by Candy Apple

Kenneth Hutchinson stared out at the sea of people before him. He'd been told this was a sold-out show, so it should have come as no surprise to see the arena packed from front to back, floor to rafters. Still, no matter how many times he played to sold-out venues, he could never quite believe all those people were shelling out their hard-earned dollars to listen to him play the piano.

He took the obligatory bows, blew a kiss to the audience, and made a few expected comments about the piece he had just played, about being back in New York...or at least, he hoped it was New York. He tried to remember what distinguished the arena in New Jersey from the arena in New York, and finally risked uncertainty in the name of touting the glories of "The Big Apple." Fortunately, the crowd applauded and cheered, so he knew he'd guessed right. New Jersey was tomorrow night.

Dressed in white satin pants and a white silk shirt, he felt ridiculous as he returned to the piano. If he'd had his way, he'd have been dressed like any other normal classical pianist, but since he'd allowed his fiancée to start choosing his stage garb, he'd felt more like Liberace every day. Still, the fans seemed to love it, and he was fast becoming a sex symbol all over the world in the various combinations of silk, satin and occasionally leather that she would choose to showcase his blond good looks.

He knew he had those--he was tall, slightly over six feet--with long, strong limbs, a well-toned physique, blond hair and "sky blue eyes," according to Vanessa. Well, God love her, even if she was a pain in the ass, she had a way with words and a flair for stage costumes. Still, the whole rigmarole of turning into a pin-up boy didn't exactly go with his vision of himself as a serious musician. Serious musicians didn't make nearly as much money as the not-so-serious ones, according to Vanessa, and unfortunately, the record company agreed with her.

The next album was going to feature vocals. His vocals. Even though singing in a studio or in front of a crowd made him break out in hives and lose his voice. Yes, instrumental piano was fine up to a point, but he was ripe to burst onto the pop scene. After all, according to Vanessa, he filled out a pair of satin pants better than Shaun Cassidy.

What more could you ask for after studying at Julliard?

He felt the throb in his head again, and that little light-headedness that seemed to follow it. God, he was so fucking tired. All night on the bus, all day in rehearsals, sound checks, and then dinner with Vanessa, the concert promoter and his wife... That Caesar salad felt as if it was about to make a reappearance as he swallowed hard and began playing the intro to "Moonlight Sonata"it wasn't on the roster of selections for the night, but he felt like playing it, and if anyone in the crowd didn't like it, they could find the exit. At that moment, it was the only song that seemed to be coming through the fog in his brain clearly.

When it was over, he rose from the piano bench and strode offstage, feeling a little shaky as he grabbed a towel from a member of his crew and headed into the restroom. There, he locked the door behind him and leaned heavily against the back of the door. He darted into the nearest stall and proceeded to rid himself of dinner, what little he'd eaten of it in the first place.

"Hey, you okay in there?" A man's voice startled him as he wiped his mouth with a wad of toilet tissue.

"Yeah, great," he said sarcastically, irked that he hadn't noticed one of the other stalls was occupied when he'd staggered into the restroom. There was a moment of silence outside the stall.

"You sure you're okay?" the voice persisted. Torn between wanting to kill the son of a bitch who was annoying him when his head was swimming and he could barely stand up, and being grateful he wasn't alone when he felt close to passing out, he finally made his way out of the stall to find the source of the voice.

A dark-haired man a bit shorter than himself stood a few feet away, a look of real concern in deep sapphire blue eyes. Feeling ridiculous for noticing such a thing about another man in the men's john, of all places, he couldn't help but go on to notice the silky dark lashes that framed those eyes. The other man looked as if he might be Jewish or Italian, or maybe even Greek. The strong features and dark curls were a bit ambiguous, but he found he enjoyed looking at this person. And for some reason, he felt at ease around him.