Friday, March 25, 2011

Twice Bitten

Many of you may not be aware that I write fiction, but my first YA novel, Twice Bitten has just become available through Barnes & Noble digitally for just $1.99!  It's a gay paranormal romance with the following official synopsis:

Jesse Hartwick is a teen celebrity, recently out of the closet, and just beginning to take off as the next big thing in Hollywood. Distanced from his only family, Jesse puts his all into his career, leading a lonely life in the spotlight.

Everything changes one day when he meets Kurt, a cute mysterious stranger who saves him from a mob of fans, beginning a romance that will change things forever, but is Jesse's celebrity status the only thing that Kurt is interested in?

When Lane comes into the picture, it just confuses Jesse more, but he can hardly deny the strong feelings he has for him, especially since he didn't even know that Jesse was a celebrity when he met him, making him all the more appealing.

Shortly after meeting these two men after his heart, Jesse is attacked by a werewolf, then saved from certain death by a vampire, changing him into something altogether new. With his new abilities, he doesn't know who he can trust, let alone how to balance the spotlight with this aspect of himself that he must hide. But in the end, he must decide between the warring factions within: Vampire or werewolf? Kurt or Lane?

Read it and tell your friends! You can get it here or search for "Dave Ferraro" or "Twice Bitten" on your nook or whatever device you have the Barnes & Noble software on (it's free to download the software, if you don't have it already for the I-Pad, I-Pod Touch, Blackberry, personal computer, etc). It will also be available through Amazon shortly, but I'll let you all know when that happens. What have you got to lose for $1.99? Following is a two chapter preview...

Chapter One

Jesse Hartwick wore a beat-up red baseball cap and sunglasses to obscure his features, but with his face plastered on the covers of teen magazines and movie posters the world over, it was hard to hide who he was.

He watched the walk sign for the street corner ahead change from the shadows. At least it was growing dark outside so it would be harder to recognize him than usual. He felt silly, like a superhero, covering half of his face with what was basically a mask so he could move around without people recognizing him. But it didn’t work if he ran into the right people. He’d been mobbed once when he’d left his hotel without an escort, back when he was just starting to become famous and he was less experienced with the precautions one took in his position. He did not want to repeat the experience again: the crush of bodies pushing into him, making it hard to breathe, the anxiety as dozens of hands grabbed him roughly, the groping fingers. Did they think luck would rub off of him or something?

The light changed and he strode purposefully across the street, skirting three girls talking together animatedly about a new romantic comedy that opened the next day. He turned his head away as he was passing them, since they were the most likely to know who he was, his demographic. Which was weird, since he was openly gay. But it didn’t seem to matter, they liked him anyway, as he imagined teen girls liked seeing Miley Cyrus or other girls they idolized. With admiration. They’d just like to be friends with someone who was famous. He was non-threatening, which probably held some appeal for them - he wouldn’t take advantage of them, should he choose their company.

Halfway up the next block, he saw the neon lights of the café he was heading for, the electric blue splashing over the dark sidewalk, and let out a sigh of relief. He’d been afraid he would get lost, never having been in this part of town before, let alone by himself.

He approached cautiously, lingering on the sidewalk, watching the people around him for a moment, to see if anyone had noticed his presence and was watching him. Then he ducked inside quickly and glanced around the mostly empty room, smiling when a black girl in a booth toward the back stood up and waved him over.

“Hey, Cecelia,” he said, leaning it to give her a quick kiss on the cheek, as was their customary greeting. “Good to see you again.”

Cecelia smiled, sitting back and emptying a packet of sugar into her coffee before stirring it. “Yeah, like we haven’t seen enough of each other at these premieres.”

“Tomorrow’s the big one though,” Jesse reminded her. “Big US debut. This will make or break us.”

“You mean me,” she said, blowing at the steam rising from her drink. “You’re already big. Your career will survive a flop. Mine won’t.”

He rolled his eyes. “A: You were amazing in it. B: It’s already breaking records internationally, and C: Well, I’m in it, so it’s bound to be a success.”

She laughed. “True.” She took a sip from the Styrofoam cup and frowned. “Not as good as I remembered.”

