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Excerpt from Conquest by S.J. Frost

Conquest by S.J. Frost
Published by MLR Press

Blurb: As the vocally gifted lead singer of his band, Conquest, Jesse Alexander refuses to let anything hold him back from achieving his dream of becoming one of the greatest performers to ever hit a stage. Evan Arden was thought of as a musical genius when at the height of his career, he vanished from the spotlight. Together, their relationship is just as intense as their music careers, but with the pressures of success and fame pushing down on them, Jesse must decide what's more important to him, his life of music, or his life with Evan.

In this excerpt from Chapter 6, main character, Jesse Alexander, is visiting the mansion of superstar singer, Evan Arden for the first time. Evan is giving him a tour and they’ve just entered the music room.

Jesse walked further into the room, turning in a circle to fully take it in. Electric guitars of numerous styles and brands hung on one wall with bass guitars and acoustics. Of the electric, Jesse guessed there had to be over thirty. Against one wall, dark walnut shelves displayed several violins and violas with two cellos and a full-sized harp sitting close by. On the other side of the room, shelves and wooden tables held still more instruments, though many of these were exotic, some of which Jesse didn’t even know existed until that moment. He moved across the room to them, his fingers all but twitching to touch.

Evan could see on Jesse’s face how he battled for control to not finger the instruments. “Go ahead. You can touch them. From the moment it’s created, an instrument’s only wish is to be held by a loving and skilled hand.”

Jesse gently laid his fingers on a zither near its strings and caressed the wood. “It’s true, isn’t it? Sometimes I think they’re almost living, the way each one has a unique voice. Kenny thinks I’m nuts. He says, a Strat is a Strat. But to me, every instrument has a subtle pitch difference that makes it its own, and when it gets held in the hands of someone who respects and understands it, the sound of that instrument becomes as individual as the soul of the person playing it.” He looked over his shoulder at Evan and smiled. “You probably think I’m mental, too, for thinking like that, don’t you?”

“No, not at all,” Evan said softly, in awe at the serene beauty that came over Jesse’s face when he was surrounded by instruments.

Jesse stopped before the violins, admiring each one. “They’re so beautiful. I’ve always wanted to learn to play, but I haven’t had the chance.”

Evan headed over to him. “I could teach you. I’ve seen all the instruments you can play. Picking up one more would be easy for you.”

Jesse turned a hopeful smile on him. “You would do that?”

“I would love to.”

Evan pulled down a violin case from the top shelf and set it on one of the lower ones. He opened it, revealing a violin inside with a rich brownish-gold finish. Though it lay silent, as the light in the room washed over it, Jesse swore he could hear the echoes of the countless songs the instrument had known, and all the emotions its voice had evoked from its listeners, joy, sadness, hope, seemed to have become as much a part of it as its neck, body, or stain.

Evan lifted the instrument from its case with the tenderness of a father lifting his child from its crib. He set it against his left shoulder to check the tuning, placing a soft white cloth where his chin would go since the model didn’t have a chinrest, and when the final adjustments were made, he said, “It’s been a while since I’ve played, so don’t laugh at me if I screw up.”

Jesse shook his head and sat down on the stool for the harp. “Never.”

Evan raised the bow and closed his eyes, calling the song he wanted to play to his mind. The music flowed through his mental ear, telling him the notes he needed. He settled the bow on the strings and played the first gentle notes of Pachelbel’s Canon in D major.

Jesse’s lips parted, the pure, divine sound of the violin stealing his breath to add to its essence. Like a heavenly being residing in the mortal realm, Evan wove the notes together with expert fingers and created a blanket of music that wrapped around them both. Though the piece normally called for more violins, Evan’s rendition and skill made it so the other instruments weren’t missed. Enraptured, Jesse stared at him, at his lips that looked so soft, at his fingers of such deft skill, and in that moment, the newly awoken part of himself became fully alert, and he knew then it was his very soul that Evan had roused. It responded to Evan, called to him, and there’d be no silence within himself until Evan was his.

Evan summoned softer notes from the violin as he brought the song to its end. He lowered the bow and opened his eyes. “So, what do you think? Think you can do it?”

Jesse blinked himself out of his daze. “What?”

“Play the violin. Do you think you can do it?”

Jesse sat silent. He had been so wrapped up in his internal musings he hadn’t paid attention to Evan’s fingering or strokes of the bow.

Evan laughed. “Weren’t you paying attention?”

Jesse lowered his eyes. “I got wrapped up in listening.”

Evan cradled the violin in his arms. “That’s alright. I got wrapped up in playing.”

“That violin has a beautiful voice.”

“He should. He’s a Stradivarius.”

Jesse fixed his eyes on the violin, in shock at sitting so close to such a piece of musical history. He caught how Evan spoke of the violin as a “he,” not an “it,” showing the level of respect Evan held for the instrument, and thought it was only proper to do so. “They’re so rare, where did you get him?”

“I had been looking for a Strad ever since I could afford one. Actually, I had come across one at an auction a few years ago, then had the opportunity to view two others from private collections, but I passed on each one. For some reason, even though they were Strads, they didn’t strike me. Then I saw him.” Evan ran his hand lovingly over the body of the violin. “He was part of the collection at the Nippon Music Foundation. It took me several months, but I finally convinced them to sell him. I had to have him and I wasn’t going to take no for an answer.” He chuckled softly and lifted his eyes to Jesse. “I guess I was a bit obsessed. Sort of like when you see someone you want so badly for your lover, your mind won’t let go of them. It creates images and sounds so sharp, you feel like you already know their touch from your dreams.”

