I had to reach out and grab the edge of her cart. “Is the girl here? Is he talking about Dawn? The redhead? Can you at least tell me that much?”

She watched me for a few agonizing beats before I caught the slightest nod of her head. “There is nothing you can do. Nothing you can do but watch.”

Had this crazy shit happened to me a year or two ago, I wouldn’t have a believed a word this woman said. I’d say she’s an obvious mental case who dreams of Satan visiting her in her dreams. But now I knew better.

“Please,” I begged, feeling foolish, helpless. “You have to tell me more. Who are you?”

“I am Tatiana,” she said, her accent thickening. “I work here.”

She began to push her cart away while I heard Tricky call out, “Sage!”

I turned to look at him, wanting to go after Tatiana, the crazy elephant lady, but Tricky was already running down the hallway toward me.

“You almost ready? We have to go,” he said.

I watched Tatiana and her cart rumble around the corner and out of sight.

“Sage,” Tricky repeated. I finally looked over at him. He frowned. “You all right, man? You’re looking kind of pale.”

I wiped a layer of sweat off my forehead and tried to slow my heart rate. The creepy feeling held on to my bones. I had to talk to Dawn. “I’m all right. Is it that time already?”

Tricky nodded. “Yes—well, no, but we have to get our clothes and everything together for tonight. We have to coordinate our outfits, don’t you think?”

I gave him a funny look. Robbie was like that, too, when we played shows. Figures that Tricky would be displaying front-man tendencies. “You know what I wear: black. I go with whatever crazy thing you’re going to squeeze your balls into.”

He grinned. “Bright orange velvet jumpsuit.”

I shook my head. “My God.”

“And platform Alice Cooper boots.”

Tricky put his hand on my shoulder and turned me around, leading us back to our rooms while yammering on about what he was thinking about for the next night. Something tight and terrible. I’d stopped listening as we passed Dawn’s room. I needed to talk to her, even though she didn’t want to talk to me.

“Sage, we don’t have time,” Tricky said seriously as he noted my gaze glued to her door. “This is a big deal for you, whether you want to admit it or not. This is a big deal for your fans. We can’t mess this up, and I don’t want to mess it up for you. You need a clear head, you got it?”

I was surprised at the sincerity in his voice, that he was actually taking this seriously for once.

I nodded reluctantly. “Okay. Let’s get ready.”

I left Dawn’s door, thinking I could hear her shuffling around on the other side. Still that barrier between us.

Soundcheck actually went okay. I was a little distracted, my head jutting back to Dawn and back to what the crazy woman had said, and I was tired as the drugs left my body and I began to sober up, but I managed to hold it together. Actually, I managed to not sound half bad. My voice was a little raw when I hit the few higher notes, and I fumbled over a few lyrics that I’d forgotten (yeah, I wrote them, but believe me, it’s easier said than done), but the players worked out really well and picked up the groove in no time. It definitely helped that the sound in the venue was excellent and that they’d been listening to Sage Wisdom a lot, knowing each and every crevice of the album.

We were about to take a break for lunch when I caught Dawn and Max slinking into the back of the theater, about to sit down on the plush red seats.

I looked behind me at the band, my band—Tricky, with his infectious grin and bass played up high; Garth at the keyboards, eyeing me fearfully; Pascal, the wiry beatnik on the drums; and the long-bearded Buzz, who wore sunglasses inside and a silk suit. I raised my hand. “Hey guys, let’s take an hour for lunch, okay? Meet back here at three.”

“Is that allowed?” Garth spoke up. “What if Jacob comes back?”

“I’ll handle Jacob,” I told him. “He’d agree that it’s important that you guys eat.”

As for me, well, I had a lot of groveling on my plate. Food could come later.

I laid down my guitar, jumped off the front of the stage, my all-access pass swinging from my neck, and strolled toward Max and Dawn, who were watching the band leave and looking bewildered.

“I thought Jacob wanted us to catch the soundcheck,” Max said, adjusting the camera pack around his shoulder.

I shrugged. “You can when they get back from lunch.” I looked to Dawn, who looked a bit frustrated as she clutched her notebook, her pen already out and ready. “Can I talk with you? Alone? It’s important.”

I knew she didn’t want to say anything to me, but to Max’s credit, he did kind of prod her and say, “You go. I’ll be right here. It will give me time to play with the light apertures anyway.” He took off his camera pack, set it down on a seat, and started pulling out lenses.

“Please,” I added, hoping she could see the sincerity in my eyes.

She sucked in her lip but said, “Fine.”

I started walking down the aisle and she followed. I could feel her taking great pains to not walk directly beside or too close to me. I could tell it was taking everything for her not to tell me to fuck off and run back to Max. I had really upset her—far, far more than I thought I could have. Now that I was sober, it was really hitting me hard.

