“Here we are,” Lance announced as he turned the car in to a tiny parking lot outside a nondescript brick building. There was no sign on the door or any indication of what might be inside. He’d had to punch in a code for the gate to the chain-link fence that was now closing behind him, and only the number above the door told him they were in the right place. A dusty blue truck was parked to the right, with a gray Mercedes and a black Corvette to the left. Outside, warm sun failed to brighten the industrial setting as cars rushed by on the busy street.
Noble didn’t make a move to get out of the car once Lance had turned the key. “You sure this is it?”
“You’re the one with the directions.”
“Yeah, but...” Bangles clacked on Noble’s wrist as he waved at the building.
Lance indicated the Corvette and Mercedes. “Someone inside’s got money.”
Noble considered the cars, brushing bright green bangs out of his eyes. “Yeah. I guess so.” Decision made, he tossed the paper with the directions and the gate code over his shoulder into the backseat, then reached up to drop his sunglasses over his eyes. “Okay. Let’s do this.”
Lance grinned as his friend got out of the car, flashing midriff between the hem of his lime-green-and-black T-shirt and the waistband of faded, torn jeans. Noble wouldn’t admit it, but he’d dressed very carefully to make a grand first impression. Lance did not dress to impress, trusting Noble to do it for them. He adjusted his own sunglasses as he exited the car, but there was no flash of skin, thanks to his worn, faded black button-down and equally faded jeans. The only little bit of nonblack in his ensemble was the blue rubber band holding his blond ponytail.
Pocketing the keys to the Porsche rental, Lance followed Noble up a short flight of cement stairs and through a rust-red fire door. A small, carpeted reception area was deserted, but there was an open door behind the empty desk, and voices could be heard down the hall beyond.
Noble did the honors, using his calling-over-the-crowd-in-a-club voice. “Hello?”
“Hey! Hello!” came a shout from the hall. “Come on back.”
Turning to Lance, Noble slid his sunglasses down his nose for a significant look under raised eyebrows. They both recognized the voice. Lance tipped his head to meet the gaze over the rim of his own glasses, giving a bland look in return. Waiting.
Predictably, Noble broke first. With a small snort, he rolled his eyes, raised his sunglasses on top of his head, then turned down the hall. Slipping his sunglasses into his shirt pocket, Lance followed, carefully giving no indication of the fact that his heart rate had just jacked up to a level where he was shocked he could even breathe around the pulsing muscle.
Lance had known he’d be here. Of course. They’d made plans to meet. The meet was the reason they were here. The meet was the reason he and Noble had dropped their apartment in California, put all their stuff in storage, and headed across half the country. The meet could quite possibly change his life in many ways. But that didn’t change the fact that after a year and a half, he was about to see Gordon again.
That was worth a jacked-up heartbeat.
Lance followed Noble down a hallway with gray walls and sturdy green carpet. None of the doors to the right or left were open, but the one at the end of the hall was, and as they approached, Gordon appeared in its frame. Lance swallowed but otherwise managed to contain his reaction. God, Gordon looked good. The thick black hair was cut straight to his neck and around his ears but left longer on top, spiked a little with product to make it shine. His square jaw was clean-shaven, his welcoming smile on display. Too far away to see them, Lance knew full well that in the bad lighting Gordon’s hazel eyes would look more brown than green. While he looked terrific in black T-shirt and jeans, the look was a little off to Lance, whose memories were filled with Gordon in crisp button-downs and slacks. But the atmosphere of the studio lent itself to the outfit. Or maybe Gordon was more casual these days. Time had passed. It was possible.
“Noble. Good to see you.” Gordon folded Noble into a brief, warm hug, then nudged him inside the room. “Come, meet everyone.” Changeable eyes then focused on Lance. Only because they stood face-to-face did Lance see the shadow that flashed across Gordon’s expression. All of a sudden, the smile was a little forced, and some of the warmth drained from his gaze. Nostrils flared, just a bit. “Lance.”
