Fading light from the street filtered in though gaps in the curtains. Aside from a pool of brightness at the bar, where Lori was setting up, the club was dim, but there was movement up on the stage, and then, music:"You said you was hurting,
Almost lost your mind,
And the man you love,
He hurts you all the time,
When things go wrong,
Go wrong with you,
It hurts me too."
Zeke sang the first four lines solo, but a second voice joined in on the refrain, a familiar tenor that made Ruby's heart sink and her nipples tighten. She stumbled, knocking a stool against the wall and drawing the attention of the men at the front of the club.
"Ruby! Look who showed up!" Zeke switched on the spot above the stage. Perched on the chair next to him, cradling an American Deluxe Strat, was Remy. "He says you invited him to play."
"Good evening, Ms. Jones." Remy skewered her with that intense gaze, peering across the room as though he'd read her mind. At the same time, his smile looked almost apologetic. "You didn't say when I could start. I figured today was as good a day as any."
Ruby wanted to drop through the earth. Zeke was watching, though, a broad grin curving under his moustache. She swallowed her panic and strode forward, offering her hand. Grace under fire, her papa had told her. That was what counted, when things got tough.
"Mr. Saint-Michel." Her skin tingled when their palms locked. He did not prolong the gesture, but she felt the ghost of his touch when he released her. "Welcome to Crossroads."
"Call me Remy."
Ruby nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Zeke stepped into the gap.
"We've been goin' over some arrangements. Remy's gonna play with the Travellers for a while, to get the feel of things. I think you should give him solo billing soon, though. He's a natural."
"You told me you hadn't performed before," Ruby said out loud. What are you doing here? she asked silently. I told you to stay away.
"Not professionally. I had a restaurant, though, back in New Orleans. I used to entertain my customers." I couldn't, his eyes answered. I need you.
"I can't afford to pay you anything."
"I understand. I don't need the cash." She struggled to retain her composure as she recalled his luxurious vehicle -- and the scene that had unfolded inside. "I sing for the love of it. The blues seem to be the only thing that makes me whole."
"I know what you mean, man." Zeke clapped Remy on the back, clearly charmed by the newcomer. "When everything goes to shit, you've still got blues to lift you up. It's a strange kind of magic, how singin' about trouble and sorrow can bring you so much joy."
Ruby tried to summon some anger at Remy for intruding into her life. The only emotion she felt, though, was desire. She looked from one of her lovers to the other, as they chattered on about chords, tempo, New Orleans versus Delta styles. So different, but both so appealing - she wanted them both. But she'd sworn to herself that she'd quit sex for a while. She planned to keep that vow, no matter how difficult that turned out to be. She just hadn't expected to be tempted so quickly.