Backstage PassOlivia Cunning
Author: Olivia Cunning Chapter 1
A stack of handouts tumbled from Myrna’s laptop case to the floral-patterned carpet. Un-freakin'-believable. She’d forgotten to zip the compartment in her haste to flee the seminar room. With a loud sigh, she bent to gather the scattered papers. Could this day suck a little more, please?
A chorus of “chug, chug, chug, chug,” fol owed by enthusiastic cheers came from across the lobby near the elevators. Wel , someone was having a good time tonight. It certainly wasn’t her.
She crammed the papers inside her bag and jerked the zipper closed before continuing through the overdone hotel lobby on her way to her sixth-floor room. A long, hot bath sounded like heaven. How had she let her associate dean talk her into presenting at this stupid conference in the first place? What a total waste of time. The other professors in her field wouldn’t know an innovative idea if it stood on its head and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner. ” And why did she care what her col eagues thought of her methods anyway?
Students loved her classes. They were always ful . She had waiting lists for—
Steps echoed hers. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. She paused—her heart racing, palms damp. Whoever fol owed stopped several steps behind her. She could hear him breathing.
No. It couldn’t be her ex-husband. He didn’t know how to find her. Right? Tel that to the cold sweat trickling between her breasts. She clutched the handle of her laptop case, prepared to clobber whoever was dumb enough to sneak up on her.
“You gave a great seminar, Dr. Evans,” an unfamiliar voice said to her back.
Not Jeremy. Thank God. She took a deep, shaky breath and glanced over her shoulder. A lanky, fortyish man extended his hand in her direction. “Who would ever think to use guitar riffs in discussions of human psychology? Not me. I mean, I’m sold on the method. I’m just not sure I can pul it off with your level of, uh…” He cleared his throat.
“… enthusiasm. ” He grinned, gaze dropping to the neckline of her tailored, gray suit. Her heart stil hammering in her chest, Myrna suppressed the urge to throttle him and extended her free hand to accept his handshake. “Thank you, Mister uh…”
When his fingers wrapped around hers, his smile spread ear-to-ear. “Doctor. Doctor Frank Elroy from Stanford. Abnormal Psych. Head of the department, actual y. ”
Ah, Doctor Ass. Doctor Pompous Ass. I’ve met you before. Thousands of times.
She nodded and plastered a weary smile to her face. “Nice to meet you, Doctor Elroy. ”
“Say, would you like to have a drink with me?” He nodded toward the cocktail lounge to her left, his thumb stroking the back of her hand.
Myrna cringed inwardly while maintaining her smile. This guy was the antithesis of her type. Boring. No, thanks. Her present aversion to boring existed at a visceral level. “I’m sorry, but I’l have to pass. I was heading up to my room to crash. Maybe some other time. ”
He deflated like a punctured bal oon. “Sure. I understand. You must be exhausted after that lively…” He grinned again. “…
Discussion? Had he been there? “Bloodbath” seemed a more fitting description and she felt particularly anemic at the moment.
“Yeah,” she muttered, eyes narrowing. She yanked her hand from his, spun on her heel, and continued toward the elevator, walking around the edge of the hotel’s bar and skirting several bushy, potted plants. A loud round of laughter drew her attention to the cocktail lounge. Four men sat in a semi-circular booth, laughing at a fifth man who was lying on his back in the center of their table. The table, covered with glasses containing various amounts of amber liquid, tilted precariously under the man’s weight as he leaned to one side. His companions scrambled to rescue their beers from certain demise.
“Tel the room to stop spinning,” the lounging man shouted at the knock-off Tiffany lamp above the table.
“No more beer for you, Brian,” one of his friends said.
Brian held up a finger. “One more. ” He lifted another finger, “or two,” another finger, “mmmmmaybe four. ”
Myrna grinned. The five of them didn’t exactly “blend” with the conference attendees, mostly professors, scattered throughout the lounge and lobby. The unconventional crew in the booth drew more than their fair share of animosity and stares. Was it the tattoos?
The various piercings and spiked jewelry? The dyed hair, strange haircuts and black clothing? Whatever. They were just guys being guys. And not a boring one in the bunch, she’d wager.
Myrna took a hesitant step toward the elevator. She’d love to go hang out with them for a while. She could use a little fun—
something other than stimulating conversation with an intel ectual. She got enough of that at work. Brian, stil lounging in the center of the table, vocalized a riff, while playing masterful air guitar on his back. Myrna recognized the series of notes at once. She used it in her class discussion on male sensuality, because no one on earth played a guitar more sensual y than Master Sinclair. Hold the phone! Could that be…? Nah, what would the rock group Sinners be doing at a col ege teaching conference? They were probably just fans of the band, though the name Brian made her lead guitarist senses tingle. Wasn’t Sinners’ lead guitarist named Brian Sinclair?
One of the men seated in the booth turned his head to scratch his chin with his shoulder. Despite his mirrored sunglasses, she instantly recognized vocalist Sedric Lionheart. Her heart rate kicked up a couple notches. It was Sinners.
“I am so fucking drunk!” Brian yel ed. He rol ed off the table, knocking over several empty beer glasses, and landed on the laps of two of his companions. They dumped him unceremoniously on the floor.