He wanted a hug too but saw it wasn’t happening, so he kept his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans and stayed back out of arm’s reach. “Gordon.”
Gordon took a step back, turning as he did so, then reached a hand toward Lance. “Come inside.”
Lance started past him, eyes averted. He couldn’t help a small flinch when Gordon’s warm hand patted his shoulder, staying there as Lance walked by. No hug but a touch. That was something.
, Lance promised himself. Later he’d talk to Gordon and find his footing. Right now a potential future was in the room before him, and it deserved his full attention.
Noble had already started his own introductions, so it fell on Gordon to introduce Lance to the others. Lance recognized the original Indigo Knights’ guitarist from a little background searching he’d done online. Rabin Squire looked every inch a rock star. Thick, short chestnut hair, dark, dramatic eyes, and a killer smile. Handsome guy with that sultry, slightly dirty look that girls loved. The English accent just brought out reminders of the British Invasion from the eighties, which really couldn’t hurt a band’s reputation.
Rabin shook Lance’s hand, wearing a big smile, those eyes shining with a fire Lance often saw in hungry musicians. This one, Lance was sure, was largely responsible for the demo tracks Gordon had sent them. This one was the one to know. Thankfully, Lance felt an instant liking between them--no spot judgment or comparison, just open welcome. He could work with that.
Danny Champion was as ridiculously good-looking as any of the surfer boys Lance had seen in the few months he’d lived in California. His rich voice, expressive eyes, and charming smile displayed everything Lance could hope for in a lead singer. He too was instantly welcoming, if a little bit too excited. But excitement was okay. This guy had more spark in his left pinky than the lead man of Lance and Noble’s former band had in his whole body.
Lance knew Brent Rose on sight. There weren’t too many people involved with modern music who didn’t. He was amused at himself for a little bit of a fanboy hitch in his chest as he shook the low-key musician’s hand. Brent was the musical head and heart of a band that had accomplished everything Lance could ever hope and then some. That he contributed his talents to producing the two guys Lance had just met lent a lot of weight to Lance and Noble’s agreement to drive across the country to meet them. If Brent thought they were something, they were definitely worth a look.
He was sitting at the console when Lance approached, and remained sitting, although he did lean forward as they shook hands.
“I saw your Christmas show,” Lance told him with a genuine smile. “Fucking awesome, man.”
Brent smiled, dark eyes warm under a low hang of black hair. “Thanks. You were in LA? I thought you were out of New York.”
“Yeah.” Lance propped himself on the edge of the console, half monitoring the sound of Noble talking to both Rabin and Danny. He couldn’t catch the words, but by the tone of Noble’s voice and the speed of his speech, he was liking them too. “We were. But after we left The Might, we went for something completely different.”
“Ah. Yeah.” Brent tossed his head in an effort to clear his eyes of the black forelock. “Sorry about The Might, man.”
Lance shook his head. “I’m not. We did what we were asked for as long as we could.” He glanced around the studio space. The place he’d been used to working in was better, to be sure. All the equipment here was new, but Shelby was rich and was always upgrading his space with anything newer. Add to it that The Might rehearsed in a studio inside a guest house on Shelby’s family’s estate instead of in an industrial part of town, and the setup on the whole was nicer. “We needed something else, y’know? Where we had more say.” And it felt like this could be that place. These people could be people he could work with
instead of working for
“I’ve heard about Shelby.” Brent sat back in his seat, calmly folding long fingers over his flat belly.
Lance finally recognized the logo on his faded green T-shirt as one from Heaven Sent’s first world tour. He assumed its origin was in the Far East, since the characters looked Chinese or Japanese. Or Korean. Hell if he would know. He’d only ever been to Europe, never the Far East.
“Was he really that controlling, if you don’t mind my asking?” Brent said.
“Don’t mind at all. And yeah, he was.”
