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Beautiful distraction, p.20
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       Beautiful Distraction, p.20

           J. C. Reed
 

  “That’s exactly the question I thought I’d hear.” Mandy laughs and lets go of me. “I can tell you guys had a great time and didn’t miss me one bit.”

  “No, I’m just surprised. I didn’t expect you back so early. What happened?”

  “Plans change,” she says and her cheeks flush.

  There’s definitely reason to press her for details, but I don’t get a chance because her gaze falls on the dishes in the sink. “What are you doing?”

  “House chores.”

  “You hardly ever do chores.” She makes it sound like I’ve just committed a major crime. “You must really love the guy.”

  I take a deep, shaky breath. “I don’t—”

  “Hmm.” As though she doesn’t believe me, she cuts me off and waves her hand. “Come on, let’s get you dressed.”

  I look down at myself. Last time I checked, I wasn’t naked. Maybe my brain switched off and I forgot to put on some pants?

  “I mean something nice and sexy,” Mandy says, as though reading my thoughts. “And hurry up. We need to leave.”

  “Why?” I eye her, amused. “What’s going on? Is someone chasing you?”

  “No.” She rolls her eyes, grinning. “I have good news and good news. Which one do you want to hear first?”

  I close my eyes and groan inwardly. “Please don’t tell me it’s about the concert.”

  “It is.” Mandy lets out an excited squeal. “Mile High are performing tonight.” She jumps up and down like a child. “God. I’m so excited.”

  “That part’s obvious. What’s the other good news?”

  “I thought you’d never ask.” She pauses for effect. “Get this. We got first-class tickets. The best of the best view.”

  “Swell.” I fight the urge to bail. “How do you know?”

  “As soon as Josh drove me to Helena, I called the concert venue. Josh introduced me to someone who met someone who knows someone who’s friends with someone—”

  “Get to the point,” I cut her off.

  “And that someone knows where they’re staying.” She wiggles her eyebrows at me.

  I frown because I really can’t follow. “Who?”

  “Mile High.”

  Oh, God.

  “Please don’t tell me you’re planning on stalking them,” I say. “For God’s sake, you’re a lawyer.”

  “No,” she says in that defensive tone of hers that tells me she’s guilty as charged. “I’m talking about knocking on their door and asking for an autograph after the concert. What’s the harm?”

  I stare at her. “What’s the harm? Mandy, you sound like a frigging groupie.”

  She shrugs. “So what? They’re awesome. Getting their phone number is a major accomplishment, which I intend to fulfill.”

  “Oh, God.” I shake my head. At least she’s not hell-bent on hooking up with them. But I might be wrong on that one.

  “Apparently, they’ve been here all along.” She leans closer and lowers her voice conspiratorially. “They’re keeping a low profile, you know, small venue and all.”

  “Ah.” Now that makes sense. At some point, even the greatest egomaniac will get sick and tired of having cameras shoved in their face and screaming groupies running down their hotel room door. And the band hasn’t met Mandy yet. She’s as obsessive as a fan can be. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the evening ended with a restraining order.

  “I still have no idea why you want to see them,” I say with the enthusiasm of a grumpy turtle. “They’re not even singing live. Everyone knows that.”

  “Because it’s my opportunity to get to meet them,” Mandy says. “Hello? Did you hear a word I said? Good tickets. Small venue. I know where they’re staying. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and you’re coming with me. I want to find out everything about them.”

  I glare at her.

  Apparently, everything about those guys is a huge secret, starting with their identities and the heavy eye makeup that makes them look like a badass copycat version of Green Day.

  “But first, you really need to change.” Mandy takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, her annoyance with me obvious. “They’ll never invite us backstage if I’m being accompanied by—”

  “The not-so-hot friend?” I raise my brows, amused.

  “No. I’d never say that.” She looks appalled. “I was going to say ‘frumpy’.”

  “Frumpy? As in dowdy, dull, homely?” I laugh out loud and almost choke on my laughter at the mortified expression on her face.