Myrna snorted and then glanced around to make sure no one had witnessed her produce such an unladylike sound. She had to go talk to them. She could pretend she wanted to meet them because of her seminar. In truth, she loved their music. They weren’t too hard on the eyes either. The definition of exactly her type. Wild. Yes, please. Guaranteed to give her exactly what she needed after the day she’d had.
Abandoning her plan to hide in her room, Myrna skirted the low wal that separated the lounge area from the corridor. She paused in front of Brian, who was struggling to crawl to his hands and knees. She set her lumpy laptop case on the floor and bent to help him to his feet. The instant she touched his arm, her heart skipped a beat and then began to race. Animal magnetism. He had it. Hello, Mr. Welcome Diversion.
His gaze drifted up her legs and body, his face slowly tilting into view. He had features a sculptor would love: strong jaw, pointed chin, high cheekbones. Would it be presumptuous of her to examine the contours of his face with her fingertips? Her lips? She forced her attention to her hand, which gripped his wel -muscled upper arm.
“Be careful with this arm,” she said. “So few guitarists have your skil . ”
He used her support to stagger to his feet. When he stumbled against her, she caught his scent and inhaled deeply, her eyes drifting closed. Primal desire bombarded her senses. Did she just growl aloud?
His strong hands gripped her shoulders as he steadied himself. Every nerve ending in her body shifted into high alert. She couldn’t remember that last time she’d been instantaneously attracted to a man.
Brian released her and leaned against the back of the booth for support. He blinked hard, as if trying to focus his intense, brown eyes on her face. “You know who I am?” he asked, his voice slurred.
She smiled and nodded eagerly. “Who doesn’t?”
He waved a hand around theatrical y, which set him even further off balance. “Every stuffed-shirt geek in the whole damned place
, that’s who. ”
He snarled at a gray-haired woman in a heavy cardigan who sat openly gaping at him. The woman gasped and turned her attention to her ocean blue cocktail, slurping the blended beverage through a tiny, red straw as nonchalantly as possible.
“Brian, don’t start shit,” Sed, the group’s lead singer, said.
The acidic look Brian shot at Sed could peel paint. “What? I’m not starting anything. These people al have fuck-king staring problems!”
True. They were staring. Most of them at Myrna now. Probably wondering how to best rescue her from enemy territory.
“Do you mind if I sit with you for a while?” Myrna asked, hoping to become less noticeable by sitting. She tucked the lock of hair that had escaped her hairclip behind her ear and smiled at Brian hopeful y. He stroked his eyebrow with his index finger as he contemplated her request. She knew what he must be thinking. Why would a stuffy-looking chick in a business suit request to sit with five rock stars?
Sed scooted over in the semi-circular booth and patted the empty expanse of forest green vinyl beside him. She tugged her gaze from Brian to look at Sed. Sed’s boy-next-door good looks contrasted his bad-boy, womanizing reputation. She didn’t fol ow the personal lives of the bands she admired, but even she knew Sed’s rep. His smile, complete with dimples, could ice a cake, which was likely why he covered it so rapidly with a scowl. A quick veil of indifference returned his cool status. Those darling dimples didn’t quite fit his image.
Myrna slid into the booth next to Sed, wiping her sweaty palms on her skirt as she settled beside him. Okay, I’m in. Now what?
“Are you some kind of business woman or something?” Sed leaned back to examine her professional attire. Myrna didn’t mind his twice over. “Or something. Actual y, I’m a stuffed-shirt geek. A col ege professor here at the conference. ”
“No shit?” She recognized the speaker, who sat across from her, as Eric Sticks, the band’s drummer. “If I’d have known col ege professors were hot, I might have considered an education. ”
Myrna laughed. She glanced up at Brian who stil leaned against the booth next to Eric’s right shoulder. Her heart gave a painful throb. God, he was gorgeous. “Would you like to sit down, Brian?”
Myrna scooted closer to Sed, her knee settling against his beneath the table. Brian col apsed on the seat beside her, lodging her between two of the sexiest and most talented musicians in the business. She’d died and gone to heaven. Play it cool, Myrna. If you start spazzing out like a fan girl, they’ll tell you to get lost. And she certainly didn’t want that. Brian leaned forward and rested his forehead on the table with a groan. It took al of Myrna’s concentration not to offer a soothing touch. She knew who he was, but he didn’t know her from Adam. Wel , hopeful y, he could tel her from Adam, but, uh…
She took a deep breath to col ect her scattered thoughts and forced her attention to Eric. She could look at him without getting al giddy, but found she couldn’t stop staring at his insane hairstyle—half-long, a center strip of short spikes, the rest various lengths and just plain strange. A crimson, finger-thick lock curled around the side of his neck. Rock star hair. She stifled an excited giggle.
“So what do you teach?” Eric took a sip of his beer, his pale blue eyes never leaving her face. Wel , maybe he checked out her chest a little, but he mostly kept his gaze above her neck.
Myrna winced at his question and lowered her eyes to the table. Any chance of her earning their respect would evaporate the moment she revealed what subject she taught. “Do I have to say?”
“Come on. ”
She sighed heavily. “Human Sexuality. ”
Eric sputtered in his beer. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Fuck me. ”
“Wel , yeah, I guess that is my subject matter,” Myrna said, with a crooked grin. The guys laughed. Except for Brian. Unmoving, his head stil rested on the table in front of him. Had he lost consciousness?
Wasted didn’t come close to describing his current condition.
“Is he okay?” Myrna asked.
“Yeah, he’s just a little fucked up,” Eric said.