“Total dick,” Noble supplied, sidling up next to Lance to add his opinion to the conversation. “Knows music but never let anyone else have a say.”
“What the fuck?” murmured Rabin, who came up behind Brent’s shoulder. “What kind of fun is that?” Lance liked the wicked tilt to his smile.
Noble pointed at him, grinning big. “I like you. But you’ll probably regret you said that.”
Beside Noble, Danny laughed.
“On that note”--Gordon stepped up between Danny and Rabin to complete the circle--“shall we discuss a few things?”
It was easy. Gordon started with how they’d handle the trial period, being clear that anyone could back out after the time they all agreed to try things out. He had Brent explain about the studio space and the available equipment and made sure that everything they needed to know was discussed up front. Maybe it was too easy. But that was Gordon, organizer extraordinaire. He lived for this shit.
And, well... Lance looked around at the guys in the room. He and Noble were a pair. Not a couple, not ever that, but their friendship was based on years of common ground and understanding. Where he went, Noble went, and vice versa. And he got a good feeling about Rabin and Danny. They were obviously friends, but perhaps they hadn’t been for very long. Danny, certainly, couldn’t have been in Chicago more than a few months, and Lance knew the breakup of the original Indigo Knights was fairly recent, within the last year or so. Regardless, they had an easy understanding between them that wasn’t sexual, although Gordon had warned Lance and Noble that both were gay. Lance was eager to get his bass in his hands and play around with these guys to see what kind of sounds they could muster. He hadn’t been eager for a long time.
“All right.” Noble rubbed his palms together eagerly. “Now that that’s done, when do we get to play?” He backed away from the circle toward a drum set in the corner. “I don’t have my skins, but these’ll do for a while.”
“I didn’t bring my bass,” Lance stated to no one in particular since Rabin and Danny had started after Noble.
Brent stood up, proving to be a few inches taller than Lance. He jerked his head toward the door. “I’ve got some equipment in the other room you can borrow for today.”
Lance followed Brent into the musician’s equivalent to a candy store. The little room was filled with guitars mounted on the walls, amps stacked atop each other, and sundry other musical equipment, including a selection of horns that Lance had to linger over just because they were pretty.
“Thanks.” Brent looked around the room with a small smile. “Hell and I had started collecting so much crap, it’s good to get it out of the house.”
Which reminded Lance that Brent was famously involved with one of his bandmates. Lance had read about the stir Heaven Sent had caused in the GLBT community since each of the original four members as well as the newest member turned out to be gay. All of them were now in long-standing relationships with men. To be honest, that fact had been one of many factors he and Noble had talked about after Gordon had extended the offer to meet and possibly join the Indigo Knights. Any band closely associated with Heaven Sent would naturally get some of that spotlight. That wasn’t anywhere near an issue for Noble, who was out and loudly proud. Wasn’t a problem for Lance either, although he wasn’t quite as loud and only recently--last few years--into men.
Lance picked up a shiny blue Les Paul bass. His favored guitar was gold and a few years older, but this one wasn’t all that different. “This custom?” he asked, sliding his fingers along the neck.
“Yeah.” Brent leaned against a table and dug his hands into the pockets of his jeans, unimpressed by the equipment surrounding him. “It got made for Luc, but he only used it once, then left it with me. Should be in tune. I was playing with it the other day.”
Lance tried it out while he fought back a mild wave of jealousy. He’d only known the man for a half hour, and already Lance envied the hell out of him. Brent’s accomplishments and fame were all impressive, but what Lance envied was his calm acceptance. Lance had his own version of fame and more money than he knew what to do with, but he’d come by it in a completely different manner. Despite what others saw in his outward appearance, he was not nearly as calm or as comfortable in his skin as Brent Rose seemed to be. “This is sweet.”
“Use it.” Brent turned to pick up a small amp. “This came with it.” He set the amp on the table, then waved his hand around. “Or you can use any of the others.”
