Her gaze trained on the door that Nikki had just exited, she didn’t notice the man sitting next to her until he spoke. “I’m surprised you didn’t go with them.”
She tore her gaze from the door to look at him. His striking green eyes captured her attention from the shadow beneath the bill of his baseball cap. He was quite possibly the most attractive man who’d ever spoken to her without Nikki at her side. She recognized his T-shirt as the one belonging to the guy she’d careened into a few moments earlier. “Huh?”
“Jacob and your friend.” He pointed the neck of his beer bottle toward the door that Melanie was so fixated on.
“More famously known as Shade.”
“Oh.” She settled her hands on her knees. “I didn’t realize he had a normal name.”
He laughed. “You didn’t think his mother named him Shade, did you?”
She shrugged. “Never thought about it.” Her attention moved to the door again. “What kind of a dork uses a lame stage name anyway? And why Shade? Because he wears sunglasses all the time?”
“Yeah, he has to wear them. He has vision problems.”
Melanie’s stomach dropped and she covered her big, blabbering mouth with one hand. “He does? Shit. Now I feel bad.”
The guy chuckled. “I’m just f**king with you. He wears them because he enjoys looking like a douche twenty-four seven.”
Melanie laughed. It felt good. Her severe case of anxiety decreased substantially, and her bitchiness finally took its leave. “I’m not usually this disagreeable. I just really would rather be anywhere else than waiting for Nikki to finish her fun. I honestly don’t understand why she thinks he’s so hot. He looks like a prison inmate.”
When the guy didn’t speak, she turned her head to look at him again.
He traced his bottom lip with his middle finger as he assessed her. “You don’t seem too enamored with the band. What brings you backstage?”
“A friend I can’t tell no.” She sighed. “I’m such an enabler.”
“Or maybe you’re just a good friend.”
“More like a dumb friend. If I’d quit sticking my neck out for her, maybe she’d learn some responsibility.”
“But if something really bad happened to her, you’d feel responsible.”
She gawked at him, surprised he understood the truth behind her actions so easily.
He smiled, revealing a set of perfect white teeth. That simple expression transformed him from gorgeous to dazzling.
Melanie’s breath caught. Wow. Now this guy . . . She could understand wanting to jump in bed with him on short acquaintance. Please and thank you.
“Yeah, I totally get it. I’m one of those enabler types too,” he said.
“So you admit you’re as dumb as I am?”
He chuckled. “I guess so. Would you like a beer?”
She shook her head. “I have to drive and I’m already at my limit.” She was pretty sure her sudden lightheadedness was caused by the company, not the alcohol.
“How about a Coke then?”
She smiled at his thoughtfulness. “Water?”
He nodded. “Jordan!” he yelled at the man at the bar. “Bring the lady a water.”
He turned his attention to her again. “So are you going to tell me your name?”
She relaxed into the sofa cushions, glad she’d found a normal person to talk to. She’d thought she’d have to spend the entire night pretending to be invisible. “Melanie Anderson. Yours?”
He laughed. “You really aren’t enamored with the band, are you, Melanie?”
What did that have to do with telling her his name? “I like their music, but they’re not my favorite band or anything. A bit too heavy for my tastes. Nikki is the one obsessed with them. She dragged me here against my will.”
A glass of water was pressed into her hand. “Thanks,” she said to the bartender. She took a sip and waited for her gorgeous companion to speak again.
“I see. I’m Gabriel Banner.” He grinned at her and suddenly overwarm, she wondered if someone had switched off the AC. “Call me Gabe.”
A totally normal name for a totally normal guy. She would have felt uncomfortable talking to any of the other men in the room—tattooed, pierced, strange haircuts, chains and leather—but Gabe looked as normal as she did. His only notable flaw was the Texas Rangers ball cap he wore. The Angels’ fan in her wanted to poke fun at his team loyalty, but she could forgive one little fault.
She smiled and offered her free hand in greeting. His hand slid into hers. Though he clasped her hand with a gentle grip, she could feel the strength in those long fingers. Her heart fluttered when his fingers brushed the back of her hand. “Nice to meet you, Gabe. How did a normal-looking guy like you end up backstage with all these, erm, interesting folks?”
He hesitated and then laughed as if he thought she was joking. “They’re great, aren’t they? Are you from Tulsa?”
She shook her head. “Kansas. Nikki wanted to meet Shade so badly that she made me drive here with her. She couldn’t get backstage last night. I guess she got what she wanted tonight though. Where are you from?”
She did recognize a hint of a drawl in his speech, but she wouldn’t have pegged him as a Texan—his jeans weren’t tight enough to cut off the circulation to his balls. She supposed the Rangers ball cap should have given her a clue. “Did you drive all the way from Austin just to see Sole Regret?”
He laughed again and tugged on one earlobe. He was certainly easy to amuse. And the deep, rich sound of his amusement had her considering clown school to keep him laughing regularly.
“Yeah, I guess you could say that,” he said.
Gabe took the final draw of his beer, extended the empty bottle, and gave it a little shake. Within twenty seconds it had been replaced with a fresh brew.
Sipping her water, she wondered why the bartender was so eager to do Gabe’s bidding. “So, do you know the band?”
He smiled again and Melanie feared she’d melt. She was very interested in putting a permanent smile on his handsome face.
“We’ve met. What do you do with your time when you aren’t enabling your friend?”
“I’m an accountant.”
“That must be . . . ” His eyebrows drew together. “Boring as shit.”