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Beautiful distraction, p.21
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       Beautiful Distraction, p.21

           J. C. Reed
 

  “He isn’t that old,” Josh shouts and passes me a Pepsi can.

  “How can you tell?” I ask.

  “I just know.”

  “They always play some part of the Magic Flute at the beginning of each gig,” Mandy shouts. “It’s their anthem or something.”

  I don’t want to point out that Mozart wrote it because, while I’m not a fan of classical music, the guitarist really rocks it.

  A few moments later, the music fades in the background, and the vocalist looks up, and the shrieking starts again.

  “That’s K. Taylor,” Mandy shouts. Apparently, she’s taken on the role of narrator tonight.

  “Thanks. I figured that part out,” I say and go about opening my can and taking a long sip, hoping it’s not spiked.

  My nerves are so frazzled from all the shouting and screaming, I can barely even hear Mandy. I peer around us. Almost everyone’s wearing fan merchandise. There are countless banners with things like ‘Taylor No 1 girl’ or ‘This girl has Taylor Fever.’

  Some messages are quite rude and graphic. Apparently, plenty of people want K. Taylor’s baby. Or to take care of his sexual needs.

  My attention flips back to the stage as the vocalist looks up from his microphone. A shiver runs down my spine.

  He is frigging hot.

  But there is no way I’d ever go for a guy in a mask. It’s just one of those creepy things you usually see in a movie adaptation of a Stephen King novel.

  “Hey, guys,” the vocalist says into the microphone, his voice deep and sexy. “Thanks for being here tonight. It means a lot to us. You’ve probably been wondering why we’re playing such a small venue. Montana is where it all started. It’s a place that’ll always be in our hearts. It’s a place of new beginnings, which is why I’m dedicating our newest song, Behind This Shell, to a very special lady. Babe, come on up.”

  Oh, God.

  My body freezes, and not because of his words.

  I know that voice.

  I’ve heard it whispering into my ear. I’ve felt it across my skin.

  But it can’t possibly be.

  The singer’s gaze sweeps over the front row and settles on us.

  “You.” He points a long index finger, beckoning me over. “Come on up.”

  I’m so shocked I spill my drink over my top, not even feeling it.

  I stare at him, speechless, feeling the blood draining from my body, every drop of it, and yet my heart continues to race to reach what I’d guess would be a new record in the Guinness Book of Records. I’ve never felt so faint in my life, so frozen and surreal, as if I’m in a dream.

  Holy shit!

  He’s looking at me.

  He’s talking to me.

  “Ava,” Mandy hisses.

  “What?” I turn to her, confused.

  “I think he means you.” Even Mandy sounds awestruck. I notice she’s awfully pale.

  “She can’t believe her luck,” the guitarist says, which earns him laughter from the audience.

  “Come on, people,” the vocalist says. “Give this city girl a cheer before she decides to run and misses this awesome new song.”

  City girl.

  Oh. My. God.

  His name is K. Taylor.

  The K can’t possibly stand for Kellan, can it?

  It’s about time I visited my therapist and asked for a mental health check because there’s no way…no way…that’s Kellan up there.

  I mean, I’ve bitched about this band. Not only to Mandy, but to him.

  I must have it all wrong.

  It’s probably the mask that’s having this effect on me. Some weird fantasy fetish to which no woman’s immune—not even me.

  People are turning to stare at me…their eyes are countless daggers that pierce my back.

  “Up you go, Ava,” Josh says, grinning, and pushes me forward toward one of the security guys, who takes it from there. With his hand clamped around my upper arm, I have no choice but to climb the few stairs up.

  The crowd shrieks, intermingled with a few boos here and there.

  “TAYLOR! TAYLOR!”

  I barely register them though. All I hear is the pulse pounding in my ears. I’m so certain I’m going to die because no heart can pump so fast and not explode from the sheer effort.

  The vocalist’s hand wraps around mine, his fingers like butterfly wings against my skin. I look down and then up into his eyes. Suddenly, the lights fall on us, illuminating his face, his beautiful green eyes.

  And in that moment, I know.

  It’s him.

  Good heaven.

  Those are the same green eyes.

  The same devilish grin.

  The same broad shoulders I grabbed onto while he pounded into me, taking me to pleasure heaven.

  The same narrow hips, hard muscles, and delicious lips.

  “Holy crap,” I whisper.

  My mouth is dry, my heartbeat strangely elated. I don’t know what to make of this, and yet I know.

  It’s Kellan.

  K. Taylor is Kellan Boyd—the guy I’ve been getting down and dirty with.

  The guy I told I hated Mile High.

  The mask makes it impossible to recognize him, and yet I know.

  My legs threaten to buckle beneath me.

  “Hello, City Girl.” He smiles at me. And then he turns to the crowd, holding my hand, and I realize what he’s about to do. But it’s too late to run. I’ve never felt so exposed in my life. Everyone seems to be scrutinizing me, and there’s a stain on my shirt.

  The spotlights above us go off and on, and the background behind us changes to one showing city lights.

  The guitarist strums the guitar, and the percussion joins in.

