By Kylie Scott
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2015 Kylie Scott
All rights reserved.
FOUR MONTHS AGO
Good girls don't fall for rock stars. It just isn't done.
"Oh god." My sister, the aforementioned Pumpkin, giggled.
I just gaped. It seemed to be my go-to look of the day.
Lord knows, I'd been wearing it ever since letting myself into Anne's apartment this morning. Because I lived on campus, we'd starting doing brunch every Sunday morning since moving to Portland a few years back. It was our sisterly thing. But instead of standing ready to serve the bacon and eggs this morning, I'd found, Anne was fast asleep on top of a tattooed stud on the sofa. Both of them mostly clothed, thank god.
But, wow, what a revelation. I mean, I didn't even know Anne dated. I'd thought me dragging her along to the occasional party on campus was the sum total of her social life.
"C'mon, woman," said Mal, her brand-spanking-new boyfriend. "We can't be late to practice or Davie'll get his panties in a wad. You have no idea what drama queens guitarists can be. I swear, last week he threw a total hissy fit just 'cause he broke a string. Started screaming and throwing shit at people. True story."
"That is not a true story," admonished Anne, shaking her head. "David is a perfectly nice guy. Stop trying to scare Lizzy."
"No-o-o." Mal gave her big innocent puppy eyes, even going so far as to bat his eyelashes. "You think I would lie to Lizzy, my sweet little future sister-in-law?"
Anne just shook her head. "Are we going in or what?"
"Can't believe you doubted me, Pumpkin."
We followed the manic blond drummer into a big old building down by the river. As good a place for a loud rock band to practice as any. The only neighbors were industrial buildings, abandoned for the weekend. Inside wasn't any warmer, but at least we were out of the bone-chilling October wind. I stuffed my hands into the pockets of my gray woolen coat, nervous now that we were actually about to meet them. My sole interactions with the rich and famous started this morning with Mal. If the rest of the band was anything like him, I'd never keep up.
"As if anyone could doubt me. That hurt bad," he said. "Apologize."
Mal smacked a noisy kiss on her cheek. "You're forgiven. Later."
Stretching his fingers and rotating his wrists, the man bounded off toward the stage assembled at one end. Instruments, amps, and other sound gear covered it and the surrounding area, with roadies and sound techs busy amid it all.
It was fascinating, this, him, and my whole damn morning. Mal and Anne seemed so in tune with each other. Perhaps Anne and I had been a touch too hasty in our dismissal of romantic love and affection. So it hadn't worked out for our parents. Hell, those two had pretty much made a mockery of commitment and marriage. Mal and Anne might yet make a far better case study.
"He's borderline insane by the way," I said quietly. "So manic."
"Yeah. Isn't he great?" She grinned.
I nodded, because anyone who could make her smile so bright clearly must be. The light of hope in her eyes, the happiness, it was beautiful.
And the man in question? None other than Malcolm Ericson, drummer for worldwide renowned rock group Stage Dive, had somehow shacked up with my sister. My quiet, calm, color-within-the-lines-or-else sister. Anne was being vague about the details, but the facts remained the same. Her new boyfriend stunned me stupid. Perhaps someone had slipped something into my coffee back on campus. It would certainly explain all of the crazy.
"Can't believe you told him about me crushing on him when I was a kid." Ever so gently, Anne elbowed me in the side.
I grunted in pain.
"Thanks for that," she said.
"You're welcome. What else are sisters for?"
We wandered toward the couple of women sitting on storage boxes at the back of the hall. So cool, getting to see the band practice. Anne had truly been the psycho fan, plastering her bedroom wall with posters of Stage Dive. Mostly of Mal, making today's dating revelation all the more holy hell. But if anyone deserved some amazing, mind-blowing good to come their way, it was my sister. I couldn't begin to tell you how much she'd given up to get us this far.
The blond woman smiled in greeting as we got closer, but the curvy brunette just kept playing with her cell.
"Hello, fellow Stage Dive groupies and hanger-onners. How is your Sunday morning?" the blonde asked.
"Good," said Anne. "How are you feeling, Mrs. Ferris?"
"I am feeling very, very married, thank you for asking. How are you and Mal doing?"
"Ah, good. All good." Anne joined them, sitting on one of the boxes. "This is my sister, Lizzy. She goes to school at PSU. Lizzy this is Ev, David's wife, and Lena, Jimmy's ..."
"Assistant. Hi." Lena gave me a small smile and chin tip.
"Hi." I waved.
"Nice to meet you," said Ev. "Anne, quickly before they start playing. Tell me the story of you and Malcolm. I still haven't heard how you got together, exactly. But Lauren mentioned he basically invaded your apartment."
