Stacy Thomas glared at the song lyrics in front of her as the breeze off Lake Michigan ruffled the notebook page. She was missing something with her words. They sounded flat and deficient, kind of like her sex life at the moment.
Sipping her small, plain coffee under a shaded cafe table, she glanced at the sandy-haired guy in the black T-shirt at the next table. Since he was engrossed in the Chicago Tribune's sports page, she ignored her dead mother's voice in her head--which had grown louder since Stacy had moved back into the Evanston house she'd inherited--telling her it was rude to stare.
He was just the kind of man who could spice up her fantasies, but who she wouldn't have a shot at, especially today with her hair pulled back in a no-fuss ponytail and her dark-rimmed glasses perched on her nose. Neither did much for her too-round face. And she certainly wasn't dressed to impress in her old T-shirt, shorts, and worn-out Teva sandals.
Without taking his eyes from the newspaper, he grabbed his coffee cup and bought it to his full lips. The motion brought Stacy's attention to his tanned, muscular forearms covered in blond hair. She imagined he must have similarly dense hair on his chest that would feel silky under her fingertips.
Her gaze followed the line of his arm, over his nicely defined biceps and up to his broad shoulders. He wasn't bulky like a bodybuilder, more like a football player or a physical laborer, and he wasn't top-heavy. Having watched him walk out to the patio with his coffee earlier, she knew his jeans hugged some nice thick thighs and a tight ass.
He caught her gawking and winked one of his blue eyes. Her cheeks burned as she dropped her head and stared at her notebook on the table.
A soft chuckle reached her ears from his direction. "Do I have a chocolate moustache?" His deep bass voice vibrated through her.
"Chocolate?" She looked up in surprise.
He lifted his cup as if he were toasting her. "Hot chocolate. I can't stand the taste of coffee."
"But it's close to eighty degrees out here."
He raised a brow. "What's in your cup?"
"Coffee." The cheapest thing she could buy that allowed her to get out of her empty shell of a house and occupy one of the cafe tables.
He shook his head. "I'll never understand the prejudice against drinking hot chocolate in the summer when drinking hot coffee is deemed acceptable in any weather."
She laughed, pleased that he seemed to have a brain to go with all his yummy brawn. "I never thought of it that way."
"Yeah, it's tough to be a chocolate fan. Takes lots of perseverance and thick skin."
Before Stacy could come up with a witty reply, a dark-haired guy rushed up to Mr. Hot Chocolate and sat abruptly at his table.
"We're screwed. We just lost our lead singer for Friday's Battle of the Bands." The intensity of his voice made it easy to overhear, so it wasn't really eavesdropping when she listened. At least, that's how Stacy justified it to herself.
"Hello to you too, Jason," Mr. Hot Chocolate said while sending Stacy an eye roll. "What happened to Tricia?" he asked the visibly agitated guy.
"She just realized she double booked. She says she has to take the guaranteed paying gig."
"We'll get paid when we win." Mr. Hot Chocolate's pose remained relaxed in contrast to the tension radiating from the man named Jason.
"Apparently, she's not willing to chance it."
Intrigued, Stacy found it too hard to turn away from their conversation and continued to eavesdrop while checking out the new guy. He looked to be a similar height to Mr. Hot Chocolate, around six feet tall, but his build was slighter, more like a baseball player, but still showing nice muscle contours under his gray T-shirt.
Definitely another one to add to her fantasy play list.
"Shit, Jason. Couldn't you have at least waited until I finished parking the car?" A third guy joined the men at the cafe table. He swung a chair backwards and straddled it with his forearms crossed over the top of the backrest.
Damn, he was the biggest of the three. He had to be at least six and a half feet tall. His well-built arms and legs seemed to go on forever, and in his shorts and T-shirt, plenty of his lovely ebony skin was showing for Stacy to admire. If Mr. Hot Chocolate had the football player body and Jason the baseball type, then this one was basketball all the way. And she would be more than happy to be the cheerleader for all three of them.
