On Perfect Harmony, the ambitious competitors heat things up on stage and off…
Cody Rivers is determined to be a rock star, but couch-surfing between bar shows gets old fast. Joining an a cappella group for a new singing competition show could be his last chance at real fame—unless the college boy from the heart of the country messes it up for him. Lucas Norwood is everything gothy, glittery Cody is not—conservative, clean-cut, and virginal. But when a twist in the show forces them together, even the sweetest songs get steamy as the attraction between them lights up the stage. Lucas wants to take it slow, but Cody’s singing a different tune—and this time it may be a love song…
About the Author
Annabeth can be found online at annabethalbert.com, @annabethalbert on Twitter, and Facebook.com/annabethalbert.
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By Annabeth Albert
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Annabeth Albert
All rights reserved.
The bass singer was gay. Cody wiggled his hips in an exaggerated move that always got him company on dance floors, waited a beat, and ... there. Right on cue, the curly-haired singer gave him another sidelong glance.
A straight dude might grant Cody the occasional double take because, yeah, it was damn hard to ignore Cody's style of fabulousness. Today, for example, the style gods had smiled on him—his hair was the perfect combination of deliberate spikes and casual falls, the silver specks in his eyeliner complemented his studded leather belt, and his red skinny jeans showed off his ass. So when the bass's double take had turned into something more like a quintuple take, Cody knew what those lingering glances meant. Knew it despite the fact that the bass looked fresh off the farm, all wholesome and rosy-cheeked and wearing a tie/sweater vest combo perfect for performing in a church choir.
Crash. The bass missed a step, sending a speaker skidding across the stage. One of the camera guys groaned. On second thought, maybe the bass hadn't been checking out Cody. Maybe he had trouble controlling his big blue eyes the same way he had trouble controlling his big-assed feet.
Whatever the dude was, he was screwing up Cody's big break. Twitchy farmer boy and the rest of his all-boy group had screwed up multiple run-throughs of the opening number for the new season of Perfect Harmony. No one would notice Cody's singing if the other groups kept crashing into one another and losing the chorus. He'd worked damn hard to earn this solo, and he didn't need farmer boy messing it up with his clodhopper feet that kept tripping over thin air.
A tech scurried out onstage to right the speakers. Like everything else about the TV show, the older theater and its equipment were decidedly low budget. No Voice or Idol big production numbers here. A few missteps and they'd be down a speaker or three.
"You'd think with a voice like his, he'd be more coordinated." Ashley, one of the members of Cody's group, spoke up as they waited for the techs to fix things. Her red lips twisted in a pissy pout. She straightened her poufy black skirt.
"You think the dude can sing?" Cody's voice was sharper than usual. Stress brought out the worst in his snark. Each botched run-through seemed to underscore his dicey situation—this wasn't just his big break. It was his last break, one he had to make work. The single digits in his bank account and the duct tape holding his ancient van together hung over him, dogged each verse he sang. He didn't like feeling this desperate, and yeah, he was getting a tad judgy about the performers who didn't have such worries.
Most of the groups in the singing competition came from big colleges or universities and were comprised of a couple of guys who could sing halfway decent and some wannabes who showed up for free cookies and alumni connections. With his wide shoulders and thick waist, it looked like farmer boy definitely got more than his fair share of cookies.
"He's the one I was telling you about—the killer bass and vocal percussionist." She was on a mission to replace their current vocal percussionist, Keith, who was the weak link in their group. His beat-box skills weren't up to producing the kind of surround sound Cody and Ashley craved. With only five members, Embellish couldn't get away with freeloaders or mediocre members the way the big twenty-person choirs could.
"Huh." Cody was all for anything that would avoid opening-number disaster. Come Saturday night, the empty theater seats in front of them would be filled with studio audience members. They'd clap when cued, but it was the TV audience that Cody really cared about. If zillions of Americans tuned out during the first show, then zillions of Americans wouldn't get to hear Cody's awesomeness throughout the season.
"Wait until he stops crashing into scenery and you'll see."
Too bad the choreography made crashing almost a guarantee. Too bad they couldn't staple farmer boy in place. ... Bingo. "Got an idea. Back in a few."
"It better be a good one." Ashley examined the blond-tipped ends of her dark hair.
Cody passed by farmer boy's group on his way off the main stage. The sweater vest convention was deep in conversation.
"When we get back to Iowa, I'm sticking you in ballet lessons." One of the smaller guys, a strawberry blond–haired dude with an elfin grin, clapped farmer boy on the shoulder. Iowa. An unwelcome jolt from the past made Cody pause. Iowa. It figured farmer boy was from the one state Cody never wanted to deal with again.
Cody strode over to the wings where Dane, the director's assistant, was conferring with a bunch of techs. The area right off the stage was a jumble of TV equipment, set pieces, and red-shirted techs waiting for orders. Most of them were even younger than Cody's twenty-three years and were as freshly scrubbed as farmer boy and his group. Cody waited until Dane finished speaking to his barely paid minions.
