A/N: This is only a short sample (Prologue- chapter 2) because Collide is now Learn To Fly and is published on Amazon.
Two years ago
Luke rubbed his eyes, trying to clear the aggravation and exhaustion from his head simultaneously. His mind raced with flashes and images of the previous six months, compiling a staggering montage of lights, music, chicks, booze, fights, landmarks, more booze, plane flights, brawls, interviews, parties and even more booze.
"This isn't how it's supposed to happen." He realized his words were probably a waste in the quiet hospital room. It didn't matter. He had some things he needed to get off his chest and Mike was the only one he told things to. Ever.
"We were gonna become mega rock stars and see the world, remember that? We had a deal. We promised we wouldn't do all the stereotypical bull crap that so many who'd gone before us did. We were smarter than that."
He sighed heavily and ground his teeth together at the lack of argument that came from the still figure in the bed. Luke would prefer a straight out brawl to the steady sound of the ventilator and gentle beeping of the bedside monitor.
He wished Mike would defend himself. Shout and yell, give him an excuse or explanation. But the soft hum of the machines keeping him alive was the only response.
The past twenty-fours had been the worst kind of wake-up call Luke had ever received. He'd been at a bar with Blake, ignoring Carl's incessant cellphone harassment. All while his best friend and drummer had been rushed to a local hospital for a drug overdose. By the time Carl got through to them, Mike was already in a coma.
No one knew what Mike had taken, but Luke suspected it was heroin. The toxicologist would know soon enough. The real question, the one that had Luke's stomach tied into a thousand and one knots, was whether or not Mike had done it on purpose.
"You can't die." Luke said sternly, his hands raking back his dirty blonde hair. "I need you to wake up so I can kick your ass."
He should have seen this coming. He knew Mike was upset. He had been for most of the tour but Luke was too busy having...a good time. He didn't want to get weighed down by Mike's sour disposition. So he had started avoiding him. Ignoring him.
"I'm sorry," his voice cracked as emotion filled his throat. "I should have been there. I would've stopped you."
But that was a lie. Luke had spent the majority of the tour completely wasted, he wouldn't have known what to do at all. It was a miracle that Carl, their ever-loyal tour manager, had checked on Mike on a hunch. And it still might not have been in time.
"Seriously, wake up." Luke said again, swallowing hard. "I don't know what happened with Ilsa and I don't know where we go after all of this but I promise...I promise you won't go through it alone. And I promise I'll be the brother to you that you always were for me."
Hot tears dripped down Luke's face. "But you can't die...You just can't."
Chapter 1 Keep Your Eyes Open
Lenny glanced down at the silver and pearl face of her watch again. Ten more minutes, plenty of time. She pulled open the large glass door to the downtown Los Angeles business building. Her blonde hair reflected briefly in the mirrors behind the front desk as she strode purposefully past security to the elevators around the corner. Going to an interview in a building where her father owned half the floors gave her a twinge of guilt, but nothing more.
The lobby was a smattering of suits, briefcases and clacking high heels. Lenny pressed the button to the lift, shifted on her feet considering her options, and then started up the stairs without waiting.
She took the stairs two at a time at a full sprint, taking advantage of the need to expel some of her nervous energy. She didn't bother removing her high heels and smirked to herself at how stubborn she was about even the smallest things. She couldn't squelch the anticipation that built in her with every stride; as if she was finally headed in a direction that was taking her somewhere better than where she had been. Her long legs quickly carried her to the third floor where she exited, barely winded. She straightened her pressed white blouse and strode to the receptionist's desk coolly.
The woman behind the desk looked up at Lenny's approach with a practiced smile. "May I help you?" Her deep red hair was pulled back into a tight bun and her wide green eyes were framed by thick, trendy glasses.
"I have an appointment with Jerry Douglas," Lenny responded professionally, "My name is Lenny Evans." She almost hesitated saying her full name, but decided that it was highly doubtful the receptionist would recognize it. The woman gave her a split-second double -take; Lenny kept her face impassive. The woman narrowed her eyes slightly but waved her to a seat with a perfectly manicured hand and picked up the phone to announce her arrival.
Lenny sat in the chair stiffly. She hated the scratchy fabric of her dress pants against her legs and the pinch that accompanied wearing heels. Hopefully it would be worth it. She could suffer a few minutes of physical discomfort if it meant changing the direction her life had been going. Nearly any new direction would be welcome at this point.
She adjusted her small purse on her lap, more practical than eye catching, and thought again about the conversation she'd had with Simone the night before.
Simone, the long-suffering girlfriend of her brother Scott, was a well-established photographer from the east coast. At a shoot the day before, she had overheard a conversation involving an immediate job opening and called Lenny that evening.
"I didn't get a lot of details but apparently the job is for a personal assistant and there's a lot of travel involved." Simone's voice was hushed, as if she didn't want anyone to overhear her. That made sense, she was probably with Scott. And if Scott knew Lenny was looking for a way out he'd pitch a fit. Older brothers tended to assume they could run the lives of their siblings.
"Thanks, Simone." Lenny scribbled down the phone number. "I owe you one."
Lenny had called the number and set up an interview immediately. The required travel was the most appealing part. She needed to get away. Now. She really didn't care, apart from prostitution or porn, what she had to do to make that happen.
Double doors opened to her right, and a short, bald man in a suit came out to greet Lenny. When she entered the posh office, she was surprised to see another man already sitting in one of the chairs in front of the desk. Baldy shook her hand and introduced himself as Jerry Douglas.
"This is Carl Darrow," he motioned to the second man who had already stood up and was reaching his hand to Lenny's.
His attire was very different from Mr. Douglas, wearing plain blue jeans, a faded green t-shirt and scuffed cowboy boots. She noted his hand was calloused when she shook it and his posture indicated he was just as uncomfortable in his surroundings as she was. His brown eyes narrowed at her and he ran a hand roughly through his hair as he looked her up in down and failed to hide his grimace.
"Lenny, is it?" He asked, his voice edged with annoyance.
Lenny nodded and smiled, "Or Lenna. It was my grandmother's name."
"We sorta thought you were a guy from your resume." He waived at the paper on Jerry's desk that she had faxed over that morning. He didn't even try to hide his disappointment as he seated himself again and Lenny heard Jerry sigh in exasperation.
"Happens all the time," Lenny tried to reassure him, taking a seat in the chair Jerry offered her. She avoided crossing her legs completely and just crossed her ankles, turning her knees out to the side in the most ladylike posture she could manage.
The men exchanged glances and both sat down. Lenny got the impression they had already made their decision but were going to go ahead with the interview anyway. She swallowed hard and squared her shoulders.
"This job might be a little…unconventional for you," Jerry began, searching for the right words, trying to be delicate. "It's long days, long nights, hard physical labor and you'd be on the road constantly." His eyes skittered around his desk and his hands straightened his pen, then his name plate, then his pen again.
"Is it because I'm a chick?" She asked, seeing the slight break in his serious demeanor and his eyes flicked to Carl.
Carl slouched back in his chair and rubbed his chin with his fingertips. "No, it's 'cause you're pretty."
Lenny felt her mouth tug up slightly on one side. She could see him measuring her, gauging her reaction, testing her. So she remained silent.
Carl studied her placid silence for a long while. But it was Jerry who asked the next question. "What makes you think that being an assistant is where you'd...fit?"
"I'm organized, I work hard and I have nothing keeping me in town," she answered honestly. "I'm not afraid of dirt and sweat and I know I can do the job well."
Carl watched closely as Lenny and Jerry discussed the ins and outs of the job. She was focused on Jerry but her expansive eyes would flit around the room occasionally, as if taking inventory.
Her resume said she was twenty-five with little to no employment history but she projected a calm self-assurance that hinted at a wisdom that was gained only by experience.
Jerry seemed flustered at her confidence and Carl could see the interview was getting away from him. The worse he tried to make the job sound, the more interested she became.