  “I didn’t mean—”

  Oh, I’m going to hold this one against her for the rest of her life. She’s always excelled at putting her foot in her mouth. “I know. Just stop.”

  “Are you going to make an effort?” She squeezes my hand imploringly. “Please. Just once in your life show a little bit of enthusiasm for Mile High, even if it’s fake. Please.”

  “Gee, I didn’t realize this means so much to you.” I heave an exaggerated sigh. “Fine. I’ll see what I can do.”

  “And you’ll pretend you’re a fan?”

  ”Now you’re pushing it.”

  “Thanks.” She ignores my annoyed look as she heads for the door, then stops as soon as she’s reached it. “By the way, where’s our hot host?”

  “Who?”

  “Um. The guy you fucked all week.”

  How does she even know that?

  “If you’re talking about Kellan, he left,” I remark dryly. “He said something about business.”

  “Oh.” She purses her lips and eyes me for a moment. “You’ll have to tell me everything…after the gig, of course.”

  “Of course,” I mumble.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

  When I make my way downstairs, I find Mandy in the kitchen, head lowered over a cup of coffee and the magazine in her hands. From the doorway, I have a few seconds to take in her outfit her before she notices me. She’s wearing a short leather skirt, high-heel boots that almost reach her knees, and a top that leaves very little to the imagination. I’m dressed in jeans, an off-shoulder top that isn’t too snug, and flat boots. I don’t know how long gigs usually last, but I’m pretty sure I won’t get blisters, which is my top priority.

  “Ready?” I ask with more enthusiasm than I actually feel.

  Mandy turns and her gaze swipes over me. Her thoughts are visible in the frown across her forehead, and she opens her mouth before I can stop her. “That’s your version of sexy?”

  “It’s my version of being interested enough to listen. God. You just can’t help yourself.”

  Her shoulders are tense with something.

  “What’s wrong?”

  She hesitates, her back still turned on me. “I just—”

  She sniffles.

  “Mandy? Oh, my God.” I wrap my arm around her shoulder and pull her in a hug. “Are you crying?”

  She shakes her head even though two tears are trickling down her cheek.

  “Is something wrong? Are you okay?”

  Now I’m worried sick. Something’s wrong with her, I just know it.

  “It’s happening,” Mandy whispers.

  “What’s happening?” I frown.

  Is a hurricane hitting Montana after all and we’re going to die?

  “Mile High,” she speaks between sniffles. “I’ve been trying to get tickets for ages, but they were always sold out. Tonight we’re finally going to see them. I cannot believe it’s that day.”

  Oh. My. God.

  I stare at her, dumbfounded. She must have gone ape-shit crazy because no grown-up woman in her right mind would cry at the prospect of seeing some dudes wail into a microphone, no matter how talented they are. I mean, seriously, that’s so Europe in the Dark Ages, when people had no television and the Internet to entertain them.

  “God, you scared me. I thought you were sick or something.” I slap her shoulder playfully. “You’re a lawyer, for fuck’s sake. You’re clever and educated. Get a grip, or you’re going alo
ne.”

  “Thank you.” She smiles and nods.

  I stare at her, expecting more drama. When none comes, I heave a sigh.

  “Don’t mention it. You know I’ll always be here to talk some sense into you. That’s what friends are for,” I say and let go of her.

  “No. Thank you for winning the tickets,” Mandy says. “Now, if you could get changed…”

  I shake my head in disbelief, hold up a hand, annoyed, and leave the kitchen, not in the least interested if she’s following.

  “What did I say?” Mandy calls after me.

  “Where do I even start?” I yell back. “The answer is no. I won’t be bullied into wearing a slutty outfit just because you want to meet the band.”

  I sling my handbag over my shoulder and grab my jacket. I most certainly won’t be freezing my ass off out there, not even for the likes of Mile High.

  The clicking sound of heels echoes down the hall a moment before Mandy reaches me.

