Excerpt for Lightning in a Bottle by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Lightning in a Bottle

By K.L. Noone

Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

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Copyright 2018 K.L. Noone

ISBN 9781634866651

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Cover Design: Written Ink Designs |

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

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For all my favorite bands, and the inspirations behind my book soundtracks.

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Lightning in a Bottle

By K.L. Noone

“Guys! In the audience! Tonight! Guess who!”

The other four members of the New Regency, sprawled out in the back room in various stages of post-show exhaustion and exhilaration, mutually searched for objects to throw at their pint-sized drummer. Lee managed to summon up enough energy to telekinetically fling a pillow. Everyone else groaned.

Zak took this as a challenge to half-pixie enthusiasm. “You’re not gonna believe it! Guess!”

“Do we have to?” Ian had found the beer, popped one open, and appeared to be trying to drown himself in it. Ryan had draped herself across the floor, legs up on sofa-cushions. She looked as if she didn’t plan to move for a week; Lee had flopped into the rest of the sofa and was halfheartedly playing some strange sort of affectionate foot-kicking game with her. This was utterly platonic in the way of best friends; Rye had dated Zak for a while, and Lee didn’t seem to be interested in dating anybody, or at least wasn’t talking about it.

Adam, who’d settled onto the floor at Lee’s feet for lack of sofa-space, watched them all. His band. His family. Literally, in the case of Lee and Ian—the Patterson brothers were four years apart in age and ten times that in responsibility—but in so many other ways too.

He ended up smiling. He generally did. The quiet one in the corner, a recent review’d called him; he did not mind that. He didn’t have Zak’s energy or Rye’s tall skinny sunflower style or Lee’s stage presence, that mixture of calm acceptance and optimism that the rest of them all followed.

He was himself. The one who wrote their songs, everything Lee turned into powerful passionate vocals on stage, from the bubbly soda-pop fizz of first love in “Playground” to the comic-book fantasy of “Rescuer,” in which he’d imagined his own personal superhero showing up at his door. From the quirky off-beat lines of “Nikola Tesla” to his own cracked heart in “Telling You,” about his parents and the reaction when he’d said I think I might be gay and then the grateful dive into safe harbor at Ian and Lee’s house upon telling them.

He was the one who got anxious doing interviews and stuttered over the words that flowed so easily when he had time to scribble them down. Who kept out of the way, as much as fluffy ginger hair and gawky elbows would allow. He played lead guitar because Lee wanted to focus on singing, and he knew he was good, and he took pleasure in being good: the right notes, the right timing, crisp clean professional perfection. He liked that: doing what he did and doing it well, serving the band, getting to watch and be caught up in everybody else’s delirious joy. He knew they valued him; they all went out of their way to say so, and he appreciated it.

He caught himself watching Lee a lot. That natural strength. That command on stage. Those shoulders, and rich dark skin, and dimples around that smile. Adam had been Ian’s friend first—they were the same age—and he’d always thought that schoolboy crush on his friend’s big brother would disappear someday, evanescent as a teenage afternoon.

So far, after growing up and graduating from high school, after three subsequent years in the band and a moderate level of success, it hadn’t.

“Yes! Guess!” Zak’s excitement, mixed with awe, bounced out to fill out the room. Kicked everybody in the heart despite tiredness. “Come on!”

“People,” Rye deadpanned from the floor, “people were in the audience,” but she was grinning. The audience had been fantastic. The energy had been fantastic. Chants and screams and bouncing along. Crowd-surfing and singing back of choruses. Roaring for Ian’s keyboard solo.

The New Regency had a decently dedicated following—still playing local venues, not signed with a label, but managing to do more than stay afloat—and their fans showed up dressed in the various suit colors Zak had decided they should wear to perform, mint and raspberry and lemony topaz and blueberry and cream and jet. Went with the name. The style. The fashionable ties and boots. Most of the suit-pieces had been discarded by most band members at this point, shed in sweat-soaked heaps around the room and previously on the Gilman’s stage.

The Gilman itself had a name and a reputation. Lots of great bands getting started on that stage. Lots of names. Arbor Dei. The Enchantresses. The Martians. And now them. They hoped, anyway.

“No!” Zak threw hands up in exasperation. “I mean yeah, sure, people, but seriously!”

“For this amount of build-up it’d better be Jimmy Aubrey himself,” Lee said, dry but amused; Adam watched his little half-smile, watched him being fond of Zak’s exuberance.

“Close!” Zak beamed elation at Lee, at them all. “Justin Moore!”

Ian dropped his beer. Foam erupted across stained carpet.

“No,” Rye said. “No way. The New York Demon? No.”

Yes. Sam said so, and she’d know, they’re friends, and then other people—”

“What people,” Lee said, “exactly? And how drunk were they?”

“I’m not making it up!”

“Zak,” Rye said kindly, propping herself up on elbows, “Justin Moore isn’t gonna magically turn up at one of our shows. We kick ass, but we’re not, like, famous.”

