She was destined to show him the joy and pain of living.
Joe Campbell has it all: money, success, and fame. As lead singer of British alternative rock back Blind Man’s Alibi, he holds the vague conviction that life on the road, and nights filled with meaningless sexual encounters, is enough. Until her – Emma Travers. She is a breath of fresh air. Sunshine to his darkness. The one who changes him, pushes him, and teaches him to truly live. He never imagines she is hiding a devastating secret. Or that the same emotion that could steal his heart, would ultimately break it.
“Sorry, but sucking off a narcissistic asshole who’s so damn drunk he can’t recall the words to his own song is not my idea of a good time.”
His bark of laughter echoed in the empty hall. “You really are a ray of sunshine, aren’t you?”
God, what a terrible idea this had been. Hoping to put some distance between them, Emma Travers quickened her pace, only to stumble over the uncustomary height of the heels her best friend Alison had convinced her to wear. Her ankle screamed in protest, forcing her to skid to a halt. Balancing precariously so she didn’t face plant on the concrete, she struggled against the zippers, finally succeeding in pulling the rhinestone studded stilettoes from her swollen feet. She barely resisted the urge to turn around and throw them at the head of the man who’d pissed her off faster than a Bugatti Veyron went zero to sixty, and instead tossed them aside and continued her escape in bare feet.
“Come back and see me sometime, Emma,” Joe Campbell, lead singer of the British alternative metal bandBlind Man’s Alibi, called out to her.
“I could use a bit of sunshine in my life.” The murmur hit her ears like a shout, and stopped her in her tracks.
Emma remained rooted in place, unable to decide if he was for real, or filling her with pretty words in order to get her to stay and sleep with him. He sounded sincere enough, but the only way to know for certain was to face him. Something she really did not want to do.
Not that he was painful to look at. Oh no, Joe Campbell was extremely pleasing to the eye, a fact he knew too well. One, she was certain, he used to his advantage whenever an occasion presented itself. Like tonight, when she’d gone against character and accepted his invitation backstage after the show.
One glimpse of the man who stood alone in the room she’d been unceremoniously delivered to and Emma went hot all over. Unable to speak she’d allowed her gaze to take a long, slow journey over his body. His torso was bare, giving her an unobstructed view of hardened pecs, a flat washboard stomach and muscles that rippled and shifted making the Chinese dragon that wrapped around his left upper arm and onto his chest seem alive as he slipped his left hand into the front pocket of his jeans. Dear God those jeans! The way they hung on his lean hips, the top button undone like he’d just pulled them on. They rode so low there was no mistaking that underneath them he was commando. Her gaze had locked on the obvious bulge behind his fly and for a moment, she’d actually considered dropping to her knees before him and taking a taste.
Then he’d opened his mouth. What was that saying? He’d managed to take the wind out of her sails.
With a deep breath for courage, Emma turned around and was greeted by the same image of the man as before. Except that the whiskey bottle he’d held in his right hand and lifted to those delectable lips too many times to count, was nowhere to be seen. Oh great, and the hulking brute who’d brought her backstage, stood leaning against the wall to Joe’s right.
Gary, she was pretty certain he’d introduced himself as Gary, held his arms crossed before him, head tipped toward the floor in a pseudo relaxed pose designed to give the impression he hadn’t just heard every damn word they’d said. He blew the image to shit when he lifted his head and winked at her. Winked! Was everyone in the music industry completely bonkers?
Emma did her best to ignore the brute and focused on the singer. “You’re a real piece of work, you know that?”
“What did you expect?”
“I guess I hoped the stage show was just that, a show, and that there was a decent guy behind all of that. Maybe I wanted to believe the ‘I’m too sexy for my own good’ attitude was just publicity.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” he said in a tone that didn’t sound regretful at all. He strode toward her, his long legs closing the distance in half the time it had taken her to get this far. She made herself stand her ground as he stepped in close, closer than she’d yet allowed him to get. Close enough she caught the subtle hint of soap on his skin, and whiskey on his breath. “You’re right about one thing, I’m an asshole. But it wasn’t the alcohol that caused me to lose my words tonight, Emma Travers. It was you.”