Jesse glanced back at the baristas behind the counter, busily steaming milk for lattes. “Can’t stand the stuff myself.”

“I remember. Five AM shoots and you’d be there all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed while the rest of us roamed the set like zombies until the caffeine kicked in. I don’t know how the hell you manage, especially that early.”

“I’m a morning person,” Jesse shrugged sheepishly. “I get it from my mom, I guess.” He said it offhandedly, but it was true. He’d never been close to his mother, but he was familiar with many of her habits.

His mother had been an actor as well, a real A-lister who’d starred in blockbuster after blockbuster. Natasha Hartwick had been nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards twice, and even though she’d lost both times, when she’d died in a car crash, the industry had unanimously agreed that she’d been one of the brightest stars to grace film in years. He was proud of that fact. Through various connections, Jesse himself had already been on a television show at the time, a show which jumped in ratings following his mother’s untimely death. In a sick way, his mother’s death had really propelled him into stardom. He’d been virtually unknown before the tragedy had focused on her surviving family, and when the media recognized her son on a primetime television show, he’d immediately been deemed a promising talent and had had more roles offered to him than he knew what to do with.

Jesse pulled off his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes. “Now nights, I’m not so good at.”

“I remember,” Cecelia said with amusement. “You were asleep by midnight at the wrap party. Just curled up in a corner, sleeping like a baby with all that noise around you. Ridiculous.”

“What? I get tired.”

Cecelia laughed. “Catatonic is more like it. I’m just so wired at night. I guess our bodies are just different.”

“I was raised on a rigid schedule,” Jesse told her. “I mean, my parents were always up early, so I was too, then when I launched into a career myself when I was twelve…it just kind of stuck. I had to work early.”

“Did you get home schooled?” she asked suddenly. “I don’t remember.”

Jesse nodded. “My parents hired a retired teacher for my education. She also helped me get my diploma early, a year ago, right after my seventeenth birthday. You?”

“I went to a private school,” Cecelia admitted. “I graduated last year, not early like a show-off I know.” She smiled at him. “A lucky break got me an audition with the casting director. That and a hell of a lot of hours clocked in the drama department.”

“I hear you. My training was pretty rigorous too.” He paused. “Any offers for your next project?”

Cecelia shrugged. “My agent has a few auditions lined up for me, but I’m hoping something big will happen after the debut, so I’m not looking into anything too seriously right now.”

“Well, you know you’ve got me watching out for you now.”

She smiled at him. “That’s sweet of you.”

A loud burst of noise from the door of the café suddenly resounded in the room, and they looked up to see a dozen teenage girls walk in. Jesse recognized the three he’d passed on the way to the café, and immediately grabbed his sunglasses, thinking to disguise his appearance before anyone noticed him.

He looked up at Cecelia, who just smiled irritatingly at him, practically rubbing in the fact that she didn’t have to go to such lengths, as she was virtually unknown at this point.

As he slipped his sunglasses on, he glanced over at the door and saw one girl staring at him. Their eyes met and she gasped, grabbing the sleeve of the girl next to her. “Oh, my God,” she said in a voice loud enough for the entire café to hear. “I think that’s Jesse Hartwick.”

Jesse looked away and put a hand up to his forehead, further hiding the side of his face exposed to the girls. Hopefully, they would just imagine he had some similarities to Jesse Hartwick.

No such luck.

The girl who’d recognized him ducked her head out of the door of the café. “Hey, guys! Jesse Hartwick is in here!”

Jesse could hear a squeal from beyond the door and the phantom figures of more bodies closed in on the frosty glass of the café windows.

The entire café was looking their way, the baristas pausing in their work to verify the claim.

“Shit,” Cecelia said, swallowing hard. “This suddenly got a little scary.” She glanced down a short hallway where an emergency exit door loomed past the restrooms. “As much as I hate to disappoint the fans, perhaps we should make a hasty getaway.”

“Agreed,” Jesse slid out of the booth, which seemed to set things in motion. The girls reacted immediately, beginning to stampede toward him as one, squealing.

Cecelia grabbed him by the arm and together, they took off, slamming into the exit door and inadvertently sounding an alarm, adding to the chaos.