Carl was impressed with her quick thinking and directness. He had been hesitant when she had first entered the room, her obvious beauty could be more of a hindrance to the job than a help. However, she didn't seem to be trying to use any womanly wiles to make the interview go more in her favor.
Carl sat back in his chair and laced his hands together behind his head. "You realize this isn't a glamorous job?" He interrupted, drawing her gaze to him. "You'll basically be a glorified babysitter. You'll haul their shit, keep track of their schedules and have eyes on them at all times."
"Easy as pie." She didn't break eye contact and he found himself reassured by her self-possession instead of intimidated by it like Jerry had been.
Carl had actually wanted to avoid hiring a woman if at all possible. Jerry had given him the scripted speech on sexism in the workplace and Carl had finally agreed to hiring an ugly woman...if it came to that. But the young lady sitting before them was the antithesis of ugly.
He turned his tone severe and his frown deepened, "Make no mistake, I'm not paying you to be their girlfriend. You cannot, under any circumstance, sleep with them. Do you understand?"
"Loud and clear." Lenny matched his expression and Carl had to hold back a smile. She was definitely not what he had expected.
He sighed and ran both hands through his hair while looking up at the ceiling. He chuckled sardonically, "I have no idea why I'm even entertaining the thought of hiring you. You are exactly the kind of girl that can bring this tour crashing down."
"Listen, I know I'm a chick and I know I'm not what you expected," she started, refusing to be deterred, "But I'm stronger than I look and I'm a fast learner. I can do the job and I'll do it well." She repeated, her jaw flexing lightly under her skin and Carl heard the desperation that she tried to hide in her voice. Why did she need this job so badly?
He knew Jerry was watching him, waiting for an indication of some kind but he couldn't look away from the determined stare of her midnight blue irises. She was serious, she meant business, and he believed her. Somewhere in her life she had learned to fight for what she wanted.
When he spoke again his attitude had changed from skeptical to decided. "I've been with these guys for nearly twenty years. They tend to be pretty self-destructive and I need someone on the inside. Not just an assistant. I need someone who can be their best friend but stay loyal to me. They have to trust you, need you and like you. I can't have another tour riddled with scandal and the guys have promised they've changed but..." He rolled his eyes and rubbed his chin dejectedly.
"They're so stubborn," he growled, "they keep insisting they don't need an assistant." He shook his head in frustration. "They have argued with me about it every step of the way. They hate the idea of having someone they haven't picked themselves basically be in charge of their lives for the next six months. They have more trust issues than I do."
He sucked air in through his teeth as a fresh thought crossed his mind. His eyes flashed at Lenny and a slow smile spread across his face.
"What?" Lenny asked apprehensively, her eyes lighting up as she realized that the job was in her reach.
"I'm gonna stick you on the plane with them tomorrow. Let them think you're another passenger. If you use as much charm on them as you have on us, they'll hire you themselves."
"That's pretty sneaky, Carl," she pointed out, arching one eyebrow at him.
"I'm out of options, kid. These guys have been the collective pain in my ass ever since I walked into their garage and told them to keep it down. They have so many hoops to jump through, you have no idea."
He shook his head and looked over her again. "I like you, Lenny. I almost feel bad asking you if you want the job. It might ruin your life."
Carl watched Lenny as she considered all of the information. At first glance, with her blonde up-do and flawless skin, he thought she was just another pretty face. But she had a spark in her she couldn't hide. A spunky cockiness that appealed to him.
She was undoubtedly perfect for this job.
"You're making a good choice, Carl." She gave him a half-smile and Carl was surprised at his own sense of relief that flooded his veins.
For the next twenty minutes the three of them went over the confidentiality agreement and the touring schedule. She signed some paperwork and asked hardly any questions. They all shook hands and she left.
Carl stared after her, lost in his own musings. He had complete confidence that they had found the ideal person.
"That was easier than I expected," Jerry broke into his thoughts. "I wasn't sure you'd find what you were looking for. Considering...everything."
"She's perfect," Carl agreed.
"I sure hope this works out for you. Better than the last tour anyway."
"It will," Carl said matter of fact as he started to gather his things. He couldn't wait to get out of this office and have a cigarette. He hated coming to this building but Jerry insisted they do the interview in his office. Saying something about how Carl's smelled like cigarette butts and coffee.
"What makes you so sure she won't run off with one of them and end up in the tabloids?" Jerry attempted to joke.
"She's got a brain," Carl responded. "Besides, she didn't even ask what band she's working for. Not once," He took a breath and picked up his bag, "Whatever she's looking for, it isn't fame and drama."
Lenny sat patiently in the plane next to the window. It had been a long time since she had flown anywhere alone and she was kind of excited. She tried to suppress the giddiness in her belly, knowing the plane would take off soon and her new adventure would start. The text message she had sent before boarding had been the final goodbye to be said.
The ticket was waiting for her at the counter like Carl had promised and that was what made Lenny realize this was really happening. She was really doing it.
Always early, she was first to board the plane and assumed the band members would be along shortly.
"Hey, beautiful," an attractive man with sculpted shoulders and long, dirty blonde hair pulled back into a low ponytail greeted Lenny. She smiled politely as he sat down next to her. He must have been in his late twenties. His ratty blue jeans and worn, Chuck Taylor's seemed out of place in the first class seating but Lenny didn't mind.
"How did I get a seat next to you?" He asked her flirtatiously, his pale blue eyes sparkling with mischief.
Lenny shrugged and played it cool, remembering her instructions from Carl. "Probably luck," she replied coyly.
"Story of his life, the bastard." Another voice joined their conversation from across the aisle.
Lenny leaned over to see what she assumed to be two more band members seating themselves adjacent to them. Another two men plopped into the seats in front of her as well. They were all in their late twenties to early thirties, had rumpled clothes on, and dark circles under their eyes. As she looked more closely, she began to recognize them.
"Going on vacation?" The friendly young man next to her kept the dialogue going.
"Looking for a change of pace and a new job," Lenny replied, not exactly lying. She was pleased that she wouldn't have to work too hard to get their attention. When Carl had said she was supposed to befriend them, she wasn't exactly sure how that would happen. But it seemed they were impressed with a pretty smile and a hair flip. At least this one was.
He grinned at her and asked, "Unemployed and sitting in first-class? How is this possible?"
"I have wealthy parents," she explained strategically, realizing her slip. She tilted her head and smiled sweetly, hoping they could skip the details about her life.
"I'm Sway," he introduced himself and stuck out his hand, not truly interested in Lenny's back story.
She grasped it strongly and replied, "I'm Lenna."
"Beautiful name for a beautiful girl," he winked at her and Lenny suppressed an eye roll. It wasn't exactly the most original line she'd ever heard. She let her hair fall over her face as she dipped her eyes, thankful that she could hide behind it, pretending to be flattered. Her physiology didn't normally respond to a guy flirting with her, she had always told herself she was far too practical for things like butterflies and blushing. And she couldn't respond as she really wanted to because her new job required her to be friendly- whatever that meant.
Her hair was not in its usual tight braid. Her elastic restraint had broken in the airport and she was forced to let it hang loose, something she had grown to hate over the past couple of years, but was now finding it a very useful curtain.
Sway, if that was indeed his name, though Lenny doubted it, wasn't traditionally handsome. His face was wide and angular with high cheekbones and soft, full lips. His skin was smooth, freshly shaved, not even a hint of stubble. His fine, blonde hair was probably shoulder length, though it was hard to tell since he had it casually pulled back. Lenny looked at his unbroken elastic with envy and Sway caught her gaze and gave her a suggestive eyebrow waggle. Lenny fought back a chuckle and looked away with feigned shyness.
Out the window, the plane was rising off of the runway and into the air and the flight attendants were going through their perfectly practiced speeches. She swallowed hard to compensate for the pressure change and tried not to think about home.