Yeah, right. She was more band geek than cheerleader material.
"Stop your bitchin', Pace. I waited until you stopped," Jason responded to Mr. Tall, Dark and Desirable.
"Did he give you the fabu-freakin' news?" Pace asked Mr. Hot Chocolate.
"Yeah, but we only have to perform two songs. It shouldn't be that hard to find another female singer." Mr. Hot Chocolate's voice was cool and casual.
Jason shook his head. "I've already been through my contacts. No one's available on Friday night."
Without thinking it through, Stacy chimed in. "I'm available."
She didn't know what made her say it. Usually her natural shyness and fear of not being accepted held her back from going straight for what she wanted, but here was the perfect opportunity to get closer to her goal--her music goal, not the sexual one. Guys this good-looking certainly wouldn't be interested in her.
Pace, Jason and Mr. Hot Chocolate looked over and stared at her, the first two men with confused looks on their faces and the last one with a welcoming smile.
This contest could be just want she needed to get her career going again if-- "Are you guys any good?"
"Hell, yes!" Pace exclaimed.
Instead of retreating into her shell, she leaned over and stuck her hand out to Mr. Hot Chocolate first. "I'm Stacy Thomas. Singer and wannabe songwriter." More like had-to-be, in order to silence her mother's voice telling her it was an unreachable dream.
His grin widened. "Trace Connors." He swept his free hand in the direction of the dark-haired guy. "Jason Hamilton." Then he jerked his thumb towards the third man. "Keith Payson, otherwise known as Pace, the best damn drum player ever."
She freed her hand reluctantly from Trace's large, warm grip and shook Jason and Pace's hands. "Hi."
Jason studied her with dark eyes that seemed capable of exposing her secrets. "What do you sing?"
She swallowed hard before answering. "Everything. Yeah, I know that's a horrible answer. You want a full resume?"
At his curt nod, she continued. "I graduated from the University of the Arts in Philly, but just barely. It was way too proscriptive. After knocking about, I found myself in the right place at the right time and landed a job singing backup for Five Clocks on their Afterhours album and on their short American tour last year."
Pace leaned forward, drawing her attention to his long fingers resting on his forearms on the back of the chair. "Are you still singing with them?"
She glanced up quickly to meet his deep brown eyes. "Uh, no They've managed to keep it quiet so far, but the band is undergoing some artistic difficulties. I had to leave before I got caught up in the undertow."
"What are you doing now?" Jason asked.
"The occasional voice work when I can get it, and I'm working on my own songs." She held up her notebook.
"Can I see?" Trace grabbed it before she could say no.
"It's really rough, and it's missing something still," she apologized as Trace read her lyrics.
"These are good." Trace pushed the notebook at Jason.
She tried to make a grab for it, but Trace blocked her hand with his forearm.
With Pace looking over his shoulder, Jason moved his lips as he read silently to himself. When he finished, he stared at her as if seeing her for the first time. "You're right. They're still rough, but they've got potential. Do you write music too?"
"I can, but I prefer to put my energy into the words and collaborate with someone else on the music."
"I have an idea for the melody." Jason handed back her notebook and pulled an iPhone out of his cargo shorts. Tapping quickly on the screen with his index finger, he hummed softly to himself.
Trace leaned closer to Stacy. "In addition to possessing magic fingers on the keyboard, he's a bit of a songwriting genius, but we keep that opinion to ourselves." He tapped his temple with his index finger. "He's already got a big enough head."
For a moment, Stacy lost herself in the intimacy of being so close to Trace, listening to his softly spoken words. Magnetism flowed from him and caught her in its force.
"Got it!" Jason exclaimed, causing Stacy to jerk back into her seat. "Do you have ear buds on you?" He looked from Trace to her to Pace.
All three of them shook their heads.
"The speaker on this thing sucks, but at least you'll be able to hear the general idea." Jason pressed play on a music-writing app, and a haunting melody spun out of the tiny speaker on the iPhone.
A shiver ran over her skin. How had he caught the perfect notes to accompany her words?
