“You’re sure this is the place to find someone?” Winston asked. “I mean, it’s an art gallery. How many hot guys are going to be here?” He elbowed his band member and best friend, Duke.
“Why would I tell you to come to this if there weren’t hot guys?” Duke shrugged. “I mean I don’t know if there are available men here. There are people here and that’s what you need. Look, I don’t care if you find someone or not, but I want you to get on with your life. This is a good place to meet people―even if they aren’t hot men. You just need to talk to someone who isn’t famous and we won’t be recognized here. Promise. The focus is on Roy.”
“It should be.” He spied one of the paintings. The art might have been created by Roy, but the pieces focused on Duke. The romance between the men blossomed and shimmered on every painting and in each photograph.
Winston sighed. He wanted a love like this. Wanted to be desired and craved. He’d thought he had this with his previous girlfriends, but no one had really loved him. They loved the image and the money connected with him. He resumed looking at the art and drinking in the images. People milled around and some chatted, but they did leave him alone, like Duke had said they would. He delighted in being able to walk around without being accosted. No one cared he was famous. The art mattered.
He stopped in front of a gold-framed painting of Duke on a stool. He’d never looked at his friend in the nude—not intentionally. They’d shared moments in the shower when the entire band had had to use one hotel room, but he’d never looked at Duke like a lover. But this way made him seem sexy and approachable, but sad and lonely, too.
“Have you ever seen anything so sensual?” a woman beside him asked. “It’s like the artist captured him at his most vulnerable.” She clicked her tongue. “I love it.”
“It’s nice.” He wasn’t sure he wanted to keep looking at Duke this way. He wandered over to another piece, an abstract one. He liked these better because he could interpret them as he pleased. He liked the play of color blocks.
“Do you like that one?” The curator gestured to the work. “Only three thousand dollars. Might be wonderful above the sofa.”
He snorted. He didn’t have a couch, much less a home to put either in. “Oh, I don’t know.”
“About its worth? Or the placing?” the curator asked. “I’m sure you could come up with a better placement. Just a suggestion.”
“This seems more like a statement piece than a placeholder in a room.” He nodded. “But I’m considering buying it.”
“You are?” The curator grinned. “I’ll let the others know it’s under consideration.”
“Sure.” He glanced over to his right and paused. A man he’d never seen stood before one of the photograph series. Winston’s breath lodged in his throat. The moment he looked at the guy, he wanted to get to know him.
He strode across the room, dodging and weaving around the people in the crowd until he reached the mystery man. He’d never forget him if he tried. He liked the way this person’s sport coat seemed tailored for his body, the way he carried himself with confidence and the slight graying at his temples. He wanted to touch him and memorize every detail of his face. To dance with him and kiss… Oh God, he wanted to kiss him.
“What are you doing?” Duke asked. He nudged Winston. “You’re drooling.”
“Would you believe I’m in love?” He faced Duke. “The moment I saw him across the room, I fell in love.”
“You fall for someone after every concert, too.” Duke rolled his eyes. “Who is it?”
“The guy over there.” He gestured to the man, trying not to be obvious. “Dark hair, dark eyes, tall…handsome. I want him.”
“He’s not a possession.” Duke swatted Winston’s arm. “He’s a person.”
“I know that.” He glared at his bandmate. “Jesus. I’m not heartless.” He didn’t want to own this guy. Just experience him and find out if they could be together forever. “It’s like that old song. I’ve seen his face and I can’t forget it. I can’t forget that I want to be with this person, and I want everyone to know I’m in love.”
Duke snorted. “In love. You have no idea what love is.”
“Maybe it’s time I found out.” He swatted Duke’s arm again. “Excuse me. I need to meet my destiny.”
“Right.” Duke didn’t chase him.
Good. He didn’t want to be chased. The attraction was instant. He needed to know this handsome man in the suit coat. He stopped beside the guy. “Do you like this painting?”
The man rocked on his feet and chuckled. “I like a lot of art.” He met Winston’s gaze. “Do you?”
“Like this work? Sure.” Winston swept his gaze over him. Dark hair, deep hazel eyes with chips of green among the brown, thick lashes and the guy reminded him of a professor. The studious nature spoke to Winston. He’d bet this guy wasn’t trouble. Wouldn’t get him into trouble or con him into going back to his drug habit.
“Is this your first show?” the man asked.
“Of this sort, yeah.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Is it yours?”
“No, I like to visit the various shows here at the gallery. I appreciate art. I’m not artistic at all, but I like to look at it.” He smiled and the warmth in his smile lit in his eyes. “My name is Harmon.”
He offered his hand to Harmon. He liked the sound of his name and the way his skin tingled when they touched. “I’m…Michael.” He didn’t want to admit his stage name just yet. If Harmon could like him without the airs of his fame, then they had a chance of making it. Too many people couldn’t see beyond the glitter of celebrity.