Adam, who agreed with this assessment, nevertheless spared a rueful second to consider the dream. Justin Moore, near-mythical rock critic and extraordinary person, cast a spell over fantasies without even being present; the stories echoed like impossible pulp fiction. Half human, half demon. Rescuer of babies and cats. Underground punk-scene credentials, a writer who’d known both Tiffany Glass and Cassandra’s Children, the classic and the up-and-coming. A boy who’d been at one of the last of the Rosebud’s famous orgies—hushed whispers about that one still ran around darkened corners—and who despite his youth had gone to work for Jimmy Aubrey over at the namesake record company, and promptly discovered and promoted bands like The Enchantresses and Incantation. Rumor said he’d slept with Brendan Alvarez back when Incantation’d been playing box-sized clubs and parties in friends’ garages. Rumor said a lot of things about Justin Moore, including tales about corsets and whipped cream; Adam had always discounted the most improbable-sounding, and saw no reason to change this opinion even when the news broke. Even a demon must have limits. Some sort of limits. Somewhere.

That revelation had been huge and dramatic. Justin Moore, not yet thirty years old, in one of the biggest news stories of the last few years, had been publicly outed as a demon—an object of suspicion, an otherworld creature who might’ve eaten souls—and had been equally publicly fired from his record company despite his proven talents, and then hired by Willie Randolph in a dazzling display of trust and allegiance and confidence in his humanity, at which point he’d set about turning the music and arts arm of the Randolph publishing empire into the most comprehensive and reliable resource for the industry and history and artists and fans.

Justin Moore was also in a high-profile long-term committed relationship with Kris Starr, and that broke Adam’s brain in at least five ways when he tried to think about it; he wasn’t sure whether to be turned on or purely astounded. Kris Starr and Starrlight were genuine rock gods. Inspirations. Halls of fame and names murmured with respect. Reggie Jones and that bass. Poor electric short-lived Tommy Tennant. Glitter and hair and pyrotechnics and Kris’s ruffled velvet voice, curling like seduction around guitars and drum-beats. That first Shooting Starr album. Adam had learned every chord in “Little Black Dress” on his own first guitar.

He tucked a leg up, looped arms around it, rested his chin on his knee. Justin Moore and Kris Starr, that fame and wealth and magical love story, were a long way from this dingy green-carpeted smoke-scented back room, where Zak was now pouting and Ian was opening a third beer.

But, of course, they weren’t. That’d been unfair. Kris Starr had dropped out of school and had briefly—before Starrlight’d launched themselves into the stratosphere and never looked back—paid rent by washing dishes in a disreputable London pub. Justin Moore had—this was part of the story, and common knowledge, even if details weren’t—escaped an abusive ex-boyfriend and lost a job he loved and been forced to talk about himself and his past on television. They were as bruisable as anyone else, he guessed.

Fame and money and a good love story probably helped, though.

Lee leaned down from the couch. Put a hand on his shoulder. “You okay?”

“What? Yeah, sorry, thinking.” He waved a hand. Lee’s touch felt warm. Grounding. Like those big brown eyes, kind and concerned. But that was Lee, of course: taking care of everyone. A good leader. “Someone tie Zak to something before he starts levitating.”

Justin Moore,” Zak said. “I swear.”

“We heard you,” Lee said. “Adam…”

Adam waited, but no actual question seemed to be forthcoming. Just his name. On Lee’s lips. While he sat on the floor with Lee’s hand on his shoulder.

Lee finished eventually, “You were great tonight. I mean, you always are, but tonight was…you were…we sounded, um, great. That energy. Because of you. I just. Wanted to say.” Awkward, tripping over words; Lee was never awkward. Adam gazed up at him, surprised, entranced.

Ian lit up a cigarette. Rye, still upside down, kicked him. “Those things’ll kill you.” Ian stuck out his tongue at her, because sometimes the members of the New Regency were five years old, but put it out in the closest empty beer can.

“Fine,” Zak said, “don’t believe me,” and came over and stole Ian’s new beer. Ian pointed a finger at him. A very small personal thundercloud appeared and began to rain on Zak’s head.

“Guys,” Lee said. Because he’d scooted closer and hadn’t moved back, the word brushed the top of Adam’s head, a warmth, a breath. “We are not wrecking the backstage room at the Gilman. For fuck’s sake.”

Fine,” Ian said, and the rain went away. “So are we going out, or what? Afterparty? Getting laid? Come on, bro, that was a fucking amazing show, and it’s only two A.M., how’re we celebrating?”

“First we’re waiting for security to get us out of here, and then we’ll figure it out.” Lee glanced down at Adam again for no easily explicable reason. “And if you do get laid, don’t tell me, you’re still my kid brother, and that’s all kinds of no.”

“I remember when you tried to give me the sex talk before you’d ever even had sex with anyone,” Ian said. “It was hilarious. Good thing you’re awesome at faking being sexy on stage, ‘cause you kinda suck in real life.”

Lee laughed—everyone did—but winced too, almost imperceptible. Adam, looking up at him, caught it. No one else seemed to.

“Just because I like to know someone before I get into bed with them,” Lee said, and sighed, and gave up; they all knew Ian. “Someone give me a beer.”

