he discovers Raine’s true identity. When JB is kidnapped, the truth must come out no matter the consequences.
Can two stubborn men overcome their past in order to build a better future or will their love crumble between outside forces?
Raine had never liked the bar where JB worked. He always claimed the owner watched JB’s ass too much for Raine’s comfort. Of course, Raine didn’t appreciate the way anyone looked at JB or that other men had eyes.
“Hey, JB!” Mike Nelson nodded from his spot farther up the line. Mike had gelled his short blond hair until it stood up in spikes, covered his arms with multiple bracelets, and dressed in strategically ripped clothing. His fit body drew more than one interested gaze.
JB nodded back. He and Mike often auditioned for the same gigs. Mike had the sort of star presence most musicians dreamed about, while JB had a more low-key style. Needless to say, they weren’t buddies. They’d be frenemies if they’d been friends first.
Quickly sliding into line, JB resolutely pushed the competition out of his mind. He needed to focus on his possible future employment. Nothing would derail him faster than fixating on Mike instead of focusing on his own music.
The ad claimed the clients were looking for someone who could play a stringed instrument, vocals optional. Kind of an odd request, but a musician looking for work didn’t question eccentricity, especially considering the generous salary listed.
How hard could performing for some VIPs be anyway? If it turned into a regular gig, JB could come home without reeking of cigarette smoke and booze for once. As long as the job didn’t involve removing his clothes, JB would take it if offered. Hell, forget that. He’d even be up for working in the nude if it got him a timely paycheck.
He didn’t suffer from excessive modesty, even if his husband’s head would explode. Before he’d left the apartment, Raine had told JB to walk away if he had to take off even one piece of clothing. “Because if they think they’re going to get a cheap thrill over my man, they’d better think again.”
Why Raine thought anyone else would want to see JB’s skinny, naked ass, he didn’t know, but Raine’s gravelly threat almost had him heading back to bed and letting the man mark him all over again. JB could still feel the sting from Raine’s teeth on his shoulder from the night before. Raine liked to leave reminders of their lovemaking on JB’s skin, as if warning others from his man.
Unfortunately, JB really needed a job, and this one appealed to him more than any of the other auditions currently posted. If he didn’t get a gig soon, he might as well throw in the towel and live off his man.
Raine would be ecstatic.
After three years of living with Raine, JB knew he could survive just about anything as long as he had Raine beside him. Raine had helped JB through alcoholism, supported him with his struggling career, and removed him from a bad boyfriend situation. In return, Raine had JB’s complete devotion.
Although JB knew he should be focusing on what he wanted to play, he couldn’t help glancing over the competition. There were the usual young, fresh kids, still in school and looking for a weekend gig, along with the sallow-complected older guys who’d seen more action than JB ever wanted to experience. JB exchanged head nods with a few musicians he recognized, and the rest of them, he ignored.
They weren’t anything to worry about.
Finding an empty space along the wall, JB slid until his butt reached the wooden floor then stretched out his feet in front of him. He might as well get comfortable. He knew from experience it would take at least a few hours before his turn came up, assuming they didn’t hire someone before they even heard him play. It wouldn’t be the first time. They were under no obligation to listen to JB just because he showed up. A musician’s life didn’t include fairness in the job description.
Opening his battered guitar case, JB lifted out his instrument. With the guitar in his hands, JB felt settled for the first time since arriving for the audition. Left to him by his daddy, a man who died while JB still wore diapers, he thought of it like an old friend. When Raine had offered to buy JB a new guitar, they’d had their first real fight.
Taking a slow, cleansing breath, he started tuning his guitar, the familiar motion a balm for his shaky nerves. JB closed his eyes and strummed a few bars before warming his throat on the piece he was writing for Raine. He and Raine weren’t the mushy type of lovers. JB had never even said those three little words, but the knowledge lived strong and fierce between them. JB hoped this song would show Raine his feelings without making his lover uncomfortable.
Sinking into the music, JB jerked in surprise when someone kicked his left boot. He had to blink a few times to pull himself out of the well of deep concentration he’d slipped into. Scowling, he looked up to find a muscular, black-haired man standing above him wearing a frown like the one JB’s mother used to give him when he’d particularly annoyed her. The stranger reminded JB a little bit of Raine. Something about the way both men stood as if they were in charge and expected everyone to listen to their demands. When Raine gave JB his commanding look, it made JB harder than a rock. With this guy, JB had to resist the urge to pull the knife from his boot and stab the stranger in the foot. He hated assholes on principle.
JB always carried his knife. He never knew when the place he played might have some questionable clientele. Raine had gifted it to JB on their first anniversary. Some people gave flowers—JB’s lover wanted him to be well armed.