I really fucked up.

We went up to the stage, and I stopped at the edge of it, just beyond the heavy curtains. On the other side, the sound tech crew was playing with the monitor, and another guy was going around checking the lights, but we had privacy where we were.

“What’s up?” Dawn asked, looking up at me with a detached coldness in her eyes.

I ran my hand through my hair, gathering courage. “First…first I wanted to apologize.”

She didn’t even blink. “What for?”

“For screwing everything up,” I said. “For ruining things…with you.”

“Oh, well, we discussed it last night. That was enough,” she said, though her tone was dull and her attention was now on the sound tech guy across from us.

I followed her gaze and said, “That’s Arnie. He’s from Norway. Apparently he’s good. I tried to get Chip to do it but…he said he couldn’t. Too many bad memories.” Chip had been Hybrid’s sound tech, a good guy who managed to escape the band’s demise without dying.

She nodded, rubbing her lips together. Sadness tugged at the corner of her mouth.

“It’s weird, you know,” I admitted, feeling the need to open up. She looked at me questioningly. “For me. Not having them here. I didn’t think it would be this hard, but it is. I miss them. I miss them all. Robbie won’t speak to me…I’ve tried calling him, writing him. He’s out there, but he pretends I don’t exist. And Noelle. I’ve seen her.”

“You have?” Dawn asked.

“Yeah, twice. She’s doing okay. Not great but better. She’ll never be the same, though…whatever mental switch got turned off with her just never came back on again. She’s with her parents, and they…I’m pretty sure they blame me for everything.”

Her brows lowered sympathetically. “I’m sorry.”

I shrugged. “Me, too. And I mean it. I’m sorry for what I did to them, for the deal I made. If I’d known…I’d never have been that selfish.”

“The thing you said about old habits,” she said slowly, her dark eyes glittering. “You’re still selfish.”

Ouch. But I deserved it. “I know. And I’m sorry, Dawn, I’m so sorry I’ve been acting like a…a…” There were so many ways to describe how low I’d sunken.

“Self-entitled rock star who is drowning in his own self-loathing, handing out favors for the pity party?”

I raised my brow. “You’ve had some time to think about this.”

“Sage, I’ve thought about nothing but you for the last nine months.”

Shit. That got me deep. I let that phrase sink in as far as it could go. I wanted nothing more than to just grab her and pull her to me, to wrap my arms around her waist, to taste her mouth with mine, to let her know how much I’d been thinking about her.

She quickly looked down, suddenly self-conscious, and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. It was so hard to not reach out to her and do the same. Last night, when I felt the silk of her hair in my fingers, the warmth behind her ears, it took everything I had not to take it further.

“I didn’t know,” I managed to say, my eyes glued to her lips.

She exhaled in amusement and gave me a shy smile. “I know you didn’t. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.”

“Dawn,” I murmured, taking a step toward her. She held her ground, gazing up at me while I took my hands out of my pockets and placed them on her shoulders. I couldn’t help but touch her. Her smooth skin was like a tonic, life fizzing under my hands. “You’re the last person I want to hurt. Please know that. Please believe that.”

“I believe you’d never intentionally hurt me,” she said carefully, and I knew what she was saying. That I was too fucked up to keep any promises.

“Going forward then,” I said, trying to keep myself from begging. “I won’t hurt you again. You have no idea what you mean to me.”

Yes, she does, the voice in my head said. She knows she was the girl you didn’t love.

I licked my lips and studied her, her flawless skin that was more tanned on the temples, the way her hair reflected all the colors of autumn, the way her lower lip pouted, begging to be kissed. I fucking missed her. I’d only had her by my side for a month and change, but I missed looking at her every day. I missed just sitting around and drinking beer and talking music. I missed that I could talk to her for hours, that she was smart and ambitious but grounded all the same. I missed that she made me forget the agony I had caused and that she told me once that she’d loved me, and those words sounded better than any song.

She saved me, briefly, from myself. I wasn’t sure if I could ever repay the favor.

“I should probably get back to Max,” she said, trying to move, but I held her in place.

“No, listen,” I told her, leaning in closer. I could hear her suck in her breath as my face came down to meet hers, my eyes imploring hers to stay with me, to hear me out. “There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Okay,” she said softly, frowning at my intensity.

I took in a deep breath. “This is going to sound crazy, but…you of all people should know what I’m talking about, what I’m getting at. Dawn…I need to know if you’ve ever made a deal with the Devil.”

Her eyes widened into brown orbs and her mouth dropped open so that I could see the pink of her tongue. “What?”

“I’m serious,” I said. “We know what happened to me. I have…reason to believe that something similar might be happening to you.”


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