Adam, reaching up, said, “You don’t suck in real life,” and then cringed because words were exactly why he didn’t talk; but Lee’s fingers met his around the can and stayed put, surprised and happy. Lee’s eyes looked surprised and happy too.

“I don’t?”

“No. He’s wrong. You’re real. On stage, with audiences, you love them. Back here you look out for us. The way you care about people. That’s…” He fumbled over an ending, wished for a pen and paper, an isolated tranquil spot to write thoughts down. He finished, hopelessly, “Real. You.”

“Man,” Lee said, “no wonder you don’t talk much, you’re kind of a dangerous weapon,” but his voice was quiet and his eyes were curious and wondering. “Guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I sing your lyrics. What were you thinking about? Before?”

“Oh. Um. Justin Moore. Kris Starr. I hope they’re happy.” Off Lee’s interested look, he explained, “They’ve both been through some fucked-up shit, is all. Not easy. They should have all the kinky demon sex, and nice houses, and fucking, I don’t know, expensive scotch and, like, coming home to each other. That’s it, really. What I was thinking.”

Lee, sitting at the edge of the sofa, one leg at Adam’s back, regarded him in silence.


“You’re a massively good person, aren’t you.” Lee sighed, laughed, shook his head, finished off half his beer. “Too fucking good for—never mind. I’m being stupid, ignore me, I’m gonna go get completely drunk and not think about anything and pass out in the hotel room after we get back.”

“Oh. Um. Want company?”

“You don’t need to take care of—”

The knock rattled off the door. Invaded their space. The room. The moment, whatever it’d been. Rye, idly playing power chords on an imaginary guitar, yelled, “Come in!” Ian and Zak were trying to balance empty beer cans in a vertically-challenged tower, tipsy on the high of alcohol and the adrenaline of a good show, restless and ready to get out and explode.

Adam expected their security escort, or maybe Sam herself; the Gilman’s petite long-time manager did put her head in, smirking at them. “Guys? You have visitors.”

“Oh, good,” Ian said, “girls, boys, whatever, send them in.”

“Do we count as whatever?” said a cheerful voice from behind Sam. “How do you feel about demons and rock stars?”

The beer-can tower fell over.

Ian fell off the couch.

Zak pointed a finger at him. “Told you!”

Lee’s mouth opened, but nothing came out. Adam, abruptly very conscious that he was sitting on the floor and covered in post-show sweat and stickiness, would’ve gotten up but couldn’t move.

“Hi,” Justin Moore said, poking his head in. Fire swooped around the doorframe. Those eyes and that hair lit up dinginess and aged furniture. Brought incandescence into the room. “Can we come in and say hi? I mean I know I just did, but only technically, you know what I mean, we won’t keep you, I’m sure you must want to either totally fall into bed or else go out and party, and if you do there’s this absolutely delicious club over on—”

“Love,” said another extremely recognizable London-born chocolate-and-midnight voice, and Adam clutched his own knee and tried not to whimper, “you’re scaring them.”

“I am not!” Justin bit his lip. “Am I?”

“No,” Lee said weakly. At least he could talk. Adam couldn’t. “Um. Yeah. Come—come in. Oh fucking gods yes come in. Sorry! I mean, yeah, come on in, um, hi.”

“I only wanted to say we thought you were brilliant.” Justin picked his way into the room a bit tentatively, and not only because Ian was lying on the floor making small despairing sounds into carpet. He appeared slightly unsure of his welcome; he would be, Adam thought, given a world where anti-demon prejudice still abounded. He was smiling, though. All flame and prettiness, black leather jacket and skinny jeans and boots, he made the sofa and the stained carpet and the beer cans sit up and smile right back. “I’d been wanting to catch you live for a while, and Sam called to let me know, and we came over…I really like ‘Lightning in a Bottle’.”

“He does,” Kris Starr put in, hand on Justin’s back. “He sings it in the shower. I’m starting to wonder whether I should learn it.”

This time Adam made a helpless noise out loud. Kris Starr. Talking about learning his songs. Two feet away. No logic left in the universe.

Kris was shorter than he’d thought. Not short exactly, but not a towering deity of rock and roll, either. Simply a man, with shaggy dark hair and soulful dark eyes, in jeans and a cozy-looking plain blue shirt with shoved-up sleeves, watching Justin with love and adoration and delight painted all over his face.

His eyes had a few small lines around them, marks left by time and history, but despite that he looked younger than Adam might’ve guessed, as if being next to Justin made him that way. He had a tattoo, or something like it, along his left forearm, done in twinkly tiny red lights that resembled fingerprints.

Lee, being the hero that he was, managed to scrape out, “We can so totally play it for you…send it to you…anything you want…Adam’s great at writing, it’s all him, everything.”

What? Adam stared at him from the floor.

“Hey, you’re Adam, right?” Justin leaned in to kiss Kris quickly, casual and unselfconscious about it, and then came over and sat down on the carpet next to him, folding up long legs. Justin up close was even warmer, literally and figuratively, lovely and bewitching and intrigued. The air tasted vaguely like cinnamon and spices. Justin had on pink nail polish and a black leather wrist cuff, visible under the jacket’s unzipped sleeve. Adam’s brain flatlined.