  I stare into Kellan’s eyes as he lifts the mic to his gorgeous lips and begins to sing, the voice beautiful, raw and sexy, each verse sending shivers down my spine as I just stand there, mesmerized—enthralled by the words and his beautiful voice.

  You’re the reason I stay

  You’re the reason I wait

  Behind this shell, you set me free

  In your smile, I come undone

  You become a mystery

  To me

  You twist and tear this life apart

  These walls that were there from the start

  You cast a light into the night

  You break it up, this breathless heart

  Under the starry night, I didn’t mean to fall

  Time passes by and now you’re gone

  You become a mystery

  To me

  This man of yours is going down

  This man of yours is rising up

  Behind this shell, there’s only you

  Life’s looking up, but I’m going down

  In the webs of love, in the traps of life

  One day I’ll get caught

  There is no doubt

  But if I fall, I want to fall

  With you

  I hold my breath as Kellan lets go off my hand and walks around me until he’s standing behind my back, his lips and the microphone so close, my skin begins to prickle.

  I’m drowning in the ocean of your body

  I’m lost in the beating of your heart

  I’m falling as you laugh

  And yet, you walk away from me

  You walk away from me

  Under the starry night

  You walk away from me

  Days have passed

  Soon the weeks will turn into years

  I’ll always remember you with silent tears

  With a prayer on my lips that I’ll see you again

  Kiss your lips, hold you tight

  Coz you’re the one I want to know

  You’re the one I don’t want gone

  The percussion takes center stage, and the melody changes. My heart slams in my chest. The sudden change in rhythm is more truculent, and it’s throwing me off.

  Yoooou said…

  I’m not interested in you


  Not now. Not ever

  But I know you’re lying

  A liar spots a liar….

  Behind this shell, you set me free

  Sheeeeee said…

  I’m not interested in you

  Not now. Not ever.

  But I know she’s lying

  A liar spots a liar….

  Behind this shell, she sets me free

  Yoooou said…

  I’m not interested in you

  Not now. Not ever

  I know you’re lying

  A liar spots a liar

  Behind this shell, you set me free

  Sheeeeee said…

  I’m not interested in you

  Not now. Not ever

  But I know she’s lying

  A liar spots a liar

  A liar spots a liar

  Behind this shell, she sets me free

  As Kellan continues to sing the last line, the crowd chimes in. I don’t know when the song was released, but he must have sung it before because people know the lyrics; they’re familiar with the rhythm. He stops singing, but the guitarist continues to play.

  The crowd starts to chant, “TAYLOR! TAYLOR! TAYLOR!”

  But instead of turning to the crowd, he turns to me and cocks a sexy eyebrow.

  A smile tugs at his lips. And then he leans forward and clasps my chin between his fingers as he kisses me on the lips in front of the audience.

  My breath hitches.

  My head’s swirling.

  My heart’s pounding.

  At some point, the song ends. Kellan lets go of me and says something into the microphone. But I can’t make out his words. It’s like the world around us has dissolved into nothingness. From the periphery of my mind, I know that a security guy is ushering me back to my spot, while all I can do is focus on making it down the stage without taking a tumble.

  I feel Mandy’s shock a moment before she whispers in my ear, “What the hell, Ava? Why didn’t you tell me?”

  I open my mouth to explain that I had no idea, but the words remain trapped on my tongue.

  I need to get away.

  Numb from the shock, I take off, squeezing through the crowd, until I’ve reached the back of the tent. I need the distance and for Mandy to stop her questions.

  The band continues their set. I get an hour of watching him. Of listening to his magnificent voice while he sings one song after another. An hour during which my shock is slowly subsiding, making room for a throbbing sense of suspicion and anger.

  Once or twice, I think I see his eyes roaming over the crowd, probably in search of me, but I can’t be sure. I hide in the shadows nonetheless, out of his view. I don’t want him to call me up there again.

  A cowboy turned rock star!

  I shake my head.

  What. The. Hell.

  And I was stupid enough to fall for him.

  That was about the worst move I could have made in my life.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

  “Are you okay?” Mandy asks for the umpteenth time, her concern growing with each second that passes. When I nod, she whispers, “You didn’t know, did you?”

  I shake my head and follow Josh to his truck.

  I don’t want to make a big fuss out of the fact that Kellan’s a rock star but—

  Holy shit!

  He’s a rock star.

  I still can’t believe it.

  That’s why he was so secretive. He probably thought I might sell his story to the tabloids.

  What’s wrong with me?

  Why can’t I show enthusiasm for the fact that the cowboy I met is a famous rock star?

  Josh says something about an after party, when all I want is to lock myself inside my bedroom and Google the life out of Mile High.

  There must have been some indication, some clue, and I was too blind to catch it. But I know better than to believe that. I just wasn’t interested. I might never be.

  I blame my parents and their crazy obsession with the orchestra. They’ve ruined music for me, and now I just can’t be like any normal woman and squeal and wear fan T-shirts.

  “Please take me home,” I say, my voice shaky.

  “I’ve been instructed not to do that,” Josh replies.

  I don’t need to ask who ordered that. “I’m not feeling very well.”