She had left a note for her parents with very little explanation. Her mom would be unreasonably worried, which is why she avoided the conversation altogether. They would never understand. They had always struggled with comprehending the majority of her life decisions, but even more so in the last couple of years.
As her thoughts kept following their path, her chest started to burn with an irritatingly familiar heartache. She closed her eyes and leaned back in her seat, deliberately pushing those old thoughts and feelings away. The past was the past and she couldn't change anything, so there was no reason to think about it.
Her hand clutched her phone and she checked to make sure she had turned it off at the attendant's reminding. She knew she had though, she had powered it down before boarding, not looking forward to the inevitable string of irate replies when she had to turn it on again.
Luke Casey tried to catch a glimpse of the gorgeous girl tucked between his bass player and the window across the aisle from him without being too obvious. It was a rare occurrence when a woman didn't start giggling nervously at Sway's obvious flirtation. But he could tell right away that this girl wasn't like others.
He and his band mates had seen her at the airport waiting to board the flight. The entire airport couldn't help but notice her, or maybe that was just how Luke saw it. She was dressed plainly in cut-off jeans and a white t-shirt, her long, naturally blonde hair hung past her shoulders. It wasn't bottle-blonde like so many of the other girls in SoCal and Luke wondered if maybe she wasn't a local.
She had an energy that was captivating. Even sitting still in the airport, Luke could sense an underlying passion just below her smooth surface, like rushing water beneath a frozen river. She had the kind of beauty that reminded Luke of sunsets and mountain vistas. Natural, wild and dangerous.
And she had no idea. Maybe that's why Luke couldn't get her out of his head.
She had fidgeted slightly while she waited for the call to board their flight. Luke noticed her chewing the inside of her cheek as she quickly tapped out a text and then pocketed her phone. Her build said she was probably an athlete, her toned legs hinted she was a runner. Luke wondered vaguely what she was running from.
And now, as he finally got an unobstructed view of her face in the early morning light, he could see her brow furrowed in deep thought, as if trying to will a memory away. On her lap she clutched a notebook with a pen in the spiral.
"Are you a journalist?" Sway asked. Luke knew full well she was not, journalists tended to give off a certain aura that repelled him. However, he was actually thankful that his pushy friend was keeping her talking.
Lenny's eyes fluttered open and she looked at the notebook in her lap, "No, just a poet," she said absentmindedly. Luke strained, trying to listen in on their conversation without being obvious. Damn Sway for getting the seat next to her.
"Oh, so it's a book of secrets, is it?" Sway's tone staying light. He could never resist a pretty girl.
Lenny winked, "Everyone has secrets." She smiled easily and changed the subject, "Why are you going to Chicago?"
Luke could tell Sway was enjoying her spunky back and forth. "We're heading there to kick off our tour," he answered with a hint of pride and Luke rolled his eyes.
Lenny frowned, "Tour? Are you in a band?"
Laughter and snickers erupted from the other members as they overheard. Sway smiled, pretending to be embarrassed that she didn't know who he was. "I guess you could say that," he took a bottle of water from the drink cart as it passed. "I'm sorry, I thought I introduced myself. I'm Ryan 'Sway' Schaeffer, bass player for a band called Double Blind Study."
Lenny's brows drew together, "Okay..."
Sway wasn't disappointed. Instead, he grinned from ear to ear, showing her his dazzling perfect teeth. "We're kind of a big deal," he bragged.
"Is that why you thought I would be impressed with your flattery? I imagine most girls are," Lenny raised an eyebrow pointedly and Luke smirked. Girls didn't tend to call Sway out on his obvious self-important air. Luke was even more compelled to get to know this one better.
Sway continued to grin. "Of course," he admitted.
"Why are you smiling then?" Lenny narrowed her eyes at Sway.
"You're obviously not like most girls. I'll have to change my tactics."
Lenny was rolling her eyes when Luke had heard enough and crossed the aisle, grabbed Sway by the arm and pulled him to his feet. "You talk too much, Sway," he said, almost scolding. He took Sway's vacant seat and turned to Lenny, "Sorry, he can be pushy with pretty girls."
"With girls in general," Blake, who was sitting ahead of Lenny, snorted.
"I resent that!" Sway defended as he sank into Luke's empty chair, "I have never hit on an ugly girl."
"Good job, dude. I'm sure that little statement will convince her that you are, in no way, a pig," Mike said sarcastically from next to him.
Sway turned to him, "Thanks for backing a bro up."
Lenny was amused at their interaction, they reminded her of her brothers. But she couldn't get distracted, she had a job to do. Time to become their new best friend.
Lenny had been blessed with a photographic memory. It came in handy more often than not, allowing her to learn tasks quickly and become proficient in them. She noticed and stored details as precisely as a computer. It was her best kept secret, and she had always used it to her advantage.
The guy who had switched seats and was now sitting next to her was the lead singer of the group. Double Blind Study had been her favorite band for some time now. Hard rock with a bit of metal influence. They hadn't toured in two years because of the drummer doing hard drugs when they were overseas and landing in the hospital. The tabloids ripped them apart, sensationalizing the truth of the matter. They printed gossip and pointed blame on drinking, girls and the band's inability to get along with one another. The band members refused to do interviews and took a hiatus. Their fame skyrocketed. Fans demanded new music and a follow up tour.
She covertly studied Luke Casey sitting next to her. He was casually browsing through a guitar magazine, not as interested in her as Sway had been. His short blonde hair was covered by a Celtics ball cap, not a surprise since most of them were natives of Boston. His gray t-shirt was snug against his lean but muscular chest and shoulders. Tattoos leaked out from his short sleeves and down to his elbows. Despite his rumpled appearance and worn jeans, he smelled clean and his face was shaved smooth. His reputation was one of smoldering sex appeal and refusal to get tied down. Typical lead singer qualities.
Lenny put on her most amicable smile, tucked her hair behind one ear and asked, "Are you guys always this nice to each other?" She still hadn't gotten a clear view of Luke's face, and she was wondering if he was as good looking in person as in the magazines. Not that it should matter, she was now on the payroll and Carl had been pretty specific about how he felt with her 'fraternizing' with the band members. However, those facts did nothing to extinguish her curiosity. She was still a woman, after all.
"Pretty much." He thought for a minute, seemingly engrossed in the periodical, then added, "We look out for each other. Some of us don't know our weaknesses as well our friends do. You need someone to watch your six." He turned his stunning blue eyes on Lenny, "You know what I mean?"
Lenny nodded her head even as an electric current ripped through her body. She knew exactly what he meant but she couldn't speak for a moment as her voice had gotten stuck in her throat while she had been busy trying to figure out exactly what shade of blue Luke Casey's eyes were.
He was everything she was afraid he would be. The pictures didn't do him justice. He was even more gorgeous while in motion, as if his raw masculinity had to be felt and no camera would ever be able to capture it. And his voice, that voice that could go from soothing and melodic to a fury filled growl in a span of micro seconds, was washing over her like a warm rain shower. She tried not to stare at his perfectly chiseled jaw line as he spoke more words to her. Words she was going to need to respond to any minute.
"I totally agree," she suddenly blurted out. She didn't know what she had just agreed to, but Luke seemed satisfied so it must have made sense on some level. She inwardly cursed herself for turning into an instant jellyfish and resolved to not let her hormones ruin this. She just wouldn't look at his eyes. Or his smile. Or his arms. Oh, geez, his arms.
This was unexpected, and in no way normal for her. Her body was betraying her logical practicality. She took a breath and resolved to shake it off. She was nothing if not a professional. Lenny had been ignoring attractive men her whole life, Luke Casey would be no different. Right?
"You have a lead on a job in Chicago?" Luke was trying to be polite but he couldn't help feeling uneasy. He had purposed to rescue her from Sway before Sway could start humping her leg. Now Luke found himself trying not to talk to her too eagerly. He kept trying to meet her eyes, they were the deepest blue he had ever seen, almost sapphire. But she continuously looked around the cabin.
