Stage Fright

After six months dancing in a Las Vegas all-male revue, Jesse Snowe is used to being groped by enthusiastic females, but he's more interested in Val, the sexy new bartender. Jesse's tired of the closet, but when he thinks of coming out he gets stage fright. The thought of telling his fellow dancers he's gay makes his palms sweat and his heart race and not in a good way. Dating Val under the watchful eyes of the dance captain could reveal Jesse's secret and might be more of a gamble than Jesse's willing to take.

 For Val Tremain the glamor of Vegas is wearing thin. He's even less enamored with his new job, but knowing he'll see Jesse's beautiful body makes it easier to go to work. When Jesse hints he's interested Val can't believe his luck. But Jesse's latest dance routine encourages a little too much audience participation and Val struggles with jealousy.

 Jesse knows his job's hard on their relationship and being closeted doesn't help. Strangers slap his butt every night, yet he's afraid to touch his lover in public. If he wants this relationship to work Jesse may have to reveal more than just his body.


On Friday the Erogenous Zone had a new bartender. Jesse noticed him as soon as he peeked through the stage curtains. He gazed out over the audience toward the back of the room and the small one-man bar. For once he managed to tune out the catcalls and whistles of excited women as they watched the intro video.
“Who’s the new guy?”
“What?” Mike, busy checking props and supplies, looked up briefly.
“The bartender. He’s new.”
“Oh, yeah.” Mike stopped counting hand towels and sat back on his haunches. “Nicki got fired.”
Jesse forgot about his stage nerves. “Why?”
Mike took out his hair elastic and redid his ponytail. “He was trying to pick up the customers.”
Jesse could believe that. The man reminded him of a sleazy porn star with his heavy aftershave and his shiny, slicked-back hair. Jesse had never really liked him. Actually he’d found Nicki repellent, though he couldn’t say exactly why. Probably a combination of factors.
Nicki hadn’t liked him either. Every time they’d interacted, he’d looked at Jesse with barely concealed contempt. Still, Jesse hadn’t wanted him fired, even if Nicki was an asshole.
“Chaz picks up customers,” he reminded Mike.
“Chaz is a stripper. He’s encouraged to pick up the customers. And he does it after the show.”
“Dancer in an all-male revue. Not a stripper,” Jesse said. It was an ongoing argument, but there was a difference.
Mike’s lips twitched. “Some of the women complained.” His eyes gleamed with humor. “Guess they didn’t like Nicki coming on to them.”
“You’re kidding me.” Jesse stared at him. “Please tell me you’re kidding. Have you seen what they do to us out there?”
Mike snickered. “Hey, this is Vegas. Anything’s possible. Even sexual harassment complaints from women who’ve just spent two hours screaming at guys in G-strings.”
Jesse was laughing now. “Maybe Chaz complained too. Maybe he didn’t like Nicki cutting in on his action.”
“Yeah, well, management’s not taking any chances. This one’s a rear gunner.”
Automatically Jesse looked around to confirm they were alone. “Yeah? You sure?” He took another peek through the curtains.
The new bartender had brown hair, cut short on the sides, a little longer on top and styled to one side. Jesse watched him mix drinks and handle cash with professional ease as the women lined up, jostling each other good-naturedly. The bar was midchest height, so Jesse couldn’t see too much of his body, but in his white dress shirt and black waistcoat their new barkeep looked trim and fit.
Attraction fluttered pleasantly through Jesse’s gut. Maybe he should go over and say hi after the show. Just to be friendly, since he wasn’t out at work to anyone but Mike.
Mike got to his feet, joints popping. “He is. He’s got an amazing ass too.”
“Does he now?” Jesse squinted as if that would help, though it was impossible to see that particular piece of anatomy from here.
“Most definitely.” Mike sighed. “He’s not into bears, though. Or maybe it’s just older men.”
Mike wasn’t old, maybe in his late thirties and kind of attractive with his short ponytail and tidy goatee. “You hit on him?”
“Attempted to would be more like it. Got shot down before I’d even started. The guy’s permafrost.”
“Huh.” Jesse gave their new bartender a last look. “What do you think his type is?”
“Why? You gonna try and thaw him out?”
“I didn’t say that.”
Mike looked him up and down and gave him a dirty grin. “Who knows? Maybe he’s into cute, blond, blue-eyed strippers.”