  I peer down at her shoes doubtfully. The heels are so high, at some point, I know, her feet will hurt so much she’ll either want to swap or I’ll have to carry her. Usually, I end up giving her my shoes. But today I’ll let her pay the price of beauty just because she’s inflicting this kind of torture upon me.

  “Where’s this gig?” I ask.

  “Josh knows. He’s driving us.”

  As if on cue, a car honks outside.

  “Josh? Your most recent conquest?” I can’t help but ask.

  “Yes. So?” Mandy shoots me a frown.

  “What about my car?”

  “We’ll get it after the gig.”

  “I can’t believe you asked him to trudge along.” I brush my hair out of my eyes, barely able to contain my laughter. “He’ll be so into you when you start squealing in his ear.”

  “I don’t squeal.”

  “You so do when Mile High’s on.”

  “So what?” She glares at me. “He told me he’s a fan himself.”

  God, no!

  Not another fan.

  I’d rather be stuck with a zombie and the danger of being eaten alive than with a complete snooze fest of a rendition of Mile High’s lyrics.

  I open the door and head out to the waiting pickup truck, settling in the back seat. Mandy takes the front seat a few moments later, ignoring me as she leans into Josh to place a soft kiss on his cheek.

  It’s so obvious they have a fling, I turn away to give them privacy.

  “Are you ladies excited?” Josh asks.

  “Hell, yeah.” Mandy giggles.

  “Hell, no,” I mumble.

  Josh laughs and meets my gaze in the rearview mirror. His dark blue eyes shimmer with unspoken understanding. Or maybe that’s what I want to see in them because they’re warm and friendly and the complete opposite of Kellan’s, with his brooding looks and evasiveness. Josh’s hand travels to touch Mandy’s arm as he’s saying something to her. I turn away again, feeling just a little bit sorry for myself at the idea she’s found someone so nice and easygoing while I seem to have caught the attention of Mr. Complicated-I-don’t-do-relationships-aloof.

  “Josh, do we have any plans after the gig?” Mandy asks.

  “I have a surprise in store for you.” He winks at her.

  “Now we’re talking,” Mandy says.

  Let me guess!

  It involves his bedroom and handcuffs, which I’m sure he has stacked somewhere in there. All guys do.

  “Thanks for driving us,” Mandy says.

  He smiles at her for a second before his gaze focuses back on the dark street. “Anything for you.”

  I lean back against the seat and try to blend in with the upholstery to give them privacy.

  But in secret, I wish I was back home—my real home in NYC—with a bowl of popcorn or double fudge ice cream, watching a good movie while downing an entire bottle of wine.

  Get drunk.

  Anything to help me forget the taste of his lips on mine. Forget the heady scent of his aftershave and the sound of his laughter. Stop the echo of his name inside my mind and all the silly wishes and hopes that he’s thinking of me the way I’m thinking of him.

  I’m losing myself. That’s not something I envisioned happening because I know that soon enough, maybe even today, maybe tomorrow, he’ll be chasing the next girl. Someone who won’t be me.

  I’ll become a blurred memory.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

  We drive for at least half an hour before I spy the huge tent adorned by hundreds of lights that sparkle like tiny fireflies in the evening sky. We seem to be in the middle of a field. There are countless cars parked to either side, and people are gathered in groups, chatting excitedly while they’re waiting.

  “What’s everybody waiting for?” I ask and crane my neck to get a better look at what’s happening around us.

  “The customary pat down.” Josh pulls the truck into an empty spot and points at a police officer, who’s standing near what I assume is the entrance. I don’t understand what he’s doing there, until he moves aside. That’s when I see the two huge, beefy guys looking into every purse and patting down everyone before they get a wristband and are ushered inside.

  “There isn’t much to pat,” I say, eyeing the short skirts and snug tank tops that leave little to the imagination. Some have skipped the tank top part altogether and have gone straight for the underwear look.

  “I’ve never seen so many women gathered in one place, unless there’s a sale,” Mandy says.

  “That’s Mile High,” Josh says, as though that explains everything.