"Nothing definite, just an impulse," Lenny smiled, and Luke couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to kiss those perfect lips.
"You look familiar," Harrison was up on his knees in his seat and had turned around to join their conversation. Luke was both thankful and annoyed at the distraction.
"Maybe you saw me at the airport." Lenny raised her eyebrows in an obvious gesture.
Harrison chuckled at himself, "Yeah, that was probably it." He stuck out his hand, "I'm Harrison O'Neil, I play lead guitar in the band you've never heard of."
Lenny grasped his hand and Luke was surprised at the sudden surge of jealously that filled his gut when they touched. He pushed it aside quickly. He was not going to lose his head over a girl he didn't know.
"You have gorgeous eyes, Lenna," Harrison blurted out what Luke and Sway hadn't gotten to yet. Luke glared at Harrison discreetly but Harrison either didn't notice or didn't care.
"Thanks," Lenny accepted the compliment and then added her own, "You have gorgeous hair."
Harrison blushed and immediately ran his fingers through his luscious locks. He worked really hard at making his hair look effortless and Luke knew he enjoyed people complimenting it.
Lenny seemed amused at his reaction and gave him a small, lopsided smile and added, "You can call me Lenny, everyone else does."
"Lenny? That's rather unique, and kind of manly," Harrison waggled his eyebrows and Luke had to suppress his laugh. Harrison flirting was the exact opposite of Sway. No matter how hard the guy tried, he couldn't help but come across as adorable and was immediately 'friend zoned.'
Lenny laughed lightly at Harrison's remark and her eyes darted to Luke's. "I guess I've always been more comfortable just being one of the guys," she explained. Luke felt disappointment drift across him when he realized they had all just been 'friend zoned.'
Harrison didn't seem to mind though, and he kept the conversation going. The rest of the band members began to join in the discussion, and Luke was impressed with how well Lenny held her own. She stayed active in the dialogue, adding jokes and quips. Luke had known these guys a long time and it could be difficult getting a word in edgewise, but Lenny fit in like a missing piece that they didn't know had been missing. That was a weird thought. Don't go down that road, Casey.
Luke did, however, notice that Lenny continuously steered the conversation back to the band. She spoke very little about herself and the guys preferred it that way. They were entertainers for a reason.
The attendant with the drink cart made another pass and he paused at their row. Luke looked up to see the young man looking at Lenny like he was trying to place her. Luke frowned and turned to her as well. She was still talking to Harrison, having not yet noticed the attendant. Was he just checking her out? That was kind of unprofessional, Luke criticized internally.
"Can I help you, man?" He finally asked the gawker.
"I'm sorry, I just, uh, I..." the young man swallowed and tried again having gotten Lenny's attention now. "You look really familiar."
Wow, this guy was serving drinks to rock stars and yet he'd decided to hit on a passenger with one of the worst lines available. Luke was the opposite of impressed.
"I get that a lot." Lenny smiled apologetically. "I guess I have one of those generic faces."
"Oh, sorry." Th attendant turned red and shuffled on his way.
Luke wanted to disagree loudly with Lenny's assessment of herself. Generic? Was she joking?
Lenny eased back into the conversation, letting it flow and grow around her. She'd almost panicked when the flight attendant had nearly identified her. That would end her new career before it really got underway. She couldn't risk the shadow of what she was running from decide where she was going.
That brought her back to the band and her goal to win them over. She was finding herself really liking these guys. They were friendly and good-humored and made her feel equally witty and important. That didn't surprise her; Lenny had always gotten along with guys better than girls. It came from having three older brothers…and of course the male dominated sport she had just abandoned.
The drummer, Mike Osborn was sitting beside Sway. He was tall and lanky, tattoos spiraled up and down his arms and his hair was a shaggy, caramel color. He hadn't shaved in a few days, as evidenced by the dark shadow cast across his jaw. He seemed to be the most subdued of the group, even though he was constantly smacking his legs to a beat in his head.
"How did you guys come up with your band name?" Lenny kept the conversation moving with the intent of learning as much as she could about them and preventing them from asking about her. And the band name had always seemed a little ambiguous.
"It's kind of a long story," Luke shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
Lenny pushed his knee flirtatiously, "C'mon, you can tell me." The longer she spoke with them, the more comfortable she got and the more Luke Casey's effect on her dulled. Lenny was pleased to know she still had a handle on her own brain, rock star or not.
Luke looked over at Sway who shrugged, "I don't care, man. You already ruined any chance of seduction on my part. It's still a better name than what Blake thought up."
"Trophy Wives would have been an amazing name, you jag," Blake Diedrich said from the seat directly in front of Lenny.
Blake was also a guitarist, but played the grungier side of their songs. He was older than the rest of them and had come from a different band years ago. He was more punk rock than metal rock, but his sound blended nicely with the rest of the group. Blake had turned around a few times during the conversation and Lenny hadn't missed the appraising gaze that came from his green eyes. He was tall and lean with jet black, short, spiky hair and just like all the other band members, he had tattoos and muscles.
They could easily fit in with the guys Lenny worked out with at her local gym. Or a random biker gang.
"I always liked Taco Night," Sway smiled impishly.
"Anything is better than Taco Night," Mike interjected, receiving a scowl from Sway.
"So, you guys just picked a name out of a hat or what?" Lenny was trying to follow along.
Harrison turned around to face her and Luke again, "Here's the deal, we grew up in Boston, right?" He waited for Lenny to nod so he knew she was paying attention. "Okay, Sway has always had a…penchant for the ladies." Lenny looked over at Sway who winked and she resisted another eye roll. "When he was only seventeen he started to sneak onto the campus at Boston University to scam on college chicks."
"Why college chicks?" Lenny asked, her mouth ticking up on one side.
"Because college chicks are experienced and usually pretty easy," Sway said matter of fact.
"Dude," Mike grimaced with disapproval.
"Anyway," Harrison continued, "BU does a lot of research, and some girls picked up on the fact that Sway wasn't a student. They developed an experiment in order to study attraction and how strong a teenage boy's libido could be. They did a double blind study in which Sway didn't know he was part of an experiment and neither did the girls he was scamming on. It was going great for them until Sway got caught by campus police. They threw him out and threatened to turn him in on charges of seduction."
"Is that real?" Lenny asked, incredulous.
"Yeah, Frank Sinatra was charged for it too, you know," Sway said, making a sexy face and blowing Lenny a kiss.
Lenny shook her head and waited for Harrison to finish.
"My sister was the one who organized the study, that's how I found out about it," Harrison folded his hands together and rested his chin on his knuckles. "We decided that our band was basically that, a double blind study to the public where they didn't know they were part of it and neither did we. 'Course we're more sober now than when we started. So I suppose we're more aware of our actions."
"Yeah, and you really don't want to have to go to all the trouble of changing your album covers and t-shirts," Lenny teased.
"And Blake would have to get that tattoo removed," Harrison added.
"You tattooed the name of your own band on yourself?!" Lenny pulled herself up to look at Blake, "Lemme see it."
Blake tried to feign annoyance but he clearly liked the attention. He stood up on the plane and yanked his shirt up to expose his impressive six-pack and the large tattoo scrawled in black ink across the width of his chest:
DOUBLE BLIND STUDY
"That's nice and subtle," Lenny said sarcastically with a grin.
"I was excited…" Blake tried to defend, putting his shirt back down.
"Dude, you were drunk," Harrison corrected. Blake shrugged in confession.
"Blake came back with the tattoo and we didn't have much of a choice after that," Harrison finished his story.
They spent the entire flight laughing and entertaining Lenny. They talked easily, having no reservations about her seemingly innocent presence. She had built the perfect platform for her next statement. It was time to cast the net.
