I hope you enjoy the chapter as well as the teaser photos from the SUGAR LOVE photo shoot. Photos by Mae I Design & Photography and cover by WHAT GEORGIE DID.
That's some kind of name, isn't it?
It wasn't any type of name I'd heard of, but across the world, it seemed I was the only one.
You see, he's an international superstar, talented, sexy, and one day, he comes walking into my record store. He tells me he wants to buy some music, and later on, wants to get to know me a little better.
I had no idea he was here for his American debut, nor that he was one of the most successful rappers South Korean music had ever seen. If I had, I might not have been so frazzled when I found out and accidentally kidnapped him.
But then again...
Maybe that wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Note: The following chapter is an uncorrected teaser. Any and all material subjected to change.
Body-to-body, Capri was packed tight, more like a mosh pit than a record store tonight. My feet hurt from the never ending shift and my fingers cramped from all the anti-theft removal off the store’s CDs. The bulky plastic cases, instead of our previous measures of the standard magnetic strip, were very much Dom’s idea, one of my employees. The cases kept the CDs in the store, but they sure were a bitch to take off.
I sucked the tip of my thumb, the lingering sting a not-so-pleasant reminder of my previous battle with one of the snap traps. I didn’t have long to recover, before bagging my next customer’s purchase. I grinned upon seeing a vinyl record in her hands, a good one too, The Stones.
“Have a nice day,” I told her, happy when she said keep the change for the ‘share-a-penny, take-a-penny’ jar. Sometimes that little thing came in handy for people. I had a kid once who saved up all year for a signed Jimmy Hendricks’ guitar pick. He was just a few dollars off. He scraped the bowl clean that day, but I couldn’t think of a better cause.
Out of breath, Dominick leaned his bulky body against the back counter. He was six-foot-four inches of pure Puerto Rican muscle and had a rich copper tone to his skin that challenged the darkness of even mine. His chest heaved, large pecs rising and I tsked. All that and as always simply wasted on the likes of me and Tess, my other employee. Oh, and Dom definitely loved to remind us of the loss. His daily use of muscle tees let us in on that. We could look all we wanted, but we couldn’t touch. He didn’t exactly swing that way, and after a year of knowing him, that became kind of all right. The kid was more like a brother to me now. He slid those big, brown eyes my way, fingers folded across his chest. “Still alive over there?”
Just damn barely.
I groaned, sliding my fingers into my hair. Tipping my head up, the big hand and the little hand of the clock across the store offered me sanctuary. The hour of hell was officially over. Gripping the counter, I made as if I was going to crawl onto it. “Don’t mind me. I’m just going to climb up here and die now.”
Dom chuckled, pulling at my bicep. I lowered myself to the floor and settled for resting my head on the counter coated with band stickers. My violet-tipped tresses fanned out and covered the lot, and I no doubt had bags the size of saucers under my brown eyes, but I really didn’t care how I looked in that moment. I was hella tired.
Dom’s hands went to my shoulders. My saving grace.
“Question one,” he pipped. “Where’s Tess, and question two, can I have her room once you kick her out for not being here on our busiest day of the month?”
I had to smirk at him, turning my head to do so. “You wish, big boy. And I don’t know. Doing something she simply had to do,” I sing-songed, putting on my best Tess McGuffy voice.
His hands moved to the small of my back, catching skin exposed by my crop top. This was a very dangerous zone to tread for most men, but again, this was Dom. Thinking about the guy in any type of way like that was borderline incest. Again, he was like a brother. A scoff sounded behind me.
“When does Tess not have something she just has to do?” he asked.
“Well, she pretty much works for free so…” And he did too, which was why I gave them both so much slack. We had a bit of a bartering system going. Discounted rent at my apartment above the shop and discounted pay for my two sole employees. It was a win, win for all.
I pushed up, feeling Dom’s large body back away while I got in front of the register to count some of the money down. He watched me for a few seconds, whistling behind his teeth. I assumed he did so at the sea of twenties and a few hundreds.