"Hey, Dane? Got a minute?" Cody tipped his head, letting his hair do its fabulous swish thing and making sure his lips had a little extra pout. He'd had Dane's number since the second day on set. Dane was most definitely gay, as evidenced by his boyfriend in New York and his appreciation for Cody's mouth here in LA. Of course the show supposedly had a rule against fraternization between staff and contestants, but Cody had never known guys like Dane to give a flying fuck about the rule book.
"For you?" Dane's lewd gaze should have made Cody preen, but today the scrutiny was buzzing all the wrong places. Cody shoved his hands in his pockets and glanced over at the loitering techs. Dane gave a curt nod to the techs, dismissing them. "I've got a second or two."
"What if you had the rhythm section of all the bands already in place for the first shot? Maybe sitting on speakers like they're waiting for a party to start? Then they don't have to worry about the dance steps." Cody jerked his head in the direction of the disaster-prone group. He didn't want to be rude and point—farmer boy didn't need another reason to blush. Although if one were into the freshly scrubbed look, he was a bit cute, with his pink cheeks.
"That's not a bad idea." Dane stroked his carefully manicured goatee. He had a penchant for tight gray shirts, stovepipe jeans, and black Chucks—a hipster slightly past his prime. But his age and his experience meant he could make things happen for guys like Cody. Not that Cody was a whore or anything, but in this industry every connection counted. And so did a guy's ability to make use of all his talents. One either played the game or one went hungry, another wannabe musician on the streets, no gigs and no future.
"You could also use it to add more punch to the opening riff—more bass before everyone joins in." And more contrast for Cody's tenor voice, but he didn't need to point that out.
"All right." Dane stepped away, clapping his hands loudly. "Listen up, people. Change in plans." Cody went back to Embellish's place near the front of the stage as Dane rearranged everyone for the new configuration. "Let's get full sound on this run-through."
Oh, thank you, sweet Lord, for actual singing. They'd done enough choreography-only run-throughs. The theater might be filled with empty seats, but once his wireless mic crackled to life, Cody felt the buzz of a performance high. His hips felt looser and his chest expanded, ready to give extra power to his voice.
The opening act called for four soloists from the various groups competing on Perfect Harmony. Cody had the best part, both opening and closing the number. He got the stage to himself for a few precious seconds before the groups danced in. And okay, he now had to share those seconds with the rhythm section, but that was fine—all the cameras would still be on him.
A production assistant signaled the start of the number, and the swell of the bass amped up Cody's high. He'd been doing a cappella seriously for a few months, and the depth of the sound produced solely by voices still blew him away. Made sense that Perfect Harmony's producers were banking on the all-vocal style as a way to compete with the other networks' big singing competitions. After auditioning for every other reality singing show out there, Cody had been more than willing to try the new format if it meant the kind of exposure his agent could use to get him better gigs down the road. Anything was better than his current lifestyle of couch surfing, touring, and living out of his ancient van, hoping for enough cash to make it to the next crappy bar show.
And as the opening number progressed without any sacrifices of footwork or speakers, Cody had to acknowledge Ashley had been right—freed of trying to coordinate his voice and lumbering feet, farmer boy had a damn impressive low G and great tone. Maybe there was hope for him yet.
Cody's own hope surged along with his voice as he launched into the opening verse. With a hundred thousand dollars, a recording contract, and all-important TV exposure on the line, he needed all the help he could get—even farmer boy's.
Lucas watched the conversation playing out at the end of the hall. The Goth guy with the killer voice was flirting with the assistant director again. Neither of them seemed to care about the thick packet of rules and regulations the show had handed out. Not that Lucas was paying attention to either the flirting or the way the guy's lower back curved when he leaned an arm against the wall. Lucas's eyes refused to obey his command to find something else to look at. The guy could be the star of Lucas's much-beloved Goth twink tumblr stream. And okay, it probably wasn't very polite to call him a twink, but considering the frequency with which the word twink showed up on Lucas's browser history, the gay PC police would forgive him.
The guy was reed slender, yet tall. He was taller than Lucas, which had given Lucas a little shiver when they'd been standing next to each other earlier. The guy had that natural grace thing going on, too. His long limbs and long neck didn't look spidery or gawky—they were elegant. Like a dancer's. Even his hands were graceful, his black fingernail polish glinting beneath the stage lights. The only softness to the dude's angular frame was his surprisingly round butt. The subtle curve of his long spine called to mind the sensuality of an expensive violin.
Not that Lucas was in the market for what the future rock star was selling, but from a safe distance it was a nice feeling to covet the merchandise. Kind of like when Lucas had been on a college trip to Hamburg last summer and had stopped at a shop window to ogle a rare 16th-century violin. No hope of playing the thing, but he'd been called to its luster and promise.
He'd been a little awed and tongue-tied then, too.