  Mandy shoots me a concerned look.

  “In spite of what he’s doing, he’s a good guy, Ava,” Josh says.

  “I never doubted that,” I lie.

  “He likes you. That’s why he went through all the trouble to arrange you winning the tickets.”

  My head snaps to him. “What?”

  “Sorry. What was I thinking?” He slaps his forehead. “I should never have mentioned it. Let’s forget what I just said.“ His mouth clamps shut. In the rearview mirror, I see his expression darkening, like he’s already said too much.

  “It’s okay. You can tell me,” I say, my voice faint.

  He takes a sharp breath. “Look, I don’t know what’s happening between you two, but I can tell you he’s never been like this. He’s never done this for any woman. I think you need to talk. Just listen to him, and then make up your mind. Please.”

  “Listen to what?” I stare at Josh’s back, waiting for him to elaborate. He just shrugs and keeps quiet.

  Mandy’s eyes are big and mirror my countless questions. But even she remains silent as Josh stops the truck. He gets out of the car, and she turns to me, whispering, “Look, I had no idea.”

  I glare at her. “How could you not know? You’ve been a fan for ages.”

  ‘Probably the biggest of them,’ I want to add, but don’t.

  “They never take off the masks.”

  “What about in interviews?” I ask incredulously.

  “They wear heavy makeup,” Mandy says. “Besides, I don’t follow their every move. I’m not obsessed with them.”

  “Still.” I shake my head. “You should have recognized the voice.” I’m so mad at Mandy. It’s all her fault that we landed at Kellan’s door.

  Josh opens the door for us, waiting for me to get out. I glance out of the window and realize we’re at the same bar we visited more than a week ago, surrounded by hundreds of girls and women, all waiting to get in.

  My heart lurches.

  Huge, angry bouncers are guarding the door.

  “Are you coming?” Mandy asks.

  I shake my head again. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

  “He’s inside, waiting for you,” Josh says. When I make no move to exit, he leans against the car, his dark expression betraying his determination. “Look, I promised him to bring you here. Can you just do me a favor and see him?”

  I let out a sigh, then get out of the car. “Fine, but you owe me.”

  Just like before, Josh mentioning his name grants us instant entry. The bar is full with what I assume are mostly locals. I spy Kellan sitting with three other guys at a table near the back, his face turned to overlook the entrance. The mask and makeup are gone. The man I see is both familiar and a stranger to me.

  My heart does a summersault. I realize it’s been doing that ever since I met him.

  But that can’t be. Summersaults remind me of stories of people falling in love and happy endings. Before he left, I knew I was about to fall for him. Surely, it hasn’t happened already.

  My legs are frozen to the spot as I realize I loved my ex, and it hurt like hell when he cheated on me. But it was different.

  Summersaults are new to me. I never had them before Kellan.

  I can’t be in love with him.

  Right?

  I turn on my heels, ready to bolt out the door, when Josh steps behind me, blocking my way.

  “They’re over there,” he says. His hand goes around my upper arm to guide me, but I know he just wants to make sure I’m not trying to get away.

  Which is the plan.

  I wish I could run away from the man I thought was only a nightclub owner. An
d then only a cowboy.

  I have all of three seconds before Kellan’s sweeping gaze meets mine, and he stands a moment before we reach him.

  “You came.” He sounds surprised. I look into his impossibly green eyes. He leans into me, and his lips brush my cheek. He smells faintly of aftershave and warmth. A stunning smile tugs at his lips, but there’s a strange glint in his eyes. As though he’s nervous. As though he cares what I might think about him now that I know who he is.

  I want to lean into him and tell him that I wish he weren’t who he is because it matters to me.

  I also want to tell him that I had no choice but to come here, whether I wanted to see him or not. It was either this or jump out of a moving car while praying I wouldn’t break a few bones in the process.

  I want to ask him the one question that’s been pestering me. Why didn’t you tell me?

  But my mouth remains shut, all those unspoken words trapped inside my chest.

  “You want anything to drink?” Kellan pulls up a chair and points at the countless bottles on the table.

  I shake my head in response.

  While I’m all for a little liquid courage in situations like these, I need to keep my head clear.

  He sighs and sits down, his leg brushing mine. “These are my band mates, Casper, Derrick, and Rock. Guys, this is Ava.”

  I nod at the three pairs of eyes staring at me. They look like nice guys, maybe a bit worse for wear, but I guess that’s what the rock star lifestyle does to you.

  “Ava, huh?” Rock says. I can almost see the wheels of his mind working. His blue eyes seem slightly glossed over; his movements are a little bit slow. “That Ava?”

  And then it dawns on me.

  He’s high on something.

  Of course he is.

  Most musicians are. My parents thought I’d follow in their footsteps and always warned me of the dangers of getting involved with someone in the music industry.

  “Kellan made us play this gig just for you,” Derrick says. “I hope you know how to thank him tonight.”

  His band mates begin to guffaw.

  I peer at Kellan, who’s watching me intently, analyzing my every move.

  “The women just soak it up, huh?” Derrick says to Rock. “Remember that chick, Kellan’s last girl? She kept stalking him.”

 
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