"You guys make it sound fun but hard. I wish I could come along to help you out," her voice light and sweet. This was it.
They all exchanged glances, momentarily silent. Harrison spoke first, "Actually, we do need an assistant-"
"Dude!" Blake smacked him.
"Ow!" Harrison protested, rubbing his arm. "What?! Maybe it'll get Carl off our back!"
They all seemed to consider this for a minute. Luke turned to Lenny and asked, "What do you say Lenny? You wanna join a bunch of ugly, smelly guys for a few months?"
Lenny smiled. Her plan had worked. She nodded at all of them and kept her tone even as she replied, "What do you mean? Like, work for you?" She tried to look confused.
"Yeah," Harrison's face lit up, "then you can hang out with us every day."
"That would be amazing," Lenny smiled but she noticed Luke's eyes shift down and away from hers. The other members were already discussing how they could sell the idea to Carl but Luke remained silent. He'd already given his verbal approval and Lenny got the distinct impression that Luke was the leader in more areas than just lead singer. If he had disagreed with this than the deal would have been off.
Luke suddenly came back to the conversation and his easy smile returned. Whatever he had been thinking about had been settled and Lenny tried to push his obvious discomfort with her to the back of her mind. She would just have to prove to him that she could do the job.
Chapter 2 Times Like These
Shane: Lenny won't answer her phone or any of my texts
Cody: so it's over then
I'd think you'd be happy about this
Shane: she didn't tell you where she was going?
But you know her, she's not big on confrontation
Shane: do you think she remembers?
Cody: it's been 2 years
pretty sure it would've come up by now
relax, you're finally off the hook
we both are
Luke was uneasy. Again. Hiring Lenny excited him and he knew it shouldn't. She was gorgeous, and that would present a whole set of issues. But, she was also smart and seemed to genuinely fit into the dynamic of the group. It had been a long time since Luke had gotten this flustered over the presence of the opposite sex, it was like being a teenager all over again, hence the unease.
Luke wasn't the oldest, but he felt the most responsibility for the rest of the guys. The band had always looked to him to be the leader, in more ways than simply musically. Luke took it all in stride. He had no problem being the one everyone else expected to make the hard decisions, the one to lead by example. After what had happened in Germany two years ago to Mike…well, he couldn't let anything like that happen again.
Luke was aware of Carl's apprehension in regards to the tour and what obstacles could potentially arise. He couldn't see that they had grown up and things were different now. At least, they all hoped they were different.
Their opening show in Chicago went smoothly. They had gone directly from the airport to the venue, meeting Carl backstage and presenting Lenny to him. Carl had been annoyed, not unexpectedly. They were always coming up with new ways to make his job harder than it needed to be. Most of the time Carl's veto held solid, but he had caved under Harrison's pleas and Blake's outright promise of defiance. The band did need an assistant, and Lenny had been the most decent candidate to come along in a while.
"Decent candidate," Luke rolled his eyes as he recalled Sway's description of the newest member of their entourage. They had each driven away a number of women in the past, be it from heartbreak, exhaustion or restraining order. Luke felt his gut clench at the thought that Lenny would eventually be another casualty of their fame.
But maybe not. She didn't seem nearly as naive as most women he'd known over the years. She was audacious and self-aware. If she had any insecurities or illusions about what her job would be, it wasn't obvious. And with the guys new commitment to being straight laced and sober for the first time in their lives, she just might have a chance of leaving this tour emotionally intact.
Luke raked his fingers through his hair and let out a sigh. He shouldn't be having so many thoughts about the new girl. It was a dangerous path to start down. Luke found it unusual that the rest of the group was so taken with her, they barely knew her. However, he couldn't judge, as he was the one standing on his hotel balcony devoting every stray thought to her. He sighed again and tried to shake some new thoughts into his distracted brain.
He truly felt like the only one who was apprehensive about adding a female into the mix this early in the tour. It had turned out so badly last time. But then again, that wasn't the fault of the women around them; that had been their own poor choices.
His hotel room was on the top floor; and just below he could see the buses getting loaded. They would travel by bus for the tour through the States, and then fly overseas for a few shows in Europe. Departure was to be early in the morning, about twelve hours from now. This was probably the only night they would get a hotel, at least for a while. He and Mike would share a bus while Sway, Harrison and Blake would share another. They had five sleeper buses to accommodate the large crew that their show required which is where Lenny would ride.
Things were sure different than when they started out ten years ago.
Luke returned to the interior of the room and closed the sliding glass door.
Mike came in from the hallway and crashed face first onto one of the beds, "Holy shit, I'm tired."
Luke chuckled, "Maybe you should've slept last night instead of practicing your bluff so late."
"Practice makes perfect…or something like that." Mike closed his eyes, "I'm gonna sleep now. Go away or be quiet."
Luke left the room quietly, thinking that a walk might do him some good. Maybe he could help with something. He hated sitting around anyway.
His nerves were more than likely in direct correlation to the huge tour they were embarking on at dawn and had nothing to do with the chick who seemed to be at the forefront of his thoughts. He had to keep his head clear. He had to stay alert. If he wanted this band to not only survive the industry but their own past mistakes, he needed to focus on the music. Not on Lenny's thousand watt smile.
Easier said than done.
"Carl put you to work already?" He asked as he came up beside her. The wind was tossing loose strands from her tied back hair around her face. She turned to smile at him and his stomach tightened. She was crazy beautiful.
"I like to stay busy," Lenny noticed Luke's frown as he chastised himself internally and she misunderstood its meaning, "I can't justify being your assistant if I'm not actually assisting.
"Carl gave me the low down on what's allowed on the buses and what's not," she gestured to the checklist in her hand and motioned for him to follow her inside the bus. She pointed out the items as she listed them, "You have all your gear and favorite foods on board. A fully stocked fridge with soda and water," she emphasized, "and not the cheap kinds, mind you, but the good stuff." Luke followed her through the interior of the bus as she showed him where the sheets and and towels were located. "And I went ahead and programmed my number in your phone."
Luke looked down at her hand and saw her extending his iPhone towards him. He took it and his thumb slid across the face as he tried to figure out what to say. Why did her presence muddle his thoughts?
"So you can call me when you need anything," she smiled at his blank face and bit her bottom lip. Probably to keep from laughing at his total lack of cool.
"You didn't have to do all this for me." This was the first time they had really been alone and Luke was aware of the close proximity they were in, standing in the main lounge of the bus. It was unnerving. And intoxicating.
Lenny laughed, "Not just you, all the guys," she shook her head slightly at his expression, "I already gave the others their phones. You're just the last one to finally wander down here."
Luke stared at her, realizing she was only doing her job. Taking care of him, of them, was her job. He looked down at the phone in his hand. They had a working relationship. She wasn't a groupie. She wasn't flirting with him. She wasn't treating him like a rock star.
"And I already gave the big speech to everyone else so I might as well give it to you too," Lenny continued, her blue eyes taking on a serious glint, "Carl told me that there is to be no booze or babes allowed on board."
Luke felt a smirk beginning on his face and he tried to repress it. He wanted to make a joke about how that meant she was already breaking the rules, but he figured she probably didn't place herself in the 'babes' category.
"Don't make that face," Lenny took on a scolding tone. "I'll be around to inspect regularly and I have no problem being the bad guy."
"You're really taking this job seriously, aren't you?" Luke tried to keep his statement from sounding condescending.
Lenny arched an eyebrow at him as if she was expecting a challenge.
"You have my full support," Luke tipped his head towards her and he thought he detected the hint of a blush starting low on her neck. But maybe he was wrong about that too.
She gave a small, sideways smile that nearly melted Luke on the spot. When she turned to leave the bus, he automatically followed her.
As they stepped down into the humid July evening, Lenny turned and pursed her lips. She narrowed her eyes and Luke braced himself for what he thought was going to be an admonishment for him looking at her butt as they had exited the vehicle. He thought he'd diverted his eyes before she'd noticed, but now he wasn't so sure.