Back at her apartment, I'd overheard an odd argument between her and Mal. Something about them having an "agreement." When I questioned her she'd basically told me to butt out, in her own sweet way. I could only take her word that all was well, and try not to worry. Still, the question and Anne's reaction to it interested me greatly. I ever so subtly shuffled a little closer.
The whites of Anne's eyes flashed. "Ah, well, we met at your place the other night and hit it off."
"That's it?" asked Ev.
"Yes, that's pretty much it." Anne's smile wavered only slightly. "What is this, Ev, a grilling?"
"Yes, this is a grilling. Give me more information, please?"
"He's really great and yes, he kind of moved himself in with me. But I love having him there. He's wonderful, you know?"
So they weren't going to get any more out of her than I had. No big surprise. Anne tended to be tight lipped, a private person.
The girls kept on talking.
Up on the stage only the band members now remained, the rest moving off to the side to play with various bits of equipment. They stood gathered around Mal and his drum kit, deep in conversation. So this must be the band. Jeans and T-shirts seemed to be the goto, scruffy cool hairdos and lots of tats. One of them stood a good half a head taller than the rest, and the rest were not tiny. This guy must be a giant. And it'll sound crazy, but there was just something about the way he stood, the solidity of him. Mountains had never seemed so strong and imposing. Big boots several feet apart and a hand wrapped high around the neck of his bass guitar as if he might swing it club style at any moment to subdue some stray bear. The thick width of his shoulders and the ink on his muscular arms made my fingers itch with the need to explore. It couldn't have been healthy, but I'm pretty damn sure my heart skipped a beat. Every inch of me vibrated with some sort of hyper, crazy sexual tension courtesy of his presence. Never before had just the sight of a man made me go so gaga.
I couldn't look away.
The band meeting broke apart and he took several steps backward. Someone counted them in and boom! The first deep, heavy notes of his bass guitar slammed into me, rattling my bones. It left no corner of me unaffected. The song he played was like a spell, sinking deep, taking me over. My belief in love or lust or whatever this feeling was suddenly became assured. The sense of connection seemed so real. I hadn't had many definites in my life. But him, us, whatever this was, it was one. It had to be.
Finally, he turned in my direction, his gaze on his instrument, a short beard hiding half his face. Wonder if he'd be willing to shave it? He wore a faded red tee and dark blue jeans, as per the band uniform. As he played he'd rock back and forth on his heels, nodding or smiling every now and then at the singer, guitarist, or whoever.
And I'm certain each and every one of them performed like the prime specimens of rock 'n' roll musicianship that they were. None of them mattered, though. Just him.
Of course, I knew who he was. Ben Nicholson, the bass player for Stage Dive. But his presence in music videos or Anne's extensive collection of posters had never affected me like this. To be here, seeing him in the flesh, was a different experience altogether. My blood ran hot and my mind emptied. My body, though—it was as if it went on red alert, tuned in to every little move he made.
The man was magic. He made me feel.
Maybe love, marriage, and commitment weren't all some archaic social construct designed to give our young the best chance of survival. Maybe there was more to it. I don't know. Whatever this emotion was, however, I wanted him more than I'd ever wanted anything.
The music went on and on, and I stood staring, lost.
* * *
Hours later they finally stopped playing. Roadies flooded the stage, relieving the guys of their instruments, slapping them on the back and chatting. Everyone knew their jobs to perfection and it was fascinating to watch. Soon the four men approached us, looking thoroughly bedraggled. Sweat dripped off their hair, running down their tired but smiling faces. My walking male fantasy had an energy drink attached to his lips, the liquid in the bottle disappearing at lightning speed as he chugged it down. The closer he got and the more I saw, the more my body wanted. The way his T-shirt clung to him, dark from perspiration, made me start panting. The salty scent of sweat coming from his body got me sky-high. I'd sincerely love to explore what else he enjoyed doing that involved getting overheated.
Hells yes, sign me up for some of that.
Up this close, I could see the start of little lines beside his dark eyes. So he was a bit older than me. He couldn't be more than thirty or so, surely, and what was ten years between soul mates? And yes, I knew I was getting a bit overexcited. I just couldn't help it; the way he made me feel didn't come in halves. There could be no moderation.
I didn't tune in to the talk, just him. The rest of the world could disappear for good. I'd happily stand and stare at Ben Nicholson for hours. Days. Weeks.
One of those big hands ran over his short hair and I swear my sex wept in gratitude at the sight. I was out of control. If he fondled his beard I might faint.
"I'm starving," he said, his deep voice in every way a perfect, wonderful thing. "We finding somewhere to eat and drink?"
Dark eyes turned my way, looking down, noticing me for the first time. Oh lord, it was like an epiphany, being held in his gaze. It was starlight and moonbeams and all that fantastical ridiculous stuff I'd spent the last seven years mocking care of my parent's example. This man's existence gave it all back to me—hope, love, things like that. He made me a true believer once more.
