Passion’s Perfect Symphony

The Bel Homme Quartet

Book Four

A placard with Michael and Charlee

If you let it,

Love will show you

who you really are

 

Michael O’Malley, Jr., the American member of the world-famous singing group, Bel Homme, is known as the “Mysterious One.”

Over the years, rumors have circulated about Michael’s sexuality. He’s done nothing to encourage them, but he’s done nothing to stop them either. He keeps his private life private from even the other guys. His true passions center around his beloved music. 

Until recently, Charlee Most was a nurse administrator in charge of the entire hospice program for the state of Illinois. She’s best friends with Michael’s brother, Patrick. Both Charlee and Patrick have been hired by Bel Homme’s Il Maestro Teddy Wilson and are leaving with Michael to go back to England, where the group’s recording compound is located on Teddy’s country estate. Charlee’s going to care for Teddy’s best friend, Bruno, who is ill. Patrick is an ex-police officer who’s going to handle security for the popular singers. 

Charlee has secrets of her own. She’s tended to gay men all her professional life, and she knows them extremely well. Although she and Michael share a powerful physical attraction, she’s heard the gossip, and he’s an enigma to her. She’s baffled by his contradictory personality, and it intensifies when she sees the small tattoo he sports on the bottom of his spine: an inverted pink triangle depicting the patch homosexuals were forced to wear on their uniforms in Nazi war camps. She’s known very few gay men who have one, and most find it too painful to even think about. 

A straight guy who flaunts homosexual body ink? Who is Michael . . . really?

She’s about to find out the unique, musically-gifted man she’s falling in love with is not only in danger from a homophobic fan, Michael’s seriously ill himself.

And Michael’s about to give his cryptic heart away for the first time in his life. 

This scene takes place just before their journey begins to unfold. Patrick is feeling poorly  from a celebratory hangover, Charlee’s just been the recipient of that festivity, and Michael thinks he might still be dreaming . . . 

rose

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Pumped and ready to roll, even at seven-thirty in the morning, Charlee Most bounded up the stairs, two at a time, to her best friend’s apartment. “Open up, O’Malley! I’m ready to run and kick your bu—”

One hard slam sent the door sailing open. “Hey,” she called out, stepping inside, “already the ex-cop forgets his safety …”

The sickening sounds of barfing came through loud and clear, and the ever-dedicated nurse administrator rushed to the bathroom. She pressed her ear to the wood. “Are you all right?” she asked into the fumes of putrid air that assaulted her nose through the tiny space around the door.

Patrick O’Malley gagged some more and spit mucus into his toilet. “Do I sound like I’m all right?” he wheezed out.

Charlee curled her lip. “You sound sick.”

Patrick dropped his head into the bowl and let it rip. Sweat dripped down his forehead, his shirt stuck to his clammy body, and he started to shake. “Gee, do you think?” he managed to get out.

“Well, you don’t have to be nasty about it,” Charlee returned. “I just want to help.”

“Then get my gun and shoot me. It’s in my desk drawer.” Patrick felt the rumbles returning. “Oh God, here comes mo—” He upchucked what little was left in his stomach.

Charlee couldn’t stand it anymore and opened the door, and immediately smelled the alcohol on him over the stench of vomit. “Why, you’re not ‘sick’ sick. You’re just ‘hung-over’ sick.”

Patrick glared at her shoes. “Thanks for the diagnosis. I feel so much better.”

“I guess you’re not going to run today, huh?” She leaned over him and flushed while he moaned.

“Don’t say it! All I need now are the runs.”

“It’s your own darn fault. You obviously drank too much last night.”

“Was celebrating. The guys at the precinct wanted to give me a whopping sendoff.”

“Don’t you think the fact you and I have received job offers of a lifetime is heart-stopping enough?” They were moving to England to work for the American ex-championship boxer-turned-entertainment bigwig Teddy Wilson. She was going to be doing some private nursing care for Bruno, Teddy’s boxing buddy and now-business assistant, and Patrick was going to handle security for Bel Homme, the most successful singing group in the world.

