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Everything is finally falling into place for Trey Cooper: his band has been accepted into one of the biggest music competitions in the country…too bad their drummer just quit to play with XYZ, their biggest rival. When Trey has a mind-blowingly hot hookup with a mysterious violinist, Trey definitely plans to see him again – just not on stage as a member of XYZ.
Dominic Bounds’ time to make his musical dreams come true is running out. If something doesn’t happen fast, he has to head home to find a real job. This competition is his last chance, and Dom needs to come out on top – but he never expected to fall for his rival. As Dom and Trey risk everything to begin a secret affair, there’s no denying their chemistry is off the charts – but could their band rivalry turn their romance into a one-hit wonder?
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About the Author
A.M. Arthur was born and raised in the same kind of small town that she likes to write about, a stone's throw from both beach resorts and generational farmland. She's been creating stories in her head since she was a child and scribbling them down nearly as long, in a losing battle to make the fictional voices stop. She is the author of Body Rocks, Hot Licks, Off Beat, and Steady Stroke. She credits an early fascination with male friendships (bromance hadn't been coined yet back then) with her later discovery of and subsequent love affair with m/m romance stories.
When not exorcising the voices in her head, she toils away in a retail job that tests her patience and gives her lots of story fodder. She can also be found in her kitchen, pretending she's an amateur chef and trying to not poison herself or others with her cuisine experiments.
Read an Excerpt
By A. M. Arthur
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 A. M. Arthur
All rights reserved.
"Coop, I will pay you twenty dollars if you go out and get laid already," Danielle said.
Trey Cooper nearly dropped the glass baking dish he was trying to slide into the dishwasher among too many other dirty dishes. The overload was thanks to Danielle's bright idea to cook for nine people tonight. His best friend and roommate was blunt, probably to a fault and sometimes to her social detriment, but once in a while she managed to outblunt herself.
And his initial shock gave way to faint horror. He glanced at the archway that led into the living room where their other roommate, Bobby, was hanging with their dinner guests.
Okay — neighbors. For whatever reason, Danielle had decided she needed to cook for the other six people who lived on the other two floors of the rental house they all shared. On a whim. On a Thursday.
"Could you say that louder, please?" Trey snapped, his voice way quieter than hers, because the whole house didn't need to know his business.
She ran a saucepan under the faucet. "What? It's not like I said get laid for your first time."
He rolled his eyes and shoved the baking dish into the rack. "Again, say it a little louder."
"Maybe it will help you calm down. You've been bouncing around the house like a tweaking squirrel, and it's not helping anyone's nerves. Bobby's working on it."
"Oh, great. No problem. Bobby's working on it." Sarcasm, check. He took the saucepan and wedged it in next to the baking dish. "I don't see how going hookup hunting is going to calm me down. We only have three weeks to find a new drummer and get them familiar with the music."
"I know!" She smacked him in the chest with a wet hand. "And stop sounding so negative about the whole thing. Positive energy only, or you're going to jinx us."
"I don't do positive energy, I do —"
"Realistic expectations, yes, I know. Loser."
He grinned. This was the Danielle he knew and loved. He grabbed a detergent pod from beneath the sink and set the washer. Busywork only distracted him for so long, and then the fear and doubts crept back in. Fear of not finding another percussionist for Fading Daze in time for the regional Unbound competition in three weeks, and doubt over this hypothetical person being able to learn the set they'd perfected two months ago when they sent in their audition for initial online entry into the festival.
And after two months of watching their ranking online and praying the secret jury of judges liked them, Fading Daze got their invitation to the Midatlantic region's festival three days ago. They'd placed in the top ten in indie rock — the max number of winners from each of the eight categories.
After they all went out and got crazy drunk celebrating, Trey freaked the fuck out for about three hours, because their entire set was his music. His original songs.
Everything was riding on Unbound. A $100,000 recording contract was what Trey had dreamed of since he was fifteen years old, and for their band to win would be the biggest, best fuck-you to his father that he could imagine.
