"Honestly, I'm not sure why you bothered," I said grumpily. "Once we get to the hotel, I'm just getting you naked again."
"Are you now?" she said archly, grabbing her camera. "Well until then, I've got work to do." She turned around fast, and the flash blinded me,
"Hey, I wasn't ready!"
"Candid behind the scenes shots, those are what I'm here to get," Monique declared. "Believe it or not, I didn't plan on coming here to get in your pants."
I slung my arm around her shoulders and kissed her head. "Just an on the job perk, then," I said, inhaling deeply.
Then I opened the door.
Now, I was expecting the hooting laughter that greeted us. But Monique was definitely not. She shrank behind me, and even though I couldn't see her in the dark of the parking lot, I knew she was staring daggers at my bandmates.
God bless my giant goofball of a bassist. "I'm Jimmy," the big doof grinned his puppy dog grin and reached out towards her camera. "You're a photographer? That's so cool, can I see that?"
"Oh god, no, if you value your camera at all, don't let Butterfingers over here touch it," Carter said drily.
"No one touches my camera but me," Monique said, lifting her chin. "Now all of you, smile!"
Just like that she had us all in line. Literally. We lined up, arms slung around each other and Monique fired off a few blinding flashes that had us all swearing and rubbing our eyes. "Now, I need a few shots inside the bus," she directed, waving her hands.
The boys trouped in through the door, as compliant as kindergarteners lining up for their teacher. She snapped away, completely focused on her work now.
It was breathtaking.
The hotel was only a short ride away, just long enough to share a few shots and a few laughs. I held her close the whole while, and she grumbled a few times that I was making it hard for her to do her job.
Well fuck that shit. I finally had Monique Williams in my arms, and now that I did, I wasn't about to let her go.
I had a very nice expense account all ready to pay for my hotel room. But when I pulled out the card to pay, Tanner made a threatening noise.
"Can't I at least pretend?" I whispered to him. "For my boss's sake?"
He grumbled something incoherent and snaked his arm around my waist. He hadn't stopped touching me since the bus; an arm around my shoulder, a hand on my ass, a quick press of his lips on my temple. He seemed like a man on a mission to touch every part of my body.
The thought made desire flow down in a painful rush.
"It's him, I swear it's him." The woman's voice floated across the lobby, shrill and insistent and more than a little drunk.
"Tanner, we gotta move," Leo rumbled. The big bodyguard squinted at the deranged looking fan and his fingers moved down to his belt. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I realized he was carrying a gun...and he was willing to use it.
The woman stumbling towards us had a slightly unhinged look about her. "Ohmahgawwwd, Tanner, I love you, I wrote to you, did you get my email? Tanner, please..."
"Move. Now." Leo shoved us both. The rest of the band had instinctively tightened into a protective circle around us, sweeping me along with them as they rushed to the private elevator to the penthouse.
When the door closed. Tanner let out a sharp exhale and squeezed me. I must have made a frightened noise, because he dropped his arm like he was afraid of hurting me. I missed his touch instantly.
"That shouldn't have happened, Leo," Tanner barked.
"You're right," Leo sounded grim. "Should have called and checked in before hand. First night out on the road. I'll get the kinks worked out right away."
Tanner made an angry sound and the rest of the band all hung their heads and shuffled their feet like the were kids stuck between mommy and daddy's fight. "I don't think of these things," Tanner finally said with a sigh. "You know I'm no good at thinkin' about threats."
"Yeah I know," Leo said, steel in his voice. "That's why you're gonna put me in an early grave. Hold up, I'll handle this." His cell phone was jammed in his ear with a white knuckled grip.
"She was just some drunk chick," I ventured, not understanding what the emergency was. "Why are we talking like it's your funeral?"
The awkward silence that stretched out was only interrupted by the ding of the elevator doors. The rest of the band tromped grimly into the presidential suite, but I hung back, mouth gaping.
The skyline winked below us in a galaxy of twinkling lights. We were up so high that the air felt thinner up here. I felt like I was on a mountaintop, or flying in an airplane looking down at the ant-like people below. It was the kind of rarefied, rich world that ordinary people very seldom see.
And it felt all wrong.
I walked into the glass and chrome suite with a feeling of trepidation that it took me several moments to understand. I searched for Tanner, and finally spied him sitting on the edge of the very modern, very uncomfortable looking couch that snaked its way through the center of the space.
The room was all sharp angles and monochromatic color. There was no warmth, no personality, no comfort to be seen. It was all pure artifice, meant for show.
Tanner Brock didn't belong here at all.
I went to him. He looked up at me and smiled his warm smile, but it looked tired. Whatever had happened in the lobby had taken all the wind from his sails.
"Welcome to the Presidential Suite," Tanner said, stroking my thigh.
"Are you going to trash it now?" I teased. "Isn't that what rock stars do?"
He narrowed his eyes. "Ma'am, I'm a good country boy from Texas whose mama would tan his hide if she knew he trashed anything." He leaned back and squirmed a little on the torture device of a couch. "No, we mostly just shoot the shit a bit and go to bed."
That seemed to be the case. The guys had all tromped off to their respective rooms off the main living area. Carter's door was already closed. I could see Blake inside his room, pacing the floor with his phone in his ear. Tanner saw where I was looking and leaned forward again. "He's got a brand new daughter," he explained.
"Aw," I smiled. "You guys are so wholesome, it hurts."
"That's intentional," Tanner shrugged. "I already did the rock-star thing. That life's....not for me."
There was a sense of sad finality in his words that made me want to touch him. I reached out and rested my hand on his tanned forearm, just letting him know I was here. His skin was warm and as I brushed my fingertips lightly along the crisp hairs, I could feel each taut rope of muscle that lived underneath. I rested my hand on his and leaned awkwardly onto his shoulder.
"You're more comfortable than this couch," I complained, trying and failing to find a comfortable place to put my body.
Tanner laughed his deep, rich laugh. "I've stayed here before, and I know one thing that's comfortable in this room." He turned and fixed me with that deep blue stare.
"Let me guess," I teased. "The bed?"
He grinned and stood up, holding out his hand. "Ever slept on a cloud before?" he asked.
I allowed myself to be hauled to my feet. "Ooh," I said, stretching. "A cloud sounds real good right now."
"You know what sounds better?" he asked, his lips against my neck.
oman, you're killing my mood here." He closed his fingers possessively around my wrist and led me into the biggest of the attached rooms. I caught a glimpse of Leo, standing like a sentry at the elevator, his gun on full display, and I shivered a little.
But when I saw Tanner's plan, the shivers were for a different reason. The massive room was dominated with a huge tub set on a marble slab a step up from the rest of the floor. Tanner was already leaning over the edge, testing the running water with his elbow. When he saw me, frozen to the spot in the middle of the room, he moved towards me with fire in his eyes.