Treat MeOlivia Cunning
Shade checked over his shoulder to make sure no one was on the tour bus—they’d only reached the venue in New Orleans an hour ago, but the overcrowded vehicle had cleared out almost immediately. Finding the place deserted, he pulled Adam’s notebook out from under its bunk-mattress hiding place and flipped through the pages. Shade knew he shouldn’t be going through Adam’s private stuff again, but just as he suspected, the lead guitarist and head composer for the band still wasn’t writing jack shit. Comparing the pages to the snooping he’d done that morning—when Adam had caught him with the same notebook—Shade discovered a new, lifelike and detailed sketch of a spider on the corner of one page, but not a single verse. Fuck, there was only a single word written: the. What would happen to the band if Adam couldn’t compose new music? Shade had tried his own hand at a few verses, but as much as he hated to admit his own failings, he sucked at writing lyrics. He could sing life into them, but write them? No way in hell. He’d always had some sort of mental block when it came to written language.
Maybe Adam needed a bit of encouragement—perhaps in the form of a boot to the ass. Shade had talked to him earlier that day about his progress, and Adam had assured him that he was locking himself in the tour bus bedroom to work on new songs, but the pages were still as devoid of ideas as they had been when Shade had examined them earlier. He wasn’t sure if badgering Adam was the best way to spark the man’s creativity, but as leader of the band, he felt he had to do something. No one but him seemed to care enough about the band’s future to be a nuisance. And if Adam didn’t get his shit together soon, Shade would be forced to do something drastic.
He shoved Adam’s void-of-creative-genius notebook back into its hiding place and went in search of the man in question. He started by asking the road crew if they’d seen him.
“I think he went off on his own,” said Kris, head of their stage crew. He contemplated Shade with a pair of dark eyes nearly lost in the shadow of the wide skull-and-crossbones bandana he had fashioned over his forehead to keep sweat from dripping. Shade didn’t envy the road crew having to unload the trucks in the sultry heat. “I’m pretty sure he had the limo driver take him somewhere right after we arrived,” Kris added.
“Thanks,” Shade said. After giving Kris a friendly whack on the back, he went in search of the limo driver. He found the long black car parked behind the tour bus and its driver sitting nearby in the shade of a huge cypress draped with swags of Spanish moss. When Shade asked about Adam’s whereabouts, the young man stopped fanning himself with a pamphlet long enough to answer.
“He had me drop him off at a Harley dealership,” said Parker—assuming his engraved nametag could be trusted. “Told me he was renting a motorcycle, so I didn’t have to wait around for him.”
So much for offering to brainstorm with Adam so they could come up with some new songs. “All right,” Shade said. “Thanks.”
Maybe Shade could try writing lyrics with the other guys and see what they came up with. How hard could it be? Gabe was a smart guy. Even though he was their drummer, surely he could throw a few meaningful words together for a song. Or maybe he should talk to Kellen. His female guest was a classical music composer. Unfortunately, that meant she never had to create lyrics. Inspiring, complex music scores, yes. But words? Nope.
A feeling of hopelessness began to seep into Shade’s pores, but he shook it off. He wasn’t the kind of guy who took anything lying down. Except women. He also took them standing up, kneeling, against the wall, suspended from his ceiling and— Shade shook his head to clear his thoughts. Maybe he shouldn’t have asked Amanda to wait for him at home. If she were here, he could have filled his spare time, and her, instead of sticking his nose in Adam’s business. But since he had nothing or no one better to do . . .
Shade had had every intention of talking his bandmates into attempting a new song without Adam’s assistance when he entered the dressing room backstage, but somehow he got distracted by socializing. He’d never been the type to isolate himself the way Adam did. Shade craved human contact. He didn’t like to be stuck in his own head for long. Maybe that was why he was so bad at writing lyrics.
While listening to some local lackey in charge of making beer runs drone on about the Saints’ draft picks, Shade noticed that poor Owen looked like he needed rescuing. The pregnant chick, Lindsey, who they’d somehow managed to pick up in Houston, was leaning so heavily into the guy that he looked like he might fall over.
“Hey, Owen,” Shade called to him, interrupting Saints-fan in the middle of his spiel on the importance of getting the right bench warmers from the third round of draft picks. “You want to go somewhere with me?”
Owen didn’t even ask where—which was good because Shade had no real plan. Owen pried Lindsey’s claws from his arm and excused himself.
“Can I come?” she asked, waddling after him. Shade noticed that she waddled more when she was trying to get Owen’s attention. He wondered if she did it consciously.
“Not this time,” Shade said. “We have important band business to see to. Very important secret band business.” Shade scanned the large dressing room for a savior—even he wasn’t cruel enough to subject the poor woman to Saints-fan—and spotted the youngest member of their road crew, Jordan, stocking a small refrigerator with various beverages. “Hey, Jordan, keep an eye on Lindsey, will you? Get her anything she needs while Owen and I conduct our business.”
Jordan glanced over his shoulder at the pregnant woman and flushed, his smile strangely grateful. “Will do, boss.”