“These ‘free first listen’ days really clean up,” he said, nodding.
I banded a stack. “Yeah, but they’ll send me to the poor house if we have to do as many as we do. We can’t keep giving away free stuff all the time to stay ahead.”
The free CD promotion drove the customers in since we launched it last year, another Dominick Garcia creation. We gave a free CD to any new customer from our “used” bin during a designated time. They usually bought something else, so the promotion had been a cash cow. But what started off as one day every few months turned into one every month. We always made out, but I worried we’d become too reliant on them. Some months we just made building rent because of it.
I’d just bumped the register closed with my hip when the store’s chime sounded through the air. I fought myself from rolling my eyes, knowing we were getting ever so close to closing time and I needed to count down two more registers.
Dom gripped the counter to push off, and I assumed helped the new customer, but then he leaned back, folding his arms across his chest. “This one is yours.”
This kid’s got jokes. I snorted before dampening my finger to riffle through more twenties. “Nice. Now, get your ass over there and help whoever.”
Tan fingers removed the twenties, and getting behind me, he pushed me off. “I said, this one is yours. I’ll count this down.”
I adjusted, straightening up. I guess for a clear view over the counter, and once I did, I had a hard time looking away. If Dom was what one called big and brawny, this guy who just came in the store was his direct male opposite, but not necessarily in a bad way.
He was soft where Dom was hard, but toned where Dom was too thick to show any type of definition, his black t-shirt making out every dip and curve of his biceps. And he was tall and lean. His body craned over the CD display like the Atlantic crashing over the shores just a few blocks down from my shop. One hand gripped the rack while the other riffled through the compact discs and a piece of jet black hair slid over intense dark eyes as he searched his way through the merchandise. We had quite a strong Asian population here in So-Cal, so I wasn’t surprised to see him here. That’s one of the things I enjoyed the most when I decided to take over the store, how diverse the area was. The music we carried explored the nooks and crannies of the music industry, and though we sold mainstream too, our diversity allowed us to appeal to many audiences. That element must have appealed to this guy too, seeing as how it brought him through my shops doors.
The breath left my mouth in a small whoosh and a body warmed behind me, moving to my ear.
“Seriously, what?” Dom whispered, giving my back another push. “Now, don’t come back until you smell him. I mean, thoroughly. And if you go so far as copping a feel? No judgment here, my friend.”
I had no words to tell him off, studying how the guy moved his lengthy fingers through that dark hair. He had it shaved on the sides, the strands silky with a waxy shine. It flopped over his brow when he pulled his fingers back, and I made myself ignore how it fell so subtly over one eye, brushing his black eyelashes.
Coming over to him, I rubbed suddenly too damp hands on my jean shorts. “Hey. Can I help you?”
Sharp cheekbones rose as he made eye contact with me. A bicep lifted, his arm when he went to push that hair out of his face and back. He had a tattoo dotting the underside of his arm, and my goodness, if I didn’t forget to breathe.
His eyes smiled at me before his mouth did, but only by moments. He dropped his arm to his side.
“I hope so,” he said, a distinct accent riveting from full pink lips. He was foreign, far east if I were to guess. He pushed that hair back again. “I’m looking for some music.”
The simplicity in his statement had me smiling, as well as the obviousness of the request. He was in a record store.
I decided to be cheeky. “Hmm, well I guess it’s a good thing you found your way in here.”
A look passed over me that had my insides trying to figure out their next function.
Swollen arms reached back as he pushed his hands into his back pockets. “I suppose so,” he said, his teeth coming over his lip a little. He tipped his chin at me. “Can you help me out?”
I was quite sure I could. In fact, thoroughly confident. I grinned a little. “Possibly. It depends on what you’re looking for.”
For that, he seemed to have the exact answer. He turned, retrieving what he’d been looking at before I came over and took a step back after he handed it to me.