"See you, Cody." The director guy clapped him on the shoulder, eyeing Cody with the kind of heat even Lucas could interpret. Cody—the name called to mind old Westerns, not sparkly nail polish, but strangely it seemed to fit.
The director left down the narrow corridor leading to the wardrobe and dressing rooms. Finally. Lucas had been waiting for a chance to talk to Cody. Trying to find his nerve, he'd watched Cody fold his long limbs and hunker down against one of the hot pink set pieces. The backstage area was strictly utilitarian: concrete flooring, cement block walls, industrial lighting.
Cody yawned, his body becoming all fluid-looking and relaxed as he stretched. The image of Cody leaning forward on his knees, sinful mouth open invitingly, paralyzed Lucas. Every inch of the guy was hot, but his mouth was porn-star perfect, obscenely lush and deep pink. Transfixed, Lucas's gaze locked on that mouth until Cody finally noticed Lucas's hovering.
"You need something?" Even when he wasn't singing, Cody's voice carried a musical lilt. He stood in a single, perfect motion that Lucas could never duplicate—the guy made it look like gravity did his bidding.
"Umm." Come on, idiot, speak. Lucas cleared his throat. "I just wanted to say thanks."
"Thanks?" Cody arched one silver-ringed eyebrow, a skeptical look in his eyes, like he kept track of all the favors he did people and Lucas was most definitely not on that list.
"For earlier." Lucas's cheeks went pizza-oven hot. For crying out loud. He was twenty-one now, not some fifteen-year-old at a Justin Bieber concert. "For making it so that I didn't have to dance."
"Oh. That. No problem, man." Cody shrugged his shoulders. His collarbones were delicate slices above the scoop neck of his shirt. Like biscotti just waiting for Lucas's teeth ... Stop it. No matter how much his browser history and traitorous dick said otherwise, he knew better than to get worked up over a guy like Cody. Not going there. Ever.
"I kinda suck at the dance stuff, you know?" Lucas counted cracks in the concrete floor.
"Just a bit." Cody didn't say it mean, even though his wide lips curved into a smile. He retrieved a bright yellow messenger bag resting on the floor beside him. Lucas's friend Alex would call it a man purse, but with pants as tight as Cody's, Lucas supposed a bag was a necessity for carrying basics like a phone and a wallet.
Shit. Lucas glanced up and down the corridor as he saw what Cody had scrounged from the bag. A retro-looking silver flask. The show banned alcohol on set—it had been in the lengthy list of rules they'd received yesterday at the first rehearsal. But Cody didn't exactly seem like the read-the-rules-with-a-highlighter type. And he had to be under twenty-one—Lucas would guess nineteen at the most—making the transgression doubly bad.
"You can't drink that here."
That eyebrow of Cody's rose again, all the more mocking with its winking silver hoops. Eyes locked on Lucas's, Cody unscrewed the flask and took a long swig. God. Those lips. The guy could make a killing advertising drinks. Or candy. Lucas would pay good money to watch him lick ... Don't think that. You can't control your wiring. You can control your actions.
"You want?" Cody held out the flask.
"Of course not." Said Eve to the serpent. It wasn't the alcohol that made a low curl of want bloom in his gut. Unbidden images came of Cody drunk, at one of those clubs Lucas had only ever read about. His face would be flushed, bringing color to his almost unnaturally pale skin. Eyes glassy but demanding ... Stop. He pushed the image from his mind.
"I don't drink." Wanting was unavoidable, but indulging was a different story. Lucas had long ago made his peace with wanting—want was fine in carefully rationed chunks, as long as he cleared his browser history afterward and went on with his resolve to never turn want into action.
"Of course you don't," Cody mocked Lucas, lowering his voice and adding a fake horrified expression that probably wasn't that different from the one Lucas was displaying for real. "Your school probably doesn't even allow it at all, huh?"
"Not on campus, no. And not in any of the university apartments." Lucas tugged at his shirt collar, knowing his babble was confirming this dude's judgment about who Lucas was and where he came from.
"Never tempted to spike the Kool-Aid? Sneak a cold one into the big game?" Cody's eyes danced as he took another swig. "You're missing out, man."
"And you're going to miss out on the show if they toss you out for ignoring the rules and bringing in alcohol."
"Alcohol." The kid feigned innocence, all big blue eyes and pouty lips. "Who said anything about alcohol? This is my special recovery serum."
"Whatever." Lucas rolled his eyes. Hot as the guy was, his teasing was starting to grate. "It would suck if you got cut. You've got the best voice here."
A broad smile wiped out Cody's smirk. He seemed to stand a bit taller. "The best, huh?"
"Eh." Lucas hadn't really meant to toss that last bit in—it was the truth, but this kid's ego needed no extra encouragement. "One of the best."
"The best guy? The best tenor? The best soloist?" Clearly enjoying himself, Cody relaxed back into the wall, crossing his arms over his chest, flask dangling from two fingers.
Excerpted from Treble Maker by Annabeth Albert. Copyright © 2015 Annabeth Albert. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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