  We exit the car, and Josh leads us around the tent toward a closed-off area with two security guys blocking the way. I suspect this is the private entrance for the artists. The guys’ expressions are so grim I wouldn’t be surprised to find them ready to break a few bones if we come too close.

  “You can’t be here,” one of the guys says.

  “Josh Boyd,” Josh says. “The ladies are with me.”

  “Of course, Mr. Boyd,” the other one says and hands us three guest passes. I peer down, and to my surprise, find my name on it.

  Without so much as a blink, the security guy opens the door. I peer at Josh, who just shrugs and ushers me inside.

  “We’re backstage,” Mandy whispers. “I can’t believe it.”

  Me neither.

  And why are our names on the passes?

  “Mandy,” I whisper. “How did they know our names?”

  She shrugs. “You won tickets, didn’t you?”

  “Yes, but as you probably noticed, they’re still in my handbag.” I point to Josh. “What did you tell him?”

  “Let’s talk later, okay? Enjoy this.”

  “Fine.” In spite of my repulsion for anything Mile High stands for, a tiny bit of excitement runs through me. From where we’re standing, we can see the entire stage. Roadies are rushing past us, setting up various pieces of music equipment, while a band is tuning up, completely oblivious to the commotion around them. To the far end, people are flooding in and the first squeals of excitement carry over.

  “The soundcheck’s almost over. They’re opening for Mile High,” Mandy says, pointing to the guys on the stage.

  Even though this is strangely exhilarating, I feel like an impostor. “I don’t think we should be here.”

  “Relax,” Josh says. “We’re guests. Of course we’re supposed to be here. You guys want anything to drink?” He points at a table with various refreshments.

  I shake my head as a sign that I don’t want anything. “How are we guests? We only won tickets.”

  Josh helps himself to a chilled can of soda and hands one to Mandy. “I know someone who knows someone,” he says matter-of-factly.

  “Told you.” Mandy shoots me a warning look. “And we’re not going to be ungrateful brats, are we, Ava?”

  “Of course not,” I mumble.

  The place begins to fill with people. Spotlights begin to go off, bathing the entire place in a
dim glow. The first lights of cameras and smartphones flash all around us.

  “Come on. I think they’re getting started,” Josh says.

  We follow him down the stairs to a lower level, where several security guys are standing guard, all sporting the same intimidating expression. We take our place in front of the barriers just in time before the opening act starts the show.

  The crowd goes wild as the lights go on. It’s all so bright I think I need sunglasses.

  “TAYLOR! TAYLOR! TAYLOR!”

  “Taylor, I’ll give you a BJ.”

  “Take me, Taylor. Take me.”

  “K. TAYLOR! I LOVE YOU!”

  I’ve never heard so much shrieking in my life.

  I’ve never seen so many cameras flashing.

  And then Mile High hits the stage, and the crowd erupts in cheers. Even Mandy’s shrieking in my ears.

  Damn. I wish I had thought of packing some earplugs before I go deaf.

  I stare at the four guys in snug blue jeans and black T-shirts. Their faces are painted white; black traces their eyes; their features are hidden behind beautiful carnival masks that build a dramatic contrast to the simulated fire burning in huge baskets scattered across the stage. I have to admit that they look like living art, which I’m sure is the image they’ve been going for.

  The guitarist strums the guitar in what I recognize as a slow, modern rock version of Mozart’s Magic Flute, while the vocalist stands rooted to the spot, head lowered over the mic, his dark hair swaying in a simulated breeze.

  He’s hot.

  Mandy got that part right.

  He’s really hot. Even though the moving shadows cast by the fires make it hard to see much of him, I can tell by his muscular body.

  With the mask, he’s like a fantasy.

  No wonder women all over the world are going bat-shit crazy over him.

  They probably think he lives up to their fantasies even without the mask.

  “I wonder what would happen if he took it off, you know, the mask, the makeup, “ I say, amused, unable to keep back a snort. “He’s probably some old dude with a good body and nothing else going for him.”

  A guy’s walking past, handing out drinks to the VIP guests, AKA us.

 
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