Country Love - Page 20

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"The magazine's out?" I pulled my phone away from my ear and stared at it. "Hang on Dayna, I'm right here at a drugstore, lemme run in and see if they have it."

Dayna was still talking over me, "...your best work though, I mean honestly. You're really good..."

"Thanks," I muttered, distracted, as I pushed into the air-conditioned interior of the drugstore and made a beeline to the magazine rack.

Dayna's voice fell away as my hand fell to my side. It felt like all the breath in my body left at once. I was dizzy and ready to fell through the floor, the only thing that held me in place was the sight of Tanner's eyes peering at me from the cover of Auteur magazine.

I have to give Gil credit. He's a shit manager, but as an editor there was none better. He zeroed right in on the best of the shots...the closeup I took of Tanner the first night I met him.

The picture where he was staring at me with frank and unbridled lust in his eyes.

All at once, everything that had happened since fell away and I was right back there on that dusty drive next to his ranch, pissed off at him for fixing his fence instead of talking to me. It seemed like a lifetime ago...but it wasn't. It had been...exactly one month ago today. This man had rocked my world, shaken me to the very core and I had known him less than a month. What the hell was I doing?

He was on the cover of a magazine. He was a star, a celebrity, a billionaire several times over. And in one more week, my stint as his tour photographer was over and it was all going to end. These feelings I was feeling...they were stupid and misguided. How could I ever think I could fit into his world?

"Monique?" Dayna's tinny voice sounded out of the receiver.

I held the phone back up to my ear. "Sorry, I uh, I'm looking at it now."

"You really did a great job," she said, as bubbly as every, unaware of the shambles I was in. "I read the article all the way through, but the pictures, they really make it all come together. That stuff he says about family and home, honestly I could just cry...."

I barely heard her. I was walking automatically back to my car, numb to everything except the loneliness. For one fleeting, stupid moment, I considered calling Tanner, before I remembered that I would be losing him again.

Nothing ever lasted. I had my whole life to learn that lesson. Why had I still not learned it?

Chapter Twenty-Seven


Rehearsal paid off. That night's set was much tighter. We shortened the setlist by three songs, but I thought it was for the better. Opening with Everwild was a mistake...the crowd wanted to end on a high note. And so we moved it to last and gave it to them.

Back on the bus, Monique didn't seem much in the mood to talk. I didn't press, instead I just covered her hand with mine. "Ready to sleep in a hotel tonight?" I asked her.

The corner of her mouth lifted slightly, then collapsed back down again. My heart dropped down with it. "Everything okay, baby?"

"Told you not to call me baby," she sighed, but there was no fight in her

For the first time we fell asleep without making love. I held her as tightly as ever, but her body felt stiff against mine. She didn't relax until I started to feign sleep with long, slow, even breaths. Only when she thought I was asleep did she relax enough to fall asleep herself.

As much as I willed it not to, morning came anyway. Monique blinked her eyes open and then startled away. "Holy shit, have you been watching me?" she laughed. She seemed her old self for a moment.

"Can you blame me? I asked. "You ever seen yourself sleep? You're gorgeous."

"No, I've never seen myself sleep, idiot," she giggled.

I leaned up and looked at her. "I'm going to set up a video camera so you can watch it yourself."

She touched my face. "That's sweet...and deeply creepy."

I lunged for her neck, making her squeal and arch, loving the way she felt against me. Every single motion she made was erotic, even when she was pummeling me with her fists. God damn this girl, I was completely fucking gone for her.

I moved from her neck and up to her lips, kissing her long and slow. She sighed out a small moan and threaded her fingers into my hair. I felt myself stirring to life down there.

And then she did the last thing I ever would have expected. She pushed me away.

I stared at her, open-mouthed as she slid naked from the bed and padded right to the bathroom. I considered following her, but she shut the door firmly behind her.

Well...all right then.

I fell back in the bed, confused as all hell. My body still hadn't gotten the message and I was still pitching a ridiculous tent with the sheets.

If this were one of my songs, I'd go to her and say exactly the right thing and she wouldn't be angry anymore.

But life ain't a song. It's messy and complicated, mine moreso than normal. And I hadn't a clue why Monique was pissed, nor what the hell I could say about it.

So I got out my guitar. Noodling around with the strings, plucking restlessly, I listened to the sound of the water falling in the shower and waited. My stomach growled. I could hear my bandmates starting to emerge from their rooms. Soundcheck was in forty-five minutes. Then half an hour. Then twenty minutes. And still Monique was showering.

If I didn't know better, I'd think she was hiding from me.

Fuck that, she was definitely hiding from me.

Finally, with only fifteen minutes to spare, I stood up from the bed and strode across the room. "Hey Monique?" I called, knocking on the door and trying to keep the irritation out of my voice. "Soundcheck's in fifteen and I need to use the john."

There was a series of crashes, the sound of water shutting off and the scrambling sound of the shower curtain rings screeching.

She opened the bathroom door and stared at me, wild-eyed. Billows of steam poured out around her, making her look like a wizard appearing out of the mists. In spite of the fact that she had been gloriously naked and laughing in my bed earlier, she now clutched her tightly knotted towel around her breasts. Like she was trying to hide them from me.

What the actual hell?

"Sorry," she grunted in that pissed off voice of hers. "It's all yours." She didn't meet my eye as she squirmed past me.

I watched her dart to her suitcase, dressing herself under her towel, once more like she was trying to keep me from seeing her body. A million questions sprang to my lips, each one crowding out the other, leaving me wordless, my jaw working silently. I knew enough about her to recognize this mood. If I asked her anything now, she would only come at me, claws bared, ready for a fight. I could see it in the grim set of her jaw, the tight set of her shoulders, the tendon standing out, marring the perfection of her beautiful neck.

"I thought you had to go to the bathroom," she said tightly, still keeping her back to me.

"Yeah, guess I do," I muttered, turning away.

Chapter Twenty-Eight


I can't do this to myself anymore.

Every kiss, every joke, every caress of my body was a reminder that I was losing him soon. Every morning that we woke up together was one more morning I lost forever.

Every moment I spent with him only prolonged the heartbreak that was to come.

I needed to end it. Now. I needed to summon the strength and the words to say I was leaving. But they wouldn't come in time before we needed to leave.

I took my familiar post during soundcheck. Everything was a well-oiled machine by now and the guys breezed through with no issues. I smiled and laughed and joked, ducking away from Jimmy's flailing arms when needed. Once or twice, Tanner shot a penetrating look in my direction, but I was saved from having to explain by the crowds of people who always surrounded him.

That night as I sat in the wings, I turned away from the band for the first time and looked outward at the sea of ecstatic faces. The crowd was an instrument and Tanner played them just as skillfully as he played his guitar. Once more I was taken over with awe for the star he was.


ttle by little, the awe turned into anger. Anger at him for pretending he was something else than a full-blown celebrity. The aw-shucks good old boy routine he pulled to charm his way into my pants.

Tags: Mia Caldwell Erotic