“Hip hop,” he said, using the side of the rack to lean on. He dug a black boot into the carpet. “I’m pretty new to the area and had to leave the bulk of my collection back home.”
He said his collection, this guy that looked like he stepped off one of the billboards advertising Calvin Klein downtown.
Studying him, I let my eyes fall away to the album he picked up, one of Drake’s most popular albums.
Mad respect that this is his genre of choice.
“Where’s home?” I dared to ask, though as I suspected with his accent it was far from here.
The hair flopped again. He pushed the inky-black strands back and something sliced the air, something hot and thick. It laced my shop with a subtle strength and was all-too male.
He even smells like a Calvin Klein ad.
He slid me a grin. “South Korea,” he said, dipping his head. He was so much taller than me. “Mostly. I travel a lot for work, but I’m here now for quite a while.”
The thought moved over me that maybe he was an international model. Hell, there were many of them here, so it wouldn’t surprise me.
His hands gripped the shelf and he moved closer, watching me watch him. “So can you help me? I need something good. Something different I can sit back and relax to.”
A stomach jump followed a heart flip this time.
“Sure,” I said, stepping away, and he watched me with curious fascination, his eyes on the CD he gave me. I dropped it off with a shrug. “You said you wanted something good, right? If so, we need to head out of the Top 40 section.”
That made him chuckle. It was deep, throaty. His hands moved into his pockets again. “Right.”
As his presence moved behind me, I kept my head on, trying to be smooth, collected, though inside I felt anything but.
Chuckling, he not-so-casually counted twenties from the register, eyeing the pair of us while we passed by the counter.
I stuck my tongue out at him, making my way over to the section of my desire.
“This is a nice place you guys have,” came from behind me, and the words tugged at my lips, making me smile.
I fanned through the CDs, looking for what I needed. “Thanks. We put a lot into this place.”
True, Capri came with a history before me, but it was myself who added those little touches, recruiting nameless faces to play sets and leave their mark here. Their essence filled the place, signed promo posters from their small in-store performances filling the walls. They also gave us memorabilia to house in the store and we never sold it. We made sure they were never forgotten no matter if they blew up or faded away into the oblivion of the industry. They all meant something to this place.
Warmth caressed my left side, the appearance of a long frame settling in beside me. He was close, but not too close, respectful. I definitely felt him there, though.
“You own this place?” he asked, that accent of his so thick.
I nodded a little. “I do,” I said, and immediately I noticed something, that smile seemed to always touch his eyes first.
His arms moved over his chest. “That’s quite an accomplishment for someone so young. You can’t be more than…”
As the words ghosted off, I didn’t miss what he did there. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was fishing for information, information about me.
So I decided to give it to him.
“Twenty-three,” I said, chewing my lip a little.
He grinned. “Like I said, pretty awesome accomplishment.”
I let myself look away, fighting the heat from the stare so I could thumb. I almost let it go, almost, as I picked up the album I wanted.
“Nice, by the way,” I told him, going over to the disc player we used to let customers listen to CDs.
He followed me. “Nice?”
I nodded, using my keys to unlatch the security case. I opened it, putting the CD in the disc changer. “Not-so-casually getting my age.”
Being put on the spot might have flustered a weaker man, but this guy wasn’t that. He took being called out in good stride, taking the headphones from me when I handed them to him. He put them on. “And here I thought I was being smooth.”
I fought myself from smiling, lounging back and sliding my hands into the pockets of my fringy cardigan.
“I’m twenty-six by the way,” he said, reaching over to push play on the player.
Laughing a little, I shook my head. “I didn’t ask,” I told him, though I kind of wanted to.
Without missing a beat, he pulled back, glancing at me too casually. “I thought I’d save you the trouble. You know, in case you were wondering.”