"What?" Luke asked innocently.
Lenny sucked in a breath and hesitated before taking a step closer to him. Luke reflexively inhaled her scent and hoped she didn't notice. If she did, she didn't say. She held his eyes for a beat.
"I know I don't know the whole story about what happened with Mike..." she spoke slowly and Luke could tell she was trying to find the right words, "but I really admire how you all are supporting his sobriety by keeping alcohol off the buses."
"We're a family, and family's support each other," he explained simply. It really was that simple and he was thankful that she had reminded him of that. Of the real reason they were embarking on this possibly disaster-filled adventure once again.
"I don't have parents or siblings or anything like that," Luke had no idea why he felt the compulsory need to spill his life secrets to her, he didn't even know her. He could say it was something in her eyes that he trusted. Or the way she turned her head slightly when she was listening to him that signaled his words were safe in the space that existed between them. "These guys are more than friends to me. They are my family."
She reached up to touch her lips, like she wanted to ask a question but had to stop herself. He was curious what she would ask; what direction her questions would take them in this impromptu albeit personal conversation.
Lenny's eyes drifted to something over his shoulder and Luke knew she was suddenly very far away.
"Yeah," she agreed, her voice rough. And then, as if realizing where she was, her eyes snapped back to his and she pulled the clipboard to her chest protectively. "Well, I'm pretty much done here for the day," she began to back away from him and forced a smile. "You better get some rest tonight, you have to be amazing tomorrow."
Luke gave her a nod as she departed quickly, heading for the hotel. He wondered what had spooked her. Maybe that was in his head, but it seemed like something was on her mind, and damn if he didn't want to follow her and ask her what it was. He didn't understand the impulsive need he felt to keep talking to her. Figure her out, let her figure him out.
"Ah, hell," he muttered to himself. Sticking his phone in his back pocket, he watched Lenny's blonde hair disappear through the entrance. He thought about trying to catch up to her but he waited a few extra minutes to let her get ahead. He didn't need to know where she was going. Probably to her room. He didn't need to know which room was hers. He didn't need to think about her at all. In fact, he should probably try to stay as far away from her as possible. She worked for them now, and sleeping with her, while that would probably get her out of his head, wasn't a good idea. Not to mention the fact that he'd be starting out the tour with the same bad decisions that had plagued him all during the last one.
Besides, she didn't seem like the kind of girl to crawl in bed with a rock star. She was better than that.
And that's exactly why he wanted to explore that gorgeous chaos he could see behind her blue eyes.
Luke made it up back to the top floor without seeing Lenny again. He quietly changed his clothes and headed to the hotel weight room. Maybe an hour of intense sweating would help sort out his confused desires.
An hour accidentally turned into two. Even though he kept repeating to himself to stop thinking about her, Lenny was all that filled his thoughts. Where had she come from? What was her story? As he burned out his bodies reserves on another dropset, he realized he knew very little about this woman they had so readily invited into their lives. That was going to have to change.
Lenny showered and dressed quickly, opting to skip pajamas and wear her jeans and grey V-neck tee to bed. It would save time in the morning. Sleeping fully clothed wasn't anything new for her anyway; it was practically a way of life living at higher elevations. She combed her long, wet hair and twisted it into her standard braid. Just as she was finishing brushing her teeth, she heard a knock at her hotel room door.
She crossed the room and looked through the peep hole. It was Carl, pacing in the hallway. She grimaced and unlocked the door to let him in. As he entered, she could smell cigarette smoke mixed with his aftershave.
"Hey," she greeted casually, "What's up?"
Carl strode across the room without saying anything. It was obvious from his behavior that he was looking for something. He scowled at Lenny, surveying her appearance and that of the yet to be used bed. The persistent frown on his face relaxed somewhat.
"What's going on, Carl?" Lenny tried again, but she already knew the answer.
"I wanted to check to see if you were alright," he lied.
"No, you wanted to see if I was alone." Lenny corrected and the corner of her mouth pulled up into a half-smile as she shook her head. She crossed her arms and leaned against the closed door.
Carl gave up the act, "Well, yeah."
"I understand this whole scenario is new for you, but you're just gonna have to trust me."
"I trust you," he took a breath; "it's those other hooligans I have a hard time with."
"Carl, I appreciate the over protective father routine, but I can really take care of myself." She gently tugged on his arm and led him to the door. "Get some sleep, big day tomorrow." She opened the door and he walked into the hallway. He turned to say something else and she interrupted, "Goodnight, Carl," then closed the door.
Carl stood in the dimly lit, empty hallway for a moment and then started to the elevators. He trusted Lenny, even more so now that she had basically just thrown him out. She was a strong young woman, no nonsense, focused. And she wasn't going to let anyone push her around. He pressed the button and waited. With a "ding!" the door opened. Exhaling a relieved sigh, Carl entered the lift and leaned against the wall. This tour might be successful yet. The boys appeared to be more centered than ever, and with Lenny on the inside, Carl felt like he could relax a little.
When they had come to him months ago, asking for him to return as their tour manager, he had flat out refused. However, he'd known most of them since they were tots and their persistence wore him down. They made a lot of promises. No drinking, no girls, no drugs. And they refused to do the tour without him, so the label had offered him an obscene amount of money.
It had seemed that their hiatus had given the band the time and space they needed to figure out how to be musicians again. They were dedicated to the creative process and claimed to have no interest in their previous...temptations. Carl only halfway believed them. He wasn't a complete idiot, they were terrific liars, that's why he needed an inside man, so to speak.
Carl had agreed to their request and then he started his own search. He needed someone who the band would trust. Someone seemingly innocent and innocuous. Someone they would invite along if they were getting ready to trash the entire eighth floor of a swanky hotel. But this someone would have to have loyalties to Carl, at least enough so he could try to stop whatever destruction the band had in its sights. Because when it came down to it, Carl loved these guys like brothers. Okay, maybe more like cousins. He wanted to see them succeed, not crash and burn.
He was about to give up hope when Lenny had breezed into Jerry's office. She was perfect. Carl couldn't describe it; he had a feeling deep in his gut that this girl was the answer to his prayers. Of course, that didn't mean he thought the next six months were going to be a prance in the park. Carl had gone to Lenny's room to make sure she was keeping up her end of the bargain. He was wonderfully relieved to find out that she was alone. Extra point in her column.
The door opened to his floor and he strode more leisurely to his room. As he got into bed and closed his eyes, he acknowledged the ridiculous feeling of excitement he was getting. He hadn't felt this much anticipation for a tour since Double Blind Study was still a garage band. It felt good. And right.
Last night's show had gone perfect. Playing poker until early morning with his oldest friends had been a welcome change from the infamously crazy after-parties of the last tour. And no had one mentioned Lenny's looks, or even her gender for that matter. Maybe they didn't notice. This might work after all.
Lenny was the first one awake. She tucked her small travel duffel into the compartment on the crew bus and hurried across the street to the tiny coffee shop. The wonderful aroma filled her nose and woke her up just a little bit more. She ordered enough coffees for the bus drivers, herself and Carl. Shifting the large order into a more manageable hold, she headed back to the waiting buses.
She passed out the coffees to the thankful drivers and sidled up to Carl. He glanced over at her, a bit surprised as she handed him his coffee.
"Thanks," he muttered.
They stood side by side without looking at each other for a few moments. Then Carl spoke again, "Sorry about barging in last night."
"Not a problem," she answered quietly. "But try to keep in mind, I'm on your side." She looked at him with a wry smile.
He chuckled softly and took a sip of his coffee, "It's new, I'll have to get used to it."
The Chicago morning was beautiful. Lenny admired the tall skyscrapers against the periwinkle sky. She had missed traveling and the excitement of waking up in a new place with the city just waiting to be explored. Her heart beat faster in anticipation of the upcoming touring schedule. She had no idea how much free time for her would even be possible. It didn't matter. She'd find a way to make the most of it.
