When being seduced by a rock star, only a fool falls in love.
The night Dante Sinclair lured me into his dressing room and gave me my first kiss, I was oblivious to one important fact: all rock stars are spoiled narcissists. I learned my lesson when our failed attempt at a reunion left me humiliated and heartbroken.
Now, Dante is booked into the music retreat I run. Years have passed, so I know he won’t recognise me. He’ll have no idea the man cooking his meals and washing his clothes is the same skinny boy he kissed so long ago. And when he begins to look at me like I’m his new favourite muse, my anonymity will be my only protection against the sensuality of his charms.
Grey. It’s the name I gave to the only boy I ever kissed. He is my favourite memory. The place my mind goes when the expectations of rock stardom threaten to choke me. I barely remember what he looked like, but I’ll never forget the way he made me feel.
When I came to this retreat, my goals were simple: get out of my creative rut and write my new album. But one look into Sean’s eyes is enough to threaten the tenuous control I have over my life. He swears we’ve never met, but there’s a Grey-ness to him that inspires me, even as it makes me ache to satisfy the cravings I’ve denied for so long.
He may not be my Grey—but he’s close enough.
The flash went off in my face as I exited the main concert stage. Blinded for a moment, I stumbled over one of the many thick audio cables and almost fell. A swear word sprung to my lips, but I cut it off with a low growl. My manager didn’t allow me to curse backstage. In front of the media was acceptable. On stage in front of ten-thousand screaming fans was even better. But don’t let me catch you being disrespectful in front of the roadies, Dante, or I’ll kick your arse. It was one of a hundred things he threatened to kick my arse about on a daily basis. That was the problem with having your father act as your manager, agent, publicist, whatever the fuck else he wanted. He didn’t have to restrain himself when I disobeyed, and there was shit all I could do about it.
Another flash told me where to look for the camera. When I spotted the culprit, my fingers tightened around the neck of my electric guitar. The boy had a look of grim determination on his face as he crouched in a darkened corner of the backstage area, snapping away with a camera that was almost as big as his head. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen. How he managed to get backstage without being noticed was a mystery I didn’t care to solve.
“Hey, kid!” I pulled the guitar strap over my head as I stalked towards him. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Looking up at my shout, he made a vague gurgle of surprise, but no words came out as he straightened. Maybe he was starstruck. A smirk tugged at my mouth. I did tend to have that effect on people.
“Answer me.” I grabbed on to a fistful of Nirvana t-shirt and shoved him back into the corner. At seventeen, I was a good ten centimetres taller and I liked the hit that came from standing over him. “Or maybe I should break that fancy camera of yours?”
Grey eyes widened comically as he struggled in my grip. “No, don’t,” he cried. “My dad’s one of the musicians. I’m supposed to be here, I swear.” Hot breath washed over my face as he spoke, and I inhaled. He smelled like desperation… and peppermint.
“I don’t think so, kid.” I shook my head slowly as I leaned my guitar against the wall beside him. “Everyone who’s supposed to be here is wearing ID.”
“It’s in my left pocket.” He glanced down into the space separating our bodies. There wasn’t much of it. “It kept getting in the way, so I took it off.” His left hand already held the camera, so he snaked his right arm between us as he attempted to reach for the ID. The stroke of his hand across my stomach made me hiss in a breath and my grip on his t-shirt tightened until the worn material threatened to tear.
“Allow me,” I murmured, brushing his hand away. I drew one side of my mouth upward in what one prominent music magazine had called ‘the sneer that relaunched Australian youth rock.’ As intended, the boy’s gaze fell all over it. Using the fingers of my right hand, I dug into the pocket at the front of his tight, black jeans and found the hard plastic of the ID right there near the top. I could have plucked it out easily. Instead, I delved deeper, angling the tips of my wiggling fingers a little to the left, just to see what would happen.
The young body jerked against me and his free hand clutched on to the side of my waist. Gratified by his response, I slid my hand out of his pocket with the ID caught between my fingers. A brief glance told me it was the genuine article.
I probably should have backed up then. The kid was allowed to be here. But honestly, I didn’t want to. And if the way the boy’s fingers were digging into my side was any indication, he didn’t want me to either. I did release his shirt though, smoothing the material back into place over his chest. “You’re a little young to be photographing celebrities, aren’t you?”
His spine straightened, and he let go of me. “I’m sixteen.”
My head tilted to one side as I raised an eyebrow at him. “Try again.”
Tutting in annoyance, he glared at me. “I’m almost sixteen.” Now I’d lowered the intensity level, he seemed to be getting his confidence back. It looked good on him. “Besides, it’s not like you can talk. You’re a little young to be a rock star.”
“Hardly,” I scoffed. My age was only a stumbling block for people who hadn’t heard me sing. The moment I opened my mouth, all doubts were replaced by recording contracts and promises. “It’s my birthday, by the way.” I don’t know why I told him that. It wasn’t like it mattered. “I’m seventeen today.”