I chewed the tip of my thumb, watching as he put his hands on the shelves, dipping his head as he listened to what I gave him. The Young MCs were an acquired taste, but I thought he might like them. They were old school, throwback, and nothing short of amazing. The band originated here and rose to national fame decades ago. They toured the world now, playing new stuff, but their old tracks couldn’t be beat. They had the essence of what true, raw hip hop was, and I watched this guy, expecting one of two things. He might appease me, smiling a little like he enjoyed it when the music was only mediocre to him, or something would show on his face, something that told he really was feeling it.
I watched, waiting for that look, and though I got it, I got so much more.
His eyes closed a little, his lashes flickering down, and then he did something peculiar. Those soft, pinked lips moved, speaking without words. Listening, I could hear the faraway lyrics from the track in his headphones. He couldn’t possibly know the words, but that didn’t seem to matter. He spoke with them, so subtly, and he did it so effortlessly, finding a rhythm within them.
Then there were his fingers.
He tapped them to his stomach, every push of the digit sharp on tempo. Again, I could hear it through the headset.
I watched in fascination, his fingers to his body, his lips, so when the track ended it threw me off. I zoned out so far, blinking.
He pulled the headset off. “Daebak,” he said, then laughed a little when I stood in a bit of a stupor before him. I didn’t know if the disorientation was because I didn’t understand the word or from what I just saw him do.
“It basically means cool,” he said assuming the former. He fanned his hair. “I liked it. I liked it a lot.”
“Oh,” I responded, my face burning. I touched it, wondering why it was so hot.
He smiled, looking up at me. “What are they called?”
“The Young MCs,” I told him, putting the disc back in the case. “They’re an old group. They actually started here before they went wide.”
That seemed to please him, spreading out on his face.
“Awesome, awesome,” he said. I handed him back the CD and he flipped it, study the art. He gazed up. “I think I’ll take the whole discography.”
I did one of those double takes, blinking. I couldn’t have heard what I thought I had.
“I’m sorry,” I said, shaking my head. “The whole discography?” Did he realize how many albums that was? I had told him it was an old group, so of course that came with the territory. Not to mention he heard one song and wanted all their music? That seemed a little odd to me. I supposed not to him because his eyes narrowed a little, not understanding.
“I mean, yeah. If you have it,” he said. “Is that a problem?”
“Uh, well, no but they are an old group. They have like twenty albums.”
His fingers went to that feathered hair, moving it around. “I understand you wanting to keep copies on the shelf… I guess. For other customers? I can just take one or two albums if you prefer. Maybe the first two?”
Holy crap, he was serious. A burst of pride swelled from my chest at the sale. I must have been on my game tonight.
I reached over gathering them up. “It’s not a problem. I guess it just took me by surprise.”
“Oh?” he asked, watching me. “Why’s that?”
Again, very odd. He had no idea why purchasing over twenty albums on a single listen of one track was unusual. Maybe, it was just as he said. He needed to replenish his stockpile.
I picked up the last album, shrugging with the lot. “That’s just a big purchase based off one listen.”
“Not really,” he said, reaching over to relieve me of the albums. He was the one to shrug now. “You recommend them.”
My lips parted as he passed me, heading toward the registers.
I fell into step with him quickly, trying to get those lungs to work again.
“And I actually did like them,” he said, placing them on the counter.
He reached behind himself and pulled out his billfold, and I pretended like he didn’t just compliment the hell out of me while he waited for me to ring him up. Dom on the other hand? Not so subtle.
He whistled into the air. “Obviously, Harley hooked you up.”
“She did,” he said, a smile pushing into the corner of his mouth. He nodded his head a little to me. “Thank you, Harley.”
His accent around my name gaged a reaction out of me, a harsh one I tried not to let spread out across my entire face. I couldn’t hide the tingle, though, the pricks of awareness passing under my skin and far lower.
I squeezed my thighs together, ignoring it as I bagged his stuff. “You’re welcome,” I told him.
“Jae,” he said, finishing for me.
I smiled. “Jae, you’re most very welcome. I was happy to help you out.”