"I was gonna have you ride with the crew for a couple of days but I changed my mind." Carl gave her a sideways glance, "I want you on the Red Bus with Sway, Harrison and Blake."
"Any particular reason why?" Lenny saw this as a good sign. It meant Carl wasn't afraid of her being alone with the band members during the long hours on the road. When he had laid out the rules yesterday, one of them was: "No girls on the buses during travel." Family and committed girlfriends could be the exception, but none of the guys were in a relationship. Lenny had been concerned about the logistics of keeping an eye on them if she wasn't going to be around them without supervision anyway. Carl's directive just changed that.
"You're my eyes and ears," Carl shrugged. "We'll try to switch it up periodically, keep them on their toes."
"You got it, boss," Lenny nodded towards the hotel where the musicians were making a slow and bleary-eyed exit, "Time to get to work." She slammed back the rest of her scalding hot coffee, ignoring Carl's startled look. Tossing her empty cup into a nearby trashcan, she headed for the approaching band members.
Lenny grabbed the suitcases from out of their hands and pushed them onto their respective buses.
"C'mon, ladies! We have a long way to go!" She directed with authority while she loaded their few bags.
"Damn, new girl! Calm down!" Blake protested sleepily. Lenny only laughed and shoved him up the steps of his bus.
"Your adoring public awaits." Lenny dramatically ushered Mike and Luke onto their bus. Even in the the early morning, Luke looked completely rested and relaxed. Lenny held in a contented sigh as he gave her a heart-stopping grin at the foot of his bus. He held her eyes for a second like he wanted to say something, but he just shook his head and climbed up the stairs.
Lenny gave Carl an exaggerated salute before following Sway up the steps of the Red Bus. He looked amused and impressed with her efforts and Lenny couldn't help but smile. As far as new lives go, this one was shaping up quite nicely.
Lenny settled into her seat on the Red Bus. She was a hard worker and she knew it. Her effort and quick success had already won her the respect of the road crew within a day. Even Carl seemed a bit less tense. She was excited and relieved to be on the road. This was new and different and she knew she'd be good at it. Just like everything else she'd put her mind to. And there was more than enough for her to do to keep her from thinking about all the things she was running from. A short seven hour drive, stage set up, show, stage tear down, back on the bus, drive all night. She could totally do this.
"Carl actually trusted you with us?" Blake teased from his reclining position on the couch.
"Yeah, what about the 'No Babes' rule?" Sway added from somewhere in the kitchenette area.
"I don't count." Lenny answered, not even looking up from her notebook.
"What? Why don't you count?" Blake pushed himself up on one elbow to look at her. "Are you a lesbian?"
Lenny smirked and shook her head, "No, I just don't sleep with rock stars. It's a rule I have."
"Screw that!" Sway dropped on the sofa opening a can of soda, shoving Blake out of the way. "We're not rock stars, we're musicians." He shook his head, obviously offended by her word choice.
"Fine, I don't sleep with musicians then." Lenny corrected, rolling her eyes.
"So Carl thinks nothing will happen because you have this special rule?" Sway asked, belligerence all over his face.
"Is that all you think of me as, Sway?" Lenny narrowed her eyes at him. "Just another conquest?"
"N-no," Sway stammered.
"Then why is it every conversation I have with you ends up being about sex?"
"It's the only thing he thinks about." Blake grinned at his friend who elbowed him hard in the ribs.
"That's not true!" Sway protested. "I have layers, I ain't all about sex."
Lenny tapped her pencil against her knee, contemplating his defensiveness.
"Sway's just having a hard time adjusting to the No Bob Tour." Harrison had settled onto the floor and was already rummaging through the video game consoles. He found the setup he was looking for and started plugging it all in. "He has to talk about it a lot before he can let it go. It's his way."
Sway 'humphed' and settled deeper into the cushions of the couch. Blake took a controller from Harrison and joined him on the floor and they began an epic battle involving robots and zombies.
"I'm sorry... No Bob tour?" Lenny questioned.
"Yeah. No Booze or Babes. Bob." Harrison explained as his avatar decapitated a zombie.
"Right," Lenny hid a smile and reopened her notebook.
The cabin was quiet save for the gory zombie deaths that were coming from the plasma TV. Lenny went over her lists for what to do when they arrived at the next venue. She knew she had it down, but she always double checked. Being wrong was not her favorite thing.
"I still don't get why you're the exception to the babes rule." Sway broke into Lenny's thoughts.
Lenny looked up to see him staring at her intently. His blue eyes were hooded and soft. The blonde hair he usually kept pulled back hung forward and touched the stubble on his well-defined jaw. Lenny understood a little more how the girls were so easily taken with him. Five seconds of his direct eye contact and she felt caught, examined. The seduction thing made a lot more sense suddenly.
Sway wet his full, perfect, bottom lip with his tongue as he waited for Lenny to give him an explanation. She swallowed and he must've noticed her unease because his mouth crooked up slightly on one side.
"For shit's sake, Sway!" Blake interrupted by punching Sway in the thigh.
"What?" Sway exclaimed innocently. He rubbed the place where Blake had hit him and winked at Lenny.
Lenny let out the breath she hadn't realized she was holding and looked back to her notebook. She felt the heat creep up her neck in embarrassment. Even as she tried to fight it off, she felt her ears go white-hot and she vaguely wondered if she was going to spontaneously combust on the spot. That would only further Sway's ego she was sure. She could see the headlines now: Girl explodes from seduction overload after extended eye contact with rock star.
"Lenny is off limits!" Blake was actually yelling. He hadn't even paused in his grizzly zombie killing spree. He would periodically glance over his shoulder to look between Lenny and Sway.
"I know that," Sway defended himself, "She was just turning me down left and right I had to make sure I still had it." He leaned back on the couch and put his hands behind his head. "And I do." He smiled wickedly at Lenny.
"Just ignore him." Blake directed at Lenny. "He really can't help himself."
"I really can't." Sway shrugged, agreeing with the guitarist. "And I also can't let you believe that you don't fall into the babes category, because you totally do."
Lenny still hadn't spoken. She was certain her face was a lovely shade of maroon. She was having an internal argument on how she would handle this. Acknowledging it seemed to be the best option.
"Yep. You caught me," she gave an embarrassed smile, "I'm a just a dumb girl after all."
Sway's face fell and he leaned forward bracing his arms on his knees, "That's not what I was saying at all."
Harrison and Blake had paused their game and turned around, concern evident on both their faces.
"I was just having some fun, I didn't..."
"He's an idiot, Lenny," Blake threw a glare at Sway. "No one thinks you're a dumb girl. We're really glad to have you here."
"Seriously," Harrison's dark eyes were round and pleading, "You have to ignore him. He just likes a challenge. He hits on me at least once a day."
Lenny smiled at Harrison. He really was the most adorable guitar player she had ever met.
"That's true, actually." Sway added and Lenny laughed out loud then. They seemed to relax a little.
"Guys, it's fine." Lenny was touched by their concern for her feelings but it wasn't necessary. "It's not like I've never been flirted with before. It's just been...a long time is all. I forgot what to do in that kind of a situation," she attempted to laugh it off even as the truth in her words burned her throat.
All three guys exchanged frowns.
"What do you mean, 'it's been awhile?'" Harrison seemed confused.
Lenny bit the inside of her cheek, unsure how much she felt comfortable revealing. She liked these guys and all, but that didn't make them best friends by any means. And this subject in particular made her feel more exposed than she had anticipated.
"Yeah..." Blake showed disbelief. "You weren't in prison or something, were you?"
"No," Lenny said, forcing a wide smile. "No, nothing like that. I've just been busy for a couple years. Haven't gotten out much." She grit her teeth at the twinge of hurt in her voice.