Except yesterday Tyson, their percussionist for the entire two years Fading Daze had existed, walked away. No explanation. Nothing. Gone. Asshole even blocked them all on Twitter and Instagram.
Trey pushed the angry, ugly thoughts away so they didn't totally ruin his mood tonight. He'd put up with extra people at dinner and answered the questions asked, but if the need for speaking didn't have something to do with promoting the band, he'd rather be in his room, alone with a blank songbook. Bobby was the social butterfly of the group; Trey redefined the word "introvert."
Danielle dried her hands, then flung the damp dish towel into the sink. Trey grabbed it and hung it on the ring haphazardly nailed to the wall above the sink. The old beach house was falling apart in some places, and the owners didn't care if they did minor self-repairs.
"Look, if you don't want to go out hunting, just go out," she said. "Hang out at Off Beat, listen to some music. Eat crab dip until you explode."
He didn't immediately shoot that idea down. Off Beat was one of the few bars in the bustling beach resort area that catered mostly to locals, with only a handful of tourists finding their way inside. For one thing, the place looked like an old-fashioned barbershop on the outside. It was also two blocks off the main strip, tucked into a building that also housed a nail salon and an Asian market.
Trey had discovered Off Beat through a friend, and he'd fallen in love. The upstairs was a kitschy entertainment room, with the bar and stage downstairs in a finished basement. They hosted all sorts of local entertainment, from bands to poetry slams to fiction readings. And their crab dip was the best on the shore.
He bar-backed there on weekends to help supplement his part-time job clerking at a bike-rental shop on the boardwalk. Fading Daze even had a standing gig to play live shows one Saturday night a month, where they debuted any new songs that he wrote.
"You know what's going on tonight?" Trey asked. One night he'd wandered in on a whim, only to be assaulted by a woman reading an erotic sex poem about a man and woman, and he'd fled the premises. Maybe if she'd been reading about two dudes getting it on, he'd have stayed, but dripping pussies were not his thing.
"Nope." She sprayed down the kitchen table with cleaner. "Isn't Thursday usually an open-mike thing?"
"So go. Maybe you'll hear something that will inspire you."
"Or make me run away weeping."
She laughed while she scrubbed at some leftover mess on the old table's scarred wood surface. Danielle was anal about keeping the kitchen spotless. No other area of the house, except the kitchen. Bobby said it had to do with them having a lot of ant infestations in the kitchen when they were kids.
Trey stopped teasing her about it after she showed him YouTube videos of real homes infested by ants, because yeah. Gross.
"Okay, maybe going out is a good idea." Trey glanced at his clothes. Red sleeveless tee and board shorts. Basic uniform for summer. He liked blending in with the tourists. Made people less likely to stop him and ask for directions. He wasn't the goddamn visitors' center.
"Put some liner on," Danielle said.
"No." He saved that for performances, and only because she demanded it. He had green eyes and really thick, girly eyelashes, and Danielle swore the liner made him even sexier, especially to his female fans.
What he really wanted to know was how sexy it made him to his male fans, because that was his target audience.
"Spoilsport," she said.
He found his phone under a pile of old music magazines. Plenty of charge to get him through to the end of the evening. He slipped into a pair of red flip-flops, then tucked his earbuds in and cued up Katy Perry's latest. Always music when he was walking. Outside, the humid June air settled around him like a hot, icky blanket. Only a week into the month, and it felt like August already.
The tang of salt from the nearby ocean tickled his nose. He loved that scent. He'd loved it from the first family vacation here when he was six years old, and he'd loved it even more when he left home two years ago and moved in with Danielle and Bobby.
Alexandria could suck it.
Their house was six blocks from Off Beat. Not a bad walk now that the sun was setting, casting a lot of towering hotel shadows on the very packed, very busy sidewalks. He moved to the music in his ear, darting around idling cars and skipping over curbs, existing in the two songs that carried him to his destination.