“Hi, Michael.” Harmon gestured to the painting. “What do you think of this one? I like the play of light, but the sadness in the subject really gets to me. It’s like I’m looking into the soul of the man, while being closed off from what’s wrong.”
Damn. He simply saw yet another painting of a naked Duke. He pieced through what Harmon had said. He hated having to hide his true emotions behind the mask of the character he’d created for the rock music stage. Few saw the pain he hid because he’d closed himself off from so many people.
“Is that what you see, too?” Harmon asked. “I’m famous for getting these things wrong.” He chuckled. “My friend Suzanne would tell you I see things that aren’t there.”
“Suzanne?” Shit. He hadn’t considered this guy might not be gay. “Girlfriend?”
“God, no. She wants to be more, but she’s just a fellow teacher. She thinks we’ll make beautiful babies. I hate to tell her I’m not interested in being a dad. Ever.” Harmon blushed. “Shit. I’ve talked too much.”
“Not at all.” Winston snagged two glasses of sparkling cider from the tray. “Have one?”
“Thank you.” Harmon sipped the drink. “I’m told the artist and his husband are recovering addicts, so no booze. I don’t mind when someone drinks, but I’m not much of a drinker. I can’t hold my liquor.” He blushed again. “And I’m talking too much again.”
“You’re fine.” Winston liked learning about him. “How long have you been teaching?”
“Twelve years.” Harmon grinned and held up his glass. “I got hired right out of college here in Norville. I love teaching in a small town. The moment I took the job, I felt like I’d been welcomed into the town. I became part of the family.”
“It does seem like this place is one big family.” Everyone seemed to know everyone else’s business—except Duke hadn’t known Harmon. According to Duke, Norville was the place to disappear into and find his footing.
“Anyway, they don’t mind that I’m gay, don’t mind that I like being a history nerd and that I’m not interested in being a parent.” Harmon sipped his cider. “What about you? What brings you to the show tonight?”
“My friend encouraged me to come along.” More like conned him, then begged and pushed. “I’m glad I did.” His phone buzzed in his back pocket. Shit. He’d answer it later. “I’m glad I got to meet you.”
“Likewise.” Harmon toyed with the stem of his glass. “So do you live in Norville?”
“I’m looking for a place, but I’m living with a friend.” He needed to get out of Duke’s basement and fast. “Do you know of any good apartments? Or houses?”
“I live in the Cordell building. It’s three blocks from the high school. It’s a small apartment building and I doubt there’s any openings, but I found it through the apartment finder paper. It’s online now. Search Norville apartments and you’ll find it.” Harmon shook his head. “I talk too much. Suzanne would’ve chewed me out by now. She’d tell me I disclosed too much.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” He liked how he’d managed to get Harmon to open up. A woman elbowed him and he gestured to Harmon. “Why don’t we go over here? I think we’re monopolizing the painting.”
“Sure.” Harmon followed him to the edge of the room away from the works. “I tend to get wrapped up in the art and it’s nice to talk to someone who isn’t a fellow teacher.”
“Then it’s a good thing we met. I’m not a teacher and could never impart information to students.” He chuckled and toyed with his glass. “I play music.”
“Are you in a band?” Harmon asked.
“I was.” He still had the band, but the Saints were on hiatus. One day he’d get them back together—after he did his stint with the supergroup he’d joined, Big Philo. He hated being without music. “I just like singing.”
“What kind of music?”
“Rock. I like emoting through my songs.” He hesitated a beat. Most people knew who he was, but this man seemed oblivious. “Have you heard of the Saints?”
“No.” Harmon downed more of his cider. “I gravitate more toward oldies and classical music.” He rolled his eyes. “I guess that’s fitting. I like history and would rather listen to old tunes.”
“It’s nice. I like the classics, too. It’s nice to get back to the roots when you sing. I practice on the old songs to get limbered up to perform.” He nodded. “Plus, those songs are so great. Complex, but simple and so full of emotion. I hear them and I know exactly what the singer is going through. Are they in love, breaking up, sadly single…crushing?”
“Yeah.” Harmon’s smile built slowly and his eyes sparkled. “Like how I saw the art.”
“It is.” He held out his hand and the second he touched Harmon’s fingers, sparks shot through his body, just like before. “I have to ask. Are you seeing anyone?” He needed to know if he had competition for Harmon’s attention.
“No.” Harmon inched closer to him. “I’m very single.”
“Would…would you like to have coffee sometime?” Winston asked. “And talk some more?”
“I’d love that.” Harmon placed his nearly empty glass on a close table and opened his mouth to speak, but someone pushed and he collided with Winston. The move managed to knock the rest of the cider from Winston’s glass onto his shirt. “I’m so sorry,” Harmon apologized. “Let me get you some napkins.”