“Very funny.” Jesse headed back to the dressing room.
“Maybe I should have said dancers in an all-male revue?” Mike called after him, laughing.
Jesse rolled his eyes.
* * * *
The bar wasn’t busy during the show. The women didn’t want to miss any of the action while getting drinks from the bar. That was why the theater doors opened an hour early and the drinks were fifteen dollars each.
Jesse watched Chaz, their dance captain, work his magic. Chaz was an old hand at stripping and made it look so easy. He had a woman from a bachelorette party up onstage. She was sitting in an office chair, grinning up at him. Chaz stroked her hair, then straddled her. He nuzzled her throat as her friends shrieked and whistled. She reached around and gripped his ass hard, her fingers digging into tanned flesh. Chaz pulled her to her feet. Jesse could see his muscular ass bunch and flex as Chaz mimed grinding against her.
Two more group routines, then it was Jesse’s turn to strut his stuff solo. He looked over at the bar and sighed. The new bartender was wiping the counter. He wasn’t even watching the show. Maybe the guy wasn’t gay after all. Mike had never been wrong before, but there was a first time for everything. Chaz was too muscular, too arrogant for Jesse’s taste, but the women thought he was hot, and he was pretty much naked. The guy behind the bar seemed more interested in dirt than dancers.
Between the group number and his own piece, there wasn’t much time to get changed. He scrambled into his next costume, then nodded to Eric, their MC, from the side of the stage. “And now, ladies. Here’s the newest member of our revue and the baby of the group, Firefighter Jesse.”
Jesse bounced onstage to shouts and catcalls. He did a couple of backflips, then slapped on his helmet. His routine went off without a hitch, but as usual he needed to mentally gear himself up for the finale. He grabbed the crotch of his tear-away turnouts and yanked them off, leaving him in nothing but his T-bar. After six months of working as a dancer, he still felt kind of stupid wearing the minuscule thong, but he was grateful for the no-nudity policy. It helped him maintain the illusion that he still had some dignity. He spied a table that didn’t have too many drinks on it and jumped into the crowd.
The audience loved it. Jesse danced the length of the table, shaking his ass for the screaming women—and saw the bartender watching. He faltered, then recovered, leaping lightly off the table, squeezing through the press of bodies. He smiled and high-fived outstretched palms on his way as other hands reached for his chest, his butt, even trying for his package. His ass was slapped at least three times before he managed to return to the stage.
“Let’s hear it for Jesse. Who wants Jesse to put out their fire?” Eric asked the enthusiastic audience.
Backstage Mike threw Jesse a towel. “Holy shit, they’re wild tonight. I wasn’t sure you were going to make it back in one piece.”
Jesse wiped the sweat from his face and chest. “Me neither.” He shook his head, smiling. “Gives a whole new meaning to audience participation.”
Chaz strutted over, grinning. His dark eyes shone, and his well-defined chest and shoulder muscles gleamed with a light coating of sweat, or possibly oil. He raked his fingers through his thick black hair. “Man, what a night. Did you see that wedding party at table six? One of them grabbed my dick.” He cracked open a bottle of water and emptied it in a series of noisy gulps. “Bet I can fuck at least two.”
Jesse pulled on his costume for the final group number. “What if they don’t come to the meet and greet after the show?”
Chaz’s grin widened. “Those girls will.”
* * * *
After the show Jesse finished his shower and hurried to get dressed. He had less than five minutes before he was expected to be at the bar next door to the theater, mingling with the women who waited there to meet the dancers. It was all part of his performance, as was posing for photos with members of the audience before hitting the showers.
They’d had lots of requests for photos tonight. Mike, who did double duty as photographer and props man, was the only one in the dressing room other than Jesse. He’d finished putting away his photography equipment and had come in to grab his jacket.
“Hey, Mike, I’m gonna head next door to the meet and greet. If you’re sticking around, we could go grab something to eat after.”
Mike shook his head. “I can’t tonight.”
“Yeah? Hot date?” Jesse wiggled his eyebrows.