“I’ve been a cop my whole life, and it’s taught me to never assume anything.” He sniffed. “I need to wipe my nose.”

“Think positive,” she said, looking around. “We’re getting our chance, and our wildest dreams are coming true.”

He groaned. “Oh man, it’s Nurse Sunshine and her hokey affirmations. Save them for that book you’re writing.”

“Mystical thinking—optimistic believing—works, Patrick. You’ll see.” Spotting the tissues on the shelf, she pulled out a couple and handed them down. “Here.”

“Thanks.” He swiped at his nose and rested his arms on the bowl, too weak to move yet. “It’s going to take a while getting used to being off the force and living in the world of the elite. There’s nothing mystical about fearing change and the unknown.”

Charlee had to agree. “Yeah, I’ve never been out of this country except to visit Canada. I’ll need time to make the shift, too, but you’ve got to admit this is exciting.” She took the soiled tissues and tossed them in the wastebasket. “Just thinking about it makes my middle gurgle.” Leaning down, she stroked his shoulders and then gently took him by the arm. “It looks like you’re done. Come on,” she said as he wobbled to his feet. “I’ll help you to your bed, and then I’ll make you a nice cup of tea. Maybe some dry toast.”

“Oh God, foo—” He hacked up the last of his celebration all over her shirt.

“Yuck,” she said, gaping down at her front.

“I’m sorry,” he managed to get out before he sagged to the bowl again.

Charlee carefully took off her T-shirt and put it in the tub. “No biggie. I’m used to it.” She realized her sports bra was a smidgen damp. “But I’ve got to borrow something to wear because it’s nippy out there. You can tell October arrives tomorrow.”

Patrick gave a final spit and flushed one last time. “Okay, now I think I’m done.” He staggered upright and grabbed a towel. Wiping off his perspiring face, he squinted at her through bleary eyes. Even this time of day, she looked nice. She was wearing tight red and black running shorts and a matching top that still looked mostly clean, thank God. He noted her healthy chest. His cop buddies sure did envy him. She was the prettiest friend he’d ever had. “There’s stuff in the top drawer in my spare bedroom. Help yourself.”

“Thanks.” She wet a washcloth and handed it to him. “Here, use this. Then go crawl into bed while I search.” She took off out the door. “I really didn’t want to jog alone this morning. Oh, well . . .”

Patrick rubbed the cool cloth over his face. “Oh, yeah.” As always, she was right. It did feel good. He glared at his bloodshot reflection in the mirror, and that’s when he remembered his damn brother. “Oh, oh. Michael.”

And then she yelped.

Hell, he thought. “Michael.”

In the bedroom, Charlee clutched her sports bra to her naked chest. “I decided to use the hairdryer on my top—I didn’t know you were in here.” She was babbling, but c’mon! She’d thought she was alone when she’d stripped.

Michael reached up and opened the blinds. Then he adjusted his pillow, stretched out his long legs under the sheet, and let out a yawn. Leaning on his raised arm, he grinned. “Good morning.”

“Yes. Well, good morning.” Keeping her elbows tucked to her sides, she managed to get the shirt out of the drawer without compromising her limited modesty.

Michael scraped his fingers through his hair. “I thought for a minute I was dreaming.” He slowly moved from her face to her middle, from her middle up to her face. “No, you’re definitely real.”

Charlee frowned. “Why didn’t you say something?” She shifted her shoulders. “I think it’s highly rude to lurk.”

Michael yawned again for show, enjoying her simmering temper that gave off the punch of strong caffeine. “You didn’t give me a chance. Just walked in here and—whoop—then all you had on was skin. Unfortunately, I only saw your back.” He eyed what he could see of her front now. “You make a great tease.”

