He brought me through a heavy door to the side stage, and to my stupid surprise, I was met with a blast of sweat, heat, and noise. There were fans screaming at the band—they were already playing. The music hit my ears in a weird delay, but once it found them, the notes wiggled their way into my brain like a happy little worm.

I leaned against Jacob, minding his weird smell of mothballs and coffee, but loving the feel of his large firm body beside me. It was hard keeping my eyes focused, but when they did, they went to Sage and Robbie. Speaking of Robbie, there he was, fine as anything. He wasn’t as manic as usual, but he was sensual and slow and I wanted a part of it.

Time was behaving badly, and within what seemed like minutes, the show was over and everyone was heading back to the dressing rooms. I loitered outside, splayed on the chair while strangers ignored me and drank the band’s beer. The effects started to wear off, but only enough so that I was able to stand on my own two feet without collapsing to the ground in a pile of mush.

I felt both bored and content and was making my slow saunter over to the dressing room when the door opened and Robbie emerged. His face lit up like a light bulb when he saw me and it made me giggle.

“My rust-colored woman,” Robbie said, ignoring a few pretty girls who had been hanging out in the corner of the lounge waiting for him. He grabbed my head between both his hands. “You must come with me.”

He took me out of the venue and outside, where we spilled into the gated parking lot like a walking river of bones and blood. The stars were high above, looking heavy in the moisture-laden heat. We walked over to the tour bus. It was empty and waiting, sitting like a metal beast.

It was a blur what happened next. I was pressed against the bus, the cool chrome setting my bare skin to tingles, and Robbie’s hands were in my hair and on my arms. It felt good, too good, and all I could think of was sex. My sex. His sex. All the sex in the world.

Then his lips were on mine and his tongue was in my mouth and I had a horrible feeling deep in my gut that this was wrong. Even my brain tried to shout rational things like, “This is a mistake. You’re both on drugs. You’re a journalist. He’s Robbie Oliver,” but my body wanted him. The drugs wanted him. And from the way his hands were unzipping my jeans right there in public in that open, dark parking lot, he wanted me too. What Robbie wanted, Robbie got, and I was suddenly no different from any of the other girls.

His tongue slid over my neck like honey and I leaned back against the bus, letting that honey trail trickle down into my shirt where he pulled my breast out with one hand and started swirling around my nipple. I moaned loudly, not caring, only feeling, and didn’t bat his other hand away when it slid between my open pants and my stomach. His fingers reached for me, playing with the soft hair between my legs, before they found my clit and started rubbing. I moaned again until he brought his head up and shoved his lips against mine. I couldn’t ask for the feeling to end. I couldn’t ask him to stop.

But someone else would.

One aching second he was there at my mouth, the next there was nothing but air on my lips and tongue. My eyes flew open and saw Sage’s hand pulling Robbie back at the shoulder.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Sage growled.

Robbie tried to push him away weakly. “Whatever man, you cock-blocker.”

Sage shot me a look, sussing me out. I was suddenly aware that my breast was popping out of my shirt and that my pants were undone. Somewhere in the back of my head I knew I would be embarrassed later on. I made a slow attempt to cover up while Sage gave Robbie a shake.

“You can call me a cock-blocker all you want, but getting the journalist high and taking advantage of her isn’t usually in your repertoire.”

“She’s fine, she wants me,” Robbie said casually and with a few slurs.

“She’s not. And you’re not,” Sage sniped and pushed him away toward the venue. “Go find Jacob, he wants to talk to you.”

Robbie stumbled off like a fawn just finding its footing. I watched him go, trying to gather my thoughts and senses. Things were wrong. I had just done a very bad thing and my brain was too slow to catch on.

Satisfied that Robbie was on his way to Jacob, Sage set his sights back on me. His eyes glinted like a silver leaf in the night.

“You said you wouldn’t run away,” he said, his voice low and husky. The sound of it made my nipples hard and I knew his eyes flew to them for just one instant. Forget Robbie, if Sage had wanted me right there and then I would have been all his.

He tilted his head to the side, thinking things over. I wondered if he knew what I was feeling; he must have known that the drugs had me ready and willing. But whatever he thought, he didn’t say. Not about that.

He took a step closer to me, putting one hand against the bus and leaning on it, like the school stud against a locker. My lips parted as I watched his, the wicked curve of his mouth that led to dimples that sometimes appeared.

You could make love to me against this bus, I tried to say. I won’t mind.

But somehow, I didn’t say it. What he had said earlier was just coming around in my lude-addled brain.

“I’m not running away,” I said throatily. “I’m still here.”

He smirked. “Are you, Dawn?”

He patted the top of my head gently with his hand, his expression melancholic. “Are you here? Right now? There are different ways to run away and I know them all. Whatever you run from will always find you.”