Mike made a face. “God, no.”
“Too bad. For a minute I thought at least one of us was getting romanced.”
“Romance is highly overrated and thankfully not necessary for getting some one-on-one action. And speaking of action, you know the night’s not over yet. Tall, dark, and serious should be behind the bar.”
Jesse had hoped for a closer look at the revue’s latest employee after the show, but the man had disappeared during the photo session. He should have realized the sexy new bartender left to open the second bar next door since Nicki had worked both bars too. “You think he’d be interested? He didn’t pay much attention to the show.”
Mike grinned. “He watched your number pretty closely. Maybe he’d like to play with your fire hose.”
Jesse tried to act indignant, but he was laughing too hard. “If you used lines like that on him, it’s no wonder he shot you down.”
Mike gave him a wounded look. “I was a little more subtle than that.”
“Well…” Jesse hesitated. Maybe he had been checking the guy out. Their new bartender might have seemed cold, but the spark of heat that had ignited in his eyes while he’d watched Jesse’s routine belied his feigned indifference and drew Jesse to him. That didn’t mean Jesse would do anything about it. He’d just introduce himself, see if they could start off on the right foot since they’d be working together.
Mike checked his watch. “You’d better get over there, or Chaz will be on your case.”
Jesse hurriedly straightened his shirt. Chaz intimidated him just a little. The way the man always looked down on him made him feel small, like he had when he was younger. Chaz acted like a high school bully who’d never grown up.
“How do I look?”
Mike grinned. “I’d do you in a heartbeat.”
Mike was just teasing, but Jesse still felt his cheeks heat up. And he’d thought after six months of getting his ass smacked every night nothing could embarrass him.
“Go on. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Mike ruffled his hair.
“Mitts off or you’ll mess the do.” Jesse swatted at his hand and ducked out of reach. He paused at the door. “Night, Mike.”
“Night, kid.”
* * * *
Val stood behind the bar as he watched about a dozen members of the audience interact with the dancers at the Erogenous Zone’s after-show meet and greet. He’d tended bar for a few years now, but this was the weirdest setup so far. This second and larger bar wasn’t even a real bar. It was just an open space separated from the flow of pedestrian traffic by waist-high walls, sandwiched between the theater and a food court.
Val figured the meet and greet was part public relations, part cash grab. He bet plenty of women wanted to meet the dancers after the show, and there wasn’t anywhere to stand and chat in the theater. And this way, even if the women hadn’t bought a photo or a memento from the gift shop on their way out, they might spend a few more dollars on another drink or two while chatting with the dancers.
He’d been curious about what to expect his first night on the job, but the revue was pretty tame. It was closer to a boy band dancing in their underwear than the raunchy romp he’d imagined.
Surprisingly the members of the audience were the wild ones, screaming and whistling and grabbing for any dancer within reach throughout the show. While the women waited for the men to arrive at the meet and greet, they reapplied lipstick, casually adjusted their push-up bras for maximum cleavage, and discussed the various dancers’ attributes, speculating on penis sizes and listing which dancers they’d like to sleep with. One woman, as she leaned against the bar waiting for Val to mix her drink, joked with her friend about having a date with her vibrator later.
When the first dancers arrived, hair still damp and smelling of soap or cologne, the women batted their lashes and flirted, emboldened by alcohol and one another’s encouragement.
Val served a woman a Cuba libre, ignoring the appraising once-over she gave him. She was drunk, but not to the point where he’d have to cut her off. She tipped him too much and lurched away after spilling half her drink down the front of his bar.
“Goddamn it,” Val cursed under his breath as he mopped up the sticky mess. He’d never had much patience for sloppy drunks. Tonight had been an eye-opener. The way these women behaved during the show was outrageous. He was surprised the management or the dancers allowed it.
For a short time he’d tended bar at a female strip club. There the men in the audience had maintained a respectful distance. If anyone tried to touch one of the girls, they were bounced out on their asses. Hard.