“I’m not going to melt.” He put his glass with Harmon’s and allowed Harmon to blot his shirt. “The last time I had someone clean me up was when I caught the flu.” He’d been so sick and hungover that the roadies had had to carry him off stage. “Thanks.”
“It’s all part of being a teacher. I want to fix things for people.” Harmon continued to sop up the drink. He slowed his touches, seeming to caress Winston’s chest. “You’re like steel under there.”
“I work out.” Instead of drink or get high. “Do you?”
“I run laps at the school. It’s one big square, so it’s easy to do laps indoors or head to the track when it’s nice.” Harmon flattened his hand on Winston’s chest. “Is it just me, or did the temperature spike?”
“It’s warm.” He inched closer to Harmon. “But I like it.” He liked Harmon. He memorized the crinkles at the corners of Harmon’s eyes, the sprinkling of hairs on his cheeks and chin and the way his cologne wrapped around Winston. “May I kiss you?”
Harmon nodded. Instead of answering in words, he bridged the gap between them and kissed Winston.
Winston bit back his initial shock at being touched and kissed, then melted into the connection. He liked being kissed. Liked being held. He grasped Harmon’s hands and kept him close. The softness of Harmon’s lips competed with the slight scratch of his short whiskers. When Harmon opened to him, Winston sucked on Harmon’s tongue. He liked the way this man tasted and the way he felt against him. They were tailored for each other.
Harmon whimpered and deepened the kiss. He bumped noses with Winston and let go of his hands, then slid his arms around Winston.
God, yes. Winston swayed with Harmon, never wanting this moment to end. His synapses misfired and the rest of the world seemed to melt away. Nothing mattered except this kiss.
“There you are.” Someone Winston didn’t know swatted his arm. “Hey.”
Winston rested his forehead on Harmon’s, then sighed. “I think we’re being interrupted.”
“We are.” Harmon blushed and put some space between them. “And they’re staring at you.”
He’d thought so. He could’ve sworn he felt the stare boring into his side. Why did this person have to interrupt him right now? He hooked his fingers in Harmon’s front pants pockets, then stared at the person touching him. “Yes?”
“You’re not responding to your phone.” The man folded his arms. “I’ve been sent to talk to you.”
“Are you being investigated by the IRS?” Harmon asked. “Or the CIA?”
“Neither.” He kissed Harmon on the cheek. “Give me a moment. I’d like to spend more time with you, but I need to address this first. Okay?”
“Sure.” Harmon let go and nodded to the gentleman, then disappeared into the crowd.
Winston gritted his teeth. “What do you want?”
“You need to answer your phone,” the man said. “Dazzle, Ronny, Vik and Rummy are expecting you at the next five gigs. You did remember you signed on to front Big Philo for five shows, right?”
“I remember.” He did, but he’d sort of hoped they’d forgotten about him. “They start next week, right?”
Fuck. “I need to tell Harmon I’m leaving.” Where was Harmon? “Just a moment.” He surged into the crowd, locating Duke and Roy, but not Harmon. He grasped Duke’s sleeve. “Hey. I need to go.”
“Gonna leave with the guy you were over there kissing?” Duke winked. “He’s cute. Not as cute as Roy, but hey. I got the best guy around.”
“Yeah. The thing is, I’m not leaving with Harmon.” He needed to find him. “Have you seen him?”
“I haven’t.” Duke frowned. “What’s up?”
“I said I’d play with Big Philo and they want me tomorrow. It’s my own fault. I over-scheduled myself.” And he’d have to get going if he planned on making it to the plane to head to the gig on time. “Help me find him.”
“I thought you were done with music for a while. Why pick a supergroup? Jesus. Dazzle alone will get you back on the sauce. You’ve made so much progress.” Duke grabbed Winston’s arm. “Don’t do it.”
“I have to go. I’m contractually bound.” He still didn’t see Harmon. Shit. “I want to tell him goodbye and that I’ll be back.”
“I’ll tell him.” Duke snorted. “I see Lee coming. He looks pissed. Go, but keep your fucking head on. Don’t you dare start taking again. I will kick your ass.”
“I’ll kick my ass.” He growled. “Okay. If I see him before I leave, I’ll tell him I’m going, but please tell him, too. Oh and there’s a painting the curator thinks I’m buying. Tell him I am and let me know what I owe. He said he’d put a hold on it.”
“I’ll handle it.” Duke nodded. “Count on me.”
“Thanks.” He left Duke by the painting of a vase, then hurried to the door with Lee. He’d rather be staying, but he’d signed contracts to say he’d front the supergroup and he had to live up to the contracts. He stopped at the door to look for Harmon one more time without luck. The guy was starting to feel like a figment of his imagination.
“Are you ready?” Lee snapped his fingers. “We need to go.”
“Yeah.” He’d have to explain the situation to Harmon when he returned because, damn it, he was coming back to Norville. He wasn’t done with Harmon. Not by a long shot.