They found themselves in an alleyway, two green dumpsters up against a brick wall to their right, with a path curving around to the left. Jesse briefly considered ducking down behind the dumpsters, trusting the darkness to hide them from the girls until they left, but if even one of them noticed them, they were trapped. So Jesse steered Cecelia along the only open path available. He felt like they were being herded as they passed the brick walls and the occasional receiving door of some restaurant or small shop, but it was really their only option of escape. It felt silly trying to outrun a group of teenage girls, but they could get out of hand quickly, not realizing the damage they caused.

“Uh-oh,” Cecelia skidded to a stop and gaped at the garbage truck in front of them, blocking the entire passage as it lifted a dumpster into the air to empty its content. Just beyond the truck, mere feet away, was the street and the bustle of traffic. And any chance of escape.

They looked at each other, then turned to face the girls that were sure to be racing around the corner any second. Would they be upset at his apparent effort to ditch them? He closed his eyes, trying not to recall the previous mob incident with too much detail.

A door to their left opened suddenly and two men stepped out with bags of trash. Both were tall and thin with black vests over crisp white dress shirts, and black pleated pants. One of them, blonde with hair that fell into his eyes, paused and nudged the other, who was still in the deep shadows provided by the door and its small awning.

“I see him!” a girlish voice cried out.

Jesse turned to see several girls round the corner, their screams growing to a fervor.

“Can we please go through your restaurant to get out of here?” Cecelia asked the blonde man. “We’re kind of in trouble here.”

“No,” the man replied, dumping his bag of garbage just outside the door. He grabbed the other man’s trash and threw that down against the wall next to it.

Cecelia glared at him, looking back at Jesse, exasperated.

“Charles,” the man in shadows said, laying a hand on the blonde’s shoulder, “We can allow them access so they can escape.”

Charles frowned. “No. They are…it’s forbidden.”

“Come along,” the other man stepped out into the light, where a chiseled face was illuminated, dark stubble running over his jaw line beneath chestnut brown hair. His eyes sparkled as he glanced back at the girls sprinting toward them. “Quickly.”

“Kurt…” Charles had a warning in his tone, but Kurt ignored him, pulling Cecelia into the doorway and reaching a hand out to Jesse as well.

Charles sighed and withdrew inside.

“You’re Jesse Hartwick, aren’t you?” Kurt asked, a smile twisting into place.

Jesse felt a shock when he looked into his face. He felt like he knew this man, though he’d never met him before. It was something about the hair falling into his eyes, how he looked him over and held himself. Whatever the case, Jesse felt like he could be trusted, and he felt something else…like a strange need to have Kurt like him. “Yes,” he answered quietly.

“Well, Jesse, we should be going,” Kurt prodded, nodding back at the safety afforded by the door.

Jesse nodded, taking his hand, surprised by how cool it was, and was pulled within by the man’s surprising strength, the door slamming shut behind them with finality. And not a moment too soon. They could hear fists slamming into the door and muffled cries from outside as Kurt led them down a short dark hall and through a kitchen area, where men stopped to stare at them as they passed. One of the chefs continued to pour what appeared to be red wine into a saucepan until it overflowed and began to bleed onto the countertop.

“Don’t look at them,” Kurt whispered to him and Cecelia as he escorted them. “They are very serious about the secret ingredients of their dishes. The patrons are very private too. Just make a beeline for the door and keep close to me, or you may find yourself facing some difficulties.”

Jesse had trouble concentrating on the words. Kurt was very close to him and still covered his hand with his own. He was surprised to find it so comforting, and even more surprised when Kurt gave his hand a squeeze, and he looked up into the man’s dark eyes. The warm smile he offered was dazzling, with the sort of beautiful lush lips he admired greatly on men. A quick estimate pinned Kurt as slightly older than him, perhaps twenty. And although his nose was a little crooked, as if it had been broken at one point, he was quite beautiful.

Charles opened a door ahead of them, clearing his throat loudly as he ushered them through.

They found themselves in the dining area of what had to have been an expensive restaurant. Wine bottles rested on the pristine white tablecloths of each table, and a man played Beethoven at a piano on a low stage toward the back. The entire room was fairly dark, but very romantic with couples seated in every chair in the house, everyone formally dressed in suits and dresses.