“Well whoop-de-doo.” His sneer wasn’t as practised as mine, but it had the same effect—on me anyway. “I would have brought you a present. But what do you give to the boy who has the world at his feet?”
Looking at his mouth, I could think of something. It wasn’t a gift that could be delivered out here in the open though. There were a dozen musicians and crew members milling around at my back as the charity concert I’d performed in continued on stage. Someone could notice us at any second. I had to get him alone. “You could take my picture.”
He glanced at the camera, still held high beside him. “I’m not a real photographer yet,” he said, shaking his head. “I only take photos of the bands who know me. I send the photos directly to them.”
It sounded suspiciously like a no. “You can send the photos directly to me, can’t you?” He didn’t answer, and I frowned. “Don’t you want to photograph me?”
“No, it’s not… I mean, yes, but I—”
“Which is it?” I didn’t get it. Some of the biggest photographers in the Australian music industry had vied for a shoot with me, but this punkarse kid stood there umming and ahhing.
He swallowed hard and licked his lips before he spoke again. “Yes, I want to.”
“That’s more like it.” Rewarding his compliance with a grin, I leaned over to grab my guitar and then backed up a step. His gaze slid down the length of me—most of the way down anyway. It halted somewhere south of my belt buckle. A fact that threatened to have me embarrassing myself if we didn’t get the hell out of there. “Follow me, kid,” I said as I turned to head deeper into the back of the building. “I know a place we can go.”
“I’m not a kid,” the boy snapped as he caught up to me.
I ignored his protest and kept walking. We took a left, then two rights, before reaching the door of my dressing room. A piece of masking tape had been slapped on it, with my name written in thick, black marker. The corners were already curling. It would probably fall off in a day or two. Not that it mattered. By then, I’d be long gone anyway. Off to a different city, with a different venue and a different crowd.
The boy followed me through the door and I locked it behind us before turning to lean against it. “Where do you want me?” I offered him the bedroom eyes I’d used on my album cover. It had sold nearly half a million copies since its release less than a year ago, so the look must have worked for me. Unfortunately, his gaze was too busy darting around the room to notice. The space had been small to start with, but after dragging in all the crap I needed to prep for the concert, it had taken on the appearance of someone’s junk closet.
My guest frowned, muttering to himself about the poor lighting as he stepped over duffel bags and around guitar cases. He spent way longer than I would have liked considering his angle options before dragging a rolling chair out from in front of the mirror. “You sit here.”
I smirked, enjoying the way he ordered me about, and sprawled my long frame across the chair. Then I watched him clear random pieces of my clothing off the long dressing table that lined one wall. When he was done, he stepped back to survey the clutter of hair products and food wrappers that remained. Appearing satisfied, he turned back to me, only to shake his head. “Not like that. I want you to straddle the chair.”
Lifting my eyebrows in surprise, I stood up in front of him. “Kinky.”
Those grey eyes widened again, and I swear I saw his cheeks flush, but he didn’t back down. “Who’s directing this shoot?”
I winked and turned the chair, being careful not to bump him with it in the small space. “You are.” Swinging one leg over the cushioned seat, I lowered myself back down until my eyes were on the level of his navel. The position gave me all sorts of interesting ideas I’d never had before—not with a boy in mind, anyway.
He took hold of the chair back and used it to turn me around until the mirrored dressing table was behind me. The next few minutes were spent arranging my body parts and drawing my hair forward over one shoulder in a mess of brown curls. I could tell he’d been doing this for a while, despite his age. His hands were too efficient for an amateur, and he regarded me with a practised eye. It made me wonder if he’d discovered his love of photography on his own, or if someone had told him he was born to take pictures the day he held his first camera. The latter would be closer to my own experience. My dad had handed me a guitar at the age of six and told me I was born to be a musician. When I turned out to be good at it, I figured he must be right. Then the singing lessons kicked in and my fate was sealed. And packaged. And put up for sale.
It was a good life for the most part. Plenty of money and attention. But sometimes, when I woke up alone in an unfamiliar hotel room and couldn’t remember what city I was in, I found myself wishing I’d had a choice.
“Are you ready?” The boy had pulled out a second chair for himself. He perched on the edge, his camera raised before him.
I refocused, tamping down on the poor-me bullshit, and gave him my full attention. “For those grey eyes of yours, I could be ready for anything.”
He blushed an adorable shade of red and bit down on his lips as he fought a smile. Then he lifted the camera and I heard a click as he took the first photo.
Time quickly lost meaning after that. Sometimes the boy would give me an instruction. Bend your leg a little more. Move your arm this way. I did everything he told me to do. If he’d asked me to strip naked, I probably would have done that too.
The camera lens was all I could see, and I stared it down as if I could force the boy behind it to fall in love with me. Me, who’d started receiving scented love letters from total strangers at the age of fourteen. Because even back then I knew the difference—between love and adoration. I had enough of the second to suffocate me, but the former was in short supply.
“I’m done.” He stood, reaching into the back pocket of his jeans for the lens cap before clipping it into place.