Taking this second job had been a mistake, even if it was only for a couple of hours a night. Sure, he’d be able to replace his dying laptop that much sooner, but he could have used this time for writing. Or more realistically, for staring at a blank screen. Lately his writing had been sporadic and mediocre at best. He threw the bar rag in the sink with more force than required. It was only his first night, and already the audience’s behavior irritated him.
Plus he was mad at himself. What the hell had he been thinking? Six nights a week he’d have hot, sexy guys strutting around and getting naked—well, almost naked—right under his nose. Torture for a gay man, even before the lithe blond had caught his eye.
The MC had introduced him as Jesse, but Val wondered if that was just his stage name. The blond didn’t look like he’d been in Vegas long. He didn’t have that tough Vegas veneer. In fact he looked too young and fresh-faced to be shucking his clothes for a bunch of randy women, though that was probably all part of his stage persona as the youngest and newest revue member.
It was clear from the group numbers than some of the men had been hired for their physiques rather than their dancing abilities, but Jesse—if that was his name—was not one of them.
During Jesse’s firefighter routine Val had been unable to look away. Jesse’s body was smooth and lightly muscled. He moved with an erotic fluidity, working a wooden ladder as if he were pole dancing—or performing a gymnastics routine. The two activities had more in common than Val would have thought before he’d tended bar at a strip club.
Jesse was stronger than his slim build would suggest and incredibly flexible. Val couldn’t help wondering just how flexible. Jesse’s attractive face and sleek body delivered a one-two punch combo that weakened Val’s self-control and let his libido run unchecked. He’d been half-hard all through Jesse’s routine.
Movement at the entrance to the bar caught his eye, and he glanced up to see Jesse arrive as if conjured up by his desire. Fully clothed in jeans and a loose T-shirt, he looked every bit as sexy as he had in the skimpy black thong.
Arousal made Val’s groin tingle. He wanted to touch Jesse. Not like the drunken women groping and grabbing and slapping. He wanted to worship that sleek musculature. To run his fingertips over that smooth chest, those pink nipples and feel them harden under his touch. He wanted to see Jesse’s eyes flutter closed with pleasure.
Val swallowed. It was a bad idea. The guy was probably straight, and besides, anyone that insanely hot had to be an egotistical asshole, right? Val wiped at an already clean counter. It was better to keep his distance. He wasn’t going to let some hotshot dancer get under his skin. He was a writer. He didn’t act on his feelings; he wrote about them.
He couldn’t help glancing toward Jesse, just in time to see a woman grab a handful of that beautiful, sexy ass. Jesse’s facial expression flickered, too fast for Val to interpret, and then he was smiling again even as he slipped out of her reach. Val scowled. The liberties these women took were unbelievable.
Shit. Jesse was heading over. Val schooled his features. It wasn’t a good idea to get caught checking out the dancers. He didn’t know which of them, if any, were homophobic, and there was no point in making his new job harder than it had to be. He sure as hell wasn’t going to pretend to be something he wasn’t, though. He understood on an intellectual level that sometimes there were good reasons for being in the closet, but it felt like taking the easy path, like deceit.
He stood impassive as the sexy blond dancer approached. He half hoped Jesse was an asshole. Then maybe he’d stop thinking about dipping his tongue into the guy’s belly button and ripping off that annoying thong with his teeth.

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"STAGE FRIGHT is a love-conquers-all story in which desire, honesty, and communication combat jealousy, secrets, and fear. What really roped me in was the strength that both characters displayed when they felt like their happiness was truly being threatened."
Lynn, The Romance Reviews

"Stage Fright is a sexy, fast-paced book with two interesting and likeable characters that intrigued me from the very first page. If you are looking for a quick and provocative read, then Stage Fright is definitely something to consider! Recommended!
Gabbi, Top 2 Bottom Reviews

The Romance Review