The moment they stepped into the room, the piano player paused, and everyone suddenly stopped what they were doing to stare at them, even people on the far side of the room who couldn’t have known they were walking in. It gave Jesse a chill, but a split second later, the piano resumed and the couples were engaged in conversation once more, as if they’d never stopped. Maybe he’d imagined it, having just escaped a stressful situation in the alley.

Despite Kurt’s warning, Jesse found it hard not to look over the diners. They were all glamorously dressed and very beautiful, but also quite young. He wouldn’t have expected to see a restaurant that seemed so expensive catering to such a young crowd, from teenagers to those in their mid-twenties, all with exquisite poise and table manners, no laughing or unruly behavior as he would expect from such a group, just somber, quiet conversation. Things seemed a bit out-of-place, even a little surreal, especially the classical music that those closest to the instrument were admiring openly. This was quite a sophisticated group.

Kurt applied pressure on his hand once more, and Jesse tore his eyes from the room, finding himself looking into his handsome face once again. His heart skipped a beat and he wondered if his hand was sweaty.

But after another minute, they had passed the dining area and Kurt was leading them to the front doors, where Jesse could make out the sidewalk beyond.

The curly-headed hostess sent him a curious look as he approached, then tilted her head. “Aren’t you Jesse Hartwick?”

Kurt paused and dropped his hand, amusement in his eyes.

“Guilty,” Cecelia admitted with a laugh.

“Interesting,” the hostess said, then turned away, as if it were of passing interest.

“Thank you so much,” Cecelia said to Kurt, shaking his hand. “You really saved us from a close call back there. I don’t know how we can ever repay - oh! I know!” She rummaged through her purse and pulled out a ticket, placing it in Kurt’s hand. “A free ticket to the premiere of our new movie. It’s tomorrow night, so I hope that works.”

Kurt stared down at the ticket for a moment, then lifted his eyes to Cecelia’s, making her blush with their intensity. “I am free tomorrow night, but I don’t want to impose.”

“Please come,” Cecelia pressed. “It would mean a lot to me. To us.” She gestured toward Jesse, who looked away, blushing.

“Thank you,” he murmured, filing the ticket away in a pocket.

“No, thank you,” Jesse said, with emphasis.

Kurt looked up and met his gaze. Jesse felt like he could search his soul with those eyes. They were dark, almost black, like he could fall into them given the chance, and never hit bottom.

“Well, we should be going,” Cecelia insisted, pulling on Jesse’s sleeve. She smiled back at Kurt tightly. “Thanks again.”

Jesse tore his eyes from the man and allowed her to pull him out of the restaurant.

Immediately, she led him across the street and up a couple of blocks. “We have to put some distance between us and those crazy fans of yours,” she muttered.

Jesse nodded, following her in a sort of daze until she seemed to approve of the distance they’d covered.

“Well, that was an experience,” she said. She plopped down onto a bench. “Didn’t get to finish my coffee though.”

“You hated it,” he reminded her.

“True.” She looked at him. “What was with those vibes I was getting from you and the brunette?”


Cecelia smiled, then laughed. “Kurt? You know his name?”

“Well, his friend mentioned it,” Jesse mumbled, scratching the back of his head awkwardly. “He was…you know, cute.”

“Drool-worthy,” Cecelia affirmed. “But did you get a look at that place? Totally creeped me out.”

Jesse frowned. “Yeah, it was…it seemed a little formal in there.”

“You’d think they’d never seen people before the way they stopped and stared.” Cecelia paused, then shrugged. “Probably starstruck, I guess.”

He decided not to mention the other oddities about the place. “I guess.”

Cecelia glanced over at him and smirked. “Well, ten-thirty is fast-approaching, so you must be ready to fall over. Should we get you back to your hotel room?”

“I can manage,” he said, standing up and stretching. He would usually be asleep by now, but the encounter had left him a little flushed with excitement. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to get to sleep anytime soon.

“Well, it was nice to see you outside of the arena,” Cecelia told him, giving him a hug. “I guess we’ll see each other tomorrow after The Death March, huh?”

He smiled at her term for The Red Carpet. “Sure thing.”