His chin-length brown hair was nearly dry now and hung over his eyes as if windblown, though nary a wisp of air blew from the vents above. Eyes she was surprised to learn were two different colors – one brown, the other a mix of brown and green. “You excel at telling a girl what she wants to hear, I’ll give you that.”
His gaze didn’t flinch. “How can you doubt the truth? You were there, close enough to touch me.” His voice dropped an octave. “All you had to do was reach out.”
An image of hands pawing and clutching at him whenever he’d trekked too close to the edge of the stage flashed through her mind. “Is that what you wanted me to do? Grope you like the other women in the audience. Do you actually enjoy that?”
He suddenly appeared to have a bad taste in his mouth. “Not particularly.”
“Yet you expect me to believe that for some unknown reason you wanted me to touch you?”
“You stood out from the crowd. Not singing, not screaming, just standing in the front row. It was impossible not to notice you. I wondered why you were at the show; you didn’t seem to be having a good time. Then you smiled at me…my mind blanked.”
What the hell was she supposed to say to that? Thanks for noticing me? “I was feeding you lines and you just stood there, staring.” Much the same way as she was doing now. Christ he was beautiful. Her fingers itched with the need to trace his lips, his mustache, the little hairless spots on the outside of his bottom lip and that sexy as hell strip of facial hair that went from the center of his full lower lip down, to blend into his short trimmed beard. Her throat went dry as dust, making it hard to swallow. “So why me? I’m not actually supposed to believe you saw me and lost your words, am I?”
“That’s what happened.” he stated matter-of-factly. “You know it’s true, you were there.”
Emma shook her head.
“Contrary to what you think, I was not too drunk to remember the lyrics. You see, I’m an accomplished drinker. I’ve been at it a long time. Long enough to know that forgetting the words to one of my songs is about as never-going-to-happen as forgetting how to please a woman.”
“Why what, Sunshine?”
“Why are you a practiced drunk? Is that all you do, spend your free time partying?”
“Interesting. You don’t question my forgetting how to please a woman?”
“Hah! You could probably pull that off if you were comatose.”
The corners of his mouth kicked up into a smile. His eyes blazed with arrogance. Slowly, ever so slowly he lifted his right hand toward her face.
The calloused tips of his fingers glanced off her cheek as she caught his wrist. “It’s time for me to go.”
“Stay.” His deep voice combined with his intent gaze spread warmth throughout her body.
She forced herself to look away. Her eyes trailed a path down his right arm, over the bulge of bicep, the bend of his elbow, to where her hand circled his wrist. Beneath her thumb, which was busy making slow, gentle sweeps across his skin – When exactly had it started doing that? – a tattoo drew her attention. Measures of music circled his wrist once, twice, three times before ending in a large, red and black abstract G clef on the outside of his forearm.
“Tell me why you came backstage to find me if you weren’t interested in, how did you put it, ‘Sucking off a narcissistic asshole’?”
She felt bad for about ten seconds, then recalled the insulting way he’d treated her when first she’d entered his room.
“Why did you come backstage, Em?”
Shock? Curiosity? Because she couldn’t wrap her mind around why someone like him would choose someone like her?
Emma wasn’t sure if that was what he wanted to hear. She was certain he wasn’t interested in knowing that ever since the day her oncologist informed her there was nothing more that could be done, she swore to pack as much living as she could into the time she had left. To squeeze every last drop of juice out of life.
She kept all of that to herself, instead releasing him and taking a step beck. With a deep breath to center herself she met his gaze. “I’ll stay.”
He flashed her a crooked smile.
“But no more alcohol.”
“Done.” He turned and motioned toward the room in a way that told her she was to take the lead.
Emma snatched her shoes off the floor. As she skirted around the man who made panties drop around the globe she told him, “Just so you know, I’m not sleeping with you, no matter how many pretty words you throw my way.”
“You keep telling yourself that, Sunshine. Maybe you’ll even begin to believe it.”