Justin said, “You’re absolutely fantastic. One writer to another, I mean it, I swear. That wordplay, the way you use double meanings, the internal rhyme, it’s so much fun. You do both the music and the lyrics, right? Do you come up with them at the same time, or one first, or—? I know Kris tends to do music first, but not always.”

“Oh. Um. I…sometimes it’s both? I mean whichever. Words. Or. A sequence of notes. I, um, you said you like ‘Lightning’. That one started with the phrase. Lightning in a bottle.” He did not quite know what compelled him to add, “Lee makes my words sound good.”

Justin gave him an interested sort of head-tilt. Glanced at Lee. Then back at Adam.

Kris Starr was saying to Lee and Rye, both of whom seemed spellbound, “Was that a vintage Stratos bass? Reggie had one once, not sure what happened to it, but he loved it. Great sound.”

Rye squeaked a little, and managed, “Yeah, it was my uncle’s…he gave it to me…you, you have a Strongarm, right? The exclusive, that like nobody has, and you even got it in red?”

“Oh, yeah,” Kris said, “it’s great at home, but that one’s fucking awful on stage, it never sounds right in a stadium, like it wants to be more exclusive—how do you feel about the new Ellos? I borrowed one from Bren Alvarez a while back and I think I might want one now—”

“They’re awesome on tour but really lightweight, not sure they’re gonna hold up well, but then again if you need flexible—” Rye had sat up, hands and passion and dandelion curls flying everywhere. Kris listened and nodded. Lee, also listening, leaned around Kris’s back, caught Adam’s glance and mouthed oh my GOD.

I KNOW, Adam shouted back telepathically. To Justin he came up with the idiotically obvious, “I think they’re bonding over guitars.”

“Oh, gods, we’ll be here all night.” Justin did not seem particularly perturbed by this idea; when he grinned, his hair did the equivalent as well, looping upward in spirals of flame. “Can I have a beer? And what would you guys be looking for? A record deal, an actual manager, what?”

Adam stared at his arm. His arm, reaching to get Justin Moore a beer. While they sat on the floor.

The rest of the band plus Kris Starr had taken over the couch. Kris was sitting on the arm, over the ripped spot, because they were out of space. They had begun, as far as he could overhear, goodnaturedly debating the merits of classic guitars belonging to various other musicians, some of whom Kris had known. And Justin was waiting for an answer.

“We…” Say words, say words. Anything. “Anything, honestly. We’d take it. We’re doing okay but…getting to the next sort of level…”

“Yes,” Justin agreed, “I thought I’d ask because, you know, there’re bands who don’t want that. Going more mainstream. Selling out, even if you aren’t really. But you’d be okay with me making a call or two?”

“Holy shit yes,” Adam said, and then clapped a hand over his mouth. Inadvertent sparks popped up. He nearly swore out loud a second time.

Normally his fire-starting was under better control. At least it was only a small talent; he couldn’t make anything much bigger than a Midsummer sparkler.

Justin laughed. “I’ve heard worse. Said worse, too. It’s not a guarantee; I don’t directly work for anyone anymore who could sign you, so no promises. But I know some people.”

“You…you…think we’re that good.”

“I do.” Justin’s smile got a bit wistful. “And thanks.”

“For what?”

“For…” Thin pale fingers turned the beer around, not drinking it. “You didn’t ask what I wanted. Nothing about selling souls or making deals. Most people make a joke out of it, these days—they know I don’t do that. But you just said yes.”

“Well, yeah, of course I said—”

“Like you trusted me.”

“Who the hell wouldn’t,” Adam said, angry now: angry on behalf of those gorgeous tired eyes, tiger-striped in crimson and russet and magic and past wounds. Angry because Justin had come over and sat right down with him and said kind words about his writing and offered assistance for the band, and who the fuck could ever look at all that niceness and decide that Justin Moore deserved to be hurt? “You’re a good guy. Fuck the world if they can’t see that, seriously.”

Justin was laughing more, but in a startled pleased sort of way, half embarrassed, half grateful. “Thanks again. I didn’t mean to kill the mood; I’m okay. It’s just sometimes.”

“Dude. Any time you need me to tell you how cool you are, you let me know.” Maybe too emphatic, but what the hell, seriously.

Some part of his head was aware that he was treating Justin like a friend, and like a friend he’d known for years, at that. Someone he felt comfortable not only talking in front of but gently scolding about self-doubt.

The rest of his head resolved to not think about this and instead gave Justin his number and tried to not think too much about that either. “Text me if you need me. Any of those sometimes. And make Kris, I don’t know, take you out to dinner or something. Something nice. Make him appreciate you.”

“I do,” Kris said, appearing soundlessly next to them and making Adam’s heart jump into his throat, “but thanks for the suggestion. Everything all right, love?”

“Fine.” Justin’s smile was radiant. It was for Kris. “Adam’s been reminding me how nice humans can be. Should we get out of here and leave them alone?”

“Nice,” Kris said, and stared at Adam. It was a very definite I trust him but not necessarily you and he can’t help being half a sex demon and I saw you give him your phone number stare. This felt disconcertingly specific, until Adam remembered that Kris Starr was a distressingly powerful projective empath.