On the way back to the hotel, Jesse was more distracted than usual. He was usually more careful to watch for fans who could spot him, or the paparazzi, who were like cockroaches - if you saw one, there were dozens lingering nearby. He was lucky to make it back to the hotel without attracting any more unnecessary attention, because his mind was filled with his encounter with Kurt, and wondering if he would actually attend the premiere the following night.

Chapter Two

It was a death march, alright.

“Jesse, over here!”

“Jesse, this way!”

Jesse kept a smile plastered to his face as he walked The Red Carpet, flashbulbs exploding to the left and right without respite. The barrage made him nervous. He already felt a trickle of sweat stealing down the back of his neck and under the collar of his jacket. If he spent much more time in the spotlight, he wouldn’t be able to keep up his cool façade.

A glance over the bright twinkling lights and he caught sight of his own face staring back at him from a poster blown up ten times its normal size, perfect white teeth, a classic jaw line and cheekbones that everyone insisted he’d inherited from his mother, and hair as dark as brown could get before it was officially black - this, from his father certainly. It unnerved him every time he saw his face somewhere out in public. It felt like a violation, seeing his picture in unexpected places, but it was the price he paid for stardom. Well, a fraction of the price really. There were a lot of drawbacks to being famous, even if everyone claimed that’s what they wanted. They didn’t have the paparazzi to contend with. Or the loneliness of never knowing whether someone liked you for who you were rather than, well, who you were.

Jesse felt a hand gently rest on his shoulder and he automatically stopped and focused on the girl in front of him, a blonde reporter with an MTV logo on her microphone.

The hand belonged to Regina Bava, his agent, whom he trusted more than anyone. She was very calculating with every move she made, with everything she asked him to do, so he knew that when she wanted him to pause in his walk up that seemingly endless red carpet, it was for good reason. He wondered if the interview he was about to receive was prearranged. They never seemed to ask anything awkward or difficult when Regina selected them.

“Jesse,” the reporter licked her lips and nodded, as if to collect herself, “Lola from MTV News. The Loathsome and the Damned has already broken records in countries its debuted in overseas, and it’s bound to be a hit stateside as well. Did you expect such success when you first laid eyes on the script? And what drew you to the character of Todd?” She thrust the microphone his way.

Jesse tried to concentrate on the question. It was always difficult for him to tune out the noise and bustle around him during these events. Plus, millions of people hung on his every word. He didn’t want to say the wrong thing. It was the sort of pressure he hated. But Regina was aware of this, so he knew he could count on her to make this as painless as possible for him. More than once, she’d cut interviews short based on the questions being asked.

“I was just very lucky to have the script for The Loathsome and the Damned placed in my lap,” Jesse replied honestly. “I have a great agent who knows what sorts of things interest me. As for its success, I’m of course very happy with the numbers we’ve seen so far, and hope to keep the momentum rolling with its premiere in New York tonight.” He paused and cocked his head. “As for what appeals the most to me about Todd, I’d have to say it’s his confidence, especially when it comes to his taking charge and leading the others when things begin to go downhill. In a horror movie like this one, all of the characters are really put into an environment where nothing is in their control. Stepping into the shoes of the one who can keep a cool head, and think clearly about how to survive and keep those around him alive, it’s really admirable, and I’d like to think I could be like that.”

Truth be told, he was usually a nervous wreck and couldn’t imagine himself being the brave, confident one. He was shy and quiet in new situations, which a lot of people found odd since he was essentially the new poster child for success in Hollywood, but whenever he walked on set and the director yelled “Action,” he slipped into the role of the characters he played. He became them. Playing Todd had felt powerful and rewarding. Looking up at the poster of himself just beyond this screaming mass of people shattered any confidence he felt in his acting, even though he’d been praised as a natural.

“Many people were surprised to see that you didn’t contribute a single to the movie’s soundtrack,” Lola continued. “With two multi-platinum CDs under your belt, what are your future music plans?”

Jesse smiled. Regina had to have planted that question. “Well, you’re going to be the first to hear this, Lola. I’ve just wrapped recording a new album in the studio. The first single should hit airwaves tomorrow, with the full CD coming out in early August.”

“Any tour this time around?”