“No problem.” Brent smiled at him. “Want to make you comfortable, after all. I think you and the guys could do some good stuff together.”
“You know The Might?”
“Did you know that it’s all Shelby’s music?”
“Sure.” Brent’s stare took on a bit more intensity. “But you played it. I’ve seen you live. You’re good.”
Lance’s jaw dropped before he could stop it. “You’ve seen us when?” With the exception of a brief tour of Europe about a year ago, The Might had never played live anywhere except in a club in New York called Fletcher’s, which was owned by Shelby. It was inconceivable that someone with Brent Rose’s notoriety had been in the club without Lance’s knowledge.
Brent chuckled. “Hell and I were kicking it in Berlin.” He cocked his head, smiling. “That’s kind of his playground. I think we caught every obscure club in the city. But we saw you in...” He glanced up at the ceiling, thinking. After a moment, he grimaced and shook his head. “Fuck, I don’t I remember the club, but you were there, and we both liked what we saw.”
Lance laughed as he put the guitar’s strap over his shoulder. “I’m impressed. Not everyone liked Shelby’s last concept.” Few people had, in fact, liked the music Shelby had insisted on for their second--and last, at least for Lance and Noble--album. It was part rock opera, part testimonial, part self-indulgent bullshit.
Brent shrugged. “Okay, I wasn’t all that much about the storyline, but a lot of the music was really good. And you and Noble were great.” He grinned. “I can see why you’d leave, though.”
“Ha. Ya think?”
“You should like Rabin’s ideas. Gordon thinks your styles complement each other.”
Adjusting the strap so Brent didn’t have to see what emotion might be in his eyes, Lance nodded. “We really liked the demos he sent.”
“And those are just demos. Wait until we get to the good
stuff.” Brent sounded excited. Eager. When a musician of his caliber felt like that, it was hard for Lance not to be eager himself. So he went ahead and let himself feel it.
“There you are.” Lance froze at the sound of Gordon’s voice at the doorway. He turned to see the man with a hand on either side of the frame, biceps straining the short sleeves of his T-shirt, an airy smile curling lips Lance wished he didn’t remember so well. Gordon looked at Brent. “Brent, do you mind if I talk to Lance alone for a moment?”
Brent glanced at Lance but stood. “Sure.” He waved two fingers at Lance and left the room.
Lance fiddled with the strap, seemingly unconcerned as Gordon shut the door. Okay
. He geared himself, unsure what the tenor of this talk was going to be.
“Will that work for you?” Gordon asked, his deep voice filling the small, soundproof room.
A glance up showed Gordon gesturing at the guitar. “Yeah. For now.” Lance stroked the upper surface of the body, pleased with the feel. “Our stuff should arrive tomorrow.”
“Good. You had it shipped here?”
“Yep. Just like you suggested.”
Carefully, he lifted the strap from his shoulders and set the bass beside the amp on the table. In the lengthening silence, he propped his butt on the edge of the table, crossed his arms, and looked up at Gordon.
Who was looking at him. What did Gordon see? Not anything he liked. There was a regrettable distance in those gorgeous eyes, a blankness in place of the love that used to shine there. No visible desire to rush into Lance’s arms, which--while understandable--was a damn shame. Lance met that cool look with affected calm and waited.
“I thought we should get one thing clear.” Gordon toyed with his smartphone. The thumb of his other hand was hooked in his pocket. “We’re not getting back together.”
It wasn’t any surprise to Lance. Nor was it a surprise that Gordon wanted things clear from the beginning. That was his way. Still, it poked hard at Lance’s heart. “I didn’t think we would.”
“Good. Because we’re not.”
Gordon tilted his head to the side a little, eyes narrowing just a touch. “Okay?”
Lance took a breath and let it make noise as he expelled it. “Gordon, I don’t want to fight. I never did.”
Eyes narrowed more, and lovely lips pressed together, but Gordon made none of the comments he certainly could.