Justin took Kris’s hand, hopped to both feet—Adam got up too, mostly because that seemed to be the trend—and poked his empath in the chest, right over his heart. “Stop that. He’s a friend. He made me feel better.”

Kris’s gaze swung around into concern. “Better?”

Even the sofa and the walls and the carpet leaned in. More tense. Focused. Every person and object present suddenly looked at Justin and cared quite a lot about his wellbeing.

“Shh,” Justin said, and kissed him. This went on for some time. It was very pretty, with Kris’s hands sliding up to tangle in bright flame-hair, with Justin making liquid contented sounds and cradled against Kris’s body, with love and care and tangible protective desire suffusing the kiss.

That desire snuck out to run fingertips down spines. To throb in bones and pulse-beats. Rye adjusted her position on the couch. Ian grinned, being shameless. Zak, the youngest, stared with saucer-eyes. Lee, standing the closest to Kris, seemed to be trying to gaze right through the ceiling. He did not meet Adam’s involuntary glance.

Adam, ignoring the rigid flushed ache in his own pants, not thinking about Lee not looking at him, cleared his throat.

They separated. Guiltily. “Sorry,” Justin apologized, sounding genuinely so. “Empaths. Kris especially. He’s kind of strong.”

“Yeah,” Zak said, “and you like strong—” Lee stepped on his foot.

“Thanks,” Kris said to Adam, this time. Much more friendly. Sincere. Also thoroughly recently kissed. Justin, even more so—pink-cheeked and sweet and melted into the circle of Kris’s arm—nodded earnestly.

“Any time,” Adam got out, on autopilot. “I did say.”

“I’ll make those calls for you,” Justin said. “And…it’s not exactly my business, but…as a friend, then…and I am a sort of succubus-type demon…”

“From the Realm of Perilous Sex Demons,” Kris put in, which must’ve been some sort of inside joke, because Justin let out a breath of amusement before going on. “Yeah. That. So…just…if there’s something you want…just don’t be afraid of wanting it, okay? You might find out that someone’s thinking about you the exact same way you’re thinking about them. And those dreams might come true. Mine did.” His gaze flicked to Kris, and then, in case Adam hadn’t got the message, to Lee. “I know it’s not always going to be true, but I think…this time, for you, you’re going to be fine.”

Almost everyone looked at Adam. Kris looked at Justin instead, which was at least one less pair of eyes. Zak said, “Adam’s always fine, he’s like the mystical master of being fine, what’re you talking about?” and waved a beer. “Want one for the road?”

Lee, when his glance crossed with Adam’s, ducked his head. Shifted weight, and didn’t even reprimand Zak.

“Thanks,” Adam said, “even though you totally did that in front of everybody,” and he meant it, too.

“What’re friends for?” Justin accepted but did not open the beer, being polite. Kris kissed him one more time, a gentle but insistent nuzzle and nose-bump into Justin’s hair, over an ear. “Yes, fine, we’re going—yes, I heard you, bedroom, oh really, you think I’m that flexible—actually I could probably make that work, if you tie my legs up like that—”

They vanished. A faint shimmer of smoke, bonfire-scented and autumn-crackling, hung in the space for a few seconds.

The five members of the New Regency shuffled feet and avoided eye contact for a few seconds too. Finally Zak said, “So…they were totally going to go fuck, right?”

“Zak!” Lee protested.

“They so were,” Rye said, collapsing back into the couch, which exhaled along with her. “And tying Justin Sex Demon Moore up. And being flexible. I know what I’m thinking about tonight.”

Ian raised a hand. “Me too.”

Guys,” Lee tried. “They’re people.”

“If they didn’t want us to think about it,” his brother observed, “they shouldn’t say it out loud. Why do you hate fun thoughts? How’re you and I even related?”

“I do not hate fun thoughts!”

In the middle of this Sam opened the door again. “Oh, did they leave already? And also your security’s here, so you can get out of here and over to the van whenever.”

“They left,” Zak said, “they left to go fu—”

Lee stepped on him again.

“I’m sure they did,” Sam said, expression not changing a fraction. “I’ve known Justin for seven years, remember. Even before we knew he was a sex demon, he was a walking invitation. Everybody loves him, literally.”

“Did you ever—”

“Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t, Zachary Sardana. Did you spill beer on my floor?”

“Sorry,” Lee said. “We’ll pay for any cleaning.”

“No worries, kid, it’s seen worse.” She patted his shoulder. “Go on and go home or out on the town or whatever it is you want to do to celebrate.”

They gathered up discarded suit-pieces, jackets, shirts, shoes. They wandered toward the door and security and a tour van and an escape. Adam, the last in line, glanced around the room. Backstage, at the Gilman. History in those walls. Memories of bands. Phantoms of melodies and laughter and previously spilled booze. Stories of making it, or not; screaming crowds, or not. A new world lurking just over the horizon.

Lee, jacket thrown over a shoulder, came back to stand by him. “Think he’ll actually call his people?”