“A six-month international tour is in the pipeline,” Jesse confirmed, with a sidelong glance at Regina, who wouldn’t meet his eyes. He returned to focusing on the microphone waving in his face. “And I’m really proud of this CD. It’s not like the pop stuff you’ve heard from me before. I had to fight for these songs, all of which I wrote myself. The label was skeptical at first, but once they heard what I had to offer, they were really excited to see it through.”

“Good for you!” Lola said with what Jesse could tell was forced enthusiasm.

“Jesse!” a male reporter beside Lola forced his way into the conversation, jostling her as he extended his microphone toward Jesse. “How did it feel to play a straight character in the film?”

Jesse nearly rolled his eyes, but felt Regina tighten her grip on his shoulder and gently prod him forward. He got these sorts of questions on occasion. Regina always did her best to shield him, as she did now, pushing him along and smiling back at the reporter, saying “Sorry, that’s all we have time for. Jesse’s a very busy man, you know.”

“What about the rumors of your romantic connection to co-star Steven Siddell?” the reporter bellowed after them, angry at being cut off.

Jesse paused in his walk, but Regina was right there at his ear.

“Keep moving,” she whispered. “He’s just trying to goad you.”

Clenching his jaw, Jesse nodded and continued. To his relief, Regina didn’t have him stop to speak with any more reporters. She probably knew better. He valued his private life, as little of it as he had, and the notion that he would hook up with the only other gay cast member of the movie was insulting. Especially since Steven was an arrogant, narcissistic buff neck and he could hardly stand to be in the same room with him.

When he stepped into the air conditioned building where the movie would premiere, he felt the weight lift from his shoulders. No more flashbulbs going off in his face, no more pointing and screaming. He was among other celebrities and people from the industry who could behave themselves.

“You’ll have to do some shots after the movie with your co-stars,” Regina informed him as they walked through a nearly empty hallway. A few people gaped as he walked past, but they were easy enough to ignore.

“I figured as much,” Jesse confirmed. “You planted that question? About the CD?”

Regina fixed him with a look of false shock, then smirked. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” She adjusted her thick black glasses and patted her black hair that was piled atop her head for the event, when she usually wore it down over her shoulders. He saw her dressed up in long fashionable outfits like the navy sequined one she wore now quite often, but he would never get used to seeing her outside of her jeans and the bright, florescent cardigan sets she loved to wear with gaudy pins that Jesse teased her she’d stolen from her great-grandmother’s jewelry box. They usually involved some form of animal made of gold or silver, set with gems. Very tacky and terrible, in Jesse’s opinion, but she loved the old-fashioned touch mixed in with her colorful wardrobe. It was just so…Regina.

In a way, Regina was the closest person in his life. Since his mother had died in the car accident just over four years ago, he’d kind of come to see her as the maternal figure in his life. It wasn’t perhaps the healthiest way to view his agent, but he couldn’t help how he felt. Since that fateful day, Regina, his agent for two years before his mother’s death, had kept him busy with his career, distracting him from the pain of loss. But truth be told, he’d never been close to his mother. She’d rarely been home, off shooting on some exotic location or another. And now he’d never have the chance to know her. He just hoped he could live up to her legacy.

“Doing alright?” Regina asked suddenly, peering at him closely, glasses perched precariously on the end of her nose before she pushed them up again.

Jesse colored at being caught reminiscing. “Fine.”

“That dirt bag reporter,” she cursed. “I swear I’ll find out who he is and I’ll make sure that-”

“Don’t worry about it. Not worth it.”

“You sure?”

Shaking his head, Jesse smiled. “I’m sure. Don’t sweat it.”

Regina didn’t necessarily look convinced, but nodded and led him through a set of double doors to their seats, where they would watch The Loathsome and the Damned for the tenth time. He hated watching himself on film, and usually found an excuse to be up and about, scouring for food or talking to people he knew in the lobby, to avoid it.

Luckily, as soon as they’d claimed their assigned seats, Cecelia and Dante Elliot, another co-star he’d had fun with on the set, approached and took their seats nearby.

“I can’t watch this again,” Cecelia, who plopped down into the seat next to him, imparted. “The scene where I see the vampires for the first time, I scream like a spaz. I mean, I sound terrified, but like I’m hyperventilating or something. It’s ridiculous.”