An actual red-and-white-striped pole rotated next a small, hard-to-read sign that simply said "Off Beat" in blocky text. Nothing fancy, nothing to draw attention, except for the constant open and shut of the door, the stream of male and female patrons, and the squad of twenty-somethings loitering outside smoking thanks to Maryland law.
He returned greetings from several chicks he knew by face, but not by name. Fading Daze had a very loyal fan base in the area, and the females always seemed to be divided into two groups: the girls who shipped him and Danielle in some fantasy romance they weren't having, and the girls who hated Danielle because of this fantasy romance they weren't having.
Poor Dani, because damn, chicks could be vicious.
The main floor was an actual, converted barbershop. All of the chairs and mirrors remained in place, but instead of wheeled equipment carts and racks of products, the faded tile floor hosted mismatched couches and armchairs that patrons moved around at will. The rear wall was all chalkboard paint, with tubs of sidewalk chalk available to use. The owner's only rule was "No Fucking Cussing," which was painted at the top of the board. Jazzy music was piped out over half a dozen speakers.
He threaded his way through the packed upstairs to the repurposed Atlantic Bell phone booth at the back of the room. The back of the phone booth was another door, like an entrance to an old-time speakeasy, and led to the cement steps down to the basement. The moment Trey opened that door, male a cappella voices drifted up, doing a barely passable arrangement of "We Are Young."
Two girls in bikini tops and short-shorts were ascending the stairs. He leaned into the wall to give them room to pass, then continued down.
The bar was as eclectic as the upstairs. No single set of tables and chairs was the same. Some regular table height, some counter or bar height, most of them painted bright colors. The small U-shaped bar was made out of old surfboards, with fake potted palm trees on each end. The stage in the rear was painted to resemble an open clamshell that reminded him of that famous painting of Venus.
For all the tourist-trap features, nothing about Off Beat felt faked or overdone. It was comfortable.
"Trey! You picking up an extra shift?" Dina bumped his hip with hers, all while balancing a tray full of food meant for one of her tables.
"Nah, here for the open mike."
"I think we're full up on tables, but there's probably a spot at the bar for you."
She sashayed off to the deliver the food. Dina, like most of the staff, had been there since Off Beat opened twelve years ago, which meant she knew everyone.
He found a seat at the bar facing the stage. Sasha was creating something in a metal shaker. She nodded in his direction, acknowledging his arrival like the pro she was. He admired Sasha because she was an out and proud lesbian, while he still hid behind untrue gossip about himself and Danielle in order to maintain their band's growing image.
Sasha usually worked the weekends with him, so she mixed him up a virgin strawberry daiquiri without him asking. He was only twenty for a few more weeks. She plunked the drink down with two extra strawberry garnishes.
"Anything from the kitchen?" she asked.
As much as he worshipped their crab dip with soft pretzels, he was stuffed from dinner. "Maybe later, thanks."
"Anything you need, Coop."
She chased down another drink order. He sipped his daiquiri, and the sharp flavor of rum made him do a double take.
Classic Sasha, sneaking a little in for him.
The a cappella group wound down. Beatrice Westmore, the manager of the place and the woman who'd helped give Fading Daze their first real platform, stepped up to the microphone. "How about another round of applause for the boys of Pipe Dreams?"
Trey groaned at the awful name, but dutifully clapped for the departing quintet.
"Okay, folks," Beatrice continued once the scattered applause ended. Open mike could be a tough crowd. One of the tech crew moved behind her, setting up a Yamaha keyboard. "We have someone new to Off Beat tonight. He's got a little something different, and I think you're going to like it. How about a warm Beat welcome for Dominic B?"
The gentle applause rose in tempo as a lean, copper-skinned figure walked onstage with a violin case in one hand. Trey paid attention, his breath catching at the sight of the Latin god standing behind the Yamaha. Dark eyes, black hair tousled up with product, a hint of scruff on his chin. Fit body poured into tight black jeans and a skintight white sleeveless tee that showed hints of tattoos on that coppery skin. Somewhere in Trey's age bracket, for sure, and goddamn but he was pretty.