Squeezing both tops even tighter, Charlee took a couple steps forward, drawn to the picture he made lying there. His chest was powerfully built, and his raised arm showed muscles even from the underside. No shy posture from him. He sprawled there beneath the sheets like a willing pagan sacrifice offered up to her. “I apologize for intruding. Patrick puked all over me, and—”

“I heard. Good thing he has today to recover before we fly to England tomorrow. I warned him last night, but he wouldn’t listen.”

That, Charlee understood. “He never listens to me either.”

“How about you?” Michael asked. “All packed and ready to go?”

“Are you kidding?” she replied, inching toward the door. She needed to scram. “I’ve been packed and ready for three days. It’s hard to plan, though, since I don’t know yet where I’ll be living long-term.”

Mike shrugged. “Hey, it’s Teddy. Could be the Moon.”

Almost to the hall, Charlee turned. “I’m onboard even for that. Go back to sleep.”

“Wait,” Michael said, sitting forward. He motioned with his hand. “Come here.”

She debated. Why did he have to look so good? The pale morning light dappled those powerful shoulders of his. His sleep-mussed brown hair stood up in places and flirted with his sky blue eyes in front, making him look huggable and endearing. Her body took a step all by itself. Sweet little boy. One hundred percent adult male. The perfect combination. She took two more. Well, in her own defense, who could blame her? Patrick’s brother deserved to be called a bel homme, which was French for “beautiful man.” He was a member of the singing group with that name, and he surely was a stunning physical specimen that proved it. But it was the way he continued looking at her, not the way he looked, that really got to her. Giving in, she trudged over to the side of his bed. “What?”

Now that she was close, Michael forgot what he was going to say. “Beats me. I think I just wanted a better look.”

Charlee laughed at his goofy honesty. “Well, knock yourself out, but I doubt you’re going to like me much this morning.” Lifting her arm, she smelled herself. “Mmm, Eau de Vomit.”

Michael snatched her wrist, watching her smile fade, replaced by a new look in her eye. He was turning her on. Slowly, he urged her forward. “Let me be the judge.” When he raised it to his nose, surprise slammed into him, and he shot his eyes to hers. He was almost sure, but he wasn’t positive, thanks to the faint scent of barf. “What is that?”

“I just told you.”

He took another whiff. “No, I mean you smell like mine.”

“Yours?”

“My perfume. Are you wearing my perfume?” The singing group he was in marketed four perfumes for women. Each member had his own unique scent.

Charlee forgot she’d spritzed some on this morning. “Oh, yes. Patrick gave it to me.” She tugged, but he held fast.

“Nice.” He shifted his gaze to the plumpness of her breast, lifted by the press of her fist. Was there a sexier shape in the world? His finger twitched. He wanted to make contact and sculpt her at his whim, but settled instead for a brush on that wrist with his thumb. “I really think mine’s the best.”

For one ridiculous second, Charlee almost responded to that droopy stare by dropping the hand keeping her covered. She honestly didn’t know what she’d do if he pulled her closer. She used disdain to get out of the moment. “You just love yourself, don’t you?”

“On you, I do,” Michael said, letting his fingers slide off her super-soft skin.

Charlee felt that glide zap through her system. He had all the right moves. All the right words, especially the ones he’d just said. He was perfect for her, but he wasn’t hers. She must remember that Michael was a free spirit who didn’t belong to anyone. “Well,” she said, retreating, “I’m going to go dry my top and then go for my run. Later.”

“Want company?” he called out.

She halted. “You?”

Michael swung his feet to the floor, keeping the sheet covering his middle. “Of course, me.”

Charlee counted his toes. The exercise kept her sane because she was even attracted to them. “Um, okay. Sure. I guess.” Then the imp in her popped out, and she flashed a challenging wink. “But I doubt you’ll be able to keep up with me.”

Michael watched her strut away, the velvety slope and arch of her back reminding him of some priceless art. “Jeee-suz,” he mumbled, leaning down on his thighs and scratching his head. He was rock hard, and still he laughed. Looking out the doorway, he called after her, “We’ll just have to see about that, babe.”

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