“I think it’s very authentic,” Jesse said to pacify her, although he couldn’t claim to have even seen that portion of the film.

“Authentic?” she scoffed, but looked pleased nonetheless. “I believe the word you’re looking for is hot. I looked hot.”

“Not in that scene you didn’t,” Dante broke in. “Believe me, I’ve watched it in slow-mo like two dozen times. But not as often as the shower scene with Jesse.” He winked at Jesse, causing Cecelia to laugh and forget her insecurities.

Dante was like that, always telling jokes. Cecelia got the giggles a few times while shooting from the ridiculous things he’d say, and for some reason, Dante loved flirting with Jesse even though he was straighter than a yard stick. But Jesse flirted back and it was all in fun.

The nude scene in question contained a quick shot of his butt, but was mostly shot from the waist up, with a close-up of his legs walking into the dark corner of a locker room that had earned him the title of “Best Legs” in Seventeen Magazine after the footage was leaked, for which Dante couldn’t torture him enough. “They didn’t even notice your butt in the scene, they were so fixated on those hairy-ass legs of yours,” he’d laugh before going all husky and adding “but can you blame them?”

“I heard Steven wasn’t even going to show tonight,” Cecelia announced, nodding toward the empty pair of seats on the other side of Regina. “Guess he’s over us.”

“That’s fine with me,” Jesse murmured. “They’d have to clear half the theater to make room for his ego.”

Dante snorted. “Half?”

Cecelia stifled a laugh before gasping “I hope you guys don’t talk about me like that when I’m not around.”

“There’s not much talking between us when there’s no one else around,” Dante told her without a trace of a smile.

She scoffed and sat back in her chair. “Oh, get a room, you two.”

“You hear that, Jess? Best idea I’ve heard all day.”

“It’s about to start,” Regina hissed, putting a hand on Jesse’s leg. “Let’s have your undivided attention through the introduction at least, hmm?”

Cecelia made a fake yawning motion before the director began speaking, a speech that went on for over fifteen minutes, with many thank you’s to producers and several compliments to the cast, particularly to Jesse himself, who got quite a round of applause, much to his embarrassment.

And then the movie started and Jesse couldn’t sit still for another moment. He jumped to his feet, hidden by the dim lighting, although Regina let out a discontented sigh, letting him know that she was all too aware of his restlessness.

Cecelia and Dante were engaged in a conversation that could have also been interpreted as an argument, and Jesse felt like slinking away unnoticed anyway, to clear his head, so went alone.

The Red Carpet was always trying to him. He could act in front of dozens of people, sing to an audience of thousands (but to be fair, he couldn’t really see much of them beyond the bright lights focused on him on-stage), but answering questions about himself in front of a crowd of industry professionals with a background of fans unnerved him. Maybe it was because it was all about him. In those moments, he wasn’t a character or a performer. He was utterly naked. He was Jesse Hartwick, just a guy, with thoughts and feelings - flawed and fallible. He snickered, thinking of those trashy magazines with pages full of paparazzi pictures illustrating how celebrities were “just like you and me!” As if people who were famous were robots or something. Didn’t anyone else see how ridiculous it all was? He had to believe that the bored housewives who consumed columns like that weren’t that brain dead.

Jesse blinked as he realized he’d been so caught up in his thoughts that he’d already managed to find his way back to the lobby. He perused the tables set up with fruit platters and tiny crackers spread with meats and cheeses, tapping a finger against his lips unconsciously as he decided what to sample. He eyed plastic cups set up beside pitchers and immediately licked his lips. All that nervous perspiring on the carpet had made him thirsty - perhaps he’d best start there.

It took him a moment to decide what he was in the mood for, but ended up pouring himself a glass of red juice that, to his delight, ended up being pomegranate juice, a favorite of his.

He swept his eyes around the room as he took a swallow, trying to ignore the stares he got from people who should know better than to gawk. He choked when his eyes met Kurt’s, watching him carefully, with an amused look on his face.

Coughing juice out of his windpipe, Jesse set his cup down and forced himself to become composed, play it cool. Sure, Kurt was probably the hottest guy he’d ever seen, and he felt some sort of warmth from him that he’d never encountered before, but he was just a guy. Just a guy.