“Hell”--Lance tried an offhand smile--“I’m surprised you even called me.”
“I didn’t call you
. I called you and Noble. There’s a difference.”
“I mean it. Despite what’s happened between us, I still think you guys are too good for where you were.”
“Now?” Gordon glanced at the door like he could see the men in the other room. Then he faced Lance again. “They’re good too. Really good. I think that you all could be spectacular
together.” Emphasis put spark in his eyes, all the proof Lance needed that these guys really were good, since Gordon knew what he was talking about. “I’ve got that feeling
.” He tapped his phone on his thigh, watching himself do it. “Believe me, it wasn’t easy to call you. But it was like a sign from God or whatever powers that be.” A small laugh and he shook his head a little. “Rabin and Danny needed a rhythm section, and I knew one that was perfect. I couldn’t not
call you. Despite”--his expression darkened--“our past.”
Lance’s heart ached that Gordon could ever have had any reason not to talk to him. He loved the man, even if Gordon might never believe that again. “I’m glad you called.”
Gordon nodded. Then his head came up, that intense glare back in his eyes. “But it’s not for us
. You do understand that?”
“I understand.” He wished he didn’t, but he did.
“Does Noble? Because I don’t want to hear shit from him.”
Lance reached up to rub the back of his neck, fingers massaging the base of his ponytail. “I can’t promise that he won’t give you shit. It’s Noble. But I can promise you that he understands too.”
Gordon breathed in, nostrils widening a bit. “I guess I’ll talk to him later. But I thought you and I should be clear.”
“Crystal.” Lance should probably have let it go at that. Might have been wiser. But he’d learned that he wasn’t always wise. His fingers tugged the band from his hair. “As long as we’re being clear...”
Gordon stilled. Wary. Waiting.
Combing his long, straight blond hair out with his fingers, Lance searched Gordon’s face, looked for some evidence of the man who’d loved him once. Once. Before he’d ruined it. “I still love you.”
Gordon’s eyes flew open wide. “What the fuck? Didn’t I just say--”
Both hands came up, palms out in defense. “I know. You said we weren’t getting back together. I understand.” Lance dropped his hands and let emotion bring the corners of his lips down and fill his gaze. “But you
need to understand that I’ve never gotten over you.”
Gordon shook his head slowly, contempt written across his face. “You hypocritical bastard. You had
your chance with me.” Punch.
“You’re the one who broke what we had.” Stab.
you I don’t do second chances.” Rip.
“And you have the gall
to tell me...”
“The truth.” Lance maintained calm only because he’d trained himself to do it during the long months that he’d dealt with what he’d done. “Nothing but the truth. I was an idiot, and I deserve to be hurt. I deserve your hatred, and I don’t deserve to have you back. I know all that.” He shook his head, aware of a long strand of blond that escaped to bisect the left half of his face. A very small, very ineffectual shield. “But it hasn’t changed the fact that I still love you.”
Gordon glared at him. Full-on hatred heated the space between them. It was something like a minute before Gordon could form words, and when he did, they were full of venom. “Fuck you. Fuck you to hell and back.” He pointed at Lance with the hand clutching his phone. “Stay the fuck away from me. We work
together. That is it
.” He stomped to the door but whirled before he opened it. “Oh, and by the way, I’ve got a boyfriend.” It was said with a measure of triumph, an arrow aimed at Lance.
Lance flinched, letting Gordon see the barb strike home.
“He’s smart and gorgeous, and he’s good
to me. So I’m not interested in anything you have to give.” With that, Gordon ripped open the door and left the room.
Lance stayed where he was, staring at the tight nub of the carpet beneath his boots. He thought maybe he wanted to be angry, but he was only sadly tired. “Well,” he said after a few minutes, “that happened.” Pulling himself together through recent practice, Lance picked up the guitar by the neck, hooked the fingers of his other hand through the handle of the amp, and took both through the open door toward his new future.