“Hey, man,” JB greeted the intruder with a guarded look as he struggled to keep his temper in check. What kind of person interrupted a man mid-song?
“You’re up next,” the stranger said. His eyes were dark and flat as if this entire situation bored the hell out of him.
JB glanced up the line. There were at least thirty musicians ahead of him.
“I don’t want to cause no trouble,” JB drawled, eyeing the disgruntled expressions on the other musicians’ faces. They looked like they’d happily disembowel him for cutting ahead in line.
“You’ve been requested.” The man’s expression didn’t encourage a negative response.
JB shrugged. If the client wished to hear him next, he wouldn’t say no. He needed a job no matter what Raine said. He knew his lover would be more than happy to take care of their bills, but a man had to have his pride, and JB had more than his fair share. He was no man’s kept boy.
JB stood with his guitar in one hand, his case in the other, and nodded to the dark-haired man. “I’m ready.”
The stranger looked him up and down before turning and walking along the hall. JB hurried after the guy, trying not to trip on instrument cases or people as he went. He could tell from their expressions that more than one musician wouldn’t mind watching JB fall on his face.
They stopped before a door with the word ‘stage’ printed on it.
The guy turned to talk to JB, his tone as serious as death. “Don’t ask them any questions. When I open the door, I want you to walk onto the stage and play that song you were playing before.”
“But it’s still a work in progress,” JB protested. “I have more polished pieces ready for the audition.” He always liked to bring his best to the table. How much would they be able to tell from a half-written song?
The man scowled. “I’ll warn them that you’re still working on it, but you play that song.”
JB shrugged. “Okay.” He wouldn’t argue with a man over a rough piece of music. The customer was always right and all that crap. “Can I play another one after?” Maybe he’d get a second chance if they liked the first one enough.
“If it’s necessary.” The man’s tone indicated JB had one shot, and he’d better not blow it. It took a lot of effort to resist the urge to turn around and leave. After all, JB didn’t think he’d get the job with the audition piece requested by Mr. Tall, Dark, and Scowly.
Opening the door, the man, whose name JB still didn’t know, waved for him to enter first. Nervous energy jolted through JB’s body like a lightning storm when he peered at the brightly lit stage. He took another slow, cleansing breath to find his center before walking across the wooden boards. His boots thudded on the stage, the sound echoing in the cavernous room with each step he took.
JB squinted under the blinding lights. He couldn’t see the audience, and the heat from the light bulbs soaked his shirt with sweat before he’d even started. JB nodded toward where he guessed people were seated, as he couldn’t see them, before setting down his guitar case and launching into Raine’s song. In JB’s mind, the melody lacked a bit of something he had yet to define. The piece needed more fine-tuning, but the client requested that music so they were going to get it. Taking a long, slow breath, JB blocked out everything else and focused on singing his love story. His heart bled across the stage with each strum of the guitar.
The song finished with the notes fading into a soft melody, ringing of love and commitment. At the end of the song, a long silence greeted him. No coughing, no mutters or whispers that JB could hear, only quiet.
“I can play something else,” he offered even as his hopes sank faster than his cousin’s rowboat after a gator ate half of it.
Silence never came before a job offer, at least not in JB’s experience. Sighing, he kneeled beside his guitar case, opened the latches, and quickly settled his instrument back inside before snapping it closed again.
Standing up, he bowed to his mute audience. “Thank you for the opportunity.”
No sounds came from the silent listeners when JB turned to leave. He was almost glad he didn’t get the job. Anyone who couldn’t even thank him for coming lacked basic manners. JB didn’t like to work for people like that. He headed back to the door he’d entered through. Tomorrow, he would scan the ads again and find another place to audition. He’d find something eventually. Somebody always needed a musician somewhere.
The weight of failure rested heavily on his shoulders, and although he tried to philosophically brush off the lack of response, silently he wondered where he’d gone wrong. Maybe the people he sang for didn’t have the same musical taste as the guy who plucked JB from the line. He knew he had a good voice and his guitar playing was top-notch, but somehow he never seemed to catch a break. There apparently weren’t a lot of jobs for battered country singers with attitude. JB sighed again. Raine would be happy, he preferred JB at home anyway.
Grabbing the door handle, a tingle of electricity zapped JB. He didn’t know how, but apparently, he’d collected a crap load of static crossing the wooden stage.
“Shit.” JB shook his hand and reached for the handle again. He gave a soft sigh of relief when he didn’t receive a second jolt.
Opening the door, his pleasure over not being shocked vanished.
