Rain fell from the sky in sheets. It’d only been drizzling when I’d boarded my private jet not even a half hour earlier. Now, I could barely see the airport outside my window.
“No, babe, it’s not a big deal. I just would have liked to see you while I was in town. It’s been a while. That’s all,” I said, shifting the phone to my other hand.
Dipping my finger into the empty glass that had once been the home of gin and tonic number three, I stared at the melting ice as I stirred it in a circle.
Her raspy, sleep-filled voice no longer sounded anything like that of the little girl I’d met when she was only five. But, after sixteen years, Robin Clark no longer resembled that child, either.
“I swear I thought the shower was next weekend. I got my dates mixed up. I’m so sorry,” she lied. She did that a lot.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s cool,” I said, pretending to believe her. I did that a lot.
And it killed us both a little more every time I did.
“I love you, Cookie,” she whispered.
I wasn’t sure if that was a lie or not anymore.
But I knew one thing was true. “I love you too, kid.”
We sat in silence for several seconds, neither of us willing to hang up. However, neither of us knew what else to say. A million words hung between us, but none of them would solve anything. God knows I’d said them all over the last five years. Still, she’d never heard any of them. Not really.
With my heart physically aching, I swallowed hard and bit the bullet. “Listen, I’m about to take off. I’ll be in L.A. for a show next week. Why don’t you come and we’ll hang out for a few days?” It was an honest invitation.
I didn’t receive an honest response.
“I’ll be there!”
“I’ll have Carter set it up. I’ll come by tomorrow afternoon and give you the details. I can’t stay long, but maybe a quick dinner or something.”
We didn’t linger with drawn-out goodbyes. A few seconds later, my phone was off and I was once again gazing out at the pouring rain, wishing I were anywhere but on a plane.
Carter, my head of security, settled in the seat beside me and opened the latest issue of Sports Illustrated magazine.
My stomach clenched when the plane jerked as we backed away from the gate.
“Tell Levee I love her, okay?” I said to Carter without dragging my eyes off the terminal disappearing in the distance.
“Here we go,” he mumbled, closing his magazine and turning his attention my way.
“Can you do me a huge favor? If I don’t survive, make sure it’s open casket and I’m wearing—”
“Blue. It makes your eyes pop,” he finished for me.
“But your eyes will be closed, so you should wear green instead. It looks better with your complexion.”
“But your complexion will be ashy since you’re dead and all. So let’s just go with a sleek, black suit. It’s timeless.” He arched an incredulous eyebrow.
Lifting my glass in the air, I rattled the ice at Susan, my personal flight attendant. She was busy buckling herself in for takeoff, but she flashed me a warm, motherly smile in acknowledgement that she had seen me.
“So maybe we’ve had this conversation before,” I told Carter.
He rolled his eyes. “Every time we fly.”
I huffed but didn’t bother explaining. He knew exactly how terrified of flying I was. He’d been there the day it’d all begun.
You would have thought that, after having traveled the globe for years, a simple two-hour flight wouldn’t have been a problem. My racing heart and sweating palms argued otherwise.
In the eight years since my career had taken off, I’d gone from a somewhat-popular YouTube personality to the king of the music industry when Levee and I’d released our self-produced debut album, Dichotomy. Filled with half of her tracks and half of mine, it had soared to the top of the charts. There hadn’t been a radio station in the country not playing our music. In a matter of weeks, our careers had exploded, which had forced the whole world to take notice.
The following years had been a whirlwind. Grammys, record deals, fame, fortune, security. I could have retired six months after I’d started and never wanted for anything again. Well, that’s not totally true. The one thing I really wanted could never be bought.
I wasn’t even sure it could be earned.
It was something so rare that I feared it didn’t actually exist.
Love. Unconditional. Unwavering. Eternal. Love.
I gave that to exactly two people in my life.
I only received it in return from one.
I’d been born a gay man. There had never been a moment in my life when I’d been remotely sexually attracted to women. If I had been, I would have married Levee Williams the second I’d laid eyes on her. Because I’d known, just that fast, that she was going to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
And she had been.
Riding the state’s dime to college, I’d branched out on my own at eighteen, armed with nothing more than a guitar and a headful of mediocre lyrics.
In a lot of ways, alone felt better.
In most, it felt worse.