Dom exchanged a look between us, and that damn fool had the nerve to grin the entire time. He crossed his beefy arms. “So I take it you’ll be back, Jae? Since you were serviced well?”
I shot a hip into him, which made me knock the entire stack of CDs over when my elbow hit them, and Dom did nothing but drape an arm over my shoulder, waiting for a response.
Jae grinned a little. “I think that’s a given, eh…?”
“Dom,” he said, smiling all too wide.
Jae chuckled. “Dom. I will. I have a feeling I’ll burn through these pretty quickly.”
I gave this guy enough music to take him into next year, but I wouldn’t argue. If he wanted to come in again, he sure was welcome.
While I finished bagging up his stuff, Dom handled the payment exchange, Jae’s thick, black credit card passing over the register. The shop was pretty much quiet as Jae was the last customer in the store, so a changeover in the store’s music was easy to make out. Especially since the track had barely any English in it.
From the distant speakers, the tunes of a sugary sweet beat replaced that of the shop’s previous Hot 100 track, and Jae’s lashes flickered up, definitely taking notice of the change.
Dom simply chuckled at the switch, finishing Jae’s transaction. “Not even here and Tess McGuffy strikes.”
He definitely had that right. Every once and a while I let Tess slip her tracks into our house music rotation. Again, we played everything here. I normally didn’t mind it too much, but I found myself wanting to snap it off at Jae’s reaction. It seriously seemed to bother him. Like royally, his gaze averting from the speakers. His entire demeanor changed from before. He went stiff, his shoulders tight, and I cringed.
“Sorry,” I told him, tipping my chin above. “I know this is different. The music? One of our employees is really into it.”
I really downplayed that. When it came to the happy beats and electrified tempo of that of Kpop, a.k.a Korean Pop music, Tess McGuffy was pretty much obsessed. In fact, if she hadn’t bailed on her shift tonight she’d be dancing and flubbing along with the English and Korean lyrics that blended throughout the tracks. But damn, did she try her hardest to keep up. She simply loved the stuff, but maybe Jae didn’t. He said home was South Korea, but that didn’t mean he enjoyed all the music. Especially if he was really into hip hop like he seemed to be.
Upon being called out, his brow flickered up. “Oh, uh,” he said, pushing a hand over his head. When he dropped it, he smiled a little. “It’s no big.”
He said that, but it seemed to be, a big deal that is.
He slid his bag off the counter. “And, eh, I don’t mind it. But do you? You apologized for it like you’re not into it.”
Had I had my choice, I wouldn’t have played it, and normally, I didn’t. I only heard the occasional tracks when they played in the store. Even still, I didn’t mind the music one way or the other. I was open to everything. I shrugged. “I don’t know if it’s that I’m not into it. It’s just, I think for me, this particular track is a little too sweet.”
His hand slid from his hair when I said that, and he relaxed a little, smiling again.
“I think we agree on that,” he said, bowing a little. It was a single one that moved his hair over his eyes again.
He raised his head. “Gamsahabnida, thank you,” he said, then finished by saying, “pretty girl.”
I was left with that as he lowered his purchases to the side, turning to leave my shop.
Something made me act impulsively me.
Moving around the counter, I stopped him, plucking one of the vinyl records we had on display. He watched as I handed it out to him.
I smiled a little. “We had a free first listen for our customers earlier tonight.” I paused, shrugging. “Every first timer to the store gets a free vinyl during the promo. Didn’t want you to miss out.”
He accepted it, raising it to me. “I appreciate that, and thank you. See you later, Harley.”
Later I wouldn’t mind. He left after that and an arm that weighed probably the equivalent of a couple of barbells fell over my shoulders.
“Since when do we give out brand new records for first listen?” Dom asked me.
I crossed my arms over my chest, staring at the door. “You’re fired,” I told him, shaking my head. “Fired on so many different levels.”
He merely grinned, gazing at the door, too. He only responded with an, “And you’re welcome.”
© 2016 Victoria H. Smith