I couldn’t make sense of it. “I took some Quaaludes.”

“I know you did,” he cooed like a father calming a crying baby. Then his face grew serious. “But here’s the thing, Dawn. This band is my family. It’s pretty much the only family I have and it’s my job to keep them functioning as long as possible. When I fail, they fail and we all fail. There is no later. There never was. Later is something that’s used up with the lazy belief that there’s always a tomorrow. I do what I can now, while I can. And this includes keeping everyone in line. Robbie doesn’t need this complication in his life. The last thing this band needs is for one of us to get mixed up with a journalist. We’re all given a certain amount of time and all I ask is for my time, our time, to go smoothly. Do you understand?”

Somehow, I did. I nodded meekly.

“You know I don’t want you here,” he continued, the rolling wave of his voice balancing the harshness of his words. “It’s nothing personal. And I also know you aren’t about to go anywhere. You’re tougher than that. Or maybe just damn stubborn. I’m making as much peace with this as I can. So if you’re going to be here, with us, you’ll need to function too. This isn’t a great start.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, my eyes breaking away from that dusky green. Whatever sexual, sensual urges the drugs had been piling up in my loins were now dissipating fast.

He leaned back and removed his arm from above my head. “Don’t be sorry. Just work with it. I don’t care who you screw or when you screw them, but I think you do. You just don’t remember.”

I nodded again and tried to pull myself off the bus. He put his hands on both my shoulders and brought me up straight. He kept them there, warm and strong, and leaned down a little to look at me at eye level.

“Are you going to be okay?” he asked.

“I think I need to go to bed,” I said.

“All right, hold on.”

He kept one hand on me to keep me steady, and with the other he pulled a pair of keys from his black pants and stuck it in the bus door. After a few twists and turns of the stubborn lock, there was a click and the door opened with a loud groan. He gave me a quick smile.

“In case you’re wondering, if Bob’s still sleeping at his hotel, I always have an extra set of keys.”

He came over to me and guided me up the stairs, one step at a time. I leaned a little into his body and was overcome by his smell of fresh ocean and pipe tobacco and the immediate urge to sleep.

“Come on, you’re almost there,” he said as my eyes began closing. I walked a few steps more and began to fall toward the lower bunk. He caught me in his arms and they wrapped around me with strength.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, especially when Robbie comes back on. I love the bugger, but when he’s on ludes, he’s going to try and hump everything, even the gear shift. No offense, of course.”

None taken, I thought.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom before you pass the fuck out? I can hold you up but if you want me to do anything else, you’re on your own.”

If I wasn’t fucked up out of my tree, I would have thought Sage was trying to be funny. But I shook my head no, and the next thing I knew, Sage was lifting me in his arms and somehow depositing me up on the top bunk. He did it effortlessly and I felt like I was sinking down into a warm mass of feathers.

“Sleep tight,” I heard him say. “We’ll be on our way soon.”

His words rang throughout my head as I was pulled deeper and deeper into the dark chasm of sleep. I was almost under, almost in my dreams, when the bus shook slightly.

My eyes opened carefully and I expected to see Sage standing by the bed. But there was only the faint light from above the couch next to the bunks, casting long shadows around the bus. I was too tired to raise my head off my pillow and look around, but I had the eerie, unsinkable feeling that I wasn’t alone on the bus.

Someone else was with me.

I opened my mouth to call for Sage but a faint noise stopped me. It came from the bunk below. I held my breath and listened.

It was a weird wet and slopping sound that was punctuated by the bunk shaking. In my drugged head I imagined a pile of bleeding guts and an animal rooting through them and wolfing them down in thick, drooling gulps.

I felt frozen in a weird panic, trying to figure out what it could be and trying to battle the now steadily encroaching sleep. Before I could look over the edge of the bunk and look, as terrifying as that prospect was, the bunk shook a final time and something solid fell out of it and slapped onto the floor. The last thing I heard was the sound of something wet and heavy being dragged, and the last thing I saw was a long, low shadow passing along the walls, heading out the bus door.

Sleep claimed me before I had the chance to scream.

CHAPTER TEN

Dear Miss Melanie,

How are you doing, honey child? I keep calling you and missing you, but your mom mentioned you met a “nice young man” and well, I guess that explains it. That’s all she told me though, so don’t worry about your mom spilling pervy details (not that I think you’d tell your mom all about your love life, but since I’m not there, I can’t imagine who you’re spilling the beans to!). But anyway, RIGHT ON!!

It’s hard for you to get in touch with me on the road and I don’t know when this letter will reach you, but I can tell you that on August 13th, I’ll be staying in Nashville for two nights at the Hermitage Hotel (SUPER LUX!!). Most of the time though we just sleep on the bus, so this will be so much fun and I can’t wait to hear your voice—I hope you call! Ask for Rusty (don’t ask!).

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