Excerpt: Exit Strategy
“Would you fucking sit down already? You’re pissing me off, pacing like that.”
It seemed to Kenzie that Hunter Bael was always pissed off, so he ignored the demand and continued to stalk around the room, resisting only with sheer self-control the urge to run his hand through his hair. They never really knew when the cameras would be coming into the room to prepare them for the rehearsal clips to air on the show, and he had upset the makeup and hair stylists enough last time he’d gotten nervous before a performance.
That first night on the stage had been more nerve wracking than his first recital had been—or at least, more so than he could remember it being. The stage fright that first night paled in the face of what he was going through now. The assignment for this week was a duet—easy enough at this stage of the competition. There were only eight of them left, and even if he had some personal issues with a few of the other contestants, he was honest enough to acknowledge when someone could sing. And Hunter could undoubtedly sing. There was a rasp in his voice that suited the kinds of songs he had chosen to perform so far; in spite of all his other obvious failings, he had a knack for picking the right songs to make people vote for him.
They surely couldn’t be voting for the person, after all, regardless of his outrageous flirting with the camera.
But this duet … How had the judges picked him for Kenzie’s partner? When he could have actually gotten along with anyone else available? But they never explained their reasoning, just gave him sweet (or sour, depending on the judge) smiles, and told him that they were sure he would do spectacularly (passably) even with a challenging partner.
“Fucking sit down,” Hunter snapped again, and Kenzie gave him another look with his most disdainful expression on his face. It got a reaction, although not quite the one Kenzie was expecting; all Hunter did in response was blink, then smirk. It was a dangerous smirk, the curl of it just enough to be obviously not a smile when he bared his teeth. “Where the hell are they?”
They did seem to be running a little late today. Usually with the rehearsals, the crew was strict with the timeslots for the voice coaches, but if the previous duo was running overtime … Kenzie turned and moved over towards the window, stepping as quietly as he could because, like it or not, he was stuck with Hunter as a partner and maybe it was possible to keep him happy—at least as long as they were being forced to work together. “I can only assume that Marie and Jason’s practice is running overtime,” he murmured, deliberately calm.
He could almost hear Hunter rolling his eyes behind him. “No shit, Sherlock. Where are the cameras?”
Kenzie just shrugged and lifted a hand to start drumming his fingernails on the windowsill. The rhythmic sound soothed him. In his head he kept time to Für Elise while he played it through as he would have once. The door swung open when the melody sank into his head, and Hunter’s chair scraped back against the floor while Kenzie turned to smile at Erica, who was grinning at them apologetically as she stuck her head through the opening. “Sorry for the delay, boys. The room’s all yours now. You’re the last slot today, so you won’t lose any time, and you can have the first timeslot tomorrow to make up for the wait.”
Hunter grinned, alarmingly attractive, and tilted his head. “Thanks, Erica. Coming, Mac?”
He addressed this last to Kenzie, which made Kenzie roll his eyes. He’d told them all at the beginning not to call him that—and of course Hunter was the only one who persisted in doing so. Luckily, Kenzie had been dealing with idiots all his life, so one more wouldn’t make too much of a difference. Especially for such a short amount of time.
God, please let it be a short amount of time.
“Coming, Hunt,” Kenzie replied sweetly, ignoring Hunter’s narrowed gaze as he moved past him to exit first. It was only the beginning, of course; they had all week to butt heads over style, and range, and interpretation—and they hadn’t even chosen a song yet. It was yet another reason why the judges’ choices to put them together baffled Kenzie. They weren’t even the same genre. Kenzie preferred soft rock, verging more towards pop, whereas Hunter would only sing rock. With his rasping, sexy voice, Kenzie really couldn’t blame him, but there was no way his own voice would be heard over such a din.
The week was going to be hell.