“And have this guy go out for more beer,” he said, jabbing a thumb in beer-run-lackey’s direction.
Owen followed Shade out of the dressing room and into a wide corridor. Roadies and stage crew were bustling about getting the stage ready for their first of two shows in New Orleans, but the band members weren’t needed for a while, so they could get out of the building for a few hours. Owen walked beside Shade as they headed toward the exit where the tour bus was parked.
“So what’s this important band business you need me for?” Owen asked.
“No idea,” Shade said with a shrug, wondering if he should broach the subject of writing songs behind Adam’s back. He decided Owen was the least likely of his band to do such a thing. Owen would want to include Adam; he was just too nice not to. “I thought you looked like you needed to get away from Lindsey for a few minutes.”
“She won’t leave me alone for five seconds,” Owen said. “It’s like she’s afraid I’ll disappear if she lets me out of her sight.”
“I’m sure you want to disappear right about now.”
Owen raked a hand through his dirty-blond hair and groaned. “Is it that obvious?”
“Can’t blame you. I’m just glad she didn’t adhere to me.” Of course, Shade wasn’t as sympathetic as Owen, so if Lindsey had taken an interest in him, Shade would have found a way to get her off tour at the very least and shipped off to a convent as a last resort. She was a distraction that none of them needed. “What are you going to do with her, Owen? She can’t follow us around for the rest of the tour.”
“I’ll take her back to Austin tomorrow and leave her there. I’m sure my mom will look after her for a few months until she gets settled and the baby is born and we figure out what needs to be done.”
“Don’t you have the feeling there’s more to her story than she’s letting on?”
Lindsey had explained that she had nowhere else to go, but Shade wasn’t as gullible as Owen—at least when it came to women—so he didn’t automatically trust her word. Shade wanted some goddamned evidence before he started forking over child support payments and paying her living expenses and medical bills.
Though Shade wouldn’t mind having a few more kids, he’d rather have them with someone he cared about. Like Amanda. Amanda would make beautiful babies. He figured they’d look a lot like the light of his life, his Julie. The two did share a lot of genetic material.
Shade shook his head, troubled by the direction of his thoughts. While Amanda would make a wonderful mother and he could only imagine how sexy she’d be with his baby growing inside her, he didn’t think knocking her up would be a wise decision. At least not until they had Tina’s blessing. Like that would ever happen. His ex-wife would kill them both if she knew they were seeing each other. He didn’t imagine she’d approve of her ex-husband dating her older sister.
“Probably,” Owen said. “There’s probably a lot Lindsey hasn’t told me.” He waved a hand between himself and Shade. “Told us. But does it matter? When someone asks for help and you have the means to help them, it’s what you do, right?”
It was what Owen did apparently. There was a sucker born every minute.
Recalling that he’d invited Owen along on his undefined adventure to get away from Lindsey, not talk about her, Shade changed the subject. “Do you think they have any good Cajun restaurants around here? I’m craving something spicy.”
“In New Orleans?” Owen scrunched up his face. “Actually, someone told me about this amazing food truck out in the sticks. Even though it’s in the middle of nowhere, they always sell out of their daily catch of crawdads.”
Shade’s stomach rumbled, and he licked his lips eagerly. “Crawdads?”
“The best around. But how are we going to get there? I’m not sure it’s wise to show up in a limo. Unless you want to cause a stir.”
Shade usually liked the attention, but sometimes he preferred to be anonymous. “I’m not in the mood to be recognized. We’ll find another way to get there.”
He talked an event coordinator into lending him a company pickup truck. It hadn’t been much of a challenge. Once the guy had realized who he was talking to, he’d handed over his keys with a stream of worshipful stammering.
“How do you do that?” Owen asked as he slid into the truck beside Shade.
“Do what?” Shade started the truck and cranked the air conditioning to max. As a Central Texan, he was used to the heat. It was the oppressive fucking humidity that was liable to do him in.
“Get anything you want.”
Shade grinned. “It just takes confidence and persistence.”
“And being someone more important than the band’s bassist.” Owen chuckled.
“I’m sure he’d have given you the keys if you’d asked . . . And explained that you knew me.” Shade grinned at Owen’s scowl. “Where to?”
Owen sent a text to someone he knew locally, and within a few minutes they had directions and were on their way to Shay’s Shrimp Shack, someplace miles outside the city.
“Shrimp? I thought you said they had crawdads,” Shade grumbled.
“They do, but they must have shrimp too.”
As the buildings became farther apart and twisted mangrove trees crowded each other, reaching gnarled, moss-strewn branches toward the narrow road, Shade’s thoughts returned to his biggest concern.
“Do you have any idea why Adam isn’t writing on this tour?” Shade asked.
Owen smirked. “Since he hooked up with Madison, he seems to be thinking with his dick most of the time. Maybe the little head lacks his usual creative spark.”
Adam had recently been spending a lot of time with his rehab counselor turned lover. Could that really be the problem? He did seem distracted when she was around, and downright irritable when she wasn’t.