Then he gave me a slow looking over. I stood still, grinning, waiting, and inviting his perusal. Fair was fair, I'd been ogling him for hours. And while I might not be putting any supermodels out of a job anytime soon (average height, not much up front, but curvy in the back—just like my sister), he'd be hard pressed to find a girl who could beat me for open and eager enthusiasm. I might only come up to his shoulder, but god damn would I make bending down worth his while.
Slowly, a smile curved his lips, making my heart jump with glee. The man reduced me to the state of a starstruck teenager. Yes to anything and everything that might possibly cross his mind.
"Well, okay then," he said.
"Don't you have to get back to school, Liz?" someone asked. Anne. Right. Whatever.
Man, he was divine. Maybe god existed after all. There might be a few more topics besides love that I'd need to reassess. What a day of revelations.
"No, I'm fine."
"I thought you had an assignment to do?" My sister's voice tightened in a way which normally sent red sirens screaming through me. But try as she might, I would not be swayed.
"Lizzy," she grated out.
"Ladies, ladies," said Mal. "We got a problem here?"
There were no problems anywhere. Not so long as Ben's gaze stayed fixed on me, making my world turn round. My smile grew shaky as our lustful staring contest continued.
Then the man smirked playfully and butterflies went berserk in my belly. Damn him, I would not look away. I could and would win.
But suddenly there was a distinct disturbance in the happy. Some woman was wound around Mal, giggling and cooing and carrying on. And the problem was, that woman was not my sister. Instead, Anne stood watching the scene with her face pale and her mouth set in a grim, resigned line.
All thoughts of Ben faded from my mind like I was waking from a dream. Sisterly duties called to me loud and proud.
"Hey, Mal," I said, trying for happy-go-lucky and probably failing miserably. "Should we invite Anne's friend Reece along to eat? He often does stuff with us on Sundays."
Reece was her boss and sometime crush. At least until Mal had come along. I most certainly wasn't above using petty jealousy to further the cause.
Anne's brows drew tight. "I think Reece said he'd be busy."
I gave her my best guileless look. "No. Really? Why don't you give him a call and check, Anne?"
"Fuck no, Lizzy. I mean, I don't think there'll be room." The moron rock star looked around, finally noticing the assorted embarrassed faces (his friends') and the outright murderous face (mine) of those assembled.
The ho batted her eyelashes at him. "Is something wrong?"
"It's cool," said Anne. "Why don't you go for a drink with your friend and catch up?"
"I thought we were gonna do something." And Mal might be beyond pretty, but he sure as hell wasn't the smartest drumstick.
"Yeah, but ..."
"I'm sorry, you are?" the ho asked in her high girly voice.
Ev cleared her throat and announced in a no-nonsense manner, "Ainslie, this is Mal's new girlfriend, Anne. Anne, this is Ainslie."
"Girlfriend?" Ainslie laughed, and I pretty much definitely really now did want to kill her. Slowly. Painfully. You get the gist.
"I was just saying hi to a friend," said Mal, carrying on with the male obliviousness. "What's the big deal?"
"There isn't one. It's fine."
"Yeah, there obviously is or you wouldn't be looking at me like that."
"You need to not talk to me in that tone of voice," Anne bit out. "Especially not in front of other people. Go out with your friend, have a nice time. We can discuss this later."
"We can, huh?"
His mouth curled into a farce of a smile. "Fuck it."
Everyone kind of looked at everyone else, but Anne just stood there. Her fingers clenched and unclenched at her sides, same as mine. God damn it, this couldn't be happening, not to Anne, not now. Just for once let the world play fair.
Soon enough the angry crashing of drums filled the hall, however. It was over. Let the animal pound on his skins.
It seemed no one had anything more to say.
"Crap, I forgot!" Rather dramatically, Ev grabbed at her head. "We women all have to go meet Lauren. Girls' night out."
Her husband, the guitarist, just gave her a blank look. "You do?"
"Yep. We're starting early."
Anything to get Anne out of this god-awful situation with some of her pride intact sounded good to me. I ignored any inner conflict. Yes, the thought of giving up my chance with Ben hurt. I'm pretty sure my heart and vagina would never forgive me. But Anne looked devastated, her hands trembling. I grabbed her arm and towed her toward the door. A muscle-bound dude done out in all black, who just had to be security, met us beside a shiny new Escalade. We all bundled in with minimal small talk. Everything inside was leather. Seriously, the car was one sweet ride. Not sweet enough to get the sour out of my mouth over Mal's defection, however. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Deep by Kylie Scott. Copyright © 2015 Kylie Scott. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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