Luckily, within weeks of starting my new adventure, I met Levee at a local bar on amateur night. She wouldn’t admit it, but she’d been attempting to hit on me when she’d first strutted over after her set. I understood how she’d misinterpreted my intense stare while she’d performed. But, when her kind, brown eyes lit as our gazes met, I knew, straight or gay, I needed to meet that woman. That night, over beers and more laughs than I had ever experienced, we bonded over music. Less than two weeks later, I moved in with her. Part of my heart bound to hers in a way I had never felt before. With no parents, no siblings, not even a foster mother who’d taken a liking to me, I’d spent most of my life searching for the sense of belonging she gave me only minutes after we’d met.
I fiercely loved that crazy woman. And it amplified as the years passed when I realized the feeling was mutual.
Levee was more than my best friend. Outside of Robin, she was the only family I’d ever had.
Which really meant she was the only true family I’d ever had.
I’d heard that God wasn’t exactly stoked about homosexuality, but come on. What kind of a masochist sends a gay man his soul mate with boobs and a vagina?
Especially considering she was now married to Sam Rivers and six months pregnant with his baby girl.
I’d tried dating over the years, but the few men I’d found interesting had found me temporary. I was good for a night of fulfilling their secret fantasies. But that’s where it ended. I guess that’s what I got for having a thing for straight men. I couldn’t stop myself though. It wasn’t the sex. As a celebrity, I had plenty of men vying for my attention. Ass was easy to come by. But the high that came from being with a straight man, knowing he was going against his own genetic coding just for one night with me, made every minute of the pain worth it.
Those forbidden encounters were a drug.
And I was a junkie.
The hunt of finding that perfect blend of brute masculinity and subtle curiosity.
The chase of teasing and taunting, ramping them up until they were unable to get my clothes off fast enough.
The victory as they finally broke, giving in to the one desire they had never considered before they’d landed in my crosshairs.
That was the high.
But it was always followed by the crash.
Including the inevitable spiral down when they realized what they had done.
Some freaked, slinging insults and threats at me as if I had somehow magically cast a spell and charmed their dick into my mouth. Some wore their shame on their faces, gathering their clothes and rushing from the room without a backward glance. Some felt the high too and came back for seconds, desperate for more.
But they all left, one way or another.
Once I’d accepted that those encounters were nothing more than a fix, it’d stopped gutting me when they walked away.
While I’d had my fair share of partners, I was far from a whore. I didn’t launch my expert skills of seduction on any straight man who crossed my path. That would have been a wasted effort. I was good; don’t doubt that. But men didn’t just fall naked into my bed, begging for me to take their bodies in ways they would never forget. At least, not the men I wanted. It took patience and dedication to achieve my high.
I spent two years working my way into a certain NFL quarterback’s bedroom.
Worth every single second.
Or so I’d told myself as I’d felt another piece of my soul break away when he’d dismissed me from his life the very next day.
Maybe I was a whore after all.
But I’d tried the relationship thing and it just didn’t work.
I’d given my heart to a man once. He’d given it back a month later.
I was devastated when he left. I was ruined when, two months later, I watched him marry a woman I knew he didn’t love.
No. That’s not true. It was me he didn’t love.
That was a common theme in my life and exactly why I was so successful as a singer-songwriter. It was hard to be all “woe is me” with millions of adoring fans acting as if you were a god who’d returned to Earth.
While Levee struggled with the weight of her fame, I flourished under the spotlight. I was alive on stage. And, with no one waiting for me at home, I’d devoted years to touring. The roar of the crowd fueled my happiness to the point I feared the day when I would have to settle down.
And, right then, I was white-knuckle gripping the armrest as the jet accelerated down the runway before lifting into the sky.
“Shit. Shit. Shit,” I mumbled as my stomach dropped when the landing gear loudly locked into place.
“You’re fine,” Carter said absently.
I was absolutely not fine.
“I’m gonna puke,” I groaned.
His eyes never lifted from the pages of his magazine as he shook a vomit bag open and passed it my way.
“Thanks,” I replied, disingenuous.
“No problem. Now, take a deep breath and try to relax. We’ll be there in no time.”
As the plane leveled out, so did my stomach.
Blowing out a loud breath, I dropped my head back against the headrest. “We should’ve taken the bus.”
“There wasn’t time for the bus. Your ass is supposed to be on stage in four hours. What we shouldn’t have done is drive to San Francisco in the first place.”
“We’ve been over this. I wasn’t missing her baby shower.”