“Are you alright?” Kurt asked him, suddenly at his side.

Jesse nodded. “Just swallowed wrong.” He cleared his throat and smiled sheepishly. Maybe he was completely wrong about what he felt. He’d lived his whole life trying to please other people. Perhaps this need to have Kurt like him was just an extension of that irrational desire. And the genuine warmth he felt…perhaps was calculated, meant to make him let his guard down, expose him so he could get the scoop on him, the million-dollar photograph. Glancing up into Kurt’s eyes, he found that hard to believe. Not only did it seem as if Kurt stared straight into his soul, but he felt like he could see the kindness in Kurt as well. He had nothing to fear from this man…right?

He stood up straight and ran a hand back through his hair. “I didn’t think you’d come,” Jesse admitted. He frowned at the words, and looked up at Kurt shyly. “I’m glad you did, though.”

Kurt chuckled, a deep rumble in his chest that instantly broke the tension.

Jesse wasn’t used to being close to anybody. He’d spent his whole life wondering about people’s intentions, so his skin was thicker than most. It was hard to let people in. But he could try for this boy who’d stuck his neck out to save him from a mob. He owed him that much. And hoped for more.

“This isn’t my usual scene,” Kurt told him. He gestured to his teel dress shirt and black pants. “I’m used to dressing up for work, but I feel so formal and stuffy. Uncomfortable.”

“You’re not the one in the suit,” Jesse retorted. “It’s sweltering in this thing.” As if to accentuate the point, he loosened his tie. “I wish I could just…get out of here. These sort of obligations are tiresome.”

“I get that. But can’t you just go? You showed up.”

Jesse considered. “As much as I’d love to cut and run, I owe these people a lot. I need to stay, even if I’m mentally checked out.”

Kurt nodded. “Very admirable. I saw your friend enter as well. At least you’re not alone in this.”

“True.” He glanced up at someone clearing their throat nearby and had to hide a scowl. “Hello, Steven.”

Steven smiled, his mouth opening wide enough to give them a good view of his perfect white teeth. His skin had a hint of red to it, like he’d stayed out in the sun just a tad bit too long, but it only heightened his looks, giving his cheeks a little extra boyishness that somehow brought his classic features together. There wasn’t a hair out of place on his blonde head, and his eyebrows were plucked to perfection - not too thin like some guys who went overboard. And to round things off, he was in a black suit that shimmered a little like a rainbow as he walked, reminding Jesse for some reason of the inside of a fish he’d seen cut up by his family’s maid, Oksana.

“Steven Siddell,” Steven held a hand out to Kurt, looking him over at the same time.

“Kurt Austen.”

Steven turned to Jesse like Kurt wasn’t even there, dropping his hand quickly after a brief shake. He lowered his voice conspiratorially, but was still loud enough for anyone nearby to hear. “Is this who you’ve been hiding from us? You can do much better.” He winked at Jesse and walked away, a fake smile on his face as he called back “Nice to meet you, Bert.”

Kurt watched Steven retreat, then turned to Jesse with a look on his face like he was about to explode with laughter.

Jesse’s eyes widened as he felt the same reaction brewing inside himself. Together, they turned away as Steven closed a door behind him and shaking all the while, tried to stifle their laughter.

“See…what I have to…put up with?” Jesse asked between breaths.

Kurt couldn’t even respond for a minute, trying to pull himself together by drawing in deep gulps of air. “Man, and I thought I knew some pricks. That kid is something else.”

“Completely full of himself.”

“Pampered, shallow.”

“And ridiculous,” Jesse confirmed. “I’m sorry about that. Really. He had no right-”

“It’s fine,” Kurt cut him off. “I’m a big boy. I can handle an awkwardly-dealt insult.”

“And you have a sense of humor,” Jesse observed. “That’s always a good sign.”

Kurt cocked his head. “Of what?”

“You know…” Jesse looked away. “Of…someone easy-going, someone you can get along with.”

“Oh.” Kurt smiled. “Do you want to get out of here now?”

“You’re a bad influence,” Jesse said, shaking his head, unable to wipe the grin from his face.

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