Excerpt: Behind the Curtain by Amy Lane
At six o’clock, the indoor pool in the relatively new gym complex had no aqua aerobics, no recreational swimmers, and, often, nobody but Dawson, doing laps in that happy, mind-numbing splashy echo of one person in a swimming pool. He’d been on the swim team in high school and had won a handful of bronze medals, but nobody had ever accused him of being a superstar. That didn’t stop his love of what swimming did for his body.
He was doing his cool-down lap, backstroke, so he could float a little and feel the blessed pull of his arms in the water, and play with the drift to see how quickly and how far one stroke could haul him. And then another. He let his feet bob and stuck his toes through the water and heaved himself back with satisfying double-armed strokes closing his eyes and drifting in for the last few feet. His hand bumped the edge of the pool and he looked up….
And right into the blue-mercury eyes of Jared Emory.
His hands went up and his elbows shot out and his ass sank down and his knees rose up and for an entire nanosecond he was 155 pounds of thrashing limbs and blinking eyes under the blue. A hand of steel latched under his arm and he remembered he had a brain and actually grabbed hold of the edge of the pool and caught his breath. Jared Emory was still there, water dripping from his hair, his gray hoodie, his jeans, and his spectacular eyebrows, which were now raised to his hairline.
“You just did that.” Again, that uninflected voice, but Dawson wasn’t stupid. I can’t even believe you are this stupid, clumsy, and weird. You disgust me. Dawson could hear all the things Jared didn’t really say, and as usual, he couldn’t fix them.
“Apparently so,” he said, pulling his swim goggles up so he could get a better look at Jared’s sardonic black-fringed eyes.
“Do people actually let you out by yourself? Do you have to apply for a pass? They don’t assign you a keeper?”
“Well, usually there is a keeper—but he’s on a date.” Because against all odds, Benji had convinced the super-adorable Princess Darian to grab a bite to eat before Benji’s shift at the little Mexican food place off Taylor.
“That guy doesn’t count,” Jared snapped, annoyed.
“That guy was born for the job,” Dawson declared with dignity. “Now was there something I can do for you, or were you just here to scare the crap out of me?”
Jared stood up and brushed water from his zippered hoodie and smoothed it from his hair too. “I need to rent you.”
Dawson swiped water from his eyes and tried to process that. “I’m not that kind of a boy.”
“No, idiot—I need a techie for tomorrow. My manager said if you were working the stage you had to be guild, and he set it up with the school. I’m running a free dance workshop tomorrow, and we didn’t get the staff set up yet.” Jared looked uncomfortable for a minute. “The kids are disabled. They want to dance across a stage with lights and music and think they’re superstars, and I need lights and music.”
Dawson mentally consigned his two hardest classes to the four winds. “That’s really fucking awesome. I’m in. What do you need?”
“You. Out of the pool.”
“And presumably in clothes and dried off.” Dawson grinned, because that went without saying if he was going to run the light board. Eschewing the ladder, which meant going under the four lane lines to his right, he put his hands on the pegs of the starter’s platform and hauled himself up. It was awkward, which was why nobody did it, and as he was scrambling to get his foot on the concrete while he sprawled on the rough platform on his stomach, he felt two impatient hands on his thighs helping him swing around and find his feet. The platform scraped across his abdomen and he let out a startled squawk, pushing himself up and backward and right into Jared Emory’s arms.
“Oolf!” Jared staggered back, but, well, he was a dancer, and with a little help from his own bare feet on the wet concrete, Dawson found himself pushed back up and steadied.
The echoes of their thrashing died around them, and the pool house fell awkwardly silent.
“Uhm, yeah. Thanks,” Dawson grunted, looking at his abnormally long feet and feeling stupid.
“Don’t thank me,” Jared snapped. “Clothe me! God, I’m sopping wet and all my shit’s at the hotel!”
Dawson turned around and grimaced, because sure enough, Jared Emory, star of stage, sky, and stratosphere, really was standing across from him sopping wet.
“I, uh, have some extra clothes in my bag,” Dawson muttered, and yes, it was true, but it meant he was going to have to put on the clothes he’d worn into the gym, and they still had some of that day’s hot dog and chocolate cake, which he’d had for lunch, smeared on the front.
But, well, it wasn’t Jared’s fault he was a spaz, either.
“Which way to the locker rooms?” Jared asked. His lower lip thrust out sulkily, but he sounded civil, so that was a plus.
“Uhm, follow me!” Dawson chirped, hoping to make up some goodwill.
Jared’s gaze swept from Dawson’s swimmer’s shoulders, down his back, down his backside, and to his long and narrow feet.
“No,” he said flatly, and although his hair was dark, his skin was fair enough for Dawson to see the dull red wash up his cheekbones.
Dawson reached behind him to make sure his Speedos weren’t sagging.
“Don’t make them tighter,” Jared commanded, and Dawson froze, midwedgie.
“Uhm, okay.” Dawson grabbed his towel and wrapped it around his shoulders. “Uhm, lead the way—around the pool, toward the back, look for the little stick guy with two legs instead of a skirt.”
“I’ll do that.” You’re babbling, and because somehow your Speedo has offended me mightily, I’m going to be shitty and snarkastic until we no longer have to interface, so deal with it.
“You know, you’re the one who startled me.” Dawson felt compelled to remind him of this, because right now Jared was going to be wearing pants that were short and a shirt that was too tight, and considering he seemed to be a genuinely awesome guy, this was not the impression Dawson had ever wanted to make.
Dawson waited to hear the subtext, but nothing was forthcoming. “Uhm, you are?”
“I didn’t mean to startle you.” And now you’re belaboring the point.
“You move like a cheetah.”
Without warning Jared whirled around, shoulders hunched in a classic theater exercise of a stalking cat. Dawson squawked and backpedaled, running right into the wall, and Jared laughed silently and turned back around to the locker room.
“Nice,” Dawson said. He was trying to keep the whole “arrogant- nerd” vibe going, but the truth? He could hear his heart doing an entire tap-dance chorus in his ears, and the thrum of his pulse was actually beating in his wrists. Jared Emory was beautiful, and for an equally beautiful second, Dawson had been afraid (hoped!) the guy would eat him alive.