He grumbled, adjusting in his seat. “I think Levee and Sam would’ve understood.”
I narrowed my eyes and turned to glare at him. “Don’t even start with me. They would have understood perfectly. But that doesn’t change the fact that I wanted to be there.”
My tour had been scheduled over a year in advance. Tickets had sold out in less than five minutes. But none of that had mattered when I’d found out that Sam’s mom was planning a baby shower for Levee. I had very few priorities in life. However, being there for her was always one of them.
Susan approached my seat. “Can I get you another drink, Mr. Alexander?”
“Thank God. Yes!” I lifted my glass in her direction.
“No problem.” Her eyes nervously shifted to Carter. “A word?”
Carter unbuckled his seat belt and moved past me. They huddled together behind the small bar in the front, but my focus was on the mini bottle of gin she was emptying in my glass. I was well aware that I needed to slow down. Drunk on stage wasn’t exactly a novelty in my business, but slurring my words and stumbling over lyrics was a deal breaker for me.
Just as I was about to tell her to hold off on the drink, the plane suddenly jerked and my nerves skyrocketed all over again. I sucked in a sharp breath, and both sets of their concerned eyes jumped to mine.
Yep. I can sober up later.
Snapping my fingers, I ordered, “Drink.”
Susan smiled compassionately before shooting an impatient glare at Carter. I would have cared what they were whispering about if I hadn’t been about to pull an Incredible Hulk and peel out of my own skin.
“I’ll tell him,” Carter relented with a sigh, tagging the drink from her hand and then moving in my direction.
With shaking hands, I took the glass and tipped it back for a sip, relishing in the distracting burn in my chest.
“Tell me what?” I asked, settling the glass in a cup holder.
He motioned his chin at my drink. “Why don’t you finish that first?”
The clear liquid sloshed as the plane suddenly banked to the left.
“Excellent idea,” I said.
Carter’s gaze once again lifted to Susan’s in a silent conversation.
Her lips thinned.
Throwing the rest of my drink back, I bounced my attention back and forth between the two of them. Susan looked downright nervous, and Carter appeared more than a little annoyed.
“Okay, what the hell is going on with you two?” I demanded.
“The pilot is having some chest pains,” he announced.
Suddenly, there wasn’t enough gin in the world.
Fighting to make my seat belt tighter, I gasped, “Did he pass out? Are we going down?”
Carter’s expression remained impassive.
“Of course not!” Susan cut in.
Her reassurance did little to comfort me, because whatever magical mechanism kept the cabin pressurized suddenly failed. If the pain in my lungs was any indication, there was absolutely no oxygen left on that plane. We were all going to die.
Carter’s heavy paw landed on my back, pushing my torso down so my head was between my knees.
“Calm down and breathe. We aren’t going down. The copilot is taking us back to San Francisco. We’ll be on the ground in no time.”
The vise on my lungs didn’t loosen.
Still hunched over, I nodded, having heard his words but finding no relief in them.
Susan kneeled beside me. “It’s okay, Henry. Co-captain Baez is an amazing pilot. You won’t even know the difference.” She rubbed my back.
Embarrassment mingled with the worthlessness I felt in that moment. But I was helpless to reel it in. My body was out of control. I was left as nothing more than a marionette being held captive by my fear.
Reaching out, I gripped Carter’s thigh desperately searching for a way to ground myself.
The man was a beast. At six-five and well over three hundred pounds, with short, black hair and nearly black eyes, he looked every bit of the scary bodyguard I’d hired him to be. There wasn’t anything soft or gentle about him. However, he’d been with me for almost a decade. He knew how I worked, even if he didn’t like it.
He patted my hand, and then I heard the crinkle of his magazine opening.
“You’ll be fine,” he said.
I wasn’t sure he was right.
Henry Alexander's story will arrive on May 17th
in The Spiral Down by Aly Martinez!
Add this M/M Romance to your TBR list on Goodreads!
RELEASE DATE: May 17th
I was afraid to fly.
He made me soar.
After years of climbing the ladder of success in the music industry, I finally had everything I could want.
Yet I still found myself wandering through life alone.
Captain Evan Roth was the one man I never saw coming.
Tall, dark, mysterious… Straight.
We were both damaged beyond repair and searching for something so elusive we weren’t sure it even existed.
But, when two broken souls collide in midair, falling is a given.
I just never expected to crave the spiral down.