She glanced at her lyrics and sang them quietly to the music. Immediately, she saw how to fix the bridge. She grabbed her pen and scribbled madly on the notebook page before the music ended and took her inspiration with it.
When the song sample finished, Stacy looked up to find the three men staring at her with acute interest. A yummy flutter in her girl parts had her envisioning some wicked possibilities involving all four of them.
Oh, she was going to enjoy having these three men starring in her next self-loving fantasy.
Pace broke the silence first. "How fast can you memorize songs?"
"Does this mean you want me to sing with you on Friday?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah," Trace said before letting out a whoop. "Did you guys hear her sing? We're going to clean up at this contest."
"We need a new name," Jason said.
"Why?" Pace asked.
"Fortitude was Tricia's idea, and I don't want anything of hers touching this."
"What about Four Aces?" Stacy offered.
Jason looked thoughtful for a moment. "Not bad. Where'd you get the idea?"
Stacy grinned. "Jace, Trace, Pace and Stace--the four aces."
Trace's laugh came from deep in his chest and rumbled through Stacy. Her nipples pebbled against her bra, and her panties grew damp.
Damn, all that just from his laugh? It really had been too long since someone had touched her. She studied his fingers and imagined them skimming across her skin, reaching her breasts and plucking at her nipples. Her breasts felt tender, craving physical contact.
She stuffed her hunger under the more pressing need to meet her music goal. Raising her gaze back up to his face, she asked, "What do you play?"
His lips twitched as if he were considering a suggestive comeback.
She prayed her nipples weren't showing through her T-shirt. She sure as hell wasn't going to glance down to check.
"I play guitar," he finally answered. "We all do vocals."
"What are you doing the rest of today?" Pace caught her attention. "We've only got two days to teach you the songs."
"Not a problem."
"You're pretty sure of yourself." Trace grinned.
"Oh, did I forget to mention I have a photographic memory? Show me the score once, and I won't forget it."
Jason turned to Trace. "Where the hell did you meet this wonder woman?"
"Right here She came on to me."
Stacy blushed. "I did not!"
Trace winked. "But you wanted to. I saw you checking me out."
It was true, but Stacy didn't like having it thrown in her face. "Um, maybe this isn't going to work out after all."
She picked up her notebook and shoved back her chair. She'd never been very good dealing with guys socially. That's why she'd been single most of her twenty-six years. Getting involved, even if it was only musically, with three guys she'd just met was obviously more than she could manage.
"Wait!" Jason stopped her with his hand on her bare forearm.
The warmth from his palm spread over her skin, heating her all over. She met his forceful gaze before her gaze fell to his lower lip, which was fuller than the top one. She imagined licking it before sucking it into her mouth, feeling an attraction as strongly to him as she did to Trace. And a mere glance at Pace sent her pulse skittering through her veins.
She was equally attracted to all three of them and not in the same league with any of them.
"He's teasing you," Jason said to her before glaring at Trace. "Apologize. We can't let her get away."
All thoughts of "getting away" fled as she pictured herself sandwiched between the three mennaked.
She shook her head and glanced at her coffee cup. Had it been spiked with an aphrodisiac or something? She'd never fantasized this vividly about guys she'd just met before, but it didn't matter because she knew she'd never be capable of initiating something with any of them. She wasn't introverted so much as she'd just never developed the skills for flirting.
Trace grabbed her free hand and brought it to his lips. He placed a warm, soft kiss on her palm that she swore ended with a tiny swipe from his tongue. It was a good thing she was still sitting because her knees definitely wouldn't have held her.
Hell, she might not know how to flirt, but he definitely did.
"I'm sorry," he said, holding her gaze with his vivid blue eyes. "Will you play with us?"
She stifled a moan before it escaped her lips. Oh yeah, her girly parts were begging to play with these men. But they could only be interested in her vocal skills because hot guys like them didn't usually hook up with slightly chubby girls like her.
"Yes, I'll sing with you," she managed to answer without sounding too breathless.