They eyed her momentarily and decided not to push it. She was relieved when Harrison and Blake went back to their violent game.
It was a strange morning for her, that was for sure. After a couple of hours, Sway went to take a nap, which then led to Blake and Harrison talking her into playing their game with them. A few rounds of that and they went to get some sleep too, leaving Lenny alone with her thoughts.
She stared out the window, enjoying the peacefulness of the prairie as it passed outside. What a weird first day.
During stage setup, the band was sleeping and Lenny decided to learn as much as she could about the equipment. She had never handled musical instruments before; she came from a family of devoted athletes. She understood gym equipment and sports gear; weight plates, dumbbells, sparring helmets and gloves, various forms of physical protection and how to utilize all of those items to the maximum benefit of the user. Guitars, drum kits, amplifiers, mic stands and the like were completely foreign to her. But she was a fast learner and applied herself full force.
She made sure the band got to sound check and then she took her first official break of the day. She changed into athletic shorts, a sports bra, and running shoes. She texted Carl, telling him she would be back in two hours, and went for a run.
The fresh air helped clear her head. The time went fast and she arrived back at the venue. After a couple minutes of snooping around, she found a shower in the stadium and took advantage of it. She dressed quickly in jeans and a blue tank top and went backstage to make sure everything was still on track.
Sam, head of security, greeted her first and pointed her towards Carl, in the sound booth with the technician. Carl looked up and smiled when he saw her. She raised her eyebrows in silent question; his smiles had been few and far between for the most part.
"It's all good," he said happily, "all according to plan."
"Good." Lenny shifted her gaze to the band warming up on stage. "They sound tight," she looked at the sound tech, "Would you mind if I sat in here with you during the show? I won't get in the way."
"Fine with me," he replied.
Carl dismissed himself leaving Lenny and Greg, the sound engineer, alone. Lenny paid attention to all the little switches and knobs, memorizing as much as she could without asking questions. She didn't want to be a distraction.
Mike could see everything from his position behind the drums. He watched Lenny walk back to the sound booth but, more importantly, he saw Luke staring at her. His posture and playing changed just noticeably. It was like he was trying to show off a little. Mike chuckled to himself, realizing Luke's crush. He made a mental note to ask him about it later.
When sound check wrapped up, Mike took a long pull from his water bottle and followed the rest of the band back to the Blue Bus to chill before the show.
"So, I noticed that someone has eyes for the new hottie," Mike casually remarked as they relaxed in the main lounge.
"Who doesn't?" Sway mumbled, rummaging through the fridge.
"No shit, that chick is smokin'." Blake took a drink from his water.
Mike kept his focus on Luke who shifted uneasily on his feet, looking anywhere except at Mike.
"I wasn't talking about you horn dogs," Mike replied.
They turned to Luke who still hadn't said anything.
"You like Lenny, Luke?" Leave it to Harrison to just be out with it.
Luke looked up, pretending to be confused, "What? No, of course not."
"So you hate her?" Harrison was deliberately trapping him into a confession of some kind.
"No, I don't hate her, don't be ridiculous. She's nice," Luke stammered, looking uncomfortable.
"So you do like her." Harrison wanted an absolution, his face the picture of innocence.
"What do you want me to say?" Luke was growing more agitated. "You want me to say I think she's good looking, she is. You all think so, too. Why does it matter if I say it?"
"Whoa, dude, relax," Blake dramatically widened his eyes and motioned with his hands for Luke to calm down, "We're not the ones in love with her."
Luke rolled his eyes and stormed towards the door. "You're a bunch of dicks, you know that?" He left in a huff as the others burst into laughter.
"What's wrong with him?" Sway asked Mike.
"Ah, he thinks his crush is a big secret." Mike shrugged nonchalantly.
"Well, if I'm not allowed to bag her, then I don't think Luke should be allowed to either." Sway sat down on the floor.
"You know you're a pig, right?" Mike asked him in disgust.
"A pig that gets more action than you." Sway pointed out, not even offended.
"I don't think we should be talking about who does or does not get to bag Lenny." Blake interjected from the kitchenette. "I have a feeling she could kick all our asses."
"How was it having Lenny on your bus today?" Mike asked. He had wondered what had possessed Carl to throw her into the dog pile like that on her first day.
"She was cool. Helped me kill some zombies." Harrison responded, exchanging a look with Blake.
"What was that?" Mike asked pointing back and forth between them. "Did something happen?"
"Not exactly." Harrison said slowly.
Blake sighed and ran his fingers through his short dark hair, "Sway put the seduction on her."
"Dammit, Sway!" Mike chastised.
"I handled it," Blake reproved. "I don't think it's going to be an issue."
"Can't you ever let one go by?" Mike asked in frustration. He was so sick of Sway never growing up. The endless parade of girls over the years was making it really hard for Mike to respect his band mate.
And then Mike said what he had said many times before, "You have no self-control."
The remorse that washed over Sway's face was sincere and Mike flinched inwardly. They both had things they struggled to master that had hurt those closest to them.
"I know," Sway said softly. "I'm still sorry about-"
"I know. I shouldn't have said that." The tension in the cabin was thick and Mike regretted having such a strong reaction to Blake's revelation. "We're both trying to be better."
Luke decided to take a walk to clear his head. He knew the guys were just giving him a hard time. What he was really upset about was how much he had let it get to him. Lenny was already a sensitive topic for him and he knew that could get him into trouble.
Girls had always been a weakness of his. He liked women and they liked him. He never spent enough time with just one to really know what they were all about. The longest relationship he had ever had, he was loaded for the entirety of it. That's probably why it had lasted as long as it did.
Why did Carl stick her on the bus with Sway today? It had pissed Luke off more than it should have. Jealousy was a new feeling and he didn't like it. It's not like she was his girl. She worked for the band. She was off limits. Off. Limits.
He shook his head, trying to focus his thoughts. He couldn't have a relationship with Lenny. That would be unprofessional. And a disaster. Carl would be pissed. Luke smirked at that. But, she was going to be around them a lot and she was really fun.
Friends. They could be friends. That would work, he had lots of friends, he knew what a friendship looked like. He would just have to treat her like one of the guys. And ignore the fact that she was his perfect height for kissing. Shit. This was going nowhere fast.
It suddenly occurred to Luke that he had no idea if Lenny even noticed him in that way. She had remained cool and aloof towards him, and all the guys for that matter. Maybe she wasn't attracted to him. That was new. Luke had never had to work for a girl to notice him. Chicks constantly threw their bras and panties to him on stage, and once, Carl had had to chase out two girls who'd tried to stow away on the bus. Maybe Lenny was just exactly what she seemed: a hard worker who wasn't interested in getting tied down in a relationship. Why did that make him want her more? Luke was starting to get mad at himself.
The real kicker for him wasn't his physical attraction towards her, though it didn't help matters. Nope, that's not what had him confused and upside down. It was the unpredicted avidity to crack open his chest cavity and show her everything. Invite her to climb inside his mess of a life and add some beauty to it.
He turned back towards the bus; he knew the guys were going to continue giving him a hard time until they got bored with it. He would just have to ride it out until then. And hope he didn't screw everything up in the process. They were depending on him.
"Were you with your girlfriend?" Blake lilted.
"Go to hell." Luke tried to play it casual.
Carl stuck his head in the bus, "Ten minutes."
They started to the stage area, all of them feeling the energy of the crowd beating in their chests. It reminded them all of why they were really there, the exhilaration of playing a live show. They loved the fans and the excitement. They'd been playing together for so long it was nearly effortless.
When they took the stage the arena went wild. The time always seemed to pass too quickly. From the first note to the last, they continuously gave it everything they had, knowing that they wouldn't be able to live their dreams without the fans making it possible.
They constantly left it all on the stage, returning to the buses completely exhausted. All worry and speculation about any subject matter disappeared; they just focused on rocking their fans' faces off. And they never disappointed.