Jesse glanced down at the floor. Evan couldn’t know how he felt, but those words made it seem like he understood perfectly. How was he supposed to respond to something like that? His emotions would betray him no matter what he said. He turned on the stool toward the harp and ran his fingertips over the strings, creating a cascade of harmonious notes. “I can’t believe you live in this big house all by yourself. Doesn’t it feel empty or lonely?”

Evan startled inside at the sudden topic change. Jesse hadn’t taken the opening he’d created for him. Things had been going so well and now it felt like Jesse had withdrawn. Uncertain whether to move forward or not, Evan cleared his throat. “Well, like I said, I haven’t been here very long so I’m still getting used to it. But being alone doesn’t bother me. I prefer privacy to an entourage. I’ve thought about getting a dog, if that counts. Or maybe a cat. And who else do you think I would have living here?”

“Don’t you have a few dozen girlfriends?”

Evan shook his head in confusion. “Why would you think I have a lot of girlfriends?”

Jesse shrugged and plucked a few more strings on the harp. “I just remember when you were performing you always had a different woman with you at every award show or big event. So I figured you probably have a lot of,” he turned his eyes to Evan in a meaningful glance, “lovers.”

Evan couldn’t keep his smile at bay. And there it was. The piece holding Jesse back, and of course it would. They had only just met, so obviously Jesse would know Evan the Entertainer better than Evan the Human Being, and the persona he had presented to the world was that of a very straight male, thanks to Greg. In order to keep his sexuality hidden, Greg had insisted he take dates to events where the publicity would be hot. Greg always arranged who his date would be, and the woman, so eager and excited to be on his arm, ended up irritated and disappointed from a long evening of being ignored by him. He didn’t feel it was his responsibility to keep them entertained since if he had it his way he’d go to the events alone, if he showed up at all. Unfortunately, the charade of being seen with so many different women and never having a steady girlfriend branded him with the reputation of a playboy, and he always knew it would come back to haunt him someday.

“You’re right, I always did go places with a lot of different women, but out of all those women, did you ever hear of one referred to as my girlfriend?”

Jesse laid his hands on the harp strings to silence them and looked sharply up at Evan. “No, but isn’t that where the whole being a player comes in?”

An amused grin quirked Evan’s lips. How bold Jesse was, practically demanding to know if he had other lovers, as if already staking a claim to him. He wasn’t used to people acting like this with him. Other men never cared if there was someone else in his life so long as they got their turn in his bed, but Jesse was already making it clear he wouldn’t tolerate anyone else. A pleased sigh passed through Evan, and he decided to answer Jesse’s question.

“Stand up,” he said.

“What?” Jesse asked, confused.

“You want to try and play the violin, don’t you? Stand up and come here.”

Surprised by Evan’s commanding tone, Jesse wondered if he’d been too pushy in trying to get him to open up about his personal life and had offended him. Now Evan was probably trying to brush it off by focusing on something they could both agree on. Music. Jesse stood and walked the few paces to Evan.

“Turn around,” Evan said.

Jesse stared at him, then slowly turned his back to him. Evan moved behind him and reached around him with the Stradivarius and bow. He put the neck of the violin in Jesse’s left hand, the bow in his right. Jesse froze, caught between being more alarmed at holding the Stradivarius or having Evan so close to him.

“Can’t we use a different violin? I’ll die if I drop him.”

“You won’t drop him.”

Evan set the violin against Jesse’s shoulder. Jesse turned his head, placing his chin on the cloth like he had seen Evan do. Evan adjusted Jesse’s fingers on the bow and kept his hand resting lightly over Jesse’s to guide it. He brought his left hand up to the neck of the violin.

“Wrap your hand around mine so you can feel each move I make. Move when I move and we’ll create a harmony together.”

Jesse nodded. Evan’s chest warmed his back, his arms embraced him, his deep voice purred in his ear. It was too much. He felt lightheaded. His awareness narrowed to Evan’s presence and his own erection throbbing with painful hardness.

“Here we go,” Evan said.

He set the bow to the strings. Moving Jesse’s hand for him, he began playing Pachelbel’s Canon once again.

Jesse closed his eyes, surrendering himself to the music, feeling Evan’s gift flow through him. He could read it in Evan’s body, in the slightest of muscle movements, where Evan’s hand and fingers would move next. The music lifted his inhibitions from him, dispelling them into the air with the floating notes.

Evan brushed his cheek against Jesse’s hair and grazed his lips over the edge of his ear. “Jesse,” he whispered, “you should know, I never slept with any of those women.”

Evan’s words began pulling Jesse from his trance.

“They were missing something so very essential for my pleasure.” Evan tipped his head lower and laid a soft kiss on the back of Jesse’s neck. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Jesse’s head spun with full comprehension.

“I don’t have lots of lovers. I don’t have even one. Though, I was hoping to change that tonight.”

Evan brought his hips up against Jesse’s ass to let him feel the proof of his words. He dropped his right hand from the bow, silencing the music, and drew his hand down Jesse’s chest to his stomach. He slipped it under Jesse’s shirt and rubbed his bare skin stretched tight across his toned abdomen.

At Evan’s touch, Jesse sighed softly and lowered the violin from his shoulder. His head fell back and to the side. Evan licked up his neck and kissed back down to suck near the curve. As Evan lightly nipped him, Jesse took in a shaking breath and pushed back hard against him.

Turning in Evan’s arms, Jesse wrapped his arms around Evan’s neck, the Stradivarius and bow still in hand. He placed his lips to Evan’s in a warm chaste kiss, savoring the softness of them. He parted his lips at the same moment as Evan, both sharing a breath before their tongues glided together.

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