"Careful, Coop, you're drooling," Sasha said as she reached near him for a lime wedge.
He snapped his mouth shut but couldn't stop staring, totally uncaring of the comment because Sasha wasn't a gossip.
Dominic didn't go up to the mike. He produced a shiny violin from the case. Trey wasn't familiar with violin makers but it looked expensive. And the Yamaha did not belong to the bar. Dominic fiddled with the strings, then set the violin to rest on his shoulder. He touched a button on the Yamaha, and an onboard rock beat began to play.
He took a step to the side, into a more open area of the stage, touched bow to strings, and began to play. The bow danced over the strings, creating a beautiful melody that Trey had trouble placing at first. Then it hit him. Dominic was re-creating "Single Ladies" in a unique way that had musical notes dancing in front of Trey's eyes, mapping the arrangement Dominic had chosen to stand out from the basic percussion beat from the keyboard.
Dominic seduced his audience with a violin, of all fucking instruments. Trey knew his way around a piano and various kinds of guitars, no problem. He had little use for other strings, including something as tiny as a violin. He associated them with classical music or bluegrass. Not songs like "Single Ladies," which was melting into something else....
Trey closed his eyes and allowed the music to flow through him.
"Shake It Off."
He snapped his eyes open, hand jerking hard enough to slosh his drink. Taylor's lyrics popped into his head along with the melody Dominic expertly created with an instrument that Trey was slowly starting to adore. Whoever Dominic B was, and wherever he was from, the boy possessed an incredible gift. He played that violin like they were one being, urging out chords that made Trey want to weep for their perfection.
Why the hell was a guy this good playing open-mike nights in southern Maryland?
Trey was transfixed, not only by the amazing music but by the performer himself. He played with eyes closed, both hands a blur as they expertly created the music. The violin sang the lyrics to the audience. Dominic smiled throughout, so into the music that the crowd might as well not be there.
Taylor merged into "Just the Way You Are" so perfectly that Trey didn't notice until he was humming along with Bruno's lyrics. A table of girls nearby actually started singing out loud, and Trey nearly told them to shut up. Dominic didn't need any backup.
Dominic finished the song with a flourish, then turned off the Yamaha. Trey leapt to his feet, applauding so hard his palms ached. The noise was thunderous, everyone standing. The bashful smile Dominic gave the audience made Trey's heart flip.
Beatrice appeared onstage next to him, clapping, cheeks stained red. Trey knew that look — the look that said "We've got something special here." She'd had that look the first time Fading Daze played for her.
"Now that was something special, wasn't it?" she said into the mike. "Dominic B, ladies and gentlemen."
More applause was joined by various shouts of "Encore!" "Play more!" "Don't stop!"
"I think they like you, honey," Beatrice said.
Dominic leaned forward, his expression so adorkably awkward. "I, ah, only practiced those three with that baseline. I haven't done this in a long time." His voice was smooth and deep, rolling over Trey like a gentle tide.
Her face went hawkish. "What if I found you an accompanist? Care to do a little freestyling?"
He glanced out into the audience, but likely couldn't see many faces thanks to the lights. "Um, maybe."
She shielded her eyes with her hand and scanned the crowd. "Earlier I spied with my little eyes a house favorite in the audience. Coop? Get your perky little ass up onstage."
On the rare occasions when Beatrice called for one of her regular musicians to come up and help someone out, and when it was Trey, he usually grumbled his way to the stage. Tonight he bolted, stomach twisting into nervous knots.
"There he is," she said. "Mr. Trey Cooper."
Trey strolled to the center of the ten-foot stage, waving at the audience. Someone even shouted out, "Go Coop!"
"Coop here is an excellent pianist," Beatrice said. "And we all know Dominic is wicked with that violin. I think they'll make some beautiful music, don't you all?"
Excerpted from Body Rocks by A. M. Arthur. Copyright © 2016 A. M. Arthur. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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