It was blood in his veins, the music, the energy that made his heart beat. Up here, with the music burning up the air and his closest friends in total synergy with him, there was no pain, no anger, no hopeless rage. There was just the sweet, pure beauty of music in every cell of his body, making him pure too.

Fingers moving over the strings, he let the music fill him. He used a pick occasionally when he was going to town on a seriously hard rock number, but even then, he’d been known to use his fingers. He liked the direct connection to the strings, and his fingertips had long ago become callused enough to take it.

Today he brought the song to an end with a guitar solo that had Fox grinning and calling out, “Hell yeah! Noah is in the house!”

Noah only became aware of the riotous cheers from the early birds when the last note faded from the air. Shoving his hand through his sweat-damp hair, he grinned a hello at Genevieve. The bass player was joining them for this concert and, having worked with Schoolboy Choir previously, had come smoothly into the mix when she arrived halfway through the song.

Happily married with three kids, Genevieve liked performing but didn’t want the pressure that came with being part of a band. Being a session musician suited her, and having her here freed Abe up from having to do double duty and lay down the bass line since Noah couldn’t play lead guitar and bass at the same time. The band had a few bass players they worked with for live performances, but Genevieve was their favorite.

“Sounds like we’re good to go,” Noah said to everyone. “We could leave now, go relax.”

Fox raised an eyebrow, David grinned, and Abe began the intro into another song while Genevieve had a rock-and-roll smile on lips she’d painted electric blue.

Laughing, Noah fell into it, and they played just for the fun of it, Genevieve working with them. Fox slung on his own guitar partway through, and the two of them dueled it out while Abe carried the song with his voice, then David challenged Noah and they had one hell of a jam session.

“Fuck, man,” Noah said afterward, his T-shirt sticking to his back. “How the hell do you keep that going?” Drumming was one of the most physically draining positions in a band.

David gave him a shit-eating grin, his teeth flashing white against the warm golden-brown tone of his skin. “I’m just in a good mood.”

“Oh, shut the hell up,” Abe growled. “Just because you’re getting laid on a regular basis doesn’t mean you have to rub our faces in it.”

David grinned harder. “Dry spell, huh? Sucks to be you.”

As the two exchanged more insults and comments while Genevieve looked on, Fox crouching down to talk to Maxwell about something to do with the mike, Noah guzzled a bottle of water and felt warmth spreading in his veins. Tonight he wouldn’t go home with some random groupie. Tonight he’d go home with his girl.

Yeah, it was pretend, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy the beauty of it. Imagining Kit waiting backstage for him like Molly waited for Fox and Thea did for David on the days she could fly in to meet him, it made Noah’s insides twist into knots that didn’t hurt. They ached instead, and the ache was a good one.

Rubbing at his eyes, eyes grainy from lack of sleep, he pulled off the guitar. “I’m going to crash for a couple of hours.” At this point he was tired enough that he might actually get some sleep. “We hooking up for dinner?”

Fox nodded from where he was still crouched on the edge of the stage. “Catering truck’s coming in around four.”

They’d go onstage at six, so it was better they eat earlier. “I’ll see you then.” Taking his guitar with him because he’d fucking kill anyone who damaged the stunning instrument, he headed to the back of the stage and down. This entire area was blocked off from the public and lined neatly with equipment trucks and other behind-the-scenes stuff.

Schoolboy Choir’s tour buses were parked side by side behind all that, a buffer zone between them so the noise wouldn’t be too bad. Kind of a moot point for an outdoor concert, but the buses were insulated against noise, so it worked. He got into his bus using a thumbprint scan, and putting down his guitar soon as he was inside, kicked off his boots and socks before tugging off his sweaty T-shirt, leaving it all in a pile by the door.

His belt and jeans he tore off on his way to the back of the bus, and then he was falling flat on his face in bed, so exhausted after not sleeping in much more than short fits and starts over the past week that his mind just shut down.

Chapter 19

Kit arrived at Zenith around three that day to find it already buzzing. Fans had set up multicolored tents as far as the eye could see, and the food trucks that lined the area were doing a brisk business. Everyone seemed in a cheerful mood, and though the live music hadn’t yet started, people were singing among themselves.

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