Story Excerpt Sunday: From King of Hearts by Jennifer Stevenson

King of Hearts

Backstage Boys Book 1

by Jennifer Stevenson

What went before: Stagehand King Dave has been disrespected by his ex-wife with the aid of a can of orange spray paint. Nadine, a preacher’s daughter, was the only witness. Nadine helped King Dave hide and get into some clean clothes, but he’s still terrified of the damage she can do to his street cred, if she spreads the story. And he’s right to worry. Nadine plans to blackmail him into reforming his sinful way of life.

o0o

Nadine was in Liz Otter’s, pouring coffee for the Auditorium crew, when King Dave stalked in, looking like an angel whose harp had hit a sour note. Her heart bumped in her chest. In the white Liz Otter’s tee-shirt and cook’s spare white pants, all he needed was a flaming sword, and the look would be perfect.

“There he is,” Bobbyjay Morton said. “You feeling better, King Dave?”

“Shitting my brains out,” King Dave snapped. Nadine winced at his language. “Gimme decaf,” he said to her with a look that dislocated several of her internal organs.

If she let him get the better of her now, all her leverage would dribble away.

Nadine pulled on her armor of waitressness. “Sure, honey,” she said, pouring. “But do you think you should? You were in the bathroom an awful long time.”

She bent over him and peered into his face with concern.

The shock of meeting those angry blue eyes nearly ruined her act. “You feeling better?” she said breathlessly.

“I’m fine,” he said in a clipped voice.

“Well, I think your color is still a little off,” she said, as she put a full cream pitcher on the table. “You look kinda orange around the edges.”

King Dave slopped cream into his decaf.

Don’t you f-word with me, b-word, his look said.

But his scowl definitely backed off.

Bobbyjay said, “King Dave, we were just talking about the new Galaxy Performing Arts Center. You heard who’s going for the department heads yet?”

“No idea,” King Dave said. “The city is bringing in an outside production manager.”

“You’re serious!” Weasel Rooney said. “You mean the Local’s got no say whatever? Not even King Dave?”

“That’s what I hear,” King Dave said. “And don’t call me King Dave like that.”

“No, your majesty,” Weasel said, and Bobbyjay grinned.

Reluctantly Nadine moved on to her other tables. She took orders at tables two and six and delivered them to the cook.

“What are you thinking about?” said a velvety voice in her ear.

Nadine’s pulse kicked like a mule. She turned slowly. “Why, King Dave, how you startled me.”

He edged closer. His body heat warmed her. “Don’t mess with me, your highness. What are you gonna do?”

“King Dave,” she said. “I’ve always wondered why they call you that.”

He flushed, and she knew she’d hit another nerve. “It’s too f—too easy to get a name hung on you in this Local.”

“I know what you mean,” she said. “I’m from Goreville myself.”

“Small town, huh?” he said, eyeing her in a way that made her regret admitting that much. He was standing practically on top of her Stride Rites.

“Extremely,” she said. He smelled like soap and sweat and spray paint.

King Dave inched closer. “Place like that, you can get stuck with a terrible nickname. For the least little thing,” he added meaningfully. “It can happen to anybody. Thinking about it should give a nice girl the shivers.”

Nadine shivered, but not from fear of some piddly nickname. Her tongue was cleaving to the roof of her mouth.

“Atta girl. Think with the big head,” he said, glancing at her hair. He smiled cockily into her eyes.

He turned and went back to Bobbyjay and Weasel’s table.

Nadine took a minute to fuss over the spanakopita for table six and get her breath back.

So that’s how it was going to be. He would try to hang some despicable nickname on her if she dared to talk about his escapade in the alley. Nadine breathed in through her nostrils and sent twin jets of flame shooting out of them.

Then she returned to King Dave’s table. “Here’s your orange juice, honey,” she said in her best waitress voice.

King Dave looked sulky.

“I was asking him why they call him King Dave,” she remarked to Weasel and Bobbyjay, and added in an innocent, injured tone, “He won’t say.”

King Dave produced a dollar in quarters from the pocket of the cook’s spare white pants. “I gotta get back to work,” he growled. He threw the coins on the table and stomped out.

Cranky. Usually he tipped her two bucks for coffee.

“Whatever’s the matter with him?” Nadine said, staring after him with what she hoped was a guileless look of surprise. Her heart pounded.

“He don’t like being reminded that his old man is the president of the Local,” Bobbyjay said.

“Is he?” Nadine said, still playing dumb.

Weasel put a finger alongside his nose. “He loves it that his old man’s the president. What he don’t like is people saying he couldn’t get work without the connection.”

She widened her eyes for real now. “Is that what the nickname means?”

“It’s just a nickname,” Bobbyjay said in a rough tone.

To Nadine’s certain knowledge Bobbyjay was the sixth living member of his family named Robert Morton, and his grandfather was on the executive board. All six were stagehands in the Local. Maybe he was sensitive about it. Or maybe he was protecting his best friend, King Dave Flaherty.

“Want to know why they call me Weasel?” Weasel asked, grinning slyly up at her.

Nadine smiled. “Have some more coffee, Harold.”

Weasel’s grin faded. “Hey, call me Weasel,” he said.

***************

Jennifer Stevenson thinks stagehands are ten times sexier, funnier, more chivalrous, and less fragile than white-collar heroes, and they wear a lot less makeup than those guys prancing in the spotlight.

She lives in Chicago with her very own stagehand hero and two bossy kittens. Find her on Facebook or at her website.

 

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