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Starting from Zero (Starting from #1)
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Justin Cuevas is going through a rough patch. A broken relationship, a scandal, and the demise of his band have shaken the aspiring rock star’s confidence. Working two jobs and sleeping on his friend’s sofa isn’t ideal, but Justin isn’t ready to give up yet. With a little luck, he’s hoping to re-launch his music career in LA with his new band, Zero. The key is to stay focused, and not get distracted by his past…or the sexy songwriter he can’t get out of his head.
Gray Robertson has written dozens of hits and worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. But he’s never met anyone like Justin. The younger man is fiery, passionate, and smart. A powerful voice for a new generation. Other than an unforgettable one-night stand and a passion for music, the two men have nothing in common. Or do they? Justin knows the out-of-the-blue challenge to write a quintessential love song is a huge opportunity. And it’s the ultimate test for someone who’s doesn’t believe in happily ever after. When sparks fly, Justin and Gray realize they have a shot something special if they start from zero together. Maybe even love.
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“Everything must have a beginning…and that beginning must be linked to something that went before.”—Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
A spotlight fell over the lone microphone on the vacant stage. The dramatic illumination seemed unnecessary in a club as small as Carmine’s, where the maximum occupancy topped out at one hundred, but size wasn’t important. Of course, that was what all desperados said when making the most of a less than ideal situation. And things had definitely turned desperate.
My ragtag band of three was down a guitarist. Not good—especially tonight. Sure, our invitation to perform was last-minute and slightly suspicious. And yes, I probably should have waited for Johnny to confirm he was available, but no one turned Carmine down. His club might look like a basic dive bar…dim lighting, sticky floors, dark walls adorned with ancient concert posters, a tiny stage on one end, a busy bar on the other…but it was special.
Carmine’s catered to music business hopefuls and professionals. On an average night you might bump into an A-list producer, an aspiring banjo player, or your neighborhood barista. The “invitation only” policy elevated the opportunity to an elite status that made me wonder how the hell Johnny, Tegan, and I made the cut. We’d only recently started playing together full-time. Johnny on lead guitar, Tegan on drums, and me on rhythm guitar and vocals. We were still missing some key components…like a bassist, a manager—and hell, a name—but we figured we’d work out the kinks. We were young, motivated, and we had nothing to lose. Literally nothing.
But we needed Johnny. If he didn’t get here soon, we’d have to make some last-minute changes. Or bow out.
“What time did Johnny say he’d get here?” Tegan asked as he scanned the semi-dark area near the bar.
“He didn’t say. He couldn’t find anyone to close for him on three-hours’ notice,” I huffed. “I kind of hoped we’d catch a break and get a later spot, but Carmine said we’re going on first.”
“You can say that again. This is beginning to feel like a disaster.” I tipped back my bottle and shot a weak smile at my brother, Rory, and his boyfriend, Christian, when they approached our table with a fresh round of drinks.
Rory slid a beer in front of me and patted my shoulder before angling his head toward the bar. “Heads up. Your ex is at the bar.”
We all turned on cue.
Xena was hard to miss with her trademark long and curly raven hair, ubiquitous Doc Martens, and cherry-red lipstick. She had a way of standing out in a crowd even dressed entirely in black. She married edgy style with innate confidence. Her shoulders were back, her head held high, and her eye was always on the next opportunity. Which definitely wasn’t me—we were over and done six months ago. And there was nothing amicable about our split, so I had to wonder why she was here tonight. My luck couldn’t be that bad, could it?
“Well, that kind of sucks,” I groused, craning my neck to get a better look. She was talking to Carmine and someone in the shadows. “Did she say anything to you?”
“Yeah. She said ‘Hi.’ It freaked me out,” Rory grumbled.
Christian slipped his arm around my brother’s waist and kissed his cheek. “Poor baby. I’ll protect you. Which one is she?”
“The dragon in black,” Tegan replied, narrowing his gaze. “Hey, isn’t that—”
“It doesn’t matter. We’re on first. We can’t worry about her,” I said.
“You’re right. To new beginnings.” Rory raised his glass of water. “Break a leg, boys.”
I clinked my bottle to theirs and was almost ridiculously grateful when Rory changed the subject to the wicked LA traffic they’d battled to be here on a Wednesday night.
“Hey, we made a date of it,” Christian teased.
“You’re right. A romantic dinner at Chipotle,” Rory intercepted.
Christian smacked Rory’s bicep playfully, then chuckled when my brother winced and pretended to fall off his barstool. I rolled my eyes at their hijinks, though I appreciated the distraction. Christian and Rory were a cool couple: the football player and the math geek. They’d met when my brother tutored Christian for a statistics class last fall. Christian was a good-looking guy with brown hair, blue eyes, and broad shoulders. Rory was a couple of inches shorter than Christian’s six foot four, but his muscular physique, copious tats, and general badass vibe made him seem taller. They looked good together. And happy.
I could almost be jealous. But after the drama of the past few months, I was more than fine with my single status. I had bigger things to worry about. Like how Tegan and I were going to perform without a real guitarist. I bit the inside of my cheek and shot a worried glance at my friend, hoping he had a plan B. Tegan had more band experience than Johnny and I, plus he’d been a member of Gypsy Coma too. He knew Xena well, though not in the same way.