Page 34 of Riot (Mayhem 2)

Joel looks me up and down when he emerges from the bathroom downstairs and spots me sitting on a bench. He’s shirtless, with low-slung shorts and his hair dark with water.

“Remember what I said last night?” he asks, pulling me up by my hand and spinning me around.

“Uh-huh,” I say. I don’t want you being with anyone else. I let him ogle while I do a slow twirl.

“Yeah,” he says, “that.”

I giggle, but he cuts it short by twirling me the rest of the way around and catching my lips with his. My fingers grip his shower-warmed biceps, and I lose myself in the scent of masculine body wash clinging to his skin. It makes my head spin, and when Rowan interrupts us by asking if we’re ready to go, neither of us acknowledges her.

She clears her throat, and when that doesn’t work either, Shawn punches Joel in his sore shoulder.

“Fuck,” Joel barks, releasing me to rub the pain away.

Shawn shoots him an unrepentant smile. “Time to go, lover boy.”

Joel quickly does his hair in the bathroom, and then he pulls on an oversized tank and big Timberland boots. He’s a mismatched mess, and all I want to do is whine about how he’s so fucking hot I can’t stand it. All I can think about is last night, and each time the memory of his hands trickles back onto my skin, my heartbeat picks up and my cheeks flush red. I blame it on the sun, and Rowan offers me more sunscreen, but I bat it away and ignore the confused look she gives me.

After spending the morning rocking out in crowds and causing irreversible damage to our eardrums, all six of us are standing in a horizontal row at the side of the main stage. We’re waiting for Cutting the Line to perform, and Joel’s fingers are sneaking into the slits in the back of my T-shirt to trace the line of my bra. My breathing turns slow and steady in an attempt to keep my lungs functioning at all. I don’t know what it is about his hands, calloused from years of playing the guitar, and more precise and skilled than any hands I’ve ever had on me. Those long fingers brush over the lacy fabric, weave over the tiny hooks . . . and my bra suddenly springs wide open. I gasp and clamp my arms to my sides to keep it in place. Everyone looks at me, but I smile and pretend Joel didn’t just unclasp my bra. One-handed. In public.

He moves behind me and pulls my back to his front, and I bite the inside of my lip, getting his message loud and clear.

I’m about to turn around and drag him back to the bus when Van sprints toward us from behind the stage, and screams fly out from the crowd as soon as the fans see him. The noise stops him dead in his tracks, and he gestures for us to join him backstage before backing out of sight.

“Wade is fucking hungover,” he complains when we meet him in the back. He strangles thick locks of his hair between his fingers like he’d rather be wringing someone’s neck.

“Like too hungover to play?” Adam asks.

“Like too hungover to fucking stand,” Van growls, looking back and forth between Joel and Shawn. “Can one of you fill in? I’ll give you my firstborn child, I swear to God.”

Before Shawn can respond, I nudge Joel forward. “Joel can play.”

Playing with Cutting the Line will get him more exposure. Once people see and hear him, they’ll want to know who he is, who his band is. It’s a good career move, and I don’t want him to miss the opportunity.

Joel glances at me before returning his attention to the pleading look in Van’s eyes. “Yeah . . . sure. Which songs are you playing?”

“Which ones do you know?” Van asks, leading Joel to where his two band mates are getting ready. The rest of us go back to our vantage point beside the stage, and I buzz with anticipation, waiting to see Joel perform with one of the biggest bands there is.

When they appear onstage, the crowd screams just as loudly as they would have if it would have been the original lineup. Van removes his mic from its stand. “How are you motherfuckers doing?!”

The crowd goes wild, and Van shouts back at it, making everyone scream even louder to be heard over the roaring speakers. He laughs and says, “Wade isn’t feeling so hot, so we’ve got a special treat for you today. This sexy motherfucker over here is Joel Gibbon from The Last Ones to Know. The rest of his band is standing right over there,” Van points toward us, and the guys lift up their hands in a wave at the crowd, “and all of you are going to know who they are real soon, trust me. They’re one of my favorite bands, and it’s an honor to have this asshole up here on the stage with me tonight.”

Joel laughs and flicks Van off, and Van grins in approval. Joel goes back to testing his pedals and getting a feel for his guitar, and Van goes back to priming the crowd.

“For real though,” he says, “go to their website. Buy their album. If you’re in Virginia or anywhere they’re playing, go to their shows. And if you see this guy later tonight,” he adds, gesturing to Joel, “suck his dick nice and good because we wouldn’t have a show to put on right now if it wasn’t for the huge favor he’s doing us.”

The crowd cheers, and some random girl in the crowd shouts, “I’ll do it!”

“I bet you will,” Van teases with a laugh. I’m already scanning the crowd, itching to punch her teeth out.

“Are you fuckers ready for a show?!” Van asks, and fog wraps around his ankles, lit by red and orange lights suspended around the stage.

The crowd screams, and then Joel’s guitar starts the show and all I see is him. Other girls are seeing him too, screaming and reaching for him as he plays as effortlessly as he does when he’s with his own band. The guitar is like an extension of him, something he’d know how to play even in his sleep.

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