“Justin? Yeah, he will.” And that future would unfold. People listened to Justin Moore. “Everything’s going to change.”

“Everything…” Lee glanced at him, then back at the couch, which said nothing. “Is that…something you want? Change. I know you don’t like the spotlight. Just keeping us all going, writing music Kris Starr wants to learn to play for his boyfriend.” His voice landed wrong. A little sad. A way he rarely sounded. “You’re over here making Justin Moore smile. The rest of us’ll just come along.”

“No,” Adam said. “That’s not—it’s all of us. Together.” You’re going to be fine, Justin had said. Someone’s thinking about you the exact way you’re thinking about them.

He thought about Lee’s hand on his shoulder; about Lee standing up to meet Kris Starr and giving Adam credit for their success. He thought about every way Lee stepped into that spotlight, played front man and good big brother, and took Adam’s songs and sang them from the heart, on stage.

He looked at the way the light fell over Lee’s left cheekbone, and the way those dark eyelashes swept up and down, and the tremble of a breath.

He said, “I don’t mind change.”

“You don’t?” Lee swallowed. Inched a little closer. The sofa cheered them on. “You mean…would you…if I asked…I don’t know what I’m saying. Never mind.”

“I would,” Adam said, “if you asked, or if I asked. I think I’m asking now,” and put a hand out and touched Lee’s cheek, drawing him closer, and that wasn’t weird or frightening at all, only them and the hushed room and the quiet welcoming sound Lee made when tipping his head into the caress.

He said, “Can I kiss you?” and Lee nodded, wide-eyed and beautiful. So Adam kissed him in the doorway, and learned how his lips felt, how he tasted, with music all around, in the walls and in the echoes of the night’s show and in the future spilling out before them.


* * * *

Author’s Note

Like all my stories, this one has a soundtrack—this time around, that soundtrack includes “Rescue” by Eve 6, “You Make Me Smile” by Blue October, and “Electric Love” by Børns.

Adam is, you might’ve noticed, the only band member who doesn’t have a three-letter version of his name—he’s always a little bit set apart. As for which of the listed suit and tie colors belong to which New Regency band members, on stage? That’s up to you! (Though, for the record, Adam’s in the blueberry.)

The rest of Adam and Lee’s story can be told, I suspect, via a series of headlines: New Regency’s Adam Johnson & Lee Patterson Officially An Item, followed by: Adam Johnson Says Thank You To Justin Moore: “He Knows Why”…

…followed by these: Exclusive: Lee Patterson on Falling in Love and Being Demisexual (yes, it’s a thing!) in the Music Industry; Ian Patterson: “Dude, That’s My Big Brother, Why? Just Kidding, I Love You Guys”; and also: New Regency’s New Single Comes With A (not so) Surprising Guest Starr

…and, as far in the future as feels right, Ringing In The Awards: New Regency’s Lee Patterson Accepts Album of the Year, Proposes to Adam Johnson On Stage (Adam Says Yes!).

Justin and Kris are very happy, impressively flexible in bed together, and about to turn up again in the next bonus story—we’ll see you there!

* * * *

Love Justin and Kris? Start reading A Demon for Midwinter today! Available from JMS Books LLC.

* * * *

A Demon for Midwinter

Chapter 1

Kris Starr stepped out of the recording booth, decidedly did not swear under his breath, and found his manager waiting for him. As usual, Justin’s not-quite-human cinnamon gaze held only cheerful amusement. Any critique stayed hidden behind that effortlessly casual pose, long legs stretched out and one shoulder casually propped against the wall.

Kris sighed, “That was hideous, wasn’t it?”

“Hardly hideous.” Justin handed over lavender-infused Earl Grey tea, Kris’s scarf, and Kris’s phone, which he’d left in a taxicab that morning and had more or less written off for good. And, being brilliant and competent and properly organized in all aspects of Kris’s life, added, “Three inquiries about possible shows—none paying you enough, we can do better—one message from someone by the name of Tiffanie asking whether you remember her from the Gardens, backstage, in nineteen-ninety-two, and also your father called asking for money again. I handled it, I just thought you should know.”

Justin technically worked as an A&R person—Kris had never been sure of his exact title, only that it involved artists and repertoire and contracts and signing of new talent and development of albums—at the legendary Aubrey Records, but as the newest and youngest hire, he’d been essentially shoved into the role of managing the aging rock-and-roll disaster that was the latter half of Kris’s career, and had never once complained. Had stuck with him even as the fans and the performances and the music dwindled into shadows. Had bounced into their first meeting with wide eyes and impressively fluffy violet-edged hair and a grin: I grew up on your music, my dad loves Kris Starr and Starrlight, I wanted to sing like you when I was younger, is it true you wrote “London Always Comes Too Soon” about Nick Peters of Smokescreen?

Justin Moore was fifteen years younger than Kris Starr, who’d once been Christopher Thompson, born on a council estate in a far-off dreary corner of England. This thought occasionally depressed him. Mostly it made him smile, in a kind of distant wistful way. He couldn’t dislike Justin for it; no one could, anyway. Like disliking rainbows, or kittens, or cloudless sunshine.

“It was hideous,” he said again. “Not…clicking.”

