“Oh, Julian, you look so pretty!” Bobby had come backstage to announce that the firemen were settling in. Julian primped in front of a mirror he’d pulled from the bathroom wall.
Bobby eyed the mirror. “Thief.”
“I’m relieving your clientele of the horror of seeing themselves. They should thank me. Besides, I need it.”
Julian was trying to make sure that the glittery red mini-top hat was properly secured to his head. He wore a long, bright blonde bombshell wig. It was the most expensive wig he owned, matched to his natural hair. He’d never worn it for drag; this was from his personal collection. It was gloriously silky, and Julian loved the way it felt against his soft, powdered cheeks.
He managed to pull on a red-and-white-striped corset over a short tulle skirt that gave him the illusion of hips. Pads helped fill out his chest, and he used duct tape to pull the skin together to create cleavage. He’d filled his bustle with peacock plumage — a joke for himself, as peacocks were male but most assumed they were female — and wore long red velvet gloves.
Julian pulled up the front of his skirt to examine the smooth line of the spandex underpants.
“If I pop a ball out of these pants, it’s on your head, Bobby.”
“Really? I think I’d like having your balls popped on my head.”
Curling his red lips into a vicious smile, Julian punched Bobby in the arm. “You wish.”
Julian rolled his eyes. Then he checked his lashes to make sure they were secure. “Not too draggy?”
“You look so much like a real girl, I almost don’t want to bone you.”
“This is why I don’t let you watch me dress, you know.” Julian smiled to make sure he had no lipstick on his teeth. Then he looked down and tapped his toes, enjoying the click of the shoes. “Okay, I don’t think I’m going to get any readier. Point out the birthday boy for me?”
The stage was tiny, but given that he really just needed to bump and grind and maybe do some lap dancing, it was all he needed. There was no curtain, just a little black door at the back of the stage.
Peeking over Bobby’s head, he squinted into the crowd, following where the finger was pointing. “That’s Trent. He’s turning thirty-three.”
Julian swallowed. The guy was hot. Very hot. Square jaw, cheekbones like a sculpture in a museum, dark, wavy hair, effortlessly gorgeous. And built, with broad shoulders and a slight tan.
Irish. Of course. He had to be Irish.
Julian rolled away and threw his back against the wall. He sighed. “I am going to pop a ball. I’ll be lucky if that’s all I pop.”
Bobby laughed, pushing his mousy brown bangs back. His face was doughy, and he had a tendency to whine, but he and Julian had grown up together. They’d experimented with each other, but it hadn’t turned into a romantic thing. He liked to tease Julian, but neither was the other’s type. “He broods too.”
Julian smacked Bobby’s shoulder weakly. “You’re killing me.”
“You’ll be fine.” Bobby kissed Julian’s cheek. “I’m going to put your music on.”
With a feeling of dread, Julian picked up the cordless mic and turned it on. He took a deep breath and burst out the door, waving, smiling as the lights rose and made the audience appear as vague shadows in the brightness.
Julian wiggled across the stage, playful and Marilyn Monroe-like, as the music started. He sang, “I wanna be loved by you, just you and nobody else but you.”
It was great to be singing, even in falsetto. His own voice. And though there wasn’t much room for dancing, he felt like a real performer. He stepped off the stage, landing perfectly on his platform heels. Out from under the lights, it took his eyes a moment to adjust, but he found he’d judged correctly and stood right in front of Trent.
With a spin, he stuck his tail feathers in Trent’s face and sang, “Boop boop be doop!”
Then, possibly because he liked risk or maybe because he just wanted to get close, he took a seat on Trent’s lap and smiled. “I hear you’re the birthday boy.”
He turned sideways on the man’s lap and wrapped an arm around his neck. He sang in his best breathy Marilyn voice, “Happy birthday, Mr. Fireman… Happy birthday…to you.”
Trent froze. He’d had a beer in one hand, and in the other, some of the guys had stuffed ones and fives as if this was a strip show. Trent’s brown eyes widened as he gazed at Julian’s face, growing wider still as he looked down at Julian’s long legs.
“Uh. Yeah, I’m the birthday boy. Yeah.”
The poor boy was rendered speechless. It was so adorable Julian thought he might swoon.
Trent’s friends whooped and hollered. One man with red hair and a heavily freckled face slapped Trent on the back. Then he slid his hand up Julian’s leg.
Julian shifted, trying to draw his leg back, but before he could slip away, Trent dropped his beer and grabbed the guy’s wrist. The glass clattered to the floor, amber liquid frothing around the legs of the chair. Trent gave the man a death glare, cut his eyes meaningfully toward the bar, and then returned his worshipful gaze to Julian.
The man wordlessly made for the bar and ordered Trent another beer.
“Sorry about that.” Trent smiled sheepishly. “Sean forgets his manners sometimes.”
It was so sweet of him to defend Julian’s honor that he just stared at the birthday boy for a moment until he could remember what he was doing. Boy, was Trent ever his type.
In the normal course of events with a guy this hot — with or without the heroism — Julian would be dragging Trent home before he could say anything stupid that would ruin the mood. But not tonight. Tonight he was a woman, and if this guy knew what Julian was, he’d be joining the beer on the floor.
Julian batted his lashes and leaned in to kiss Trent on the cheek. “My hero. So, how young is my chivalrous birthday boy today?”
Trent’s cheeks darkened, but his gaze never moved from Julian’s face. “Me? I’m not young. I’m thirty-three.”
