Country Love - Page 25

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I had been in his life a grand total of a month.

I had no right to tie him down.

When I looked back down at the test, it was with resignation, not shock. The little blue lines stared back at me, and I knew what I had to do.

But actually doing it was going to be the hardest thing I had ever done.

The house lights dimmed, and the crowd went wild. Tanner and the boys bounded out onto the stage and crashed into their opening number. I grabbed my camera out of habit, but just held it in my lap, and watched him instead. The man that I loved.

He waved to the screaming throng with the same smile he smiled at me. He could never belong just to me.

I could feel tears pricking at the edges of my eyes.

When the song ended, I fired off a few shots. Tanner turned to the wings and looked right at me.

It was superhuman how he could act so normal about something so surreal. But he just flashed that damn grin at me.

I grinned back and caught him with my camera flash. He flicked a middle finger lazily upward at me and I laughed out loud and for a moment everything was perfect.

"This one is for all the ladies out there," he drawled into the mic, to protracted screams. "And the ones back here too," he added, staring directly at me.

The whoops and cheers drowned out the sound, but in the harsh lights, I could read his lips. "Listen up," he mouthed.

"Okay," I nodded back.

He struck the first ringing chord. Fitch kicked up the beat and Carter's fiddle whined. "This one's a new one!" Tanner called over the intro. "It's called, 'Strictly Business.'"

The bottom dropped out from under me as he sang the words right at me. My stomach roiled and heaved. "Oh shit," I gurgled and tore off in search of a toilet.

Chapter Thirty Seven


I'll tell you something, when you pour your heart into a song you wrote just for your new lady, the last thing you want to see when you sing it to her is her turning green and running to the bathroom.

"Hold 'em for a sec," I mouthed to Blake, who nodded and kicked the boys into a loud jam session. I ran offstage. "Where'd she go?" I yelled at Busy Tim, who pointed towards the maze of corridors. I sprinted blindly, when I heard the loud, echoing sound of retching and stopped short.

"Monique?" I called.

A faint groan let me know I was right. I tapped on the door as a formality and pushed my way into the room.

"I think I'm done," she croaked, looking at me wretchedly over the bowl.

"Come on, hon," I said, gently hauling her up, "you're gonna catch something foul if you touch that thing. I don't think it's been cleaned since Jonny Cash was touring."

"Isn't he dead?"

"That's the point," I smiled. "You okay?"

"Nerves?" she said helplessly.

I bent to kiss her and she shied away. "My breath."

"I don't really care," I informed her, but settled on nuzzling her neck. "If you want to head back, I'll see you later."

"I don't want to miss your show," she moaned.

"I'll give you the highlights tonight. Go, baby,"

"Knock 'em dead."

"Always do."

"Arrogant ass," she smiled and I squeezed her ass one last time for good measure. The color was returning to her face, and her wide eyes were bright again. Maybe it was just nerves, I hoped. Without knowing what to do, I sprinted back to my set.

By the time the afterparty rolled around, Monique was looking her usual beautiful, determined self.

She sat on the couch in the green room, clutching her camera so tightly that her knuckles were white. I recognized that look, and I didn't like it.

"Hey beautiful," I said, sliding in next to her.

She darted a quick glare up at me and then looked away.

"Aw hell, you're pissed at me?" I teased, poking her in the thigh. "What'd I do?" I paused. "No, wait, I know this." I slung my arm around her stiff body and pressed a kiss to her shoulder. She softened slightly, like she wanted more, then caught herself and stiffened back up again. Yup, she was definitely pissed. "I left you alone all day when I said I'd spend it with you," I guessed. I did feel bad about that. "That was a dumb thing to do and I'm sorry babe. Rehearsal ran later than I thought." I smiled brightly. "But hey, at least you know why it was late. I was writing a song about you!" I paused, "...even though I guess you didn't get to hear it."

"Yeah," she said shortly.

Well, that didn't work.

"So did you and LeeAnne get a chance to catch up anyway?" I asked. It was a dumb question, they had been left alone the whole day, what else would they be doing besides gossiping and painting their nails or whatever chicks do when they're together. I was feeling slightly desperate though. A deep foreboding had taken up residence in my stomach.

Jimmy stomped by and pressed a beer into my palm. I opened it gratefully.

"Yeah. We talked," Monique said tightly.

I took a long, desperate swallow of the sudsy beer. "You know, it feels so eerie to me. Here you lived so close, and I never knew. I never met you until last month, and even that was a fluke. If you hadn't come to take my picture, I would have had no idea you existed Monique..." And now I couldn't imagine my life without her.

"Tanner," she blurted. "Have you ever thought about stopping?"


Her eyes blazed and I knew this was no time to be joking around. "Touring. Have you ever thought about stopping?"

I took another long pull of my beer and sat forward, resting my elbows on my knees. She slid back into the couch, nearly disappearing into it, and hugged herself. She looked absolutely miserable.

"Well now," I swallowed. "Truthfully?"

"Truthfully," she said firmly.

I put my hand on her knee and gently rubbed her thigh. "Of course I've thought about stopping," I said, watching my hand as it traced slow circles on her jeans. She was so warm underneath my touch. I could smell her, feel her...and I wanted to taste her but she was freaking me out. "I think about it all the time, honestly."

That was truer than anyone could imagine.

"I mean, I don't need the money, never have, really. At this point, I got all the money in the world and barely any time to spend it. More than that, it'd be nice to write a song without having to get it approved by some label suit before I send it out into the world. Writin' songs to please just myself sounds mighty fine to me." I looked at where she was sitting and watching me warily. "But it ain't just me I'd be stopping," I said, as carefully as I could. "There's all the guys. They've got mortgages and bills to pay. Blake's got the new baby. And it's even more than them. It'

s Leo, and Keith. All the roadies. Dale, my guitar tech. All the sound engineers."

"Gus who drives the bus," she added faintly.

I sat back into the couch. "Gus has twins, you know. A boy and a girl. Gonna be starting senior year in high school in a few days. I can't pull the rug out on him right before they head off to college."

I turned to her. "I have a responsibility to them. And I take my responsibilities very seriously."

Tags: Mia Caldwell Erotic