Walls, floor, a glowing mysterious light source were all white.
“What the fuck?”
Walking through the doorway, JB looked around, his mouth dropping open. Where were the other musicians? For that matter, where the hell did the building go? This hallway didn’t look anything like the one JB had left to enter the stage. Maybe he’d gone the wrong way. Turning back around, he stopped in surprise.
The wall, smooth and unblemished, mocked him with its blankness. Had he fallen and hit his head on the stage? Would he wake up in a hospital bed with a million monitors beeping around him like in the movies? What the fuck had happened? JB reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone.
Even the display didn’t show. Damn, he’d forgotten to charge it last night. His lover would have more than a few choice words about JB’s forgetfulness, and none of them would be friendly. Sighing, he shoved the damned thing back into his pocket. He hated technology, and it hated him back with equal measure.
JB stomped his heel to test the hardness of the floor. His foot tingled from the contact, and an echoing noise told him the weird hall really did exist.
Without any other choices, JB headed down the corridor. After all, he couldn’t go back since the door had disappeared behind him.
“This is like a creepy sci-fi flick,” JB muttered.
Maybe the dark-haired dude had slipped him something when he wasn’t looking. He’d believe it more if the man had touched JB or given him anything to drink. JB clung to the dream theory as if it were his last hope for salvation. Now all he had to do was figure out how the hell to wake up.
JB walked and walked for the longest damn time before he spotted an exit. A black door appeared before him without warning. The rectangle had no distinguishing features other than its color—no exit sign or writing of any kind. JB truly didn’t know if this would be the exit, but he damn sure didn’t want to stay in the creepy white world a second more than he had to. His palms oozed sweat while he considered his other options. Well, he could…
Fuck it. He didn’t have any other choices.
Taking a deep breath, JB turned the knob and straightened his shoulders to brace himself for whatever might be on the other side.
“I hope there ain’t a lion behind here,” JB grumbled. How had a simple audition turned into a trip to Wonderland?
Raine would be pissed if JB didn’t return home soon. The few times he’d gone out with the boys after a night of playing and had forgotten to call home lived in his mind as a blazing warning. Some days, JB thought he could still feel the heat of his red ass after Raine had spanked him.
Clutching his guitar case handle tightly, he took a deep breath. Deciding to use the rip-off-the-Band-Aid approach, JB pushed the door open and plunged through the opening in one smooth motion.
He froze on the other side.
A gold and silver ballroom spread out before him like something out of a child’s storybook with marble columns, gold chandeliers, and people dressed in enough colors it looked as if a rainbow had thrown up across the sterile perfection of the room. On a pedestal of white stone, in the middle of the scene, sat a gold throne. JB’s heart slammed against his chest so hard he worried for a moment it would beat out of his body.
“Welcome.” A female voice spoke behind him.
JB spun around. When he caught sight of her, he damn near swallowed his tongue. Her hair glinted like gold, her flawless skin had a touch of caramel, and her lips were the pinkest he’d ever seen without lipstick. Not to mention she had clear emerald eyes, and JB found himself staring longer than what could be considered proper.
She smiled, and JB knew if he didn’t already have a man, he would seriously consider switching teams.
Blinking, JB tried to recover his composure even as his mind screamed he should be more concerned about where he had ended up and who the hell these people were. He still hoped he might be dreaming. He pinched his arm.
Not a dream. When he finally found his voice, he babbled like an idiot. “I don’t mean to stare, ma’am, but you’re even prettier than my husband.” Until now, he’d considered Raine the most beautiful person he’d ever seen.
A slight tilt of her mouth increased her beauty tenfold. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that comparison before.”
JB shrugged. “Maybe no one else has a man as pretty as mine.”
A breeze moved through the impossibly beautiful room, sending a haunting scent to JB’s nose. He sighed at the familiar fragrance.
“What do you smell?” the woman asked.
“Honeysuckle and roses, like my mama’s garden.” JB smiled at the memory.
His mother had been an amazing gardener who defined ‘having a green thumb.’ Unfortunately, JB didn’t inherit her talent. Any plant unlucky enough to fall into his clutches had a sad, neglected demise. Even Raine’s amazing gardening skills couldn’t compete against JB’s black thumb of leafy death.
The woman gave a delighted smile at JB’s description. “That’s a wonderful memory of your mother.”
“Yes, ma’am, it is,” JB agreed.
Of course, his mother couldn’t even remember his name now, but Alzheimer’s did that to people. JB scanned the room, seeking something that might look familiar. A nudge that would tell him his imagination had run wild.
“I don’t want to be difficult, but where am I, how did I get here, and who are you?”