"You smell incredible," he whispered, his mouth close to me, the rasp in his words vibrating through my body, making me shudder with pleasure. Emotions swirled in my head, but the one that dominated was lust. Tornadic, destructive lust. I wanted him.
As his lips brushed against my shoulder, I opened my mouth and released the pent-up energy. The moan that escaped my lips sounded like one I would have right before an orgasm.
Then nothing. The sudden absence of Jax’s hands on my skin felt almost like pain.
Still throbbing with need, I twisted at the waist, maddeningly confused. I watched him stand up, pick out a sandwich from the fridge, and walk toward the stairwell, whistling a tune I recognized as one of the songs the band had played at the Wallabee.
He reached the steps and turned back to me, a mischievous glint in his eyes. "That’s for New York. See you in Chicago, Riley."
FIRST STOP: CHICAGO
Half an hour before The Hitchcocks were scheduled to take the stage, I was doing exactly what I was hired for: making steady progress on paperwork in a backstage maintenance room, surrounded by power tools and foul-smelling cleaning supplies. I’d been trying to avoid Jax all day and so far succeeding.
I thought about calling Kristen in the morning to tell her about all the craziness of yesterday with Jax, but she already had so much on her plate with the baby so I decided to call Jen instead. I was relieved to get it off my chest. Jen had been surprised and sympathetic at first but then she’d said, "Typical Riley. Always getting into trouble. I’m not there to hold you back this time, so if you’re basically living in close quarters with the rock god, you’re pretty much f**ked." Jen’s lack of faith in me only bolstered my determination to keep Jax at a distance. I’d show her. And Jax.
Jax. Ugh! I put my hands over my face and hung my head in front of the laptop screen. Just remembering how he left me with blue balls last night—or whatever the female equivalent was called—made me furious. And the worst part was I’d been stupid enough to fall for it. Although he’d fixed my sore shoulder, I ended up tossing and turning through the night, not because the couch cushion felt like it was made out of bamboo, but because I was too aroused to fall asleep. I’d considered ways of relieving the tension—the privacy of the bathroom being one tempting option—but I was too stubborn. I could picture him smugly imagining me touching myself from the massage he’d given me.
My first reaction had been to retaliate. I’d spent at least a half hour pondering how to get him back, giggling maniacally to myself as I brainstormed ways of getting my hands on Viagra using an old-man disguise. I’d give him balls so blue that a smurf would look at them and say, "Damn, that’s blue!"
Then I’d snapped to my senses. That was exactly what he wanted. He wanted me to play games with him. And that’s why I made up my mind this morning to stay away from Jax at any cost—even if it meant doing my work seated on a propane tank with my laptop on a rusted oil drum.
Shaking my head of stray thoughts, I took a sip from what was my fourth coffee of the day, and got back to reviewing the files.
The Hitchcocks were skyrocketing in the charts—the newest Billboard chart showed their album Wild at number twenty-six and rising. And to think, I’d thought they were just some local act that regularly played at dive bars when I first saw them. Turns out, their impromptu show had been a publicity stunt to drum up media excitement for the tour.
But despite their growing success, I was right to worry about the financial health of the band. Every month, they were spending as much as they were making, sometimes more.
It wasn’t sustainable. No wonder they’d saddled Hans-Peterson with a two-week temporary stint; they needed a hatchet man. The Hitchcocks didn’t need a kind, gentle money manager. They needed someone to do a hack-and-slash job on the budget so everyone could keep getting paid. Every time I pieced another expense into the band’s financial picture, it looked worse.
The Hitchcocks needed budget cuts, but from what? Jax would be the best person to ask, but I didn’t want to get sucked into another one of his games.
As I sighed and opened another spreadsheet, a knock interrupted me.
"Come in," I said, turning away from my laptop.
The door swung open, and a man with dark suntanned skin and sunglasses burst in. He sported a blonde ponytail behind a slicked-back hairline that had just started receding. He was attractive for sure, though he had probably been hotter a decade ago. Dressed in a sharp white suit sans tie and with the top button of his pink oxford casually undone, he reminded me of an older, more shopworn version of David Beckham. The sparkling diamonds in his ears and shiny Rolex peeking out from beneath his right cuff made it clear he was rich—or, at least, that he really wanted people to think so.
"Riley, baby," he said with a voice as slick as his hair. "I’ve been looking all over for you."
"Huh? Sorry, have we met before?"
"Name’s Reed." "I’m the band manager."
Ah, that explains it. Palmer’s dossier had mentioned Reed. Somehow, I’d expected him to look a little more down-to-earth. If this man, with his diamond earrings and expensive suit, was managing the band, it was no wonder they saw nothing wrong with spending their money as fast as they made it. He was the reason this job was such a pain in my ass.
"Riley Hewitt. Nice to meet you," I offered. I shook his hand cordially and he squeezed a little too hard. It was a clear assertion of dominance and I didn’t like it. It made me realize that it was in his best interest that the band had a high spending budget, precisely because it made his commission look small. That unfortunately made our positions at odds.
He opened his mouth as if to say something, but stopped as he looked around the room. "By the way, what are you doing back here?"
"Uh, just needed a place to focus, that’s all."
"Ah, great. You’re a go-getter. I like to hear that. Now, listen, Riley, I think we should go over a few things while you’re getting started. Is now a good time?"
I sighed, putting my computer in suspend mode. Reed being here right now wasn’t ideal, but I needed to talk to him about the budget before the tour went much further, he seemed like a busy guy and I had no idea when I would see him again. Besides, it would be good to finally find out a bit more about how the band operated. "It’s as good a time as any."
"This your first tour? What a crazy band to start with," he said, not waiting for me to answer the initial question. "What do you think of the band so far?" He leaned forward intently.