“We need to reinstate our no-women-on-tour rule,” Shade said. “They always lead to trouble.”
“Speaking of trouble, is Amanda coming to the show tonight?”
Shade shook his head. “While I loved seeing her the other night, I asked her not to surprise me again.”
“And how pissed off was she when you told her that?”
Shade shrugged. “Not at all. She’s a reasonable person.”
“She didn’t assume you didn’t want her to show up unannounced because she might catch you doing something she wouldn’t approve of?”
“Banging some other chick.”
Shade scratched his head over his left ear. “She didn’t say anything about it.” But he did have such a reputation. He had cheated on her sister while they’d been married, but at least he hadn’t cheated with her sister. He hadn’t slept with Amanda until well after his divorce from Tina had been finalized. “Amanda trusts me, I guess.” She was the complete opposite of her sister, who had never trusted him. Maybe that was why he liked her so much.
“Are you going to see her this weekend?”
“Yep, all weekend. And Julie too.”
“Well, that should put a damper on your fun,” Owen said with a laugh.
“You’ll have to keep your interactions with Amanda rated G in front of Julie.”
That might pose a bit of a challenge since he couldn’t keep his hands off the woman. “Do you think I’m incapable of controlling my urges?”
Owen snorted. “Yep, pretty much. Does Tina know you’re banging her sister?”
“She’s going to find out eventually,” Owen said. “She’ll probably take it better if you’re up front with her about it.”
Shade laughed. “I can’t imagine her ever taking it well. Do you remember how crazy she went when she found out about that groupie I fucked in Vegas?”
“That was before you were divorced,” Owen said. “You were legally and morally obligated to keep it in your pants and you didn’t.”
Shade rubbed his suddenly queasy belly. It always got tied in knots when the subject of his infidelity was broached. He still felt guilty about it. Tina had started accusing him of cheating long before he’d sought comfort in the arms of other women, but Owen was right. He should have divorced Tina before he’d succumbed to his weakness for a good piece of compliant ass. Tina had never been compliant—not even in the bedroom—and while her fire had been hot as Hell in the beginning, eventually it had burned him to ashes.
“Sorry,” Owen said after a long moment of silence. “Shouldn’t have brought that up.”
Shade shrugged, though his stomach was still clenching. Maybe he was just hungry. “Can’t change any of it.” And he couldn’t change the way he felt about Amanda either. Maybe they should just come out and tell Tina that they were getting serious.
Were they getting serious? He was leaning that way. However, he wasn’t so sure about Amanda’s feelings. He knew she liked him. They always had a good time together—and how could she resist his prowess in bed—but did she have deeper feelings for him? Was she willing to confront her sister and claim him as her lover or did she think he wasn’t worth the trouble their relationship would cause?
Owen pointed out the window. “I didn’t know they had cows in this part of the country. Stop the truck.”
“They look bored.”
“Cows are supposed to be bored.”
“Just stop the truck.”
With a resigned sigh, Shade pulled the truck to a halt in a short gravel drive before a metal gate. Owen opened his door and hopped out.
“What the hell are you doing?” Shade asked as Owen opened the gate and entered the pasture with a small herd of bovines that watched him warily with large brown eyes as they chewed their cud.
“Bringing entertainment to the lives of these poor creatures.”
Shade pulled out his phone and readied his camera, certain that Owen was about to do something that required photographic evidence. While he was fiddling with the phone, he noticed that he had an alert that Adam was nearby. Shade no longer kept tabs on the guy—well, not as extensively as he had when Adam had been hooked on heroin—but it did make him smile to see his friend so close. He’d almost given
up on pestering him about writing songs today, but maybe he could convince Adam to hang out with him and Owen.
Shade sent Adam several quick text messages—hey and you busy and yo Adam—before switching to camera mode and focusing on Owen. He wasn’t sure what had Owen up to his typical antics, but it probably had something to do with Shade’s undeniably foul mood. Owen couldn’t stand it when his companions weren’t happy.
“Here, Bessie,” Owen said, pulling a tuft of grass out by the roots and approaching the animals who had all stopped midchew to stare.
“Owen, don’t harass the cows. You’re liable to get shot by an angry farmer.”
Owen paid Shade no mind as he crept closer to the cows, shaking his clump of grass at them. “Come get the grass. Yummy grass.”
“Watch out for that—”
Owen gingerly stepped sideways to avoid a fresh cow pie. If Owen got shit on his shoes, he’d be riding in the bed of the truck.
“Don’t you ladies want some yummy grass?”
When Owen got a bit too close for the cows’ comfort, they began to take uneasy steps backward, tossing their heads and rolling their eyes. A few produced loud, disgruntled moos.
“Fine,” Owen said. “Be that way.” He tossed the grass aside and reached for the button of his jeans.
“What the fuck?” Shade asked. As confused as he was as to why Owen felt it necessary to drop his pants and moon the cows, it didn’t stop him from laughing and taking pictures of Owen’s exposed ass.