Steve wandered out from behind sound-mixing equipment. Gave him a critical once-over. “You’re not wrong, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.”

Steve Rosen owned the near-mythical New York City recording studio he’d borrowed for this session. Steve was also an old—emphasis on the old, Kris’s brain noted—friend. This meant that, yet again Kris did not swear at him for unhelpful commentary. Not out loud, anyway.

Steve suggested, “Maybe you can come back tomorrow?” and turned lights off with a wave of his hand. Like most people, Steve had a bit of magic, in his case more kinetic: enough for localized gestures, nudges, coaxing of the world in his immediate vicinity, which because of his size tended to be a lot of vicinity. “Go out. Get drunk. Get laid. Whatever inspires you, man. Get that fire back.”

“You could call Tiffanie,” Justin said helpfully. His expression was exquisitely noncommittal, though they’d known each other for four years and Kris knew perfectly well that he wanted to laugh. Those otherworldly eyes, made even wider and prettier by coal-black eyeliner, said so.

He grumbled, “We’re not calling Tiffanie. Or Tammy. Or Tyler. Or anyone,” and ducked outside. Leather jacket like armor against the world. Elderly armor. Bruised. Hands clutching a to-go cup with tea in it, because Justin thought of things like that.

New York City glittered like a fairytale beyond the studio walls. Tall buildings and the offices of dreams: recording studios, publishing houses—the familiar baronial spires of the Randolph House media empire spiked upward like runaway arrows—and vibrant museums and festive parks. Statues and bas-reliefs on buildings. George vanquishing the demon-worm. Hannah Clarence, the weather-witch who’d helped build the city’s harbor. Various unicorns. The unicorns looked smug, in the way of magical creatures who knew their own value. The ones on the bank down the street’d been decorated with ornaments.

Holiday season had landed upon them, unicorns and all. In eye-watering color. Barreling down like a runaway train made of tinsel and spruce and harvest pies. Not everyone celebrated Midwinter the same way, of course, in this twinkling mosaic of a city, but most did. Reaffirmations of life in the midst of long nights. Joyous riotous bonfires and roasted apples and dancing. Thanks to God, or the gods, or whatever higher power someone believed might’ve once given mankind the gift of magic, to make it through the night. A woman on the corner was selling chestnuts, a sweet drift of roasted scent through oncoming evening lights.

He kicked a small pebble on the street, just because. It landed in a puddle left over from the afternoon’s drizzle and glared at him reproachfully. No patience for aging rock stars and their existential discontent.

Justin appeared at his elbow. “Leave the poor earth elementals alone, would you? I’m sorry about mentioning your exes. Not the right timing.”

“Not an elemental. Only a rock.” He finished off the tea. Slumped against the recording studio’s blank stone. Let the wall hold him up. Forty-three years old, and he felt every one of them. Plus more. Double. “Am I being ridiculous? I’m being ridiculous. Ridiculous holiday album idea. I’m turning ‘You Light My Fire’ into ‘Light My Midwinter Bonfire.’ It doesn’t even work with the rhythm.”

“Well,” Justin considered judiciously, “I won’t say I’m complaining about you recording anything, but ‘Baby, It’s Harvest Time’ did seem a little confused as far as metaphors…”

“I’m a failure. I’m a washed-up ancient relic, and I’m a failure.”

“You’re the voice—and face—of arguably the most successful and most sparkly band of the last several decades.” Justin took away the empty to-go cup, tossed it—accurately—at a trash bin, and then held out a small white paper bag. “Chestnut? And yes, present tense. People know who you are. You had an impact. You made a difference. For a lot of fans, and for people who love you.”

Kris stared at the bag. Wondered when chestnut acquisition’d happened. Justin hadn’t left his side, right? Or had he been too busy wallowing in self-pity to notice, and Justin’d had time to wander down to the corner, buy seasonal delicacies, and come back?

He was, he concluded, a terrible, self-absorbed, melodramatic person. He accepted a chestnut. “Why do you put up with me? You have other people to work with. Less pathetic. Less old.”

“I get paid to be here. And more importantly I can tell friends that Kris Starr buys me cappuccinos at Witch’s Brew Coffee. Which you do.” Justin tossed him a smile. His hair was growing out of shorter fluffy length and into sapphire-tipped tumbles, these days; black and blue fell next to one eye in a shining perilous swoop. Kris had always found him beautiful in a sort of abstract far-off way, like admiration of modern art or morning dew: young and exquisite and untouchable.

Right now, oddly, he wanted to touch. Wanted to reach out and brush that fall of blue-black out of sparkling cinnamon eyes.

A connection. A stretch across a void. That smile.

Which he’d seen before, and somehow had never seen before, not quite this way or under this light, something he didn’t understand that shifted the world under his feet. That world became one in which he could want to run fingers through Justin Moore’s hair.

Tangible. Physical. Messy.

The fact of sudden inexplicable lust wasn’t exactly new. He knew himself and all the desires of his past.

What was new was Justin. And the way Kris wanted to keep looking at him. As if, out of nowhere, he’d seen his manager for the first time, brand new. Another ordinary evening on a city street, the taste of chestnuts lingering on his tongue, a glance, and suddenly—

And suddenly what?