I blinked, as if coming out of his thrall. Which was weird, considering I was used to being the one casting spells. “Already?”
He nodded, grinning down at me. “It’s been almost twenty minutes. Don’t you have places to be or something?”
“Not until the finale.” Rising from the chair, I pushed it out of the way. “When do I get my birthday present?” I asked, thinking of more than just a photo.
“I’ll check out the pictures as soon as I get home to Brisbane. Then I’ll choose the best one and get it printed. It’ll be in the mail in a couple of weeks.”
My head tilted to one side. “I figured you’d email it or something.”
“I prefer printed photographs,” he said as he walked past me to put his camera on the dressing table. “I like having something real to hold on to.”
“Even so, a couple of weeks is a long time,” I complained as I followed him, crowding his back. “Maybe I’ll need something to tide me over.”
“Another gift?” He snorted with amusement as he turned around, and then sucked in a deep breath when he realised how close I was. “You’re a little greedy, aren’t you?” His fingers gripped on to the edge of the table behind him.
“I prefer the term insatiable.” I dropped my gaze to his mouth before licking my lips, all slow and deliberate. The ploy had once made a teenage girl faint dead away at my feet. I hoped it would have the same effect now, but without the lack of consciousness.
The boy’s throat moved as he gulped. “What do you want?” he asked, feigning a confidence he didn’t quite pull off.
That was okay. I had enough confidence for the both of us. “Have you ever kissed a boy before?”
He shook his head in quick, jerky movements. “No.”
That made two of us. Girls had been screaming my name since before I made it to the far side of puberty. There’d been no time to notice boys with more than a casual interest, until I walked off that stage and got sucker-punched by grey eyes and black denim. Of course, these days I was always horny when I came off stage. Maybe that’s why this boy had me ready to crawl out of my own skin. Whatever the reason, I had too much energy and I knew exactly where I wanted to sink it. When he made no move to escape, I figured he’d let me. “Do you want to try it?”
He panted lightly and, when he straightened, I could feel the faint puffs of air against my throat. “Only if the boy is you.”
There was no end to the way his answer pleased me. I lifted my hands to either side of his head and smiled when I noticed them trembling. My fingers slid into his shaggy brown hair and I dragged my thumbs along the underside of his jawline. Tilting his head back, I leaned in and touched my lips to his. They were soft and smooth as they moved against mine. Not so different from kissing a girl.
Eager to explore, I angled my head, so I could increase the pressure of the kiss. The tip of my tongue slipped between his lips to skim his own before retreating. With a whimper, he gave chase. My mouth opened, and he stumbled inside in a burst of peppermint. Our teeth scraped together, and his tongue tunnelled so far into my mouth it threatened to choke me. I didn’t care. His enthusiasm was infectious, easily rivalling any of the more skilful kisses I’d shared with fangirls and fanatics alike.
Sliding my hands around his waist, I pulled his slender body close. I liked the firmness of his chest against mine, so different from the soft, round breasts I was used to. And lower down, his hard-on pressed against me beneath the tight confines of his jeans. I twisted my hips back and forth, rubbing against him, and he moaned into my mouth. Damn, I liked that sound.
Then he put his hands on me, raking them along my sides. I flinched, hissing in a breath.
He pulled away instantly, hands lifting in the air. “I’m sorry,” he gasped, though he clearly had no idea what he’d done wrong.
“It’s all right.” Pulling up my shirt, I inspected the multitude of blues and purples that bloomed low on my ribcage. They were taking longer to fade than usual.
“What happened to you?” he asked as he ran his fingertips around the yellowing edges of the bruise.
“It’s nothing.” Gripping on to his hand, I lowered my shirt. “Don’t worry about it.” I didn’t want to talk about the bruise, or how I’d gotten it, or how many others there were. Right now, I had better uses for his mouth.
My hands slipped down around the back of his thighs, so I could lift him onto the dressing table before nudging my way between his knees. Once I had his body nestled against mine, I leaned in to nuzzle the corner of his mouth. “Was this your first kiss?”
His head lowered to my shoulder with a cringe. “Yes,” he said, his voice a low groan. Taking a deep breath, he rose to look me in the face. “Was I that bad?”
“You were perfect.” I wrapped my arms around him, smiling when his hands crept up around my neck. “I like the way you taste.” My lips brushed against his once, then again. We clung to each other as our kisses deepened, each one more thorough than the last.
It was a long time before our mouths parted. “Dante?” he whispered, still breathing my air. I made a questioning sound, hoping he wouldn’t tell me we had to stop. I didn’t ever want to stop kissing him. “Happy birthday to you,” he rasped in a sing-song voice.
We both gave a quiet laugh, and then I dragged my hands down the outside of his thighs. When I reached his knees I lifted, urging him to wrap his legs around my waist. “Best. Present. Ever.” I stroked my tongue along his bottom lip before diving back inside for another taste.
Neither of us heard the key turn in the lock. We didn’t hear the door open. But there was no missing the sound of my father’s growl as it filled the room. “What the fuck is going on in here?”