Nikko needs a scandal. Something, anything, that will keep media eyes on him and far away from the fight for his deadbeat brother's children. When he sees Jake Hallow in a bar, it seems a perfect solution. What would cause more noise than planting a kiss on a ruler-straight country star? He didn't expect Jake to kiss him back.
Jake's faced a lot of surprises in the forty-four years he's been alive. But being kissed senseless by the beautiful Nikko Star is something else entirely, and he doesn't at all know what to do with the long-banked feelings that Nikko turns into a blaze. Or the disappointment he feels when he learns the real reason Nikko kissed him.
But hearing Nikko's story, Jake decides to help, and agrees to give the world a fake love affair for the sake of protecting a couple of kids. And he's always believed in putting on one hell of a show—no matter how much it leaves him hurting when the lights go down.
Nikko's hand trembled ever so faintly as he reached for the shot glass the bartender put in front of him. By the time he lifted it, though, years of discipline had steadied it and he tossed back the Goldschläger in one smooth, easy motion.
It didn't make him feel better, but he'd gladly settle for getting drunk. Tomorrow was soon enough for sober.
Unfortunately, the alcohol wasn't doing shit about the memories plaguing him, the sick feeling in his stomach that history was about to repeat itself in the worst possible way. All he could remember was the nasty, ugly fight that had dragged on for years while his mother—technically his aunt—struggled to get Nikko and his brother free of the drunk, abusive woman who'd given birth to them.
And his brother had turned right back around years later and turned into scum himself. Putting Nikko in their aunt-turned-mother's place. If the media caught wind of the mess, they'd turn it into an ugly frenzy, and his brother would bolt, and it would be months, even years, before Nikko found him and was finally able to save Heather and Joey.
Christ, he could still hear them crying as he left, begging him to stay. He'd done the best he could, for the time being, hiring a housekeeper and arranging for the kids to go to a summer camp, but that wouldn't last.
But his talent lay with drawing attention, not keeping it at bay, and the jackass media would feed on this family drama like zombies in a shopping mall if he couldn't figure out a way to keep it under wraps. The whole mess would drag on five times longer than necessary and god knew what it would do to the kids.
Nikko signaled the bartender for another shot, tossed it back, and let the cinnamon liquor momentarily soothe him.
The sound of a warm, husky laugh drew his attention, and he half-turned on his stool to search it out. Ah, no wonder it had been familiar. Jake Hallow. They'd only met very briefly, years ago, when Jake had borrowed Edward, Nikko's guitarist, when Shine the Moon had fallen short a member. Nikko had thought him handsome at the time, but in the passing way he always noted straight guys.
He looked a lot better without the trademark mustache, that was for sure. Dressed all in black, bits of silver in his dark brown hair, Nikko could definitely see why people went for the whole cowboy thing. Jake laughed again, and a faint trickle of want curled lazily through Nikko.
But he knew better than to waste time on straight guys. He'd made that mistake once when he was young enough to excuse that kind of stupidity.
Turning back to the bar, he signaled for another shot.
His manager was going to fucking kill him, but Nikko really didn't care. His contract with Hard Play was running out at the end of the year, negotiations would start up soon, and he was done, fucking done. The plan was quit singing, get custody of his niece and nephew, and figure out how the fuck to live a normal life. No more runways. No more stages.
Though hell if he knew what he'd do with none of that hanging over his head.
Eat all the junk food he could stand for once in his life. Sleep in. God, that was definitely going to be his favorite part.
But first he had to get there, and it wasn't going to happen for a long fucking time—or without a lot of heartache if the media caught wind of the whole mess. They'd blow their loads at the thought of history repeating itself with his family.
If only his mother were still alive… But thinking like that wouldn't help anything. He pushed the pain away and downed his latest shot, and asked the bartender for a glass of water.
Jake's husky laugh came again, and hell if Nikko knew why it was getting to him so much tonight. Jake hadn't done this to him the last time they'd spoken. Maybe he was just desperate for a distraction. Yeah, that sounded about right.
He sighed as his phone started buzzing in his front blazer pocket. Pulling it out, he scowled at the number. Had something gone wrong already? It hadn't even been three days since he'd hired the lawyer. Nikko didn't like the look of his text. Unlocking his phone, he read it in full.
Reporter was sniffing around the building. Didn't seem to know what he was looking for, just that you'd been here. If you want the heat to stay off this, we're going to need a serious distraction.
I can't exactly produce scandal out of thin air. What good does it do me to be in the middle of a mess while this is going on?
So busy watching the right hand, they won't see what the left is doing.
Nikko sighed again. I'll come up with something.
He shoved the phone back in his pocket and ordered another shot, but didn't quite drink it yet.
What the hell kind of scandal could he cause? He'd spent his whole life avoiding that kind of thing. The only time Hard Play got into nonsense, it was always instigated by shit Dai's crew started. Shit Jet started. Nikko snorted softly. There was someone he needed to channel, though that wasn't a thought he'd ever expected to have.
So what would Jet do? Other than get naked, that was. Nikko wasn't quite that desperate yet.
Jake's voice reached him through the buzzing crowd again, like sand he couldn't scrub off his skin, or maybe a craving for a food on his long list of forbidden delights. A good fuck would go a long way toward keeping him from breaking in half. Though he was probably too drunk to do much. Still, the thought alone was nice; it'd been a long time since he'd fucked anyone who truly sparked his interest. Of course it had to be someone far more likely to punch him if Nikko made a move.
Well, no, that wasn't true. Jake had never struck him as that much of an asshole. But he had two ex-wives and a country music career, even if he had announced Shine the Moon's retirement two months ago.
God, he must be more drunk than he thought if he was thinking of planting one on Jake in the middle of a crowded, star-studded, media-infested bar. But there was no denying that was exactly what he was thinking about doing.