“Charge that to my room,” Gabe said to the valet as he hurried around the car to claim Melanie’s elbow.
“Yes, Mr. Banner.”
Melanie managed to look impressed. “He knows you by name?”
“I’m a VIP,” he said, “it’s his job to kiss my ass.”
Unable to keep his hands to himself for another minute, Gabe draped an arm across Melanie’s lower back and drew her warmth against his side. She allowed him to lead her toward the grand entrance of the hotel, but apparently she was still in get-to-know-you mode.
“So if your parents were against you becoming a musician—”
“I didn’t say that. They were never against me becoming a musician. It’s the type of music I chose that they don’t appreciate. They wouldn’t have minded if I’d become a gospel singer.” He winked at her.
“So how’d you become a drummer? It’s not exactly a church choir instrument.”
“I was the percussion geek in marching band; I’m not talented enough to play a real instrument.”
“Are you making that up?” she asked as they entered the lobby through a revolving door. She didn’t even gawk at the opulence. She was too busy sticking her cute nose into his business. And he was batting zero with dazzling her.
“Why would I make up embarrassing shit? If I was going to lie, I’d make myself out to be cool and irresistible, don’t you think?”
She tilted her head, appraising him as if he were some column of numbers that didn’t add up. He wondered if her limited view of the world served her well in Kansas. She seemed to like putting everything in a neat little box. And he was pretty sure she was still desperately searching for the right box to store him in.
As it was well after midnight, the lobby was empty except for the desk clerk smiling to himself indulgently as he pretended not to watch them. The elevator stood waiting.
“Tell me something else that makes you less cool,” Melanie said.
“Gee, Mel, do you have all night? Don’t you know that most rock stars began life as outcasts who didn’t want to be weird but found a bunch of kindred outcasts to make music with? A few of us somehow manage to make a living off it. Most of us have to supplement our music habit by delivering pizzas.”
“But being an outcast makes you normal.”
He shook his head in confusion. “If you say so.”
“What were you like in high school?”
He groaned inwardly and considered making shit up. He’d been a walking disaster. “Braces.”
“That explains your perfect smile.”
She thought his smile was perfect? Maybe all those painful visits to the orthodontist had been worth it.
“What else?” she pressed.
“Tall and skinny.” Was she trying to talk herself out of sleeping with him or what?
She lifted the hem of his shirt to flash his belly. “Not an ounce of fat on those abs, but not skinny. Fit. And you are tall. I suppose that’s a benefit for a drummer.”
“I was so not attractive, Mel, I didn’t touch my first boob until I was twenty.”
“And how many boobs have you touched since?”
He grinned. “I don’t grope and tell.”
Inside the elevator, Gabe retrieved his room card from his wallet, glad that they’d checked in early and his belongings were already up in his room. He swiped the card over a panel to access the penthouse. The band had rented out the entire upper floor for the night. He had hoped something like that would turn Melanie’s head, yet she insisted on asking him to share secrets about his less than head-turning past.
As soon as the elevator door slid shut, she turned to face him. She rested both palms on his chest and gazed up at him with sultry, hazel eyes. He hadn’t noticed the blue and green flecks in them earlier. He opened his mouth to compliment her, and she interrupted him by saying, “Just tell me one more personal thing about yourself. I’m much more comfortable with Gabe than I am with Force.”
“Force equals mass times acceleration,” he said.
“The reason they call me Force is not because I bang things hard—though I do. It’s because I planned to major in physics before I dropped out of college my sophomore year. I was going to become an engineer and invent things.” Actually, he invented things despite his lack of degree. That was something he was definitely keeping to himself, however. No one knew about his inventions. It was bad enough he’d shared the secret behind his nickname with her; only the band knew how he’d picked it up. So why was he telling Melanie? She had the strangest effect on him. He felt vulnerable. Exposed. She’d stripped away all of his cool. It wasn’t a feeling he was accustomed to, and he wasn’t sure he liked it.
She slapped him in the chest. “So that’s why I’m so attracted to you,” she said. “I knew it couldn’t be the famous musician thing.”
She raised up on tiptoe to kiss his neck. Every muscle in Gabe’s body went taut.
“Melanie?” he whispered.
Her warm breath tickled his neck. “I do love a man with brains.”
Brains that ceased to work when a certain sexy accountant suckled the pulse point in his throat. He didn’t put the geek in “band geek” anymore. He’d hated being that awkward, meek guy. He no longer entertained dreams of building mechanical hearts and artificial limbs. He was a rock star. Success hadn’t been handed to him on a bronze cymbal. He’d earned it. Melanie had better get used to the idea that the thing she was trying so hard to reject was a huge part of who he was.
Gabe reached over and pressed every button from the first to the tenth floor. The elevator jolted as it stopped on the next floor and then the door slid open.
Melanie jerked away, her gaze nervously darting to the empty corridor. No one was there. She stared up at him with wide eyes. “Do you think there’s something wrong with the elevator?”
“I pressed all the buttons.”
“Because I don’t march anymore.”
The elevator doors slid shut and they started upward again.
Her eyebrows drew together and nose crinkled in confusion. Gabe moved his hands to her shoulders and slipped the spaghetti straps of her tank and her bra straps down her slender arms. He used the lightest of touches on her silky skin, watching for her reaction.
“What do you like?” he asked.