Nothing. Couldn’t be anything. Never could be.

Age. Depression. A business relationship in the way. He didn’t even know whether Justin liked men. He didn’t know who or what Justin liked, in fact, other than now-classic rock—which he’d gotten from his father, oh hell—and slim-fit jeans and bright colors and eyeliner and mascara. He guessed that the eyes were a nod to some pixie or sylph in the family tree, but Justin didn’t talk about himself in any detail, and he’d never seen any evidence of actual magic.

Which, he realized belatedly and also for the first time, was strange.

Most people did have touches of magic. The lamentable Nick Peters of the infamous Starrlight song had been able to conjure fire: not much, only tiny sparks like firecrackers, but it’d made for great displays on stage. On the evening’s New York street a little girl, holding her mother’s hand, was levitating merrily while getting chocolate on her face. And Kris himself…

Justin, not keeping up with this distracted sideways train of thought, plainly felt that circumstances required more reassurance. “Honestly, it’s not hideous. It doesn’t feel like you’re happy, which is a problem, yeah, considering it’s you. But it’ll sell. People love Midwinter sentimental fluff, and Starrlight’s still a big name.”

“Me,” Kris said, and sighed again. His brain seemed to be stuck on questions about Justin today. About the fact that apparently he liked chestnuts, and brought along hot tea without being asked after a recording session, and also had very touchable hair.

“I don’t feel the happy,” Justin explained, evidently assuming that clarification was required, “and you know your empathy has trouble anyway when it’s not live, and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to depress everyone at their Midwinter parties, so maybe we can work on that? Not calling yourself hideous would be a good start.”

“I’m not sure I’m even an empath anymore. Tired. Worn out. Antique.”

“You were always a better projective talent than you were receptive.” Justin put his head on one side. Stray curls of hair met the breeze and drifted happily upward. His jacket was also leather, but punk-rock stylish, more form-fitting, and above all newer; Kris hid a wince. “You could make crowds laugh, or cry, or hold their breath, or sing along…we all felt what you feel.”

“You shouldn’t’ve even been at those concerts. You’re a kid.” He started walking, mostly to be in motion. Heading half-consciously for Witch’s Brew. More of those hazelnut cappuccinos. Habit.

Justin kept up effortlessly. “Dad took me to the final reunion show. It was a father-son bonding experience. Magical. Look, my point is, maybe you should reconsider the holiday album. I know they’re pressuring you to do it, nostalgia and themed sales and all, but I can tell you hate it.”

“Shouldn’t you be trying to promote my career choices?” He waved a hand. Watched lights, just coming on, flicker over the gesture: not a concert’s megawatt light show, not dazzling superstar lasers and spotlights. Only everyday holidays. Feet squarely on winter pavement. On the ground. “To support anything that’ll make a profit? For you, the record company, whatever.”

Any reasonable target of his tone would’ve been offended. Justin scrunched up that nose at him, not taking it personally. “You’re my client. I’m here to help. I’m trying.”

This was unfair. Kris wanted to stomp his feet and shout at something or somebody, or throw a proper rock-star tantrum, petty and elaborate and gratifying. Justin was being patient and compassionate and tolerant and lovely, matching annoyed strides down city pavement, and—


He’d known Justin for four years. He’d never thought, not seriously—he’d thought, yeah, fine, he’d admit that, he’d wondered sometimes, but he’d never really—never wanted

Last-gasp winter sunlight sliced through brittle air. Caught the edge of a cheekbone, a flutter of blue-black hair. Decorated smooth skin and long eyelashes with pale gold.

Justin’s phone made a sound. A snippet of some pop-punk tune Kris didn’t know. Justin also made a pleased little sound, and answered the text. “Sorry, I’m just confirming some contract details for the Enchantresses. You know the Enchantresses, right? If not you should, I’ll send you something, they’re right on the verge of breaking out, totally awesome, all five of them are related and they’re all witches and—”

“Why are you here, anyway?” Justin didn’t have to come in for recording sessions. Had a job. Other musicians. Who sent him texts. While he was walking next to Kris.

Where he didn’t need to be. He had a small tidy office in a tall modernist chunk of building surrounded by other corporate towers. Kris had been in it exactly once, the day they’d been introduced. Had hated the building and demanded, like a petulant child, that they meet elsewhere for lunches and discussions from then on.

“Because I’m helping you?” Big autumn-spiced eyes got very bewildered. A confused puppy being nudged away by a boot. A too-kind, too-attractive puppy. Oh, hell. “Because we’re friends?”

* * * *


K.L. Noone loves fantasy, romance, cats, far too sweet coffee, and happy endings! She is also the author of Port in a Storm and its upcoming sequel, available from Less Than Three Press, and numerous short romances with Ellora’s Cave and Circlet Press. Her fantasy fiction has appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress anthologies.

With her Professor Hat on, she teaches college students about Shakespeare and superhero comics, and has published academic articles and essays on Neil Gaiman’s adaptations of Beowulf, Welsh mythology in modern fantasy, and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels.

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