Julian looked out of the corner of his eye at the gray-haired guy sitting on the other side of Trent. The way the older man had squared his shoulders, ready to act as backup if the skirmish turned into a fight, told Julian that they were close. The man’s ready smile told him that he had a good sense of humor.
“Thirty-three? That’s nothing. Just ask your grandfather here.” Julian shot the older man a devilish look and squirmed around in Trent’s lap to face him. “Mmm, now good looks do run in the family.”
The older man looked proud, leaning forward. “I’m Mike, and I ain’t his grandfather, sweetheart. I’m his captain.” Mike winked at Trent. “Speaking as a more knowledgeable fireman, I bet she’s got a fire you can put out for her.”
Julian tangled his fingers in Trent’s soft hair. “Now, now, I’ll leave the fire crotch to your friend Sean.” The rest of the guys laughed, but Trent flushed and grimaced.
“This one’s shy,” Mike said. The other guys barked and whistled encouragement and agreement.
Trent’s cheeks darkened even more to an enchanting shade of scarlet. If he kept being that adorable, Julian was going to have to flee like he was on fire.
Sean returned with a beer for Trent. “I’ll show you a fire, honey.”
Trent shot him another look that shut him up, and took a few deep swigs of beer before setting it carefully on the floor by his chair.
“They like to pick on me,” Trent said in a stage whisper. “They think it’s morally wrong not to chase skirts.”
“That’s because it is!” someone said from a few seats away, but Trent’s gaze didn’t move from Julian’s face.
It crossed Julian’s mind that perhaps the problem was that skirts weren’t what Trent wanted to chase, but there was nothing about Trent’s manner that suggested he wanted anything more than Julian on his lap. And Julian, at the moment, was passing well for a real girl. The thought depressed him.
It must’ve shown in his face, because Trent quickly asked, “Sing me another?” After a few swigs of beer that must’ve emboldened him, Trent slipped his arm around Julian’s waist.
The request warmed Julian’s heart. Trent could’ve asked for more wiggling, more dancing, for him to take something off, but he’d requested a song.
In reward, Julian returned to flirting. “Shy, hmm? I bet you wouldn’t be so shy if we were alone.” Julian set his teeth on his lower lip, not biting down as that would smear his lipstick, but enough that he knew it would make him look sweet and vulnerable.
He darted a look at Bobby, who was shaking his head. As much as Julian knew he was playing with fire, he couldn’t drag himself off Trent’s lap. He’d had a whole act planned out — dancing of the non-lap variety — but he didn’t want to get up. Trent felt so warm, and the way those dark eyes gazed at him stopped his heart.
Scanning his mental catalog of show tunes for a song, he locked on one and cleared his throat to take it up to the higher register that was more appropriate for his current character. The words were out before he could stop and edit them to something less over-the-top.
“I’ve never been in love before, now all at once it’s you, it’s you forever more.”
Trent let out an audible sigh and tightened his arm around Julian’s waist. As Trent listened, he rested his head against Julian’s shoulder and idly tucked the bills the guys had stuffed in his hand in between the laces of the corset.
It was the sweetest way Julian had ever been felt up.
Mike clapped a hand on Trent’s shoulder, like he was trying to break the spell. “Someone likes you, Trent.”
“Shuddup.” Trent waved Mike off, his gaze never leaving Julian’s face. “Not you. You keep singing. Please.”
Trent wrapped his other arm around Julian’s waist after he’d finished decorating the costume with bills, every line of his posture screaming possessiveness.
Julian felt like the rest of the crowd had melted away, leaving him singing to this one man — this one, gorgeous, adoring man who obviously loved hearing him sing. Inhaling, Julian finished the song. “So please forgive this helpless haze I’m in. I’ve really never been in love before.”
His corset was full of cash, but Julian didn’t want it as much as he wanted to be alone with Trent, singing to his appreciative audience of one. But with the song over and Bobby trying to flag him down, Julian knew he had to get back to business. Julian brought his leg up and over Trent’s lap, straddling him.
Trent’s eyes hooded like he was caught in a spell. He looked dreamily up at Julian.
Julian cleared his throat. “All right. Let’s not marry us off just yet. How about a little something different?” The revival Victor/Victoria was playing on Broadway, and Julian enjoyed the verisimilitude of performing a song from a musical about cross-dressing. Leaning in sensually, wiggling his hips and shoulders, Julian sang, “When you play me Le Jazz Hot baby, you’re holdin’ my soul together…”
The wiggling drove a hungry moan from Trent’s mouth. Eyelids growing heavier, he licked his lips as if he might kiss Julian at any moment. The fireman’s cock bulged with every swivel of hips in his lap until Julian could no longer ignore it.
Trent looked possessed. “You’re so beautiful.”
Once again Julian thought of dragging the man home. Those thoughts spawned ideas of their own, and soon he was going to pop a ball and make a very unsightly line in his panties in front of all of these guys. He would get his ass so kicked.
Julian tore himself away in alarm before his cock could grow. The fear was enough to wilt what had started. Then he found himself standing in front of the fire department, all looking up at him in surprise. All of them but Trent, who was avoiding eye contact.
“I-I’m sorry,” Julian said, knowing he couldn’t explain. He dropped the microphone and dashed backstage.
He heard Bobby calling for him, but he couldn’t stay. What would he say? How could he possibly explain the situation? Even if they didn’t kick his ass, he could only imagine how much they’d tease that poor Trent for giving a man dressed as a woman a stiffie.
After throwing his things into his bag, Julian ran out into the alley.