A standalone prequel to Shivaree.
Shane thinks he's simply auditioning a new musician for his bar, but when Gabriel saunters into the Shivaree it becomes clear the man has more to offer than just his talent. Gabriel's got sexual charisma potent enough to make a straight man such as Shane lose his senses, lose sleep, lose himself to dark desires and not want to find his way back to reality.
What follows is not a love story. This is a story about an unforeseen attraction that brings a strong, sane man to his knees, and about lovers tangled up in each other too deep to know who's in control and who's helpless.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Backwoods by Cara McKenna
Shane raised a hand in reply to Jeanne, the afternoon bartender stationed across the way. The door slapped shut behind him and he wandered through the screened-in porch, past empty couches and up a step to the main lounge area. He glanced at the scuffed wood of the dance floor, those same boards he'd played on when this room had been his memaw's front parlor, before his aunt inherited the old plantation-style monstrosity and turned the ground floor into a club.
He headed to the bar, waving at the lone, early drinker camped out by the front windows. Shane tossed a pile of mail on the counter. "You mind sortin' out the junk and tossin' the bills on my desk?"
"You got it, boss." Jeanne started flipping through the envelopes.
He smiled at her. Cute gal. A little heavy, though Shane didn't mind that one bit. Warm smile, shiny brown hair. If he wasn't ten years her senior and signing her paychecks, he'd have asked the girl out by now.
She set a catalogue from Baton Rouge Bar Supply in the junk pile. Shane picked it up, thinking the place could stand some new furniture, some stools that didn't wobble or have stuffing creeping from under the vinyl.
"We got a new musician coming in tonight," Jeanne said.
Shane made a face as the bills stacked up. "What kind of musician?"
It was Lovers' Night, as his Aunt Marie had rechristened Fridays years ago. Shane hated that girlie name but he'd kept it after he took over running the place, just as he'd kept nearly everything his aunt had established. It brought the customers in and he wasn't about to argue with that.
"It's Valentine's week," he added. "I don't want some amateur stinking up my club when folks are looking for foreplay."
"Every night's foreplay around here," Jeanne said.
True. It might be worse for wear, but something about the Shivaree drew amorous folks like a siren song.
"Plus Zach said this guy's good," she said. "Real good. Think he said he's from New Orleans."
"What's he play?"
"Mandolin, I think he said."
Shane made a face. "I don't even know what a mandolin looks like."
"It's like...it looks like a ukulele and violin, put together," Jeanne said. "Sort of."
"Don't sound real sexy to me."
"Well, you'll have to just come down later and decide for yourself then." Jeanne disappeared around the corner to the bar's office with the mail. She returned and leaned on the counter, flared her nostrils. "You stink, boss."
Shane put his nose to the shoulder of his work shirt, breathing in motor oil and grease. "You're nuts. I fuckin' love that smell." He pinched the front of his shirt and tugged at the fabric, pretending to waft a cloud of his questionable fragrance in Jeanne's direction.
"You should wring that shirt into a bottle and sell it to Calvin Klein," Jeanne teased. "Eau du Shane Broussard. Eau du Sweaty Auto Mechanique."
"Maybe I should," Shane said, snotty. "Give folks a cologne that actually smells like a man, not all that sporty shit, citrus or sandalwood or whatever."
"You lemme know how that goes, boss. Why don't you go get yourself cleaned up before you scare the customer away?"
Shane knocked twice on the bar and turned, heading back through the porch to the side steps that led to the second-floor balcony. He unlocked the door to his apartment and kicked off his muddy boots, shed his clothes as he made his way through the living room and kitchen to the bathroom, turned the shower on as hot as it went. Forty might not seem bad to folks from places colder than Louisiana, but Shane couldn't stand anything below seventy-five. Heatstroke over frostbite, any day of the week.
He soaped up, washed away the grease and grit, thought about Jeanne's breasts and jerked off, professionalism be damned. Hell, maybe he should ask her out. He owned the place. What was he going to do, fire himself?
He stepped out of the tub and toweled off, wiped the steam off the mirror and stared at himself in the yellowy bathroom lights. Not bad. Thirty-five was still young these days. He had another decade or two before his height went from asset to liability and left him with a bad back like his old man and his uncles. He kept himself fit, lifted weights and did sit-ups and chin-ups to stave off the seemingly hereditary paunch overdue to him from the Broussard side.
Dragging an electric razor over his face, Shane considered his hair. It was at the end of this month's cycle, ready for another buzz. He thought about doing it himself but he liked an excuse to go into Baton Rouge and flirt with the girl who ran clippers over his head for half a minute and charged him fifteen bucks for the honor. Another woman he ought to ask out.
He glanced around the counter and scanned the medicine cabinet, found a hair clip and tube of lip gloss, evidence of bygone one-night stands he'd prefer to not advertise to future one-night stands. He buried them in the trash can under a spent toilet paper roll. Best to be safe, in case he got brave enough or drunk enough to make a move on Jeanne or some other willing woman on motherfucking Lovers' Night.
* * * * *
Shane passed the early evening in the bar's office, paying bills, ordering stock, fumbling through the computer program that balanced the club's books. Eight hours spent crouched under various cars and trying to drill the most basic information into his thick-skulled new apprentice had left him with a sore neck and head. He wished he could just trot upstairs, crack a beer and fall asleep watching the news. But he had a musician to weigh in on and a barmaid to flirt with for as long as it took him to realize he was on the age cusp where that sort of thing went from friendly to creepy.
He flipped through catalogues, wondering why the fact that it was the weekend didn't feel like something to be relieved about. Two days spent rattling around this house, keeping himself busy. At night, drinking three beers too many and waking up the next morning with a semi-familiar girl wrapped around him, or maybe just his own right hand. Excuses for why Shane ought to head into the garage tomorrow and get ahead on next week's work flowed easily and loosened the knot in his chest. His seventeen-year-old self would've had a field day with that one--avoiding drunken one-night stands by working overtime. Seventeen, shit. That was over half a lifetime ago.
He glanced up at a knock on the door. "C'min."
Jeanne poked her head through, the recorded pop music playing out in the bar leaking in behind her. "The mandolin guy's here. You want to brief him on what sorts of stuff to play?"
"Just tell him to keep it sexy. No lyrics with cussing if he sings. I'll be out in a few."
"You all right?"
"Just a headache. And I gotta work tomorrow," he added.
"Bummer." Jeanne offered a sympathetic frown and closed the door quietly behind her.
Nice girl... Too nice to get hit on by her boss. Plus she'd be moving on sooner or later. She'd get snapped up by some decent young man or realize she was bound for better things, head off to school someplace. Like everybody else around here she'd move on, leave Shane behind to tend to his little territory and await the slow but steady arrival of unremarkable middle-age.
He rubbed his face and temples and when he lowered his hands the clock on the computer told him it was seven fifteen.
Beyond the office, the soft bass thump of the canned music faded away. Shane pushed his chair out and hit the lights, locked the office and walked into the Shivaree's heady, amorous fog. Even in February it felt like July. Even at suppertime it felt like three a.m. This place made folks sweat, made them itchy to find a warm, willing body to pair off with. His aunt had designed it that way, a place with no pretension where people could be themselves, dress up or down and drink cheap drinks and listen to free music, get out of their heads for an evening. Old, young, pretty, homely--the differences all faded away under the canopy of